Dr. Edward Robinson in the Holy Land – the Story of the Father of Biblical Archaeology

July 10, 2017

Most people have never heard of Dr. Edward Robinson, and unless you visit Israel, you will most likely never learn about this American scholar either. But if you do go to Israel, you will hear his name a lot. His explorations in 1838, for almost three months on horseback, earned him the title “the Father of Biblical Archaeology.”

The son of a Congregational minister, Robinson was born in Connecticut. After graduating from Hamilton College in 1816, he became a professor of biblical literature at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts and later, Union Theological Seminary. He studied abroad in Germany and Palestine, was an expert in classical Greek, and eventually mastered Hebrew.

One of the great biblical scholars of his era, Robinson published several volumes that were based on careful personal exploration of ancient biblical sites. Armed with a compass, a telescope, and a Bible, he made several important identifications of landmarks, and his writings had a significant impact on modern archaeology. Probably his two most important finds were Hezekiah’s Tunnel, and the Arch at the southwestern wall in Jerusalem that is named after him today.

Robinson’s Arch is a masonry stub about 50 feet long that projects out of the face of the Western Wall, just south of the Wailing Wall, in a semi-enclosed area filled with rubble from the Roman destruction in 70 A.D. It was the support for a massive stair case that led up from shops and markets on the street level to a gate at the Temple Mount. Near this corner, priests would be posted on the Sabbath to sound the shofar horns, as evidenced by a cornerstone discovered with the Hebrew inscription, “To the place of trumpeting.” This stone was originally at the pinnacle of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, with a busy street below.

Near the Huldah Gates, right around the corner from the arched stairway, ritual baths were discovered. These baths were used for cleansing and purifying entrants to the Temple. Some now think that the common Jews entered here at the Huldah Gates, and that only the Temple priests used the arched entrance. It’s hard to be sure, but we can be sure that Robinson made an impact in Israel.

A devout skeptic, Robinson found over 100 biblical sites, including the remains of Herod Agrippa’s wall expansion in 41 A.D., the ancient city of Gibeon (1852), Shiloh (1838), Mikhmash (1852), and Hezekiah’s Tunnel (1838). Robinson’s tunnel discovery shook the archaeological world, and he was the first to conclude that Hezekiah’s Tunnel was simultaneously chiseled from opposing ends. After seeing these two archaeological marvels, you won’t read the Bible the same way again, all thanks to the tireless efforts of one obscure man on horseback…the Father of Biblical Archaeology, Dr. Edward Robinson.