Dr. Avraham Biran
Director of the Nelson Glueck School of
Biblical Archaeology, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem
I stand before you filled with emotion and amazement at this impressive and joyful gathering. In all humility I fear I am not worthy of this honor. In truth, I simply managed to survive until the age of 90 - an age which then requires stock taking of man - to examine his activities, his failures, and accomplishments.
I marvel and wonder as to why God has granted me a long life extending over generations, generations which represent the history of Jewish settlement in this land from the early days of aliyah of the 1880s. If I have achieved anything in the course of my long life, it is only because of the many and good people who stood by me.
I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth but had a great deal of luck which brought moments of gratification and joy along with moments of calamities and pain. Early in my life I learned that the world owes me nothing, that we are not deserving of anything, and that we cannot blame others for our own failures. At the same time we must be ready to stand up to every challenge and never give up or despair, remembering what our sages taught us: "one is not required to complete the task but neither is one free from undertaking it."
I had much luck in my life. I was lucky that my mother, a righteous God-fearing woman, may she rest in peace, put her children's education above all else. I was lucky to have a loyal and supportive family who accepted, with understanding, the byways and wanderings of my life, and kept me with their faith and nourished me all these years.
I was lucky to have wonderful teachers who bred in me the "beauty of Yefet in the tents of Shem" and, at the same time, instilled in me a love of the Bible, the land, and the exploration of both. I was lucky to have served along great personalities - giants of spirit and action - who bestowed on me a spirit of action and discovery. I was lucky to sit at the feet of scholars who taught me time and again that archaeological research is not carried out to prove the authenticity of the Bible, because the Bible, written by Divine inspiration, needs no proof.
The Almighty graciously entrusted me with tasks that through the years bore fruit, with the help of institutions and friends. Many were my partners in these deeds and to them I owe my thanks. Time will not allow me to name everyone. In my wildest dreams I never imagine that, more than sixty years ago, when I joined Nelson Glueck in his search for the port of Etzion Geber, that I would one day head the prestigious School which bears his name, under the wings of the great Hebrew Union College, where we are gathered today. Let no one dare say that because we did not discover Etzion Geber and did not find the ships of King Solomon - that Solomon did not exist and did not build the Holy Temple.
What a wonder! In our explorations at Tel Dan, far from Jerusalem, we found a cultic enclosure. Built a hundred years after Solomon, we discovered walls which illustrate precisely the methods of construction of the Temple courtyard: "three rows of hewn stone and one row of cedar beams" (I Kings 7:12). This method of construction persisted and 300 years later, in the days of the return to Zion, Cyrus, king of Persia, directs those who are returning to Eretz Yisrael, to build God's home in Jerusalem "with a course of unused timber for each three courses of hewn stone" (Ezra 6:4).
It was Nelson Glueck, Rabbi and President of Hebrew Union College, who said that the Bible, which expresses God's existence, the God of Israel, the God of humankind and the Universe, is the main source for the history of the People of Israel and the Land of Israel.
To the Presidents of Hebrew Union College and to those who assisted them in establishing this institution, to them and to staff members in Israel and abroad, honor and esteem are due. To my colleagues who share our daily work in the School, many thanks for your cooperation in all the tasks we took upon ourselves.
To the organizers of this evening who worked tirelessly, even at this moment, to ensure the success of this event, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thanks to the speakers who revived forgotten memories, thank you all who gathered here, to my extended family who came from near and far and to those who came from all the corners of the country to celebrate with us - many many thanks.
I don't have enough words to thank everyone - so let me end with a story. Many many years ago, when I was a student at the Reali School we had a much admired teacher, S.D. Goitein, who said to me one day:
"I was in the cemetery and there I saw a tombstone and on it was the name of the deceased and the words: He was born, He lived, He died.' I hope," said Prof. Goitein, "that on your tombstone there will be written a little more than that." Hopefully he will not be disappointed!
Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for this enchanted evening.