Joseph P. Free And The Romance Of Biblical Archaeology -- By: Timothy Larsen

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 66:1 (Spring 2004)
Article: Joseph P. Free And The Romance Of Biblical Archaeology
Author: Timothy Larsen


Joseph P. Free And The Romance Of Biblical Archaeology

Timothy Larsen

[Timothy Larsen is Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill. An earlier version of this article was delivered at the opening session of the 48th Annual Wheaton College Archaeology Conference, 14 November 2003.]

The cause of evangelical biblical archaeology in general, and at Wheaton College in particular, owes a considerable debt to Dr. Joseph P. Free (1911–1974). Free founded an influential learned organization for the advancement of evangelical archaeology, the Near East Archaeological Society. His publications, especially his widely disseminated Archaeology and Bible History, significantly influenced several generations of evangelical scholars. Archaeology and Bible History was first published in 1950, and a fifteenth printing appeared posthumously in 1992.1 In 1936, Free introduced the first course in biblical archaeology at Wheaton College, going on to create a full major in archaeology, beginning in 1940. He also launched Wheaton College’s summer archaeological expeditions, which still exist today under the appellation “Wheaton in the Holy Lands.” Not least of his services to the discipline of biblical archaeology was founding the Wheaton College Archaeology Conference, a significant annual event. He was the director of the Dothan excavation, an important site in terms of biblical archaeology. Free was a visionary, an entrepreneur, a spokesperson and advocate for the discipline of archaeology, a pioneer and a founder, as well as a field archaeologist. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that everything that Wheaton College has achieved in this disciplinary area it owes to him. An examination of the road that Free took to these achievements will serve to place his work at Dothan in context, and it will also serve to illuminate more generally the evolving relationship between evangelicalism and the discipline of archaeology in the twentieth century.

The dust jacket of the first edition of Archaeology and Bible History explained Free’s academic ascent to his place as head of the Department of Archaeology at Wheaton as follows:

As a prep school student in his early teens, he became interested in archaeology when the headmaster at Stony Brook, Dr. Frank E. Gaebelein, showed the boys an ancient clay cone inscribed with cuneiform writing. Later his interest was renewed when, as an undergraduate at Princeton University, he lived next door to Professor George

Elderkin, the excavator at Antioch, and a few doors from T. Leslie Shear, the excavator at ancient Corinth. In subsequent yea...

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