James Francis Strange

February 2, 1938March 23, 2018

James Francis Strange died peacefully in his home on March 23, surrounded by family.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Lillian Carolyn Midkiff Strange, whom he courted at Rice University, children Mary Elizabeth Strange (Chris Bertaut), James Riley Strange (Laura), Katherine Alexandra Strange Burke (Aaron), Joanna Carissa Strange (Jonathan Tischio); and one granddaughter and five grandsons. He was born on February 2, 1938 in Pampa, Texas to Floyd Thomas Burchfield and Beuna Vista Burchfield (née Frost), the youngest of three children. His sisters Mary Lynn Jones and Thomasine McKenna predeceased him. He was later adopted by his mother’s second husband, Jerry Donald Strange. An Eagle Scout, he spent many hours in the woods near his home in Tyler, Texas. He was ordained as an American and National Baptist minister in 1964, the year he graduated from Yale Divinity School, and founded Somerset Hills Baptist Church, now in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. While at Yale, he was trained in nonviolent protest, and engaged in Civil Rights sit ins at lunch counters. He completed a Ph.D. in 1970 at Drew University and began teaching in 1972 at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he taught for the next 46 years. He considered his work as a biblical archaeologist to be a divine calling. He often said, “I just want to be the best archaeologist I can.” He dug at many sites in Judea, Samaria, and the coast of Israel, but he made his career as a pioneer of the archaeology of Jewish villages in Upper Galilee, and then at the site of Sepphoris in Lower Galilee. A prolific scholar and teacher, he coauthored many books and wrote countless articles in his field, and he taught innumerable students in his undergraduate and graduate courses, eventually teaching grandchildren of some of his earliest students. For the same length of time, he taught Sunday School and sang in the bass section of the choir of Bayshore Baptist Church in Tampa, tasks which he loved no less than his academic work. At USF, he rose to the positions of Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. He founded the College of Arts and Sciences before returning full time to the classroom, his first love. He was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1987 with a Silver Medallion Award for Brotherhood, received a National Geographic grant in 1989, was on the board of directors for the Florida Endowment for the Humanities from 1983 to 87, was named Distinguished University Professor in 2001, received the Charles U. Harris Service Award from the American Schools of Oriental Research in 2006, and received many other fellowships and awards. He lectured in the United States, Canada, England, France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Norway, South Africa, Bosnia, and Israel, and was frequently interviewed in television specials on the historical Jesus and archaeology of Israel. He loved his family, church, students, and colleagues deeply and is missed by people all over the world. A Memorial Service will be held at Bayshore Baptist Church on April 28th at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to Bayshore Baptist Church, LifePath Hospice or The Strange-Midkiff Fellowships at ASOR.


  • Memorial Service Saturday, April 28, 2018

James Francis Strange

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Fraser Gianaras

May 1, 2018

I just left a message in regard to Jim Strange, one if the most memorable people I ever knew. Best wishes to Carolyn. I have thought of both of you over the years and came across this sad news quite by accident. I hope my other message appears as well. Much love, Fraser

Heather Remek

April 29, 2018

It’s taken over a month to try to process the death of Dr. Strange (Abuna). After attending his beautiful Celebration of Life, I decided I needed to finally sit down and write something in his honor. But where do you begin when you have so many incredible memories and so little space? Well, I’ve narrowed it to two significant memories. The first was an 11 hour car trip from North Carolina to Tampa. It was just the two of us and it was one of the best drives ever. We listened to the Mamas and Papas and Peter Paul and Mary. I remember Dr. Strange singing along to “Lemon Tree.” But the best part of the trip was the conversation. We pretty much talked non stop for 11 hours. It made the trip feel like it had only take a few hours; I know I felt it ended too soon, but I’m sure Dr. Strange was happy to finally be home.

The second is when I finally convinced Dr. Strange to play a game of racquetball with me. I seriously didn’t think he would, but to my surprise, he did! Before our first game, however, I started getting death threats from everyone. People at school, church, home and even work. Basically, if I let anything happen to him, everyone was going to kill me, and I’m sure they would have! The first couple of games required a few breaks, but it wasn’t long before I was lucky if I won a game. And, as someone else mentioned, it was always entertaining to hear his version of cussing. Each one always made you laugh out loud, which I think he did on purpose, because he would usually get the point on the play.

I wasn’t a great friend for the past decade or so. After Dr. Strange officiated my wedding, I got busy with life. I made that ever common mistake of forgetting how quickly time passes. I will regret this mistake always. But, I am thankful that I got to see him, though briefly, before he died and that our final parting words were “I love you.”

Jonathan Hunter

April 28, 2018

Jim is my 1st Cousin. His mother was my mother's older sister. I only met Jim once. He came to visit my mother in Newport Beach, CA. I also met his daughter Katherine on the same day. Jim was showing me photo's of the dig in Sepphoris. His enthusiasm for the subject was contagious. His speaking voice hypnotic. I have been reading all of the memories posted by friends and students alike. I am humbled by his accomplishments and the lasting impressions he made on others. I have included a photo of my wife Cheri and myself.

Kit & Ronny Stewart

April 28, 2018

Dear Carolyn,

My words are inadequate to express our sorrow and love for your husband....our friend and Sunday school teacher for so many years. When I first began attending Sunday school at Bay shore Baptist (over thirty years ago), I was terrified to even ask a question, because I was a "beginner" in my faith and had such little knowledge - My husband, Ronny also had told me that Dr Strange was a biblical scholar and his reputation was world-wide.....I was slightly intimidated and afraid to open my mouth for fear of embarrassment...,.however, one day I did decide to ask him about the "Trinity" was so hard for me to understand that, but he answered me with such love and understanding....I will never forget him and all the years we had in his class. I must also tell you, what joy it gave us to see him then leave our Sunday school class and quickly change into his choir robe to then sing, worship and glorify our Savior, Jesus Christ. We love you and will cherish all the days we had with your husband, our teacher and friend - Jim enriched our lives immeasurably.
Kit and Ronny Stewart

Jess Bonds

March 29, 2018

Dr. Strange was my mentor. He inspired me during my undergraduate years at USF when I happened to wander over to Cooper Hall one day, an aimless junior looking for purpose, and asked him to help me focus on something meaningful. His response was: "How about the lawyers question in Luke, Ch. 10"? Later on, in an Albertsons parking lot of all places, he encouraged me to apply for the graduate program in religious studies. And further down the road, he served on my doctoral committee. He was always there. He is the reason I teach. We corresponded for years, and after awhile, he began referring to himself as my "erstwhile mentor", but I never turned loose. I couldn't turn loose. He was an exceptional man, an every man: father, Sunday school teacher, distinguished professor, biblical archaeologist, linguist... In summing up his life, I think of Matthew 5:16: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father in Heaven".

César Ponce

March 28, 2018

A luminary has left our midst... this man was a pivotal influence in my life when as a young seminary-minded kid I came looking for a “real Christian Scholar,” he patiently answered the call, took me in and started answering my beginner level questions with his characteristically disarming matter-of-fact style. He became my scholarly father. His door was always open to me as a student but above all, as a friend. When I was struggling to find direction, he became that much needed example of what a true human being should be. Words cannot fully express the high regard and love this man evoked in everyone he touched. Some called him Abuna, Jim, James, etc. He could play a mean game of racket ball. He kicked my butt when he invited me once lol You will be missed Prof Strange. Thank you for touching my life ... you will forever inspire me to be a better scholar but above all a better person. Hasta pronto papá Jim! Te voy a extrañar... 🙏🏼❤️ #biblicalstudies #archeology #new testament #scholar #rip

Catherine R Alvarez

March 27, 2018

I was blessed to know Jim for over 20 yrs, first as a professor, then mentor, colleague, and through it all my dear friend. As a single mom after a painful divorce, he helped build my self-esteem as a student going back to school and extended spiritual guidance that transformed my life. I am forever indebted to him. My heart is broken, and I will miss him terribly. Jim was like a spiritual father to me and like a spiritual grandfather to my son when we visited Bayshore Baptist. Dell deChant and all of us that played racquetball with him will cherish the memories, the way he used to chant like a monk on the courts. Of course he would never curse, so he used to blurt out the cutest expressions when he felt emotion, like "Holy Lightning!"

Carolyn and Family,

I am so sorry for your loss. Since I was no longer teaching in the Religious Studies department, I had no idea Jim was ill. I would have wanted to tell him how much I appreciated him as a former student and colleague. For that reason, my heart breaks for his loss and yours. The world seems less bright today, as he made it a much better and more loving place. One thing I promise to do and what he would have probably preferred is to pass on the love he extended to me toward others. You have my solemn vow, I will always strive to do that and make him proud. May God sustain and comfort you in your grief until you meet again, and until then, I pray you always feel his presence and love. You were indeed everything to him!

My Love and Prayers Always, Catherine Alvarez

Richard Preto-Rodas

March 27, 2018

When I assumed a chairmanship at USF from another state in 1981 I was fortunate to find that Jim Strange was my dean . He was as kind and caring a gentleman as he was a consummate scholar in his field of biblical arqueology. I can never forget his patience and generous insights in conducting administrative meetings with his staff and faculty. The university was very well served by a man like James Strange, and his family can temper their inevitable feelings of loss and regret with the assurance that Jim Strange attained the respect and admirationof all who knew him.

George Davis, Ph.D. J.D.

March 27, 2018

I had the fortunate experience of taking every class Jim Strange taught at USF from 1974-1977. What an interesting and caring individual. I remember going through crisis about faith and facts and he was kind enough to pick up an "on point" book one weekend and give it to me. Insightful, kind and I'll never forget his genius and care at that crossroads of my life. Several years ago I wrote him a letter to thank him. I'm sure he got 1,000s of similar letters, as that is a reflection of who he was. Thank you Jim Strange!!

George Hobgood

March 26, 2018

My good fortune was to have been a high school classmate of Jimmy at Tyler High as well as a college classmate at Rice. Over the years we have occasionally corresponded about what I had read about his archaeology efforts. He certainly had a very interesting and worthwhile career, and I will miss hearing from him. Blessings.