Gerald Lankester Harding

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Gerald Lankester Harding (1901–11 February 1979) was a British archaeologist who was the Director of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities for twenty years. His tenure spanned the period in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and brought to public awareness. Without his efforts many of the scrolls may have disappeared into private collections never to be seen again.


Harding was born in Tientsin, North China in 1901. He first went to Jordan in 1932 to work on Sir Flinders Petrie's excavations at Tall al-Ajjul in South Palestine. He became the Chief Curator of Antiquities of Jordan (the title later changed to the Director of Antiquities) in 1936.[1]

In 1948 Harding became acquainted with the existence of the scrolls from a report in an archaeological journal. As they were found in his jurisdiction, he immediately set out to gain control of them and their archaeological context, in order to preserve the important information they might yield. In his capacity as Acting Curator of the Palestine Archaeological Museum (now the Rockefeller Museum) in Jerusalem he used that institution to aid in the search for the origin of the scrolls. Working with the American School of Oriental Research and the École biblique et archéologique française in Jérusalem he negotiated access to scrolls and their point of origin and he organized funding to purchase scrolls from the Bedouin who originally found them.[2]

In 1949 Harding and Roland de Vaux finally learned the location of the cave from which the scrolls had come and together they excavated it.[3] In the same year they investigated the few visible traces nearby at Qumran and examined two tombs in the Qumran cemetery. In February 1952 he was involved with de Vaux in the excavation of caves in Wadi Murabba'at.[4] Harding continued to oversee the matters regarding Qumran and the scrolls until 1956 when the political climate in Jordan and the region in general caused his resignation.[5]

In 1959 Harding published The Antiquities of Jordan, an overview of the many and varied archaeological sites of Jordan, which includes a chapter on Qumran.

Harding died in London, but as a mark of respect for the service he had offered to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, permission was given for his ashes to be buried at Jerash, overlooking the archaeological site there.[6]

Harding met the American author William Peter Blatty in Beirut, and Blatty has stated that Harding "was the physical model in my mind when I created the character of Father Merrin [from The Exorcist], whose first name, please note, is Lankester."[7]

Selected publications by Harding[edit]

  • 1949 "Recent work on the Jerash forum" Palestine Exploration Quarterly 81 (Jan.-April 1949): 12-20.
  • 1949 "The Dead Sea Scrolls" Palestine Exploration Quarterly 81 (July-Oct. 1949): 112-116.
  • 1952 "Khirbet Qumran and Wady Muraba'at" Palestine Exploration Quarterly 84 (May-Oct. 1952): 104-109.
  • 1953 Four Tomb Groups from Jordan (London: Palestine Exploration Fund)
  • 1958 "Recent discoveries in Jordan" Palestine Exploration Quarterly 90 (Jan.-June 1958): 7-18.
  • 1959 The Antiquities of Jordan (London: Lutterworth Press).
  • 1978 with F. V. Winnett Inscriptions from Fifty Safaitic Cairns (University of Toronto, Near and Middle East Series 9)
    • A full bibliography of Harding's works, prepared by Michael Macdonald, is published as "A Bibliography of Gerald Lankester Harding" Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 24 (1980): 8-12.


  1. ^ Harding 1959, xiii
  2. ^ Allegro 1956, p.20-22, 32-34.
  3. ^ VanderKam 2002, p.12.
  4. ^ Allegro 1956, p.35.
  5. ^ VanderKam 2002, p.39.
  6. ^
  7. ^


  • Allegro, John M., The Dead Sea Scrolls (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1956).
  • de Vaux, Roland, "La Grotte des Manuscrits Hébreux", Revue Biblique 56 (1949), 586-609.
  • Harding, Gerald Lankester, The Antiquities of Jordan (London: Lutterworth Press, 1959).
  • Macdonald, Michael "In Memoriam Gerald Lankester Harding" Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 23 (1979): 198-200.
  • VanderKam, James & Flint, Peter, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (HarperSanFrancisco, 2002) ISBN 0-06-068464-X
  • Winnett, Fred V. "Gerald Lankester Harding: 1901-1979" Biblical Archaeologist, American Schools of Oriental Research. Spring 1980: 127

External links[edit]