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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 91
WILLIAM FOXWELL ALBRIGHT
May 24, 1891–September 19, 1971
BY THOMAS E. LEVY AND DAVID NOEL FREEDMAN
ALTHOUGH THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOLAR William Foxwell Albright passed away many years ago, he is still regarded by most Levantine archaeologists, biblical scholars, and other Near Eastern researchers of the world of the Bible as a genius. The word “genius” is not used lightly here. Albright was a master of so many disciplines linked to the study of the ancient Near East, in particular the world of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), that he is considered one of the last great orientalists. Having its origins as far back as the 12th century, orientalism was the study of the synthetic and simultaneous study of the history, languages, and culture of the peoples of Asia. By the 18th century, orientalists such as Sir William (“Oriental”) Jones mastered 13 languages and “dabbled in 28.” Unlike today’s scholarly world of specialization the orientalist was a polymath able to work with multiple ancient and modern languages and in a wide range of scholarly fields. While the idea of the orientalist took on negative overtones through the work of postmodern researchers in the late 1970s and 1980s, more objective approaches by scholars such as the anthropologist Ernest Gellner and others have shown that orientalist scholars such as the German Gustav Dalman, Palestinian Toufic Canaan, Alois Musil from Moravia (now Czech Republic),