Archaeologist James L. Kelso Dug for Christ

Dan Graves, MSL

Archaeologist James L. Kelso Dug for Christ

Whenever a professional archaeologist turns to a careful, detailed study of the gospels, only one thing dominates all his thinking. This is Jesus Christ himself. The personality of the Christ is unique and alone in all of human history. The archaeologist realizes more than anyone else the difference between B.C. and A.D."

Whether James L. Kelso, an American Presbyterian archaeologist, actually spoke for the majority archaeologists when he wrote those words is debatable, but there is no doubt he revealed his own mind. A Professor of Old Testament History and Biblical Archaeology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, James was a top-notch teacher, who demanded high performance but also knew how to ease a student "over the hump" with hours of private assistance. He spent much of his life in expeditions to Palestine. The focus of these trips (as was the focus of his preaching and teaching) was to understand Christ better and illuminate Him for others.

Born on this day, October 21, 1892 in Duluth, Minnesota, James began teaching at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1923 and participated in his first Palestine dig in 1926, at ancient Debir. After nine more expeditions, in which he undertook further exploration at Debir as well as at Bethel, Jericho and Nitla, James wrote a lively book, crystalizing years of research on his favorite theme.

That theme was Christ. In An Archaeologist Looks at the Gospels, James helped bring the world of Christ alive. Exclaiming over the crucifixion, he noted that "The cross was Christ's royal throne." This was because Christ lay down his life by choice and "died at his own appointed time." He was in sovereign control--on his throne--even on the cross.

James showed what he meant by the difference between B.C. and A.D. For example, he contrasted pre-Christian ethics with post-Christian. "With the coming of Christ, ethics suddenly became something completely different, something uniquely new. Now we have Christ himself and his own standards as par!" Christ taught--and lived--love whereas " was the duty of the Essenes to hate everyone whom God had rejected. They were also to hate the sons of darkness. And the hatred of which the Essenes spoke was eternal hatred."

James contributed other works to our knowledge of Bible archaeology, including his Ceramic Vocabulary of the Old Testament. Having spent many years in the mideast, he did not share the common evangelical admiration for the Jewish state of Israel, deploring its spiteful and ruthless treatment of Christian property and lives in the 1967 war.

Beginning with his earliest explorations, James brought back artifacts to Pittsburgh. In 1964 these became the nucleus of the James L. Kelso Bible Lands Museum at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. These artifacts help us visualize what life was like in Bible times.


  1. "Desecration of Christian Holy Places 1967-69. crimes_against_christianity/5.htm
  2. Kelso, James L. An Archaeologist Looks at the Gospels. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1969.
  3. Pikulsky, Jeff. "The Bible in Artifacts." artsmag/s_73739.html
  4. Taylor, Theophilus M. "James Leon Kelso," in For Me to Live; essays in honor of James Leon Kelso, edited by Robert A. Coughenour. Cleveland: Dillon-Liederbach, 1972.
  5. Various internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

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