The Victorians and the Holy Land: The Archaeological Discovery of the Middle East

Monday, November 26, 2018 - 17:15
Contact person
Dr Cristina Neagu
01865 276265
Talk / Lecture

The latest in the Upper Library Talks by Dr Allan Chapman.

Were the Egyptian pyramids once granaries built by the enslaved Jews, as was believed in the Middle Ages?   Yet one of our first accurate surveys of the Great Pyramid was published by the Oxford astronomer John Greaves in his Pyramidographia in 1646.  But it was in the 19th century that Egypt became accessible to the West in a big way.  The discovery of the Rosetta Stone by French savants in 1799 provided a key to the ancient hieroglyphic script. Then Sir Henry Layard's 1840s discovery of Nimrud, Nineveh, and the Old Testament Mesopotamian cities of Abraham's time captured both scholarly and popular attention in that Biblically-aware age. The Victorian transport revolution of railways across Europe, fast steamships on the Mediterranean , and luxury steamboat hotels on the Nile opened up the wider Holy Land to the Western world, and tourism was born.  The 20-year-old Edward, Prince of Wales, was sent on tour in 1862, guided by Dr Stanley, the future Dean of Westminster; then in 1869 the enterprising Thomas Cook took his first 'package tour' to Jerusalem, Nazareth, the Jordan, and other Holy sites, after which there was no looking back!  In 1865, the private subscription Palestine Exploration Fund was established to undertake serious excavations and surveys of important Holy sites - and it continues to this day. Yet the man who created modern, scientific archaeology was Sir Flinders Petrie, who, from the early 1880s, would  transform our knowledge of the Egypt and the Holy Land.

From the first daring Western travellers of 400 years ago, to oriental linguists and archaeologists, Victorian tourists baptizing themselves in the river Jordan, and on to the first electric-powered cinema in Jerusalem in 1910, the Western fascination with the 'Bible lands' provides us with a colourful historical saga.