Adam Zertal

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Adam Zertal, January 2005

Adam Zertal (Hebrew: אדם זרטל; 1936 – October 18, 2015) was an Israeli archaeologist and a tenured professor at the University of Haifa.[1]


Adam Zertal grew up in Ein Shemer, a kibbutz affiliated with the Hashomer Hatzair movement. Zertal was severely wounded in the Yom Kippur War. He later told a reporter for The Jerusalem Post, “I spent a year at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and I became interested in archaeology. Although I had argued that the Bible was full of myths, I decided after my recovery to travel the land by foot to look for archeological evidence.”[2]

Archaeology career[edit]

Zertal claimed to have identified several sites he worked on as being connected to sites, events and characters from the narratives in the Hebrew Bible:

  • Joshua's altar. A structure on Mount Ebal identified as an early Israelite altar.[3]
  • Sisera's town. Zertal headed the excavations at El-ahwat, which he has identified as the Biblical Harosheth Haggoyim, a fortress described in the Book of Judges as the fortress or cavalry base of Sisera, commander of the army of King Jabin. (Judges 4)[2][4]
  • Foot-shaped enclosures in the Jordan Valley and the hill country west of it. Zertal described them as ceremonial sites used during Iron Age I and probably later, as well.[5] He explained the term "aliya la-regel" (lit.: "rise to the foot"), commonly translated as "pilgrimage", as derived from these enclosures, and saw the use of the expression in connection with the mandatory pilgrimage Temple in Jerusalem as an adaptation of the term to a new situation.[5] He saw a direct connection between the foot shape of the enclosures and the biblical concept of taking ownership over a territory by walking on it, or in other words setting one's foot on it,[5] as seen for instance in Genesis 13:17 and Deuteronomy 11:24, or of more generally "stepping in someone's shoes" and inheriting their property as in Ruth 4:7–9.[6] Zertal discovered five such sites: Bedhat esh-Sha'ab (near Moshav Argaman), Masua (4) (near Masua), Yafit (3) (near Yafit), el-'Unuq, and the inner and outer enclosures at Mount Ebal.[7]
  • Underground quarry (possibly identified as biblical Galgala). In 2009, Zertal headed a team that discovered an ancient underground quarry in the Jordan Valley.[8] He associated the cave with two Byzantine-period place names, Galgala and Dodekaliton (Greek for "Twelve Stones"), marked on the Madaba map next to each other and at a distance from Jericho that matches the cave's distance from the city. He offered the interpretation that the Byzantines had identified the site as Gilgal, where the Children of Israel had set up the twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan River while crossing it (Joshua 4:20).[9]

Zertal's work was not without controversy, and, in particular, his claims about Mount Ebal, where he worked for nine years, never gained traction within the wider archaeological community.[1] While many archeologists agree that the structure was a site of an early Israelite cultic activity, its identification with Joshua's altar is disputed.[10][11][12]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Zertal, Adam (2004). The Manasseh Hill Country Survey. Vol. 1. Boston: BRILL. ISBN 9004137564.
  • ——— (2007). The Manasseh Hill Country Survey. Vol. 2. Boston: BRILL. ISBN 978-9004163690.
  • ——— (2011). El-Ahwat, A Fortified Site from the Early Iron Age Near Nahal 'Iron, Israel: Excavations 1993-2000. Boston: BRILL. ISBN 9004176454.
  • ———; Mirkam, Nivi (2016). The Manasseh Hill Country Survey. Vol. 3. Boston: BRILL. ISBN 978-9004312302.
  • ———; Bar, Shay (2017). The Manasseh Hill Country Survey. Vol. 4. Boston: BRILL. ISBN 978-9004346963.
  • ———; Bar, Shay (2019). The Manasseh Hill Country Survey. Vol. 5. Boston: BRILL. ISBN 978-9004400863.
  • ———; Bar, Shay (2021). The Manasseh Hill Country Survey. Vol. 6. Boston: BRILL. ISBN 978-9004463233.
  • ———; Bar, Shay (2022). The Manasseh Hill Country Survey. Vol. 7. Boston: BRILL. ISBN 978-9004513044.


  1. ^ a b "Adam Zertal, Israeli Archaeologist Who Identified Joshua's Altar at Mt. Ebal, Dies at 79". 21 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy (July 2, 2010). "Long time archaeological riddle solved, Canaanite general was based in Wadi Ara". Jerusalem Post.
  3. ^ Zertal, Adam. "Shechem and Mount 'Ebal in the Bible: Is this indeed Joshua's altar?". University of Haifa. Archived from the original on 2021-10-19. Retrieved 2010-07-02.
  4. ^ "Archaeological mystery solved". University of Haifa press release. July 1, 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-07-05. Retrieved 2010-07-02.
  5. ^ a b c Rachel Feldman [Haifa University official blog): Enormous 'Foot-Shaped' Enclosure Discovered in Jordan Valley [1] Archived 2016-04-19 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ John Black (International Christian Embassy Jerusalem), "Footprints of Ancient Israel: Unusual stone circles may mark biblical 'Gilgal'", first published in The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, January 2013 [2]
  7. ^ Zertal, Adam; Ben-Yosef, Dror (2009). "Bedhat esh-Sha'ab: An Iron Age I Enclosure in the Jordan Valley". In Schloen, J. David (ed.). Exploring the Longue Durée: Essays in Honor of Lawrence E. Stager. Eisenbrauns. pp. 517–529. ISBN 978-1575061610. Retrieved 9 April 2021. No access to relevant passage. Fully accessed in December 2015 on A. Zertal's homepage, p. 10, note 6 Archived 2015-11-13 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Lefkovits, Etgar (June 21, 2009). "Huge Roman-era cave found by Jericho". Jerusalem Post.
  9. ^ Cave Dating From The Year 1 A.D. Exposed In Jordan Valley, Science Daily, (July 7, 2009).
  10. ^ Hawkins, Ralph K. (2012). The Iron Age I Structure on Mt. Ebal: Excavation and Interpretation. Penn State Press. ISBN 978-1-57506-243-3.
  11. ^ Antti Laato (2014). "The Cult Site on Mount Ebal: A Biblical Tradition Rewritten and Reinterpreted .". In Koskenniemi, Erkki; Vos, Jacobus Cornelis de (eds.). Holy Places and Cult. Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-952-12-3046-2. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  12. ^ Ulrich, Eugene (14 April 2015). The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible. BRILL. p. 61. ISBN 978-90-04-29603-9. Retrieved 30 April 2022.


  • Hawkins, Ralph K.; Gass, Erasmus; Ben-Yosef, Dror, eds. (2021). His Inheritance: A Memorial Volume for Adam Zertal. Alter Orient und Altes Testament. Vol. 454. Ugarit-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-86835-336-5.