In Memoriam: Prof. Yizhar Hirschfeld (1950-2006)
by Joseph Patrich
The Institute of Archaeology
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Prof. Yizhar Hirschfeld, a dear friend of mine, passed away, untimely, on November 16th 2006 , following a short illness. He left behind three daughters. He was one of the leading Israel i archaeologists, of international fame and recognition.

Yizhar grew up in Tivon and Ashkelon , and from childhood he knew archaeology was his destiny; this was his true love. After the army service he moved to Jerusalem , where he had done his entire course of studies in the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University , getting his Ph.D. there in 1987. From 1989 he was a member of the academic staff of the Institute, serving as a teacher and as a field archaeologist. The archaeological projects he directed, both surveys and excavations, were numerous, and from the start of a large scale. Most came to fruition in final reports of large format - a remarkable achievement.

A survey of the Palestinian dwellings in Mt. Hebron (1977-1978) was the subject of his M.A. thesis, which was published as a book, both in Hebrew (1987) and in English (1995). He surveyed and published (bilingual, 1985) the 10x10 sq. km. Herodion Map under the auspices of the Israel i Association for the Survey of Israel (1981-1982). The monastic settlements uncovered in this survey served as the point of departure for his Ph.D. dissertation on the monasteries of the Ju dean Desert , which was also published in both English (1992) and Hebrew (2002). His large scale excavations included the Roman Baths of Hammath Gader (1979-1982, final archaeological report published in 1997); Khirbet ed-Deir monastery (1982-1987, final archaeological report published in 1999); the Ramat HaNadiv excavations at two major sites: Horvat Aqav (1984-1987) and Horvat Eleq (1989-1998; final archaeological report on both published in 2000); Tiberias - Mount Berenice and down town (1989-1994; final archaeological report published in 2004); En-Gedi (1996-2002; final archaeological report presented at his funeral!, Nov. 17, 2006). The En Gedi excavations were extended to a study of the archaeology of the Dead Sea region, including Qumran and Ain Feshkha. His other projects included excavations of wine presses and the aqueducts of Emmaus (1974-1975); the Early Christian church of Horvat Berakhot (1975, co-directed with Yoram Tsafrir); Horvat Susiya dwellings (1976); Shiqmona (1994); a survey and study of the Negev town of Shivta (1999-2002); and a survey of monasteries in the region of Gaza. His publications include more than fifteen books, many of which are final archaeological reports, and more than one hundred articles, a remarkable achievement for a scholar of his age. His studies were more than mere technical reports: he succeeded in setting each topic in its wider technological, historical and cultural context. A list of his more recent publications can be found at:

Three of Yizhar's large and continuing projects are the Horvat Eleq-Ramat HaNadiv excavations (resumed in 2000); the Tiberias excavations (resumed in 2004); and the publication of IAA Rudolf Cohen excavations along the Nabataean Incense Route in the Negev , with a grant from the Leon Levi and Shelby White Publication Fund (2004). He was the recipient of honors and awards, among them the Rothschild Award for post-doctoral studies, which he spent at Yale University , New Haven (1988), and the Irene Levi-Sala Book Award in the Archaeology of Israel , on behalf of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2000). In the years 1996 and 2000 he was a Research Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington , D. C. (Byzantine Studies and Landscape Architecture, respectively). He acquired international fame for his studies of the Palestinian dwellings, the Ju dean Desert monasteries, rural settlements in Palestine in the Roman and Byzantine periods, the effects of climatic changes and the "Justinianic Plague" on the settlement patterns of Late Antique Palestine , and the archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea region. In terms of the scope of his activity he was the most prominent Israel i classical archaeologist of a similar age. He was a popular representative of Israel i archaeology in international conferences dedicated to these topics, on which he was also invited to write entries and chapters in encyclopedias and manuals of high academic reputation.

In the field of Qumran studies, as a professional and experienced archaeologist who had conducted numerous surveys and excavations in desert areas and in the Dead Sea region (including an extension of de Vaux's excavations at Ain Feshkha, the "Essene Site" of cells above En Gedi), Hirschfeld was an outspoken representative of the minority party of scholars who assert that Qumran was not a sectarian site. He ran a renewed metric survey of the site, including its cemetery. An Orion research grant permitted a new, illuminating set of aerial photographs (see: ).

His point of departure for the archaeological re-evaluation of Qumran , and for its identification as an agricultural manor, was his excavations of a Herodian agricultural farmstead with a square massive tower in Ramat HaNadiv (Horvat Aleq), reminiscent of the one at Qumran . His scholarly approach is characterized by his broad perspective on the archaeological data at hand. His theory was expressed in many conferences devoted to the Qumran debate, in numerous articles (see the list at: ), and in two books: Qumran in Context – Reassessing the Archaeological Evidence ( Peabody : Hendrickson, 2004; published recently in a German translation: Qumran - die ganze Wahrheit. Die Funde der Archäologie - neu bewertet , Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlaghaus, 2006); and the more popular: Longing for the Desert – The Dead Sea Valley in the Second Temple Period (Tel Aviv: Yedioth Aharonot, 2004 [in Hebrew ]). A set of well-labeled maps, drawings and reconstructions contribute to the readability and popularity of these publications.

Hirschfeld's major contribution to Qumran studies was his correct identification of the architectural type to which the core structure of Qumran belongs: that is, a Ju dean manor house with a tower. To this architectural group also belong the manor houses of Ofarim, Rujum el-Hamiri, Qasr el-Leja and more. Although some had preceded him in this observation, he was its leading proponent. Earlier scholars (emphasizing the differences) had compared the site with the Hasmonaean palaces in Jericho , or with dwellings of wealthy families in Jerusalem —completely different types of structures—and their comparison thus missed the point. Many installations, agricultural and other, were indeed found in Qumran ; it was a lucrative site. Hirschfeld suggested that balsam perfume was a major product of Qumran and Ain Feshkha. On the other hand he claimed that the site above En Gedi, comprising of twenty-eight small cells located along a narrow piece of land at the foot of the cliffs, and not Qumran, was the Essene site mentioned by Pliny ( Hist. Nat. 5.15 [73]).


These theories encountered strong opposition on the part of proponents of the "conservative" majority view, resulting at times in bitter polemics; they were also a cause of steady, ongoing debate between the two of us. The main objection to Hirschfeld's views was that he had ignored the significance of the peculiarities of Qumran, which make it different from a regular agricultural manor: the large quantity of tableware adjacent to an elongated convening hall, suggesting that meals and meetings were attended there by a large crowd; the multiplicity of ritual baths ( miqvaot ); the singularity of the adjacent large cemetery of ca. 1200 burials; and most importantly, the relevance of the scrolls of sectarian character found in the adjacent caves, which identify Qumran as a sectarian site. As a matter of fact, the comparanda he brought for other manor houses and sites as proofs of the site's non-sectarian character actually emphasize the dissimilarities between these sites and Qumran, not only the similarities. Qumran was indeed an agricultural manor, but the peculiarities of the site indicate that its inhabitants were in fact sectarians - a claim rejected by Hirschfeld. The peculiarities are very much in accord with the contents of the scrolls, so it was argued. As for the group of cells above En Gedi, it was argued that they were temporary dwellings of seasonal workers, who established their sheds not far from the adjacent palm and balsam orchards; they had nothing to do with Pliny's Essenes. Hirschfeld put his emphasis on the lucrative character of the site at the expense of indications of its contemplative features, which were emphasized by others. In any case, the revived debate has contributed to a re-examination of de Vaux's excavations, and to a refinement of the argumentation of both parties. Unfortunately, none had crossed the lines, so it seems.

In other domains - domestic architecture, monastic archaeology, the aqueducts of Israel , rural settlement patterns, and more - his work have established the state of the art, his publications being so rich in new material, and in sound studies. His was a most significant contribution to the archaeology of Israel and beyond.

May he rest in peace and may his memory be blessed forever.