Bob’s car carried the license plate “Jehu” – which was, of course, his middle name, but also referred (as he told me while looking at me sideways) to Jehu, “who drives furiously.” Near to the first time I met him, this moment summarizes Bob so well: learned to a great degree, especially in the ancient world and its seminal texts, full of good humor, and racing enthusiastically to grab life’s experiences, moments, and relationships.I had the great pleasure of working with Bob for the last twenty-five years, during which time I got to hear many stories of his excavations and experiences in the Middle East.
Bob began his archaeological work in 1955-1964, at Tell Balatah (Shechem), then under the political control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.It was there that he learned rudimentary Arabic and developed relationships with the local Samaritan workers.
When he returned to Nablus a few years ago those same workers and their sons welcomed him warmly.He also made long-term contacts with fellow scholars who worked on the site, some of whom are preparing reports from the Mt. Gerizim excavations that were directed by Bob through the Drew Archaeological Institute and McCormick Theological Seminary.In 1964, he became director of the Mt. Gerizim excavations, where, in three seasons of work (1964, 1966, 1968), he uncovered large portions of the Hadrianic temple to Zeus on Tell er-Ras.The materials from the excavation are largely ready for publication, and Bob’s willingness to bring in younger scholars – and enthusiastically argue with them in the best academic spirit – was typical of his approach to his work.“Tell me why I am wrong”, he would say to me, and I could. In the process, I would discover in what ways I had introduced my own errors, as he would see through my faulty reasoning or hasty arguments.This back-and-forth was one of the highlights of my visits to Madison, and I know I am not alone in thinking so.
In 1971, Bob moved to the largest and longest excavation in his career, to the city king Herod dreamed up, Caesarea on the Sea.The excavations lasted until 1996. Bob and his team excavated a number of areas in the city and established both the city grid and extent of the walls; he concentrated his work on Area C, which included the warehouses attached to the Herodian inner harbor, most famously the warehouse that was later converted to a Mithraeum.It is quite fitting that in our last discussion, we talked about his final edits to the ‘Mithraeum volume,’ which will soon be submitted to the ASOR Archaeological Report Series.
Bob was a polymath and raconteur. As we toiled in the pottery boxes from Caesarea, it was not uncommon to come upon boxes of pottery from sites he had dug near Madison.He would tell me stories of buying a van for the excavation in Europe, driving it to Israel for use on the dig, then disposing of it at a profit, money that was plowed back into the excavation. There was the time when he and Vivian were told they had to leave the country, in 1967, but were held up at the border for several days while a war broke out behind them. Pottery sessions were never dull, as the pieces reminded him of times past and people with whom he shared those times.
Vivian, Carlson and Camper were regular features in our conversations.In Vivian (currently serving as Interim President of Drew University), he had a true partner in his research interests and his travels.His pride in her intellect, work and capabilities was always paramount; second only in his interests were his sons, W. Carlson and Robert Camper, their wives Alex (Huff) and Alexandra (Kropatova), and their seven grandchildren.Bob and Vivian were always strong supporters and generous donors to ASOR. In 2008, Bob was awarded the prestigious Charles U. Harris Service Award which is awarded in recognition of long term and/or special service as an ASOR officer or Trustee. In 2010 in honor of his 90th birthday, ASOR hosted a special session called “City and Sanctuary”. He also served as Honorary Trustee on ASOR’s board.
I will leave the drier details for a more formal obituary, but Bob’s love of Drew University, from which he retired in 1990 as emeritus professor, was always evident in the great pride he took in improvements to the campus and the direction the school took after his retirement.When he arrived at Drew, with a BA and D. Litt from Randolph-Macon College, a BD from Duke Divinity School, an STM and PhD from Yale University, he greatly expanded the emphasis of Drew’s Theological School program to include four semesters of church history.I am not surprised to hear that he was a beloved teacher, for he was an excellent mentor to me and other younger scholars. He also published widely, in venues such as BASOR, The Biblical Archaeologist (now Near Eastern Archaeology), the Bible and the Spade, the Harvard Theological Review, American Journal of Archaeology, New Testament Studies, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, Methodist History, as well as contributing to The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Preliminary Reports, Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations of the Holy Land, and King Herod’s Dream: Caesarea on the Sea.
Bob came from a generation that saw the Biblical archaeology grab hold of the American imagination.Through his excavations, he brought the passion for learning about the history of the Middle East to the many volunteer excavators and peers with whom he worked.And he relished the new tools available for archaeologists, which allowed new ways of thinking about the material that were not available when he first put shovel to dirt.Because his great many interests, his delight in people, and his energy for research and teaching, he become beloved by many.I came along late in the game, but was grateful to have been able to know him as long as I did.