Nelson Glueck was born on June 4, 1900 in Cincinnati, Ohio. During the 70 years of his life he was a well-known Rabbi and archaeologist until his death on February 12, 1971. At the age of 23, he was ordained as a Reform rabbi by the Hebrew Union College and four years later was awarded his Ph.
D. at Jena, Germany, for his dissertation on the biblical concept of hesed (the Hebrew term for goodness or divine kindness). Until World War II Gluek worked with William Foxwell Albright at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem (ASOR,) and Albright’s excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim. Glueck himself served as director of ASOR, as well as having a faculty position at HUC in Jerusalem.
After graduating from Cincinnati Public Schools, he atteneded the University of Cincinnati where he received his bachelor’s degree. Glueck went home in 1931 and married Helen Ransohof Iglauer, a medical student at the University of Cincinnati who was a professor of medicine. Their only son Dr. Charles Jonathan Glueck was a noted physician as well.
Glueck continued his studies in Germany for four years and received his doctorate degree from the University of Jena in 1926. For the next two years (1927-28) he would continue his studies at the School in Jerusalem. While studying in Palestine he became interested in archaeology, returning twice (1930 and 1932) to take part in an excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim, probably Biblical Debir (Kirjath-Sepher).
“During World War II Glueck served in the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor of the CIA), examining possible escape routes for the allies through the desert, in anticipation of the German army under General Rommel, reaching Palestine. Fortunately, Rommel’s advance was halted by the Allies in Egypt.” He created the HUC Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem in 1963, the same year that he appeared on the cover of Time magazine. The institute was renamed in 1972 to the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology. Glueck after the war became president of the Hebrew Union College, and then president of the combined HUC-Jewish Institute of Religion, a position he held until his death in 1971. This is the same colledge that ordained him as a Rabbi.
As president Glueck oversaw the merger of HUC with the Jewish Institute of Religion, expanding the institution based out of Cincinnati to now include schools in New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem. He played a vital role in the creation of the Schools of Jewish Communal Service and was the founder of the School of Biblical and Archaeological Studies in Jerusalem, in honor of him they now bears his name.
Excavation Sites and Methods of Excavation
The Bible was his map for excavations and, in turn, the excavations shed a bit of light on the Bible. Sheldon H. Blank and H. Ginsberg note, “A scientist he was, yet a fragment of a wall or a potsherd could evoke an emotional as well as an intellectual response. He had a love affair with the Land (the “heartland”), he uncovered not the history but the drama of people.” “This makes sense seeing Glueck’s service as a rabbi and studies of the Old Testament.
Glueck excavated several sites in 1950 he excavated the remains of the civilization of the Nabataeans in Transjordan, this was a copper-mining industry that was located at the shore of the Red Sea. This showed how the Negev could support a such a large population due to the use of irrigation techniques using the Red Sea.
Therefore what Glueck says about Negev is, “The length and width of the Negev were interconnected with roads marked by fortresses, villages, way stations and watertight cisterns.” The erecting of fortresses over the Negev served as an excellent source of protection and saw villages flourish, and agriculture grows, and watertight cisterns surrounded the Negev which made possible the emergence of villages and flocks in areas where they would otherwise not be present.
Glueck also spent a lot of time working to define a history for the Negev and wrote: “The Archaeological History of the Negev” based on his findings. Glueck notes that there were a series of civilizations there and that the Negev is positioned between Canaan, Arabia, and Egypt which made it a strategic location. He indicates that the different civilizations experienced no significant changes in the climate and that no climatic changes have occurred within the last ten thousand years at least.
Chalcolithic pottery has been located in the Negev which indicates that a civilization existed there during that period. After this civilization disappeared, the land was unused for almost a thousand years until the Middle Bronze I period (between 21st and 19th centuries BC). “This civilization was agricultural as evidenced by “beehive” stone houses that are located on slopes of hills located above land useable for farming.” “Cup holes” carved in limestone were found that indicate they were used for grinding grain and this evidence has been placed in MB I by the stories of Abraham in the Old Testament.
Archaeology discovered by Glueck indicates a range of civilizations such as the Nabateans who left a substantial amount of pottery behind. Nabateans were known for their worship of multiple deities and are traditionally identified as being pagan which makes the discovery of Khierbet Et-Tannur (a temple) significant. Glueck notes that while the entire site had not been excavated at the time of his writing, “A whole pantheon of hitherto unknown Nabataean deities was found in the temple that had become their grave.” This temple sits on top of a hill with evidence of staircases leading up steep areas and leading Glueck to believe that goddesses were honored at the peak of this hill and those like it.
In 1938 Glueck also did an excavation on the northern third, during the excavation of the site he found a location of forty-five rooms. “The mound’s most impressive structure was uncovered in the northwest corner of the excavated area, a building complex consisting of three roughly square units at the northern end and three larger rectangular rooms extending to the south. ” The latter are 7.40 m in length and of varying widths (2.00-3.00 m). The building measures 13.20 m in length (north-south) and is 12.30 m wide on the north side and 13.20 m wide on the south side. The exterior walls are 1.20 m wide; interior walls vary between 0.95 and 1.05 m. The walls were preserved to a height of 2.70 m. The building is almost entirely of mudbrick construction. Its bricks measure ca. 0.40 x 0.20 x 0.10 m and were laid in a roughly “header and stretcher” fashion.
They found 2 horizontal rows of wooden beams that could be consider as construction to strengthening the walls. they had semicircular holes which proved this was a result of the fire and it also confirm the construction and used of wooden beams as written in I Kings. This way of construction with support beams is referenced in I Kings 6:36 which reads, “He (Solomon) built the inner court with three courses of hewn stone and one course of cedar beams.” Wooden beams, halved in the case of Tell el-Kheleifeh, were embedded across the widths of the walls, creating a stronger bond. The semicircular holes were all that remained after the timbers were consumed in a destruction by fire.
These features were also discovered elsewhere in the site’s architecture, notably in Room 49. Eight installations, interpreted as hearths or ovens, were found in this casemate unit. Slag was also found at this site which Glueck believes indicates that Tell el-Kheleifeh was used to remelt globules of copper ore retrieved through metallurgical processes in the Wadi Arabah smelting sites to shape them into easily salable ingots or pour the molten metal into molds. “Ezion-Geber was also a marketplace from Arabia to Palestine. Support for this fact came when pottery was found that had horn handles and mat bases which is associated with the Calebites, Kenites, Rechabites, Yerahmeelites, dated to Iron Age I-II. ”
Furthermore, the building was identified as a stone house granary and had the means of smelting and fire damage present further supporting the results of the fire. Glueck notes, “The strong winds which constantly blow from the north in the Arabah furnished the draft necessary for the proper functioning of the furnaces.” A fortified outer wall protected the building, and while Ezion-Geber I was probably destroyed by Shishak, it was rebuilt with a gateway reminiscent of Jehosophat of Judah (871-849 BC).
Glueck also led important excavations in Ezion-Geber where it is believed that Solomon’s naval base was located. Excavations began in March 1998, and it took three months to uncover one-third of the site. Pottery was discovered at this site along with other findings but its important to note is that the pottery varied. A piece of Edomite pottery was discovered carrying the name “QoS” which could reference a kind of a god. This indicates that this area had been occupied over a long period of time.
An article published in The Biblical Archaeologist in 1965 entitled “Ezion-Geber” finds Glueck arguing that Tell el- Kheleifeh is Ezion-Geber. In this article he indicates that Tell el-Kheleifeh is represented by a low small mound that “is located approximately in the center of the north shore of the Gulf of Aqabah, midway between Jordanian Aqabah at its east end and Israeli Eilat at its west end.” Today, it sits five hundred yards from the shore and is estimated to have been at least three hundred yards away many millennia ago during its first occupation in 10th century BC. The location appear to be consistent with the Bibles description in I Kings 9:26 of “beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom.”
Glueck further state that, “The conviction that there has been comparatively little change in the northern shoreline derives partly from our discovery of a copper smelting site on a low shoreline foothill at Mrashrash, now incorporated into Eilat, immediately overlooking the northwest end of the Gulf of Aqabah.” And that the explorations in Eastern Palestine began to appear in 1933, opening new views on the movement of peoples in the Transjordan area in antiquity. Landmarks in his archaeological odyssey were King Solomon’s port city Ezion-Geber and his copper mines; the unexpectedly numerous settlements in the Negev; Khirbet Tannur and the civilization of the Nabataeans; the systematic excavation of Tell Gezer.
Glueck excavated area at the end of the 1940 season was ca. 80 m north-south, by 72 m east-west. The corner of a nearby garden wall was chosen for the site benchmark, established at 3.99 m over the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. The highest point of the tell was southeast of its center (Square N:17) at +2.84 m, corresponding to the absolute height above sea level of +6.83 m. The deepest excavated level, reportedly to virgin soil, was in Room 113 ( 1.53 m) below benchmark level. The difference in height between the deepest wall foundation of the western casemate perimeter and the top of the preserved walls was 4.37 m.
Although, Tell el-Kheleifeh is not considered a conspicuous site today. Its appearance is very familiar to that of the many surrounding hillocks. A surface survey in August 1980 revealed that, the area of extant architecture is little more than 12 square meters and a few mudbrick walls have been preserved to a height of 1.5 m. “The fragmentary remains could not be located on the plans prepared by Glueck’s architect J. Pinkerfeld. It is likely that the existing walls represent an architectural assortment from the various periods of occupation. ”
They appear to be located south-southeast of the site’s largest structure. The excavator’s northern, eastern, and western dumps provided the reference points for location. Although there are no visible remains of the most distinctive architectural elements, a wall in the northern section of preserved architecture, with two horizontal rows of apertures, were interpreted initially as flues.
Glueck’s excavation area is where the mound has been disturbed at several points by modern military installations, most notably an observation tower toward the southern end of Its foundations
appear to have cut undisturbed levels to a depth of 1.5 m. Several trenches have also been cut into the northern and western sections of the site, and these disturbances produced an abundance of finds, including a stamped Rhodian jar handle and a bronze trefoil arrowhead. The material remains gleaned from this survey provide a valuable complement to the 1938-40 assemblage.
Biblical scholars have debated for years whether or not the Edomites ever had a true kingdom, or was a mining industry. In the 1930s, Nelson Glueck made a claim to have found King Solomon’s mines, citing, among other things, evidence of mining trails, as well as slag mounds. However, Glueck’s claim was largely dismissed after British excavations in the 1970s and 80s seemed to show that extensive mining didn’t come to the area until hundreds of years after Solomon’s rule. A consensus emerged that the Bible was heavily edited in the 5th century BCE, long after the events, while British excavations of the Edomite highlands in the 1970s-80s suggested the Iron Age had not even come to Edom until the 7th century BCE.
Levy, Director of the Levantine Archaeology Lab at UCSD and associate director of the new Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology (CISA3), inferred that data from the first large-scale stratified and systematic excavation of a site in the southern Levant ,gave evidence that complex societies were indeed active in 10th and 9th centuries BCE. Which brings us back to the debate about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible narratives related to this period. Glueck discoveries in Faynan/Edom got laughed at, but this recent discovery has vindicated him.
Glueck believed that the Hebrew Bible contains historical memory, but one that cannot be proven. He felt that the spirit of the Israelites was still alive in modern Israel, instilling that belief in both his students and his colleagues. Today, our research paradigms may differ from those of Glueck’s day, but his enthusiasm and scholarly integrity remain with us always. The range of Glueck’s excavations speaks volume and will echo through the sands of time.
He have certainly paved the way for Biblical archaeology to memmic and gave believers more resources to study outside of the Bible. Archaeology cannot be used to prove a Biblical account, however, it definitely can be used to assert the existence of a certain nation at the same time in history. Through Glueck work and the excavations performed by him, believers now have the abilty to research further and take a deep dive into a rich history.
Glueck work not only laid a strong foundation but it also paved the way in a since to how archaeology is an understatement, providing believers with a broader knowledge and understanding. Through human beings like Nelson Glueck, archaeology has emerged and will continue to grow in a positive way. The works of Glueck continue to ring true and set a precedent for research that every area on the face of the earth, be it outwardly ever so waste and empty, has a story behind it which the inquisitive sooner or later will attempt to obtain. Well put statement by Glueck himself in the relationship of the Bible to archaeology. He writes:
“As a matter of fact, however, it may be stated categorically
that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical
reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made
which confirm to clear outline or in exact detail historical
statements in the Bible.And by the same token, proper eval-
uations of the biblical descriptions has often led to amazing
discoveries. They form tesserae in the vast mosaic of the Bible’s
almost incredible correct historical memory.”
Glueck put his conviction into practice when he sought to locate King Solomons’s long-lost port city of Ezion-Geber. The memory of its location had been in Glueck words “snuffed out.” like the flame of a gutted candle.” Glueck began by consulting 1 Kings of the Bible that documented this site. The biblical statement said it was located beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea in the land of Edom (1 Kings 9:26;10:22). The Bible served him as a guidebook in his explorations, and his explorations shed light on the Bible. An example we can all learn from. Not that he believed archaeology could or even should lend support to the supreme spiritual values and ethical norms which are native to the Bible.
These have their own manifest value. Glueck patience and persistence in his work makes his discoveries and works worth remembering. His dedication and the contribution he has made to the field of archaeology is a valued resource for believer and future archaeologist. The Bible is the inspired and accurate Word of God and God often confirm His Word through mankind. Therefore, we should compare the Scriptural records against the archeological discoveries uncovered at these sites where many of these thrilling events of the Bible actually occurred. The results of these detailed investigations are available for all to examine.
- The Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology, “Our founder: Nelson Glueck (1900-1971)”, The Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology (2010), (accessed October 8, 2018).
- Albright, William F. “Nelson Glueck in Memoriam.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 202 (1971): 2-1. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1356266. (accessed October 8, 2018).
- Glueck, Nelson. 1961. “The archaeological history of the Negev.” Hebrew Union College Annual 32, 11-18. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed October 8, 2018)
- Ezion-Geber Nelson Glueck Excavations at Tell el-Kheleifeh 1965 AD,
http://www.bible.ca/archeology/bible-archeology-exodus-kadesh-barnea-ezion-geber- nelson-gluecks-tell-el-kheleifeh-1965ad.htm (accessed October 8, 2018).
- Solomon’s Fortress at Elat, Aqaba: Tell El-kheleifeh and Jezirit, http://www.bible.ca/archeology/bible-archeology-exodus-route-ezion-geber-elat-aq (accessed October 8, 2018).
- Pratico, Gary D. “Nelson Glueck’s 1938-1940 Excavations at Tell El-Kheleifeh: A Reappraisal.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 259 (1985): 1-32.
doi:10.2307/1356795. (accessed October 8, 2018).
- Nelson Glueck’s 1938-1940 Excavations At Tell El-kheleifeh .., http://www.bible.ca/archeology/bible-archeology-exodus-kadesh-barnea-ezion-geber-
(accessed October 8, 2018).
- Uncovering The Secrets Of Kahn, Da Vinci And Solomon’s ..,
(accessed October 8, 2018).
- King Solomon’s (copper) Mines? – University Of California ..,
http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/archive/newsrel/soc/10-22KingSolomon.asp (accessed October
- Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert. Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, New York, Grove Press, 1960,
- Price, J. Randall. The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible.
Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House, 1997.