Australian Clifford Wilson was a dedicated Christian man who was committed to upholding the truth of the Bible. He was a personal friend and colleague who strongly encouraged me to pursue a career in archaeology. Cliff had a charismatic personality and was instantly likable. He was a gifted communicator, serving as a missionary, pastor, educator, public speaker and author. Cliff served his country in World War II in the Military Forces from October 20, 1941, to December 11, 1942, and as a seaman in the Royal Australian Navy from December 10, 1942, to January 16, 1946. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree (1951) and a Master of Arts in Education (1958) from the University of Sydney, a Bachelor of Divinity from Melbourne College of Divinity (1968), a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education, with a major in Psychological Services, from the University of South Carolina (1972), and a Master of Religious Education from Luther Rice Seminary (1986). In 1969, Cliff took part in the excavation of Gezer, Israel, sponsored by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He took to the field again in 1996 when he joined the Associates for Biblical Research dig team at Khirbet el-Maqatir, Israel. Cliff was predeceased by his wife of 54 years, Avis, as well as his second wife of 14 years, Barbara, and his eldest son Bruce. He had two sons and two daughters by Avis, 13 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.
Dr. Clifford Allan Wilson, 1923–2012
I first became acquainted with Clifford Wilson in 1968. At the time I was a young engineer with General Electric in Schenectady, NY. I was interested in Biblical archaeology and was looking for a layman’s-level publication on the subject. A library search revealed that there was such a publication—Buried History, published by the Australian Institute of Archaeology in Melbourne. I excitedly sent off for a subscription. Months went by and no magazine, so I sent a letter of inquiry to the Institute, of which Cliff was then director (1967–1970). I was quite surprised to receive an answer from the director himself explaining the reason why I had not received the magazine (internal difficulties). After an exchange of several letters, Buried History subsequently arrived in my mailbox. Then I received notification from Cliff that in 1969 he was to be on an around-the-world tour, involving stops in Israel (to dig at Gezer), England (to visit his son Bruce, among other things) and the United States. I immediately wrote back to ask if he could possibly come to Schenectady, where I would try to arrange some speaking engagements. As a result of that offer, I ended up organizing a lecture tour across the entire US! That was quintessential Cliff. He had a knack for getting unsuspecting people involved in his visionary projects—but I loved every minute of it!
Tragically, while Cliff was in England, his son Bruce was killed in a train accident. He called me from England torn between whether to be with his family at this heartbreaking time, or to continue the tour. I explained that he was booked to speak at numerous churches and schools across the US. With heavy heart, Cliff bravely decided that God had opened a door of opportunity for him and that he should carry on with the tour. That decision impacted thousands upon thousands of lives, including the author of this memorial. Because of his engaging manner, sense of humor and in-depth knowledge of Biblical archaeology, the US tour was an enormous success.
In addition to his duties as director of the Australian Institute of Archaeology, Cliff had started his own ministry called Word of Truth Productions. It basically consisted of a weekly 15-minute radio program, “Word of Truth,” broadcast over the missionary station HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, and a series of slide-tape audio-visual programs on Biblical archaeology that were sent to churches and other groups on a loan basis. While staying at my home for his Schenectady-area speaking engagements, Cliff shared his vision for starting a branch of Word of Truth Productions in the US. And guess who he had in mind to spear-head that US ministry? You guessed it—the young engineer from Schenectady who had an interest in Biblical archaeology! The first thing we did was to establish a post office box for the new enterprise. One of Cliff’s appearances while in Schenectady was on a talk-call-in show on the powerful pioneer General Electric radio station WGY. It was a thrill for me to sit in the studio with this gifted man with an encyclopedic mind and listen to him deftly field question after question pertaining to all aspects of ancient history, archaeology and the Bible. In the course of the broadcast, Cliff offered a free booklet to anyone who would write in to our newly-acquired post office box. Responses came in from across the US. Thus was born the mailing list for Word of Truth Productions. My initial effort to promote the new ministry was to contact Christian radio stations throughout the US to see if they would be interested in the “Word of Truth” radio broadcast. Many were and soon the truth of God’s word as demonstrated by Biblical archaeology was being broadcast coast-to-coast. Unbeknownst to us, there was already a Christian broadcast in the US called “Word of Truth.” When we were made aware of this conflict, Cliff changed the name of his program to “The Stones Cry Out.”
Cliff made copies of his slide-tape programs which were sent to interested groups in the US. This continued until videos made slide-tape programs obsolete. In subsequent meetings, Cliff felt that the US branch of Word of Truth Productions should publish a popular magazine on Biblical archaeology similar to Buried History. That interested me, so I agreed to be the editor.
Dubbed Bible and Spade by Cliff, the first copy came out in 1972 with the following editorial:
"We at Word of Truth Productions feel that there is a very real need for a journal of this type. Today archaeological activity in Bible lands is proceeding as never before…And yet, no one is reporting the results of this activity to the Christian public in a summarized systematic fashion. We believe that this information is of vital importance to the Christian—the pastor, the teacher, the student, and the average man in the pew.
Archaeology has done much in the past to verify the reliability of our Scriptures and help us gain a better understanding of them. All indications are that this will continue in the future. Consequently, we feel compelled to issue Bible and Spade and, with God’s help, we trust that it will meet a real need in our “scientific” age."
While Word of Truth Productions was being established in the US, other forces were at work in the world. Erich von Däniken published his infamous Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, at first in German in 1968, then in English in London in 1969 and New York in 1970. It sold tens of millions of copies. The book was followed by a German TV special in 1970 and “In Search of Ancient Astronauts,” narrated by Rod Sterling, in the US in 1973. Von Däniken’s premise was that aliens had contacted ancient civilizations and given them technologies and left other evidence behind of their visits to planet earth. The book and TV specials were extremely influential.
Cliff was a prodigious writer. He had a photographic memory and could absorb massive amounts of information in a short period of time. He was also a speed typist as a result of spending time in his mother’s secretarial school as a youth. He could read up on a subject over a weekend and then write a book about it on Monday. When the von Däniken fantasy hit Australia, Cliff was quick to respond. His book was creatively titled, Crash Go the Chariots: An Alternative to “Chariots of the Gods”, published by Word of Truth Australia in 1972. Cliff sent me a copy and asked if I could get it published in the US. Responding to von Däniken was beyond the capabilities of the fledgling US branch of Word of Truth Productions, so I decided to seek a mass-market paperback publisher. The naïve young engineer from Schenectady set off, with Cliff’s book in hand, to make cold calls on the publishing moguls of New York City. I was rebuffed by publisher after publisher, until I arrived at the office of Lanser Books at 26 West 47th St. To my amazement, they were interested in publishing the book! We struck a deal whereby they would handle the secular market and Word of Truth Productions would cover the Christian market. We were able to purchase the book at cost from Lanser, which as I recall was about 7¢ each. Sales took off and Cliff was on the way to becoming a wealthy man from book royalties. Word of Truth Productions also would stand to gain substantially. Just as our book-selling operation was starting to take off, disaster struck. In September 1973, for reasons unknown to us, Lancer Books filed for bankruptcy, shattering our dreams of wealth and prosperity.
With my now deep involvement in Biblical archaeology, I felt that God was calling me to serve full-time in this field. Cliff encouraged me to get formal training, so in 1973 I left GE and enrolled in an MA program in Biblical history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. From there, I went on to the University of Toronto for PhD studies in Syro-Palestinian archaeology. Throughout, Cliff was a partner in the US work and continually encouraged me in my academic endeavors.
In about 1972, on one of his many US lecture tours, Cliff spoke in the Philadelphia area. There he met David Livingston who had recently started the Associates for Biblical Research ministry in 1969. The purpose of Dave’s organization was to find the true site of Ai. He gave talks on creation and archaeology and the Bible, and published a monthly newsletter. Cliff introduced me to Dave over the phone. Dave and I became fast friends since we were both working in similar ministries. Following the completion of my PhD degree in 1985, I was able to join Dave in the excavation of Khirbet Nisya, which he had initiated in 1979. In 1986, we decided to merge our two ministries, retaining the name Associates for Biblical Research and dropping the name Word of Truth Productions. ABR had a dig and a newsletter, and Word of Truth Productions had a radio broadcast and a magazine, so the two organizations complemented each other very nicely. Cliff continued as the voice of “The Stones Cry Out” until his passing.
We will miss you dear friend. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”