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Biblical Archaeology and Politics in the Holy Land: The Life and Career of P.L.O. Guy.

10th April 2008

Jack Green, Ashmolean Museum

Lecture abstract

The life and career of Philip Langstaffe Ord Guy (1885-1952) have been largely overlooked within assessments of the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of Biblical archaeology during the British Mandate period. He began as Woolley’s assistant at Carchemish and later at Amarna (Egypt), subsequently becoming Chief Inspector for the Palestine Department of Antiquities (1922-1927). He worked mainly in the North where he surveyed, excavated, and attempted to stem the destruction of archaeological sites. Guy is best known as director of the Megiddo Expedition (1927-1934) and for his innovative use of balloon photography. His interpretation of Solomonic Megiddo and ‘Solomon’s stables’ sowed the seeds of a continuing debate on the role of the Bible in archaeological interpretation.

Leaving Megiddo under controversial circumstances, Guy was appointed as Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem (1935-1939). He initiated the Archaeological Survey of Palestine, working in the southern coastal area and southern desert. The survey was curtailed due to the Arab Revolt. After WWII, and Israel’s war of Independence in 1948, Guy became a senior figure within the fledgling Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums as Director of Excavations and Surveys. In his final years, Guy remained actively engaged in fieldwork at Jaffa, Ayyelet Hashahar, and Khirbet al-Kerak (Bet Yerah).

Guy’s career was disjointed due to war and civil disruption, and politics. Active involvement in Zionist politics through his marriage into the Ben-Yehuda family was a controversial factor that impacted on his career within 1920s and 1930s Palestine. Recent archival research has allowed a reassessment of Guy’s double life as archaeologist and political activist, and the degree to which these areas intersected. Guy stands out in contrast to self-proclaimed ‘politically neutral’ archaeologists in Palestine such as W.F. Albright. Philip Guy’s life can therefore be added to the diverse spectrum of archaeologists working in the Holy Land during this turbulent colonial and post-colonial era.

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