An Analysis of W. F. Albright Works and the Impact on Biblical Archeology

William Foxwell Albright, one of the most renowned academics and archaeologists of his period, is regarded as one of the most productive archaeologists, having contributed significantly to the growth of the current biblical archaeology. He is regarded as a genius by many, largely because he discovered an incredible number of artifacts that have been actively used over the years by many academics, particularly in theology, to develop their theories and arguments regarding Yahwism and Christianity. Albright was regarded as a genius for many reasons, not just his findings. He was known by many to be a master of a great number of fields and disciplines, from theology to linguistics and archaeology. These accolades originated mainly from the fact that Albright was very keen in the study and understanding of the happenings in the ancient Near East. His interest was mainly focused on the area that is well known for the Hebrew Bible, commonly referred to as the Old Bible. Due to his love and interest for this region, a great number of scholars have referred to him as one of the greatest Orientalist to have walked this earth.

It is as clear as day that Albright’s reputation precedes him, as the name instantly evokes respect among his fellow archaeologists. During his time as an archaeologist and in particular an orientalist, it was quite common to find a great number of orientalists who had similar outstanding skill sets as Albright, a good example being Sir William Jones. Sir Jones was said to have been a master of 13 languages and could be able to understand an additional 28. The competition in his day and age was very stiff, and Albright definitely had to step up to become one of the greatest.

This essay seeks to shed light on the works of William Foxwell Albright, in addition to his life story and the significance of his work to the field of archaeology as well as his impact on what Christianity is today.

Early Life

Albright was born in Chile on 24th of May 1891 to Wilbur and Zephine, who were two very strict Methodists and had initially applied to serve as missionaries for the church before deciding to have children instead. The Methodist Episcopal Mission Board thus sent the couple to Chile to help spread the word. Wilbur served as a principal at one of the schools in Coquimbo. Albright was disabled, as he had a crippled left hand. Furthermore, he was nearsighted, thus making it quite difficult for him as he grew up in Chile. He was not born with the disability, though, as Albright had been involved in an unfortunate accident during a trip to Iowa at the family home.

Due to his disability, Albright was mocked by a great number of children in the villages in Chile, considering he was the child of a missionary and the missionaries were not favourites within the villages as such. The mockery made Albright a rather reserved child, encouraging him to stay indoors more often than not in order to avoid the verbal assault that the children outside would pelt towards him if he shows his face. His parents had to use different tactics in order to get him out of the house. One particular time, the parents promised to buy Albright an item he wanted as long as he went to the shop to purchase a loaf of bread.

The present was a particular book by Professor R.W. Rogers entitled “History of Babylonia and Assyria. The book was the beginning of Albright’s interest and fascination with the Near East, as he started seeking more knowledge on the area and the happenings during Biblical times. Later on in life, Albright went on to join Johns Hopkins University on scholarship, where he realised his dream and purpose in life was to be a scholar. Albright placed the majority of his concentration on books of ancient history, especially in the Near East. He went on to teach himself Hebrew and Assyrian. He also learned how to speak Latin, Greek and French, among other languages fluently. Therefore, with his knowledge of these particular languages, in addition to English and Spanish, made Albright be known all around as one of the finest linguists at his age.

Due to his diligence, skill and determination, Albright was offered a fellowship by his lecturer, Professor Haupt, at the end of his first year which would pay up for a bulk of his educational fees. The fellowship was God-sent, considering Albright was in a rut due to the fact that he could not afford the requested fees by the school yet he really wanted to be there. Albright blamed his disability and bad eyesight for the issues he was facing, as he believed he would be performing better if it was not for the injury and his eyesight that made it difficult for him to get by in class as well as in the social domain.

The fellowship awarded to Albright, known as the Thayer Fellowship, was no easy task to maintain, as it required the student to do a lot of difficult exams over a wide array of fields such as Syriac, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Hebrew Bible Literature among others. This lead to Albright sinking deeper into his books and spending a great deal of time at Prof. Haupt’s residence in order to be able to do the said papers. There were several oral papers of which Albright was expected to pass, and by 1916, he had passed all the papers. Albright was therefore awarded his PhD based on his dissertation “The Assyrian Deluge Epic”. The dissertation would later shape Albright’s understanding of the religions of the Near East.

Albright attempted to join the army, filled in the forms and returned it. No one expected that he would be drafted and enlisted into the army, majorly due to the fact that he had a crippled hand and ,his eyesight was very bad. However, he was surprised in 1918 when he was called up to join the army, thereby performing non-battle tasks such as peeling the potatoes and washing the dishes within the military. He was discharged at the end of 1918, where he returned to take over his teaching duties and studies as well.

Biblical Archeology

Albright set a great example to other archaeologists, leading the way in the creation of an entirely new path in the field of Near Eastern Studies, effectively making Biblical archaeology an actual field and therefore an important one in the understanding of Yahwism and Christianity alike. The majority of archaeologists only came to understand Albright’s significance in the field of archaeology after he had passed on.

Albright’s ideas on what exactly biblical archaeology was born from his continued interest in orientalism and his rather a generalist approach to the creation of theories on the growth and changes of the biblical word as time went on. Albright’s experience in the field, over 50 years, had rightfully led to him gaining a whole new vision and paradigm of the Biblical era, and in particular the old Testament. Albright relied heavily on other scholars work in his attempts to gain a better understanding of the old Testament, including the works of Julius Wellhausen whose hypothesis was used in a bid to understand the Old Testament.

According to Wellhausen, the Pentateuch, or the first books of the Hebrew Bible were a collection of books from four entirely separate sources, all combined together by one single redactor. Wellhausen approximated that this process took place in the 6th Century BCE. This theory by Wellhausen was an entirely new look into the .history of the Hebrew Bible and was viewed as a totally new assumption that was far from the initial idea of who compiled the first five books of the Bible.

The theory of Wellhausen effectively created a conversation on the chronology and possibility of particular events having taken place in the Bible, as a great number of the patriarchs of the Hebrew Religion such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph just to name a few are featured in the Pentateuch. Other significant events were also held in doubt due to the fact that they appeared in these first books of the Bible. Examples of these events included the Exodus and the coronation of the first kings of Israel such as Saul and David.

Other scholars gained an interest in the development of these theories as postulated by Wellhausen. The said scholars, including Albrecht Alt and Noth Martin, focused heavily on the search for certain historical events that may have been the main inspiration or force behind the Bible accounts. These scholars based their studies into the matter on the context of the biblical text of which they analysed intensely. Albright was interested in such forays into the history of the Hebrew Bible and therefore took part in the said analyses. With his advanced intellectual skillset, Albright was able to play a great role .in the analysis of the said chapters of the Bible.

It became apparent, however, that the context in which the Bible was written would only provide a limited scope of the history and events that preceded the writing of the first five books of the Bible. This ultimately led Albright into forays in search of evidence outside what was written in the particular bibles in order to gain a better understanding of the said events. The archaeological adventures of Albright were thus focused in the Near East, and especially in a great number of areas around Palestine, as he believed he would be able to get more accurate and helpful answers to his constant stream of questions there.

Albright’s methods to find the archaeological sites and attempt to solve the archaeological and biblical mysteries were greatly affected by his attitude and definition of Biblical Archaeology. Based on his definition of biblical archaeology, Albright was able to create a mental workflow that he assumed would be able to aid him in minding his investigation as regards the ideas and truths behind the Hebrew Bible. One of Albright’s main aims during the investigations in Palestine was to attempt to locate the areas where Ancient Israel was said to be located and analyse the ancient writings based on the culture of the specific areas.

At the time, Albright’s experience in archaeology was laughable at best, as he had not focused on this field as much and barely had any experience in the sector altogether. His work, however, was revered by a great number of archaeologists to come, with a lot of different archaeologists arguing that the efforts to explain the Ancient Biblical times by Albright were nothing short of influential and game-changing.

Albright’s first excavation took place in Palestine, in an area that Albright was able to establish that it was probably the Gibeah of Saul. The excavation site was located in an area known as Tell el-Ful. This area was one of the first in the 1920’s where every archaeologist considered a popular area with a lot of information on the Biblical happenings around the area. The majority of the reasons why Albright chose the area was due to the fact that it would be more cost effective to carry out his research on a smaller area than on a larger excavation site.

Albright went on to focus a lot of his energy on the analysis of ceramics that had been discovered in his forays of excavation at different sites, including the Tell Beit Mirsim in Palestine. Albright relied heavily on the research of British Archeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, especially on Petrie’s theories on the principles of seriation in order to properly analyse the ceramics in entirety. Petrie had a vast amount of knowledge on the pre-dynastic Egyptian materials and other periods, thus providing Petrie with the relevant experience and skill to properly assess the ceramics found within the area in a more accurate manner. It was discovered that a great deal of these artefacts was in fact related to the ceramics that had been studied by Petrie in Egypt.

Several historians and archaeologists did not agree with Albright’s approach towards archaeology and research into the origins of the Hebrew Bible. A few argued that Albright’s identification of Tell Beit Mirsim as the Biblical Debir was flawed and inaccurate. The critics claimed that the area was, in fact, Khirbet Rabud. In this light, Albright's theory and chronology can be said to be inaccurate at best, flawed at worst. Albright defended his choice in an excavation point in the statement that he was not interested in excavating a major biblical site.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Albright was the first scholar to be able to assess the Dead Sea Scrolls after their discovery in 1947. The said scrolls were often termed as the most important discovery in relation to the ancient Bible that had been discovered until then. The scrolls have been said to have changed the ideas of the Ancient Hebrew Bible, in the same way, the discovery of the East African Hominid Lucy did in the field of evolution. Albright’s immense .skill as an epigrapher was able to aid in the analysis of the said scrolls, of which were the oldest form of evidence of the Ancient Bible at the time. A lot of scholars argued that the scrolls could not be real and were dishonestly dated to the medieval period. Many however raised concerns as per the speed at which Albright was able to assess the said Dead Sea scrolls, as a lot of critics felt that it was fake.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were transported to the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem so that they could undergo evaluation and also be photographed and assessed effectively. The photos of the Scrolls were sent to Albright, of whom it took a record 1 hour to assess and state that the scrolls were, in fact, a legitimate discovery, one that would shape Biblical Archaeology for years to come. Albright later wrote an article on the Dead Sea Scrolls in relation to the Nash Papyrus. The early assessment of Albright on the Dead Sea Scrolls was crucial in identifying whether the Scrolls were actually legitimate or were fraudulent.


Albright played a great role in Levantine Archeology, with a great number of his works and researches being revered and appreciated by a great number of persons interested in Archeology. His extensive list of articles and scholarly journals within the 20th Century surpass the majority of the competing archaeologist worldwide. Albright was also responsible for the mentorship and growth of a great number of great scholars in the field of archaeology, including Ernest G Wright who grew to become one of the most revered archaeologists .of his time.

Albright also played a great role in the growth and development of the field of biblical archaeology within Israel, which was a new state at the time. His ideas and theories on biblical archaeology are still held in high regard within the nation of Israel, with a great number of archaeologists basing their researches on the doctrines and ideas that Albright had formed up during his era as one of the greatest archaeologists of his time. Albright’s forays into the Ancient Near East have thus been continued by the said Institutions in Israel in a bid to unearth more facts into the initial years of the Hebrew Bible as well as its accuracy.



Albright, W. F. 1916, The Assyrian Deluge Epic. PhD dissertation. Johns Hopkins University.

Albright, W. F. 1926, The excavations at Tell Beit Mirsim. I. Bull. Am. Sch. Orient. Res.

Albright, W. F. 1966, Archaeology, Historical Analogy, and Early Biblical Tradition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

Dessel, J. P. 2002. Reading between the lines: W. F. Albright “in” the field and “on” the field. Near East. Archaeol. 65:43 -50.

Herr, L. 2002. W. F. Albright and the history of pottery in Palestine. Near East. Archaeol. 65:51-55.

King, P. J. 1983. American Archaeology in the Middle East. Philadelphia: American Schools of Oriental Research.

Moorey, P. R. S. 1991. A Century of Biblical Archaeology, 1st ed. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press.

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