University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The scholar and his famous student

April 4, 2011

One Scholar’s Famous Student: James Pritchard and Martin Luther King, Jr.

James B. Pritchard (1909-1997) was a renowned Biblical archaeologist.  He worked at the Penn Museum from 1950 to 1978, excavating a number of sites in the Syro-Palestinian region, including Gibeon (1956–1962), where the sun stood still for Joshua.  He also worked at Tell es-Sa’idiyeh, Jordan (1964–1967) and Sarafand, Lebanon (1969–1974), a Phoenician port known in the Bible as Zarephath or Sarepta.  The latter marked the first excavation of an urban settlement on the Phoenician coast (previous archaeological work having recovered occupations among their colonies throughout the Mediterranean).

Pritchard was also known for his scholarship, which resulted in a number of books, the most prominent being Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton University Press, 1950; 2nd edition, 1955; 3rd enlarged edition, 1969) and The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, 1954).

Crozer Theological Seminary (courtesy MLK Online)

Before joining Penn, Pritchard taught at Crozer Theological Seminary, where one of his students went on to become extremely famous: Martin Luther King, Jr. Below are some of Pritchard’s reminiscences of the great man (from an interview by Lorraine Hanaway of the University of Pennsylvania Institute on Aging, and reproduced in their Winter, 1992 newsletter):

LH: Let me take you back to an early experience.  You taught at Crozer Theological Seminary where you had Martin Luther King in your “Introduction to the Old Testament” course.  What do you remember of him?

JBP: I remember him well.   We had a student body of about 40, I guess, and he was one of the outstanding people.  He was president of the senior class and he was our babysitter.  We paid him 35 cents an hour, I remember.  We chatted a lot, talked a lot.  He got a B-, I happened to look up his grade the other day.  The only Nobel Prize winner we had as a student got a B- and others who got A’s haven’t been heard of!

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s paper for Pritchard’s class was published in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson (University of California Press, 1992).

James B. Pritchard at Gibeon, 1965-1966. Penn Museum image 140576.

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