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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive James F. Ross, 1927 - 2007

The Rev. Dr. James F. Ross died on May 28, 2007 from complications due to heart surgery. He was 79 years old.

Having been raised in the Midwest, Jim attended Doane College, Crete, Nebraska, in 1949. He graduated summa cum laude. He was ordained as a minister of the United Church of Christ in 1952, and received the Th.D. in 1955 from Union Theological Seminary, New York City. His dissertation was on the transmission history of the text of the Hebrew Bible, partly informed by research in Jerusalem in 1953 on the then recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls.

After appointments teaching religion and theology at Dartmouth College (1955-1959) and at Drew University (1959-1968), Jim joined the faculty at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, where he taught for the majority of his career until his retirement in 1996. He was much beloved by generations of VTS students for his infectious enthusiasm for biblical and archaeological scholarship and for his congenial engagement and personal involvement with them.
His distinctive, booming voice was familiar to everyone at the school. His engaging conversations with students and faculty colleagues alike were consistently memorable, sometimes unforgettable. Jim was a virtual biblical encyclopedia of information.

Jim's academic special interests included Old Testament theology, the Wisdom Literature, and the writings of the Hebrew prophets, along with Syro-Palestinian archaeology, especially the archaeology of the Middle Bronze Age. He served as Field Supervisor and later Assistant Director of the Drew-McCormick expedition to Shechem beginning in the summer of 1960. After completion of the excavations in 1968, he continued to be involved closely in the publication of Shechem materials, until the completion of that project in 2002. He also participated in numerous other excavations, including digs at Gezer, at Tell Jemmeh, and at Tell el-Hesi, during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In 1965-1966, he was Archaeological Director at the Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem, Israel. In 1970-1971 he served as Professor of Archaeology at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in East Jerusalem.

Jim's publications include articles in books and journals on the psalms, prophecy, biblical geography, and the results of archaeological excavation. He co-authored the monograph Basic Sources of the Judaeo-Christian Tradition (Prentice-Hall, 1962), was one of the editors of Shechem I : The Middle Bronze IIB Pottery (ASOR & Eisenbrauns, 1984), and was a consulting editor for the revised edition of the Dartmouth Bible.

A memorial service was held for Jim on the campus of Virginia Theological Seminary on Friday, June 15, 2007, followed by committal of his ashes in the VTS cemetery. The president of Doane College, Jonathan Brand, attended the service to speak in honor of his school's distinguished alum. Robert J. Bull from Drew University spoke of all the archaeology that he and Jim had done together, including digs at Shechem and Caesarea Maritime. Others spoke of Jim's work and exegesis on behalf of gay and lesbian persons, especially his support of ordination candidates in his own denomination, the UCC. Above all it was clear from the memorials that Jim loved his large family and many friends. He thought it was terrific how people could "clump" together, and he got himself involved in a lot of "clumpings," from which he derived much joy and strength, and which he used to bring joy to others.

Jim's personal interests included amateur photography, computing technology, and digital imagery. On Jim's coat rack, alongside his academic gown, hung a leather flight jacket, symbolizing his award-winning service as a test pilot for flight-simulation computer programs. Jim was also a lifelong traveler, who pursued the history and architecture of numerous regions in Europe and the Mediterranean world. Toward the end of his life, despite impaired health, he and his wife Joyce, often in the company of children and grandchildren, visited Russia, Spain, and took several trips to England and Ireland, Mexico, and the Caribbean. They spent the summer and fall months on the North Shore of Nova Scotia.

Jim is survived by his wife, Joyce Gillard, his sister, Ruth Olsen, three children, Deborah Ross, Steven Ross, and Rebekah Ross, as well as five grandchildren. Jim's first wife, Miriam, died in 1996.

Submitted by Stephen L. Cook

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