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.


28 April

Memorial Service

2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Bayshore Baptist Church

3111 W. Morrison Avenue
Tampa, FL 33629


James Francis Strange

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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 28, 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 28, 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.

Robert Pawlowski

March 26, 2018

Jim Strange, renowned biblical scholar, was a gentleman who led his colleagues with decency and good nature.

Spencer Bolesta

March 26, 2018

There is only a 2,000 character limit? I could write books. James F. Strange, Jim, was simply the greatest man I ever met in my 64 years. He was my academic advisor at USF, my professor, my mentor, and my friend. I will miss our birthday lunches (mine is the 10th). But, I look forward to our meeting in Heaven one day. He set my foundation in so many ways, but most especially as a Christian man. Eternally, I will be grateful. I am sorry for the loss, but know he is in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Thank you, Jim, Dr. Strange, for all you mean to me and to so many more.

Judith Hall

March 26, 2018

I was a student of his for undergraduate work and then later, I took every religious study class he taught in the senior waiver program....spellbound by his lectures and how real he made history. I never got enough !!! He was one of the two professors at USF who totally impacted my life, opened new windows of insight. To his family I send my sympathy. He will be sorely missed by everyone who ever heard him speak and every student who attended his classes.

Mozella G Mitchell

March 26, 2018

Jim Strange was a dear colleague of mine for over 30 years in the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida. We all loved him and revered him for his enormous contributions to the field of study, the teaching profession, the department, the society, and the world. His designation as Distinguished University Professor was well deserved. We will be eternally grateful to Jim for all his achievements and contributions, and his support for us as colleagues in the University. His Family is our Family, Carolyn and all the children and grandchildren. You are all well loved and cherished! May God wrap loving arms of comfort around you.