Sherds of Evidence

The mysterious case of the West Bank archeologist Albert Glock: The controversial excavation, the women he loved and the person who killed him.

Last Saturday, Lois Glock marked the 10th anniversary of the murder of her husband, Albert Glock, a professor of archaeology, in a modest ceremony held at an Evangelical Lutheran church in Madison, New Jersey, where she now lives. Albert Glock is buried in Ramallah, in the West Bank. The circumstances of his murder are enveloped in a mystery that cuts across cultures and continents. The police investigation of the murder ended in failure.

"Investigation of the case went on for three years," says the spokesman for the Judea and Samaria District of the Israel Police, Superintendent Rafi Yaffe. "It was closed on January 1, 1995, for lack of leads and because the perpetrator is unknown."

January 19, 1992, the day of Glock's murder, was a cold, nasty Sunday. Albert and Lois Glock began the day by attending a church service in the Old City of Jerusalem, at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Then Glock, as always, hurried back to his work at the Institute of Palestinian Archaeology at Bir Zeit University. One of the reasons he had founded the institute was to contribute to the national struggle of the Palestinians.

He left the church before the congregation dispersed, walking out of the Old City and then driving to the university, which lies next to Ramallah, north of Jerusalem.

He worked alone in his office for a few hours. "He was very devoted to his research, a real nagger about archaeology," says Dr. Nazmi Ju'beh, who was one of Glock's research assistants.

"He was industrious but strange, not a person whom it warms your heart to meet," adds Prof. Trude Dotan, an Israel Prize laureate for archaeology. "Sometimes he would walk the streets of Jerusalem, always wearing a blue blazer, always alone."

At about 3 P.M. on that January day a decade ago, Glock locked the door of his office and left for the home of his research assistant and the object of his passions. She lived about a kilometer's drive from the center of Bir Zeit. Her house was on a steep slope, below the road level, so that looking down on it from the road, an observer would see only the solar-heating panels and the television antenna on the roof. Glock parked the car and walked to the house. As he neared the gate, a young man wearing jeans, a dark jacket and a kaffiyeh suddenly emerged from among the young olive trees along the way. The man positioned himself in front of Glock, fired three shots at him from point-blank range with a pistol, and fled. Glock died instantly.

The news of his death sent shock waves through Bir Zeit University and embarrassed the Palestinian leadership. The event generated no particular interest in Israel, though it was reported in the press and on the Channel One news. The funeral service was held in the Ascension Church at the Augusta Victoria compound on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. About 200 people, nearly all of them Palestinians, attended. Glock's body was placed in a wooden coffin, on a white cloth with a large purple cross. "Let us not allow these three shots to tempt us into interpreting what is hidden from us," the priest said.

No one was ever brought to trial for the murder of Prof. Albert Glock. His widow formed the impression that neither Israel nor the Palestinians had an interest in solving the case.

"Every time we spoke to the Israeli police, we were cut off, we felt as though we were up against a wall," she said last week. "The police told me a few times that they simply don't have the resources or the ability to investigate the murder. In the Palestinian Authority, I asked for the help of Jibril Rajoub [now the PA's head of Preventive Security in the West Bank]. He promised enthusiastically to investigate the case, but nothing ever came of it. I was in [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat's office in Jericho. The officials told me that there was nothing they could do, it was an Israeli problem.

"Ten years have gone by since the murder, but it's still important for me that the murderers be apprehended. Not so they can be punished, but so that we can finally know who did it - and why."

Yaffe, of the Judea and Samaria District of the police force, comments: "We did the best we could. We invested great effort in this case, we followed all possible leads in the investigation and spared no effort, but unfortunately, after three years, the investigators reached the conclusion that there is no further lead that would allow leaving the case open."

Renewed interest in the life story of Albert Glock has been created in the wake of the publication of a book by a London-based investigative journalist, Edward Fox (published in the United States as "Sacred Geography: A Tale of Murder and Archaeology in the Holy Land," and in Britain and Commonwealth countries as "Palestine Twilight: The Murder of Albert Glock and the Archaeology of the Holy Land"). Fox learned about the case by chance. In 1994 he was reading an article by Glock, entitled "Archaeology as Cultural Survival - the Future of the Palestinian Past," in an American academic periodical, The Journal of Palestine Studies.

"Attached to the first page of the article was an extraordinary biographical footnote," Fox wrote in an article in the British newspaper The Guardian in June 2001. The footnote, which implied that Israel knew more about Glock's murder than it was letting on, intrigued him. He visited Bir Zeit to trace Glock's movements and he was given access to the archaeologist's private diaries by Lois Glock, the widow. A perusal of the diaries gave him ample scope to reconstruct Dr. Glock's activities.

Albert Glock's parents were Lutherans of German stock who belonged to the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, which with more than 2.6 million baptized members, ranks as the second-largest Lutheran church body in North America and the 11th largest denomination in the U.S. They lived in Gifford, a rural town in Idaho surrounded by forests. Ernst Glock, Albert's father, was the priest of the community. A few years after Albert was born, in 1925, the family moved to another small town, Washburn, in Illinois.

The family spoke only German at home. Albert received a rigid Lutheran upbringing. He was taught to believe in the literal word of the Scriptures, that the Catholics are the enemies of God, that Protestants who did not belong to the Missouri Synod were errant in their faith, and that scientific theories about the creation of the universe were heretical. Manifestations of rebelliousness or of creativity were stifled immediately. Modesty and obedience were supreme values. If Albert behaved badly, he was beaten.

In 1938, at the age of 13, Albert chose to attend a high school in Milwaukee that prepared youngsters to study for the priesthood. The school was more than 300 kilometers from his home. His parents agreed to let him attend the school but said they couldn't afford the travel costs involved. Glock, who wanted to leave the provincial town and see the world, didn't give up. During his five years of study at the Milwaukee institution, he hitchhiked back and forth. He studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew. His natural skepticism was stronger than the severe prohibitions of the religious community to which he belonged, and he began to read the Bible - the "Old Testament" - critically.

Following his graduation from high school, Glock enrolled in Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis. At the conclusion of his studies, he was supposed to be ordained as a priest, but Glock did not forsake the areas of interest he had developed as a boy. He did a year's study at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany, where he chose several courses in biblical criticism, and he studied Middle Eastern languages at the University of Chicago. In 1950, at the age of 25, he completed his studies at the seminary and a year later, he married Lois, the daughter of a Lutheran professor of theology and also of German extraction.

Glock was appointed a priest in the town of Normal, Illinois, not far from where he grew up. Edward Fox inferred from his letters that he was happy with the posting. His life, then, might have ended like the lives of many Protestant clergymen in tranquil American settings. However, his intellectual passion was more powerful. He enrolled for Hebrew studies at Michigan University, where one of his teachers introduced him to the theory that the ancient Israelites were in fact Canaanites who established a kind of theocratic liberation movement and changed the Canaanite society "from the inside." Deeply influenced by his professor, Glock decided to leave the priesthood and take up an academic career.

"I wasted seven years of my life in Normal, Illinois," he wrote in his diary.

In the summer of 1962, Glock paid his first visit to the West Bank, which was then under Jordanian control, together with a few other biblical scholars. He took part in the excavations at the Tel Balata site, adjacent to Nablus. A year later, he joined the dig at Tel Ta'anach, about nine kilometers east of the Megiddo Junction, in the West Bank. The leader of the dig was Dr. Paul Lapp, the director of the Albright Institute for archaeological research in East Jerusalem, and a sworn enemy of Israel.

According to the Bible, Ta'anach was one of the Canaanite city-states that Joshua captured. The excavations were financed by several Protestant groups, among them Concordia Seminary, where Glock had studied. Their hope was that the findings would affirm the eternal verity of the Bible. Glock, the project's public relations official, sent Christian newspapers in the United States articles in which he reported on the progress of the work.

The excavations continued after the West Bank was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Among other finds, the archaeologists discovered a Canaanite altar made of clay. Glock himself was responsible for one of the impressive finds: a potsherd pedestal, decorated with artistically rendered figures.

In this period, Glock came to identify with the Palestinians. "My husband was always on the side of the underdog," Lois Glock says. "He felt that what was being done to the Palestinians wasn't fair. We lived in an Arab village, we learned about the Palestinians' living conditions and we identified with their distress. But we were not against the existence of the State of Israel. My husband identified with many aspects of Jewish life. What happened was that we had to choose a side, and we chose the side of those whom we knew best, the Palestinians."

Says the archaeologist, Prof. Trude Dotan: "We, as Israelis, had a lot of trouble with many Americans and Britons like Glock, who were charmed by the Orient. We thought that after the Six Day War they would be happy to meet us, which was naive on our part. They lived a good life in Arab villages and we ruined their world. What interest could they have in meeting us?"

In 1970, Paul Lapp drowned while on vacation in Cyprus. Glock took over as director of the Tel Ta'anach excavations and as director of the Albright Institute. From a Bible scholar who also engaged in archaeology, he became a full-time archaeologist. Lapp left behind a huge collection of Bronze Age pottery sherds, which he had recovered during three seasons of digging at Tel Ta'anach. Glock's mission was to classify them and write the final, comprehensive report on the dig.

Glock conceived the idea of examining not only the manner in which the sherds were designed, but also the technique by which they were produced. The sherds were cut into hundreds of diminutive pieces and examined microscopically.

"He took the sherds to Bethlehem and cut them with machines in order view their structure better," Dotan says. "That kind of technical analysis of pottery sherds was quite innovative at the time. Nowadays, we have a more sophisticated way of going about it."

Glock's concept generated work that proved to be Sisyphean, Fox writes. His classification method did not produce satisfactory results, and his colleagues were skeptical about his work. Years of toil ended in deep disappointment.