Our post today is excerpted from the Minutes of the 153rd General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (1975), p. 176-177:
The cause of Bible-believing archaeological study today owes more to Joseph P. Free than to any other individual. It is an honor to the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, that for 30 years he has been numbered among our teaching elders.
Joseph Free was born in Cleveland, Ohio, October 1, 1911, and entered Stony Brook School, Long Island, New York, and received the A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University, New Jersey. In 1935 Dr. Free accepted an invitation to join the faculty of Wheaton College, Illinois, in the departments of French and Spanish. For ten years he studied in the field of Near Eastern history and archaeology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and for nearly 20 years, until 1965, he served as Fred McManus Professor of Biblical Archaeology at Wheaton. After a brief period of retirement to his home in the north woods of Minnesota, he resumed his life work in the teaching of archaeology at Bemidji State College, Minnesota, where he was employed at the time of his death, on October 12, 1974. He was a member of the Midwestern Presbytery (RPCES), and was its moderator for two years in the 1940’s. He was ordained in 1944 to the ministry of the Bible Presbyterian Church. At his death he was still a member of the Midwestern Presbytery (RPCES).
Dr. Free is best known as the excavator of ancient Dothan, in northern Israel, the town near which young Joseph was sold by his brothers (Gen. 37:17) and where the prophet Elisha performed a miracle of deliverance (II Kings 6:13). Professor Free had gained archaeological field experience as a staff member with the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem; and he and Mrs. Free directed ten seasons of excavation at Dothan between 1953 and 1964. Many field archaeologists and teachers, including several on the staff of Covenant Theological Seminary, owe their basic training to his untiring efforts and competent leadership. His vision resulted in the founding of the Near East Archaeological Society in 1960 and the Near East School of Archaeological and Biblical Studies in 1962, under which scores of students were introduced to Bible geography, history, and archaeology. He authored the widely used textbook Archaeology and Bible History, plus more than fifty articles on archaeology for both scholarly and popular Christian journals. He held membership in the Evangelical Theological Society, the American Schools of Oriental Research, American Oriental Society, Society of Biblical Literature, and National Society of Arts and Letters, which he served as National Literature Chairman, 1966-1970.
He was married to Ruby Aldrich on August 20, 1935. In addition to Mrs. Free, he was survived by a daughter, a son, three grandchildren, a foster son, and two sisters. Joseph P. Free was zealous in his defense of the faith and of the inerrancy of Holy Scripture. The same verse that at Princeton honors the memory of one of America’s greatest nineteenth century Reformed scholars of the Old Testament, Dr. William Henry Green, may now with propriety be applied to our brother Dr. Free:
“They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”—Deuteronomy 12:3.
For Further Study:
For more on the life and ministry of Dr. Free, see “Joseph P. Free And The Romance Of Biblical Archaeology.” by Timothy Larsen, in the Westminster Theological Journal, 66.1 (Spring 2004): 97ff. To view a portion of this article, click here.