Given that Biblical archaeology has such a strong tradition of famous female archaeologists, from Kathleen Kenyon to Trude Dothan, why, asks Ebeling, are so few famous female archaeologists now at the forefront of the field?
From surveys she conducted with both men and women who direct excavations in Israel, Ebeling found that while many believe starting a family or having children can often delay a woman’s archaeological career, such factors alone cannot account for the relatively small number of women who lead excavations.
Many archaeologists believe pervasive and longstanding cultural factors within the discipline are to blame. Despite the pioneering achievements of famous female archaeologists such as Kenyon and Dothan—and others like Ruth Amiran and Claire Epstein, as well as current directors like Sharon Zuckerman and Jodi Magness—Biblical archaeology, particularly in Israel, has long been dominated by male dig directors, while women have frequently been “shuffled off into specialist studies,” like pottery and small finds analysis. And even though female dig directors and codirectors, including Jodi Magness at Huqoq and Eilat Mazar at the City of David, are now more common, Ebeling notes that almost all of the “big digs” focusing on major Biblical sites—Ashkelon, Megiddo, Gezer, Rehov and others—are still run primarily by men.
Others point to an academic and professional environment, both in Israel and the U.S., that tends to favor men over women. Despite the fact that women tend to outnumber men in archaeology graduate programs, far fewer women ultimately complete their programs and earn Ph.Ds. As a result, women fill just over a third of the tenure or tenure-track faculty positions in institutes and departments of archaeology at major Israeli universities; Ebeling says a similar number likely exists for U.S. institutions. And even though women regularly deliver 40 percent of the papers at ASOR’s annual conference, and also serve on the body’s board of trustees and numerous committees, the organization has never elected a female president in its 110-year history.
It also may be that females are getting the idea that the Bible is a "guy thing." For example, most Christian schools have only men teaching the Bible classes. Kings Christian High School in the Seattle area is one of the rare exceptions. When I offer a course on a book of the Bible, I rarely have females in the class. However, my course on "Women of the Bible" has had only one male student in three years. This suggests that women are more likely to engage if the course of study or the professional opportunity is tailored to them. This is true also in Biblical Anthropology.