“You can’t appreciate the Bible without getting your hands dirty.”
On September 22, 2022, biblical archaeology lost one of its greatest fans—the Reverend Canon Dr. William Broughton, affectionately known to many as “Father Bill.” He was 93.
One of four brothers, Bill grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he played as a child on the decks of the old whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, and dreamed of a life at sea. That dream came to pass when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17 and served for four years. At that time, Bill decided to go into the ministry, so he attended college and then seminary to be ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1959.
In 1964, in a still divided Jerusalem, Bill served with the Archbishop in Jerusalem for three months while participating in a new excavation project at Gezer directed by the esteemed archaeologist G. Ernest Wright, whose writing and teaching would influence Bill for the rest of his life. After receiving an archaeology scholarship for 1965 and 1966, Bill continued at Gezer where his team uncovered the famous tenth-century “Solomonic” gate and casemate wall. As Bill was fond of saying, “You can’t appreciate the Bible without getting your hands dirty.”
At this time, Bill also started working with Bishop Quebain, the former Arab Bishop of Jerusalem, in what Bill described as “a tri-lateral conversation” between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Their goal was to sit together and try to resolve common concerns. It was a first in interfaith relations but not always easy or welcomed by some. Still, it set the stage for what would become the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel.
In 1968, following the Six-Day War, Bill re-entered the Navy as a chaplain and retired in 1985 as a full commander. This is when I first met Bill. I had arrived in Jerusalem to study archaeology at the Hebrew University. Bill was chaplain to the Anglican Bishop, Samir Kafity. I recall sitting in Bill’s apartment above the entrance to St. George’s Cathedral as he told stories from his time as a field chaplain in Vietnam to chief chaplain of the Sixth Fleet where he saw the tragic 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.
Bill’s gregarious spirit endeared him to many. Among his closest friends was the late Lawrence (Larry) Stager of Harvard University, with whom Bill had traveled much of the Middle East when they were younger. Bill was a regular at the site of Ashkelon, where Larry excavated, and when Bill and Larry came to Jerusalem, they would hang out in Bill’s apartment, drink scotch, and listen to old Bill Gaither Trio gospel songs.
Bill was also a frequent guest at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem just up the road from the cathedral. When I was a fellow there from 1996 to 2002, Bill regularly attended Thanksgiving and led carol singing at the Christmas luncheons. In 2001, Bill joined the Albright Fellows tour to Lebanon and Syria guided by Hanan Charaf, who would later become my wife. Bill would later co-officiate at our wedding at the All Saints Anglican Church in Beirut.
In 2004, the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity honored Bill’s 75th birthday by hosting a conference on “Archaeology and Early Christianity.” As a final honor, Bill was invited to London in 2008 by the Archbishop of Canterbury to receive the Cross of St. Augustine—an honor given to a select few who have given distinguished service to the Church of England, or have helped advance relations with various Christian communities and churches. Bill never tired in his quest for peace between Israelis and Palestinians or to promote ecumenism among Israel’s religious communities. Until his death, reconciliation was in his bones.
Robert A. Mullins is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Archaeology at Azusa Pacific University. He co-directs the archaeological excavations at Tel Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.