James Leslie Starkey was murdered … shot by Arabs … at the age of 43, on January 10, 1938.
Starkey was born January 3, 1895 and became a leading British archaeologist, having studied under such notables in the field as Petrie and Albright. He was also an associate of Olga Tufnell.
He began his work in Egypt, first under Flinders Petrie.
His greatest archaeological contribution came from his diggings at Tell ed-Duweir, the site of Lachish, under the auspices of the Palestine Exploration Fund between 1932 and 1938.
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In 1935 eighteen ostraca (clay tablets with writing in ink) were found at Lachish. These re-cycled pieces of broken earthenware pottery were written on in an ancient Hebrew script, from the 7th century BC and told of the Babylonian invasion. The ostraca were discovered among the ruins of an ancient guard room just outside the Lachish city gate.
Three more inscribed potsherds were discovered a few years later.
The 21 famous ostraca “Lachish Letters” are dated just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (587 BC). Letter No. 4 contains striking confirmation of Jeremiah 34:7, where both Lachish and Azekah are mentioned as the last outposts to fall to the invaders. Letter No. 3 likewise uses many Biblical names. Some scholars consider the mention of ‘the prophet’ to be a reference to Jeremiah himself.
One writer suggests that the “Lachish Letters” are an uninspired supplement to the Book of Jeremiah, because of the background information they supply to that portion of God’s Word.
(References: Archaeology and the Old Testament, by M. Unger, pages 284-28; The Bible and Archaeology, by J.A. Thompson, pages 150-151.)
Starkey’s death was tragic and occurred on the eve of the opening of an Archaeological museum founded by Rockefeller. Starkey was one of the dignitaries invited to the opening.
During his six strenuous seasons of archaeological digging Starkey had grown a beard and Arabs who had blocked the road mistook him for a Jew. Starkey’s driver, an Arab Christian, tried to negotiate for Starkey. When the attackers found out the driver is an Arab they released him and told him to leave. The attackers then shot Mr Starkey. Starkey left behind a widow and three small children.
People of the profession appreciated not only his talent for excavations, but also his talent to find people and silver. He knew how to treat people with endless patience. Professor Torczyner, who worked with Starkey and wrote an early book about the Lachish Letters, said of him: “As a man of science and respectful of other people, as an expert in archaeology and organizer of archaeological expeditions, no one was better than him.”
Despite this untimely tragedy, the excavations Starkey made at the Biblical city of Lachish continue to excite Bible scholars and confirm the historicity of the Book.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com
Tags: Archaeology, james starkey, lachish letters
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