Bull was emeritus director of the Institute for Archaeological Research at Drew University and professor emeritus of church history at Drew’s Theological School. He began teaching at Drew in 1955 and retired in 1991.
Bull is best known for his archaeological work at Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast of Israel about 35 miles north of Tel Aviv. He served as the director of the Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima from 1971 to 1996, supervising summer excavation seasons—with student and volunteer participants from around the world—and coordinating the publication of their findings.
Caesarea’s Crusader fortifications, Byzantine streets and Roman structures still impress thousands of visitors each year. Bull’s excavations uncovered the Herodian plan of the city, with its network of streets, monumental buildings, storage vaults and even sewers that flushed into the sea. The expedition also excavated later periods at the site, discovering, among other structures, a thirdcentury A.D. Mithraeum—a place of worship for the mystery religion of Mithraism—that had been converted from an earlier vaulted warehouse built in the Herodian period.
Caesarea’s Mithraeum is the only one ever found in Israel. Widely practiced in the Roman Empire from the first to fourth centuries, Mithraism—a cult of the Persian god Mithra—was especially popular among the Roman military.
Through a hole in the eastern end of the Caesarea Mithraeum’s ceiling, a shaft of sunlight entered the vault from above. In 1982, Bull described for BAR readers the excitement of discovering the purpose of this opening:
As we were digging we observed that the shaft of light admitted to the vault by this opening transcribed an arc during the course of each day. And each day the arc of light moved closer to the altar at the end of the vault. Just after noon on June 21, the summer solstice, the shaft of light had progressed to the altar, illuminating it with a blaze of light. The opening in the ceiling had been purposely and precisely placed.*
Prior to leading the Caesarea expedition, Bull excavated at Shechem, Balatah, Ai, Pella, Tell er-Ras and Khirbet Shema‘. Focusing on wide range of subjects—from archaeological reports the founders of the United Methodist Church—Bull authored and edited numerous scholarly books and articles, including The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Studies in the History of Caesarea Maritima1.
Bull is survived by his wife, Vivian A. Bull, now president Drew University. Earlier she served as registrar of the Caesarea expedition.
1. Robert J. Bull, Glanville Downey, Charles T. Fritsch and David Larrimore Holland, The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima, vol. 1, Studies in the History of Caesarea Maritima (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1975).
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