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Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF)

(1865 - Present)

The Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) is a British society based in London. It was founded in 1865 under the royal patronage of Queen Victoria by a group of distinguished academics and clergymen, most notably the Dean of Westminster Abbey, Arthur Stanley, and Sir George Grove. It is the oldest known organization in the world created specifically for the study of the Levant region.

Following the completion of the Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem, the Biblical archaeologists and clergymen who supported the survey financed the creation of the fund. The preliminary meeting of the Society of the Palestine Exploration Fund took place in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey. William Thomson, the Archbishop of York, announced the society’s goal:

[O]ur object is strictly an inductive inquiry. We are not to be a religious society; we are not about to launch controversy; we are about to apply the rules of science, which are so well understood by us in our branches, to an investigation into the facts concerning the Holy Land. “No country should be of so much interest to us as that in which the documents of our Faith were written, and the momentous events they describe enacted. At the same time no country more urgently requires illustration ... Even to a casual traveler in the Holy Land the Bible becomes, in its form, and therefore to some extent in its substance, a new book. Much would be gained by ...bringing to light the remains of so many races and generations which must lie concealed under the accumulation of rubbish and ruins on which those villages stand.

The original mission statement of the PEF was to promote research into the archaeology and history, manners and customs and culture, topography, geology and natural sciences of biblical Palestine and the Levant.

The PEF conducted many early excavations of biblical and post-biblical sites around the Levant, as well as studies involving natural history, anthropology, history, and geography.

In 1867, Charles Warren led PEF’s biggest expedition. Warren and his team improved the topography of Jerusalem and discovered the ancient water systems that lay beneath the city of Jerusalem. The water system was later named Warren’s Shaft, after Charles Warren, due to the discovery. They also made the first excavations of Tell es-Sultan in Jericho.

In 1875, the Earl of Shaftesbury, told the Annual General Meeting of the PEF that “We have there a land teeming with fertility and rich in history, but almost without an inhabitant – a country without a people, and look! scattered over the world, a people without a country.”

It was one of the earliest descriptions by a prominent politician of Palestine as a land without a people for a people without a land, which was to become widely used by advocates of the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel.

Each year the Palestine Exploration Fund offers grants for travel and research related to topics connected with its founding aims. The PEF’s offices also house collections of photographs, maps, artifacts, manuscripts, and paintings.

The journal of the PEF devoted to the study of the history, archaeology, and geography of the Levant is Palestine Exploration Quarterly which has appeared since 1869.

Sources: “Palestine Exploration Fund,” Wikipedia.
The Palestine Exploration Fund.

Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.