Led excavation in ancient biblical city

Times Staff Reports

Avraham Brian, an Israeli archaeologist whose three-decade dig at the ancient city of Dan in northern Israel yielded historical treasures including a fragment of a stone monument that provided the first known reference outside the Bible to the royal House of David, died Sept. 16 in Jerusalem, the Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem announced. He was 98.

Biran had been director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at the college since 1974.

He began an emergency excavation of ruins near the border with Lebanon and Syria in 1966, as Israeli military forces were strengthening defenses in the period leading up to the Six Day War in 1967.

He and his team soon confirmed the site as Dan, where the ancient Israelites worshiped a golden calf, as described in the Old Testament’s book of I Kings. Although Biran never found the golden calf, he did discover many cult objects associated with the sacrificial shrine.


In 1993, at the same site, his team unearthed a stone stele from the ninth century BC with an early Aramaic inscription referring to the House of David. Modern Jews and Christians trace their lineage to the biblical king, but some scholars have questioned whether he was a real figure or simply myth. Biran documented his discovery in the 1994 book “Biblical Dan.”

Born in 1909 in Rosh Pina in northern Palestine, Biran grew up there and in Egypt. He came to the United States in 1931 to study at the University of Pennsylvania and received a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. He returned to Palestine for a fellowship at the American School for Oriental Research in Jerusalem before taking a job as a district officer for the British Mandatory Administration.

After the state of Israel was established in 1948, he served as a government official and diplomat. From 1955 to 1958 he was the Israeli consul in Los Angeles.

In 1961 he returned to archaeology and became director of the Israel Antiquities Department until 1974.