Gerald Lankester Harding

Gerald Lankester Harding

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Gerald Lankester Harding (1901–11 February 1979) was the Director of the Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

ian Department of Antiquities for twenty years. His tenure spanned the period in which the Dead Sea Scrolls
Dead Sea scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts from the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical documents found between 1947 and 1956 on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name...

 were discovered and brought to public awareness. Without his efforts many of the scrolls may have disappeared into private collections never to be seen again.


Harding was born in Tientsin
' is a metropolis in northern China and one of the five national central cities of the People's Republic of China. It is governed as a direct-controlled municipality, one of four such designations, and is, thus, under direct administration of the central government...

, North China in 1901. He first went to Jordan in 1932 to work on Sir Flinders Petrie's excavations at Tall al-Ajjul
Tall al-Ajjul
Tall al-Ajjul is an archaeological tell in southern Palestine, with remains dating back to as early as 2100 B.C. The exact location of Tall al-Ajjul is located at the mouth of the Ghazzah Wadi just south of the town of Gaza...

 in South Palestine. He became the Chief Curator of Antiquities of Jordan (the title later changed to the Director of Antiquities) in 1936.

In 1948 Harding became acquainted with the existence of the scrolls from a report in an archaeological journal. As they were found in his jurisdiction, he immediately set out to gain control of them and their archaeological context, in order to preserve the important information they might yield. In his capacity as Acting Curator of the Palestine Archaeological Museum (now the Rockefeller Museum) in Jerusalem he used that institution to aid in the search for the origin of the scrolls. Working with the American School of Oriental Research and the École biblique et archéologique française
École Biblique
The École Biblique, strictly the École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem, is a respected French academic establishment in Jerusalem, founded by Dominicans, and specialising in archaeology and Biblical exegesis.-Foundation:...

 in Jérusalem he negotiated access to scrolls and their point of origin and he organized funding to purchase scrolls from the Bedouin who originally found them.

In 1949 Harding and Roland de Vaux
Roland de Vaux
Father Roland Guérin de Vaux OP was a French Dominican priest who led the Catholic team that initially worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was the director of the Ecole Biblique, a French Catholic Theological School in East Jerusalem, and he was charged with overseeing research on the scrolls...

 finally learned the location of the cave from which the scrolls had come and together they excavated it. In the same year they investigated the few visible traces nearby at Qumran
Qumran is an archaeological site in the West Bank. It is located on a dry plateau about a mile inland from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, near the Israeli settlement and kibbutz of Kalia...

 and examined two tombs in the Qumran cemetery
Qumran Cemetery
The Qumran cemetery lies to the east of the settlement at Qumran at a distance of 35 meters. It is a large area leading to a descent from which four finger-like ridges point eastward. On these ridges more tombs are located. The current estimate of tombs in the cemetery is over 1100. The largest...

. In February 1952 he was involved with de Vaux in the excavation of caves in Wadi Murabba'at
Wadi Murabba'at
Wadi Murabba'at, also known as Nahal Darga, is a ravine cut by a seasonal stream which runs from the Judean desert east of Bethlehem past the Herodium down to the Dead Sea 18 km south of Khirbet Qumran...

. Harding continued to oversee the matters regarding Qumran and the scrolls until 1956 when the political climate in Jordan and the region in general caused his resignation.

In 1959 Harding published The Antiquities of Jordan, an overview of the many and varied archaeological sites of Jordan, which includes a chapter on Qumran.

Harding died in London, but as a mark of respect for the service he had offered to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, permission was given for his ashes to be buried at Jerash
Jerash, the Gerasa of Antiquity, is the capital and largest city of Jerash Governorate , which is situated in the north of Jordan, north of the capital Amman towards Syria...

, overlooking the archaeological site there.

Harding met the author William Peter Blatty
William Peter Blatty
William Peter Blatty is an American writer and filmmaker. The novel The Exorcist, written in 1971, is his magnum opus; he also penned the subsequent screenplay version of the film, for which he won an Academy Award....

 in Beirut, and Blatty has stated that Harding "was the physical model in my mind when I created the character of Father Merrin [from The Exorcist
The Exorcist
The Exorcist is a novel of supernatural suspense by William Peter Blatty, published by Harper & Row in 1971. It was inspired by a 1949 case of demonic possession and exorcism that Blatty heard about while he was a student in the class of 1950 at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school...

], whose first name, please note, is Lankester."

Selected publications by Harding

  • 1949 "Recent work on the Jerash forum" Palestine Exploration Quarterly 81 (Jan.-April 1949): 12-20.
  • 1949 "The Dead Sea Scrolls" Palestine Exploration Quarterly 81 (July-Oct. 1949): 112-116.
  • 1952 "Khirbet Qumran and Wady Muraba'at" Palestine Exploration Quarterly 84 (May-Oct. 1952): 104-109.
  • 1953 Four Tomb Groups from Jordan (London: Palestine Exploration Fund
    Palestine Exploration Fund
    The Palestine Exploration Fund is a British society often simply known as the PEF. It was founded in 1865 and is still functioning today. Its initial object was to carry out surveys of the topography and ethnography of Ottoman Palestine with a remit that fell somewhere between an expeditionary...

  • 1958 "Recent discoveries in Jordan" Palestine Exploration Quarterly 90 (Jan.-June 1958): 7-18.
  • 1959 The Antiquities of Jordan (London: Lutterworth Press).
  • 1978 with F. V. Winnett Inscriptions from Fifty Safaitic
    Safaitic is the name given to an Old North Arabian dialect, preserved in the form of inscriptions which are written in a type of South Semitic script. These inscriptions were written by bedouin and semi-nomadic inhabitants of the Syro-Arabian desert...

    (University of Toronto, Near and Middle East Series 9)
    • A full bibliography of Harding's works, prepared by Michael Macdonald, is published as "A Bibliography of Gerald Lankester Harding" Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 24 (1980): 8-12.

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