The American archaeologist James Bennett Pritchard (October 4, 1909 – January 1, 1997) explicated the interrelationships of the religions of ancient Israel, Canaan, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.
He had a long association with the University of Pennsylvania, where he was professor of religious thought and the first curator of biblical archaeology at the University Museum. Pritchard's strength lay in setting the Bible within its broader cultural contexts in the Ancient Near East.
His most lasting monument is his book Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament in three editions (1950, 1955, 1969)— referred to everywhere as ANET— which provides reliable translations of texts that throw light on the context of the Hebrew Bible.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, with his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania (1942), his archaeological reputation was first made by his excavations at a site called el- Jib (1956 - 1962) which was securely identified as Gibeon by inscriptions on the handles of wine jars. He explained the significance of his finds for a general audience in Gibeon: Where the Sun Stood Still (1962).
He followed (1964–67) with excavations at Tell es-Sa’idiyeh, on the east bank in the Jordan Valley, Jordan, which revealed itself as a meeting place for disparate cultures during the transition in the late Bronze Age to the use of iron, which he connected to the influence of the Sea Peoples ("New evidence on the role of the Sea Peoples in Canaan at the Beginning of the Iron Age"), in The Role of the Phoenicians, 1968. His work was cut short by the 1967 Six-Day War.
His third and last major excavation at Sarafand, Lebanon, (1969–74) revealed the ancient Phoenician city of Sarepta. It was the first time a major Phoenician city situated in the Phoenician heartland had been fully excavated. His first findings were published in 1975: pottery workshops and kilns, artifacts of daily use and religious figurines, a shrine, numerous inscriptions that included some in Ugaritic, and a seal with the city's name that made the identification secure. His article, "Sarepta in history and tradition" in Understanding the Sacred Texts (1972) displays the background research that informed all his meticulous work. In his book Recovering Sarepta, an Ancient Phoenician City (1978) he made the discovery comprehensible to the average reader in lucid prose.
He was a brilliant educator at every level, who could explain archaeological technique to schoolchildren by excavating the contents of a wastebasket. He wrote and edited with clarity, and his popular works are not dumbed-down: Archaeology and the Old Testament (1958) traced the evolution of modern approaches to archaeology from the first excavations in the Holy Land; Solomon and Sheba (1974) separated fact from legend.
- Extended obituary (http://www.aps-pub.com/proceedings/sept99/Pritchard.pdf), fully summarizing Pritchard's outstanding career