Covenant Excerpt

Copyright© 2016 Steven R. Fisher

Chapter 8

Monday, June 30, 1941
Jerusalem 8:30 pm

“So, Clarence, what do you plan to do now that your retirement is effective as of today?” asked Hilda Petrie. “Are you going back to the States?”

The three, Sir and Lady Petrie and Clarence Fisher, were the only permanent residents at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. They were in the large dining/meeting room located in the left rear wing of the magnificent stone building at Twenty-Six Saladin Road. They were sitting near the small bar. Founded in 1900, the ASOR supported the training of new archaeologists as well as research and expeditions. Fisher had a small room on the second floor, overlooking the courtyard, but he was pleased with the large room downstairs dedicated to supporting his work on his monumental Corpus of Palestinian Pottery.

It was 8:30 p.m., and they were finishing a dinner of shepherd’s pie, with the dessert some sort of concoction with dates, and were enjoying drinks. Both men were wearing suits with dark ties on starched high-collar white shirts. Lady Hilda Petrie was dressed in a simple light blue shift, cinched at the waist. Her red hair was graying, parted in the middle and tied in a bun. At age seventy, she looked much younger than the eighteen years that separated hers and Flinders’s ages. Flinders maintained his large body shape and his flowing, full, white beard, but his hairline was receding, although full. Clarence had maintained his slim shape, but his face was fuller, and his hair, which was combed back from a high forehead, and mustache were both white. He had maintained the same rimless glasses throughout his life.

“No,” Fisher replied. “I’m afraid that it looks too dangerous to travel far, what with Italy invading Greece, and Germany bombing London and occupying much of Europe, including France. The government has deported all of the Germans from my beloved Schneller Orphanage, and the military has taken it over. At least, as chairman of the Schneller Orphanage Committee, I’ve been able to secure a temporary Schneller Orphanage for some of the boys in Nazareth; it’s now called the Syrian Orphanage. But I also had to help place others; God knows if they’ll be all right. Such a shame.”

He stopped and sat back wistfully, thinking over some of the highlights of his life and career. Hilda and Flinders were accustomed to his long pauses, due to his tendency to stutter. After almost a minute, he continued. “I love to summer on Cyprus, but even that is doubtful.” He paused again to tend to his drink. “I wish, however, that I could see my grandson back in Philadelphia. I received one of those cheap records from my daughter-in-law, and it has a recording of little Glenn wondering if his ‘ganpa’ is in there. But I can’t see that happening anytime soon. At least my adopted son, David Tarazi Fisher, is doing well. He’s teaching chemistry at Bishop Gobat School, and should be safe.”

“That’s nice, but it’s a shame that you can’t see your grandson,” said Hilda.

“I’m surprised that the British haven’t asked you to spy; they’ve given up on me,” said Sir Flinders Petrie.

“Well, that’s because you’re, what, eighty-three?”

Hilda cut in, “He’s eighty-seven and doing pretty well at that. But thank God, his spying days are over.”

“Well, I had hoped mine were,” said Clarence, pausing again. “And, at sixty-five, no one’s asked me to do dangerous things like I did in the world war. My cover as an ambulance driver, although I did assist with bringing wounded from the Battle of Megiddo to Jerusalem, was valuable in helping both General Allenby and, especially, T. E. Lawrence against the Turks.”

A waiter interrupted him, and he sat back and thought of some of the things he had accomplished in the war.

British general Edmund Allenby arrived in Jerusalem in June of 1917 to drive the Turks, who had aligned themselves with the Germans, out of Jerusalem and all of Palestine. Allenby quickly determined that he would need the help of Arabs who were willing to fight. It was suggested that he contact archaeologist Clarence Fisher, who was excavating at Beit She’an in Palestine, because Fisher was so well respected by the many Arabs he employed. Fisher hurried to Jerusalem and met with Allenby and a young British Army intelligence officer, T. E. Lawrence, who was later glorified as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence was a budding archaeologist working at Carchemish, in Syria, along with Leonard Woolley, an archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania.

At the meeting with Allenby and Lawrence, Fisher agreed that he could help, via his contacts with many Arab leaders and his knowledge of a variety of areas throughout Palestine. Allenby suggested that Fisher could have a cover as an ambulance driver, and Fisher agreed to a commission as a captain in the Red Cross service in Jerusalem. During the war, Fisher worked closely with Lawrence and the Arab Bureau, and he provided regular updates to Allenby. He worked with Arab tribal leaders and assisted with organizing them into the fighting units led so well by Lawrence. Fisher later provided occasional assistance to Lawrence and British Oriental secretary Gertrude Bell, who were determining the postwar boundaries of the Middle East at the 1921 Cairo Conference.

The waiter left, but no one at the table noticed that the bartender continued to be within earshot of their table. Fisher continued, “I’ve had no more involvement in politics since that conference, until two years ago when I got a phone call from Jerusalem governor Keith-Roach. He said that British colonial secretary Malcolm MacDonald wanted me to immediately come to London to help try to ease tensions between Arabs and Jews at the Saint James Conference. MacDonald was trying to set a limit on the immigration of Jews to Palestine, and both sides were arguing. Ha! I got to London just as the conference angrily ended, with nothing resolved.

“Other than that, I’ve been involved with some Arab charities, including the Schneller Orphanage, which was run by Germans up until this past summer. So I was able to gather some information about Germany and also about the Zionist-Arab situation here in Jerusalem. I’ve been advising Governor Keith-Roach whenever I learn anything, and he asks me questions all the time.”

“Good work, Clarence,” said Flinders. “Maybe someday, someone will write a book on the spying contributions of archaeologists!”

“Hear, hear,” said Hilda, Flinders’s wife of forty-three years. “No more spying, either of you, and may Britain—and Palestine—be safe! Long live the king!” She raised her glass of wine, clinking it against Flinders’s and against Clarence’s second full glass of whiskey.

“Say, Clarence, you ought to go easy on that.”

“Ah, but Flinders, this afternoon I finished my last official day of work. Tonight I have fun; tomorrow I’ll be sorry. And, after that, I will be working part time as acting director again, until Nelson Glueck arrives back from the States on August fifteenth. And I have my charities to attend to.”

The Petries excused themselves, and Clarence got up, wished them a good night, and walked over to the bar, where their waiter was whispering with the bartender.

As he continued sipping, he thought of the differences between Flinders and himself. Flinders was much more famous. He had been knighted, written books, and given speeches all over the world. Clarence, partly because of his stuttering, did not like to speak publicly. He had written one major book on Egypt, The Minor Cemetery at Giza. It was more intended for use as a textbook and to showcase the Reisner-Fisher method of excavating wide areas so that buildings could be unearthed as they existed in the past. Although he had been meticulous about documenting his findings on index cards, Clarence did not like publishing his work; excavating and discovering were his passions.

Because of Petrie’s insistence on excavating straight down in trenches, as opposed to Fisher’s approach, and because, he had admitted to himself, he was jealous, Clarence did not get along with Flinders. However, in their years of living at the American School of Oriental Research, they both had mellowed, and both enjoyed telling one another stories of their many exploits as archaeologists.

Now Clarence asked for his third Balvenie whiskey, neat, as always. He knew that he had a drinking problem—had one for decades. But it usually didn’t interfere with his work.

As he got more and more relaxed and, he realized, loose, he began to think of those times that his drinking had interfered with his dealing with his managers and employees. At the Penn Museum, he had argued with his employees and museum director George Gordon. In 1925, while softened by the effects of too much of his whiskey, he had sent a letter of resignation to Director Gordon, despite being awarded an honorary doctor’s degree at the winter commencement in 1924. A similar problem followed at his most significant, most well-funded appointment as director of the University of Chicago’s expedition at Megiddo, in Palestine, in 1925. That was to be his crowning achievement, funded by John D. Rockefeller himself, but drinking and health problems continued, leading to his dismissal in 1927.

The only one left at the bar at 10:00 p.m., Clarence began slurring his words to the bartender, Itzak Herz, as he was partway through his fourth drink. “You know, I was the world’s best archaeologist. I excavated at the world’s first pyramid and at a cemetery next to the big pyramids. Boy, were they huge!” He raised his arms in the shape of a pyramid and almost lost his balance. He paused to collect himself.

Another sip.

“And I found the palace where Moses pleaded to let his people go. I was famous. And then King Tut’s tomb, and places in Egypt and Palestine. I was good; I told all those other archaeologists how to dig. And Howard Carter…Howard Carter. I told him where to dig for Tutankhamun, and we went in before anyone else, anyone else. And I found a document, an old papyrus, really old. It was in Tut’s tomb, and no one but me and Howard knows what was in it. Nobody.” He looked to his left and behind, where the tables had already been set for breakfast.

He finished his drink in one big swallow and leaned forward, whispering to the bartender, Herz. “It was proof that Moses—yes, Moses—was actually, no, really, the pharaoh Akhenaten. Really. Moses was Egyptian, an Egyptian! Not a Jew, not a Jew! But nobody knows that, only me and Carter. Ha! Carter even used it to threaten the British when they tried to kick him out of Egypt! Ha!”

His words were slurring as he said, “And I also know where there is a tomb with more treasures than Tut’s; guy named Shishak. Filled with loot from under the dome, Solomon’s temple, maybe the Ark of the Cov—” Clarence then fell off his stool, almost collapsing. He lay there until the bartender helped him up. Staggering, he somehow made his way back to his small room.


Late that night, Itzak Herz left the ASOR and went to the home of his wife’s cousin, Moshe Hakim, near the Edison Theater on Yeshayahu Street in the Zikhron Moshe section of Jerusalem.

“Moshe, Moshe. Wake up!”

“Itzak, what is so important that you have to wake me in the middle of the night? This better be important!”

“It is, it is!” Itzak could hardly contain himself. “There is an old man living at the ASOR, Clarence Fisher. He just retired today, and he got really drunk. The waiter, Nadal, overheard some of his conversation at dinner, and then Fisher started slurring—”

“Come on, come on!” Moshe insisted. “What did you learn?”

“That this man, Fisher, had proof that Moses was an Egyptian, not a Jew, and—”

“Hold on. What?”

“Fisher said he had discovered a papyrus in King Tut’s tomb that said that Moses was some pharaoh, an Egyptian, and—”

“Wait. If true, that would really upset our movement.”

“Yes, but there’s more. The waiter found out that Fisher was a spy, at that German orphanage—”


“Yes, and that he has been advising Governor Keith-Roach on Arab-Jewish affairs. This Fisher seems to be very much involved with the Arabs and the British. Oh, and he also said he knew where there was a tomb with treasures in it.”

“Okay, what time is it?” He looked at his watch. “It’s three a.m. Okay, it’s early, but this is important. But I’ll get up and get the group together for a really early breakfast. Be sure to get Eliyahu for me.”