Biblical Archaeology Review 18:3, May/June 1992

Nahman Avigad, 1905–1992

By Hershel Shanks

Nahman Avigad is dead. He died of cancer on January 28, 1992, at age 86. For much of his professional life he lived in the shadow of E. L. Sukenik, Yigael Yadin’s father, whom he served as assistant in such excavations as Beth Alpha and Hammat Gader. Sukenik, from all reports, was a demanding, often autocratic man; Avigad was quiet, shy and retiring.

Sukenik died in 1953. Avigad blossomed. Between 1953 and 1955, Avigad directed excavations at Beth She‘arim, uncovering a series of catacombs containing Jewish burials of the second and third centuries C.E., including what may be the tomb of Judah ha-Nasi, the compiler of the Mishnah. In 1956 he published with Yigael Yadin the Dead Sea Scroll known as the Genesis Apocryphon.

After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel began to rebuild the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, much of which had been destroyed during the 19 years between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan controlled the Old City. But before any rebuilding could take place, the area had to be examined to determine whether archaeological excavations should be undertaken. At age 62, Avigad was appointed to head this project, reluctantly agreeing to direct archaeological excavations where called for. For 14 years this excavation became his passion. He excavated in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City from 1969 to 1983.

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