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Whatever happened to Bishop Pike?

While heading towards Masada from Jerusalem, a certain question almost always comes up as American pilgrims are taking in the rugged landscape of the Judean Mts. framed against the Dead Sea.  "Is this the area where Bishop Pike died?"

The first time I was asked, I simply answered in the affirmative.  After the second time, I began to ask my more veteran colleagues for details. Their replies were vague and contradictory -- even as to the year it happened.  The range was from the early sixties to the early seventies.  Curiosity led me to the library to check the location of the wadi and to understand the circumstances in which he died.  Most importantly, I wondered what was so special about Bishop Pike that more than a decade after he died, a wadi in the Judean Desert would evoke the association of "bishop pike" for a Protestant pilgrim.

In late August 1969 Bishop James Pike, aged 56, and his third wife, Diane, 31, came to Israel for a month to gather material about the origins of Christianity for a book Bishop Pike was writing.  On September 2nd they set out from Bethlehem in a rented car, intending to reach the wilderness where Jesus was tempted by the devil.

After passing Herodion, they turned off on an unpaved track which they thought led toward the north, to Jericho.  (They were, in fact, at the beginning of Wadi Mashash, leading east, down towards the Dead Sea.)  However, soon the unpaved road came to an abrupt end, as it had been washed out by flash floods.  The Pikes tried to turn around to go back to Bethlehem, but the rear wheels of the car dropped down into a deep rut.  They couldn’t free the car and didn’t know how to use the jack.  (The next day when Diane took the search party out to the car, the men pushed it free of the rut and the car ran perfectly.)

View of the Judean wilderness from the Mount of Olives

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

This photo looking south towards the Judean wilderness was
taken from the Augusta Victoria Observatory on the Mount   
of Olives.  The flat-topped hill along the horizon is Herodion.

The Pikes abandoned the car after trying unsuccessfully to get it out of the rut.  They then walked for two hours until Bishop Pike was too exhausted to go on.  They found a relatively flat rock under a bit of an overhang that gave them some shade. Mrs. Pike later told the police, she thought they would die together on that rock.  But then she thought that if she still had the strength, she should go get help.  Before she set out, Bishop Pike told her that if he died there in the wilderness, he was at peace.

As the sun was setting, she left the map with her husband and continued walking. First she climbed down to the bottom of the wadi.  Then when she came to huge boulders and couldn’t go any further, she climbed up on the walls of the wadi, continuing to head towards the Dead Sea.  Finally the canyon wall got so steep, she knew she had to climb out, even though that also seemed impossible.

At the top of the canyon, four hours after leaving her husband, she eventually found a dirt track made by the Jordanians (later the road to Mitzpe Shalem) and followed it. The last kilometer had been unfinished by the Jordanians and Diane Pike descended with only the moon to light her way.  After some ten hours she stumbled the last few meters onto the road being built between Ein Gedi and Ein Fashha.  A security guard found her badly cut and bruised.  Workmen brought her to Nahal Kallia and she was taken to police authorities in Bethlehem.

Judean cliffs Diane Pike climbed down in 1969

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Judean cliffs which Diane Pike descended by moonlight

In an interview at the police station in Bethlehem, Mrs. Pike said, "We tried to follow Jesus' footsteps.  We wanted to see the conditions Jesus knew.  Jim had been here six times before and I had been here once.  It was our first time in the desert.  We didn't take a guide.  We were very stupid about that."

The story that Bishop Pike was reported missing in the Judean Desert was immediately given front page coverage in the New York Times.  Bishop Pike was a well-known, colorful figure in the Episcopal Church and had been embroiled in a number of controversies over the years.

Bishop Pike, raised as a Roman Catholic, became an agnostic while in college. Educated as a lawyer, he found himself drawn to the Episcopal church during World War II.  After the war he studied at the Union Theological Seminary and began a clerical career that saw him rise to become Episcopal Bishop of the diocese of California with a national reputation.  He often used his prestigious pulpit to attack organized religion for its racial and political views.

He was branded as a dangerous radical by conservative Episcopalians.  They were further incensed when he publicly began to criticize such basic Christian doctrines as the concept of the trinity and the Virgin birth.  An example of his unorthodox approach was that as Bishop of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, he ordered included among the stain-glassed windows, panels honoring not only traditional saints, but also John Glenn the astronaut.  In 1966 he resigned his see.

Because of a dispute with the bishop who succeeded him, Dr. Pike was denied permission to marry Diane who was the executive director of a foundation which conducted research into life after death.  They had collaborated together on the book, "The Other Side: An Account of My Experience with Psychic Phenomena."  The book recounted Bishop Pike's successful efforts to establish contact with the spirit of his son who had committed suicide in a New York hotel in 1966.

Bishop Pike married Diane anyway without the approval of the Episcopal diocesan and was consequently barred from preaching in Episcopal churches in California.  Some months before he died, he announced in a magazine article that he was leaving the Episcopal church.  He wrote, "The poor may inherit the earth, but it would appear that the rich -- or at least the rigid, respectable and safe -- will inherit the church."

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From Bethlehem a search party was immediately established to rescue Bishop Pike. Hundreds of off-duty soldier volunteers, policemen and border police were involved as well as planes and helicopters.  The abandoned car was found -- but not Bishop Pike. The only clue was the discovery of the map, but there were no indications as to which direction the missing bishop had set out.

After three days of temperatures rising above 100 degrees, the official hunt was called off and the search was continued by 36 former army scouts and local Beduin. Chances for the survival of Bishop Pike were considered to be slim.  In the midst of a news conference at her hotel, Mrs. Pike was contacted by her family in the States who said the same seer who had put her husband in contact with the spirit of his dead son had had a vision of him alive.  The seer who was recuperating from a heart attack said Bishop Pike was alive in a cave, not far from where she had left him, but he was sick.

As a result of the publicity on Bishop Pike's past involvement with a seer, Mrs. Pike was contacted by many self-proclaimed mediums.  One medium from Tel Aviv did a pendulum swing over two maps: one large-scaled and the other small-scaled. The pendulum landed on the same place both times.  Two men rushed from Tel Aviv with the map to help the search party.  But there was no sign of Bishop Pike in the marked area of the map or in its vicinity.

The same Tel Avivian medium then got another message, this time through automatic writing.  That is, the medium held a pen in her hand and a spirit (she claimed it was the most noted American medium who had ever lived, Edgar Cayce himself, dead since 1948) moved the pen.  The message was that Bishop Pike was in a cave, unconscious and near death.  The cave was said to be on a narrow ridge with shrubs covering the mouth of the cave.  Volunteers and police officials and members of the Society for the Protection of Nature searched the area again looking for a cave shielded by shrubs in which Bishop Pike might have found shelter against the blistering heat.  He was not to be found.

Date orchard in the Judean desert by the Dead Sea

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

This date orchard by the Dead Sea was planted after 1969,
 when Diane Pike came by, seeking help to rescue her husband

Mrs. Pike, visibly bruised after her own 10-hour hike through the same rocky terrain, joined the search party for her husband almost every day.  She was admired by all for her stamina and composure under the most difficult of circumstances.  The police found themselves torn between their skepticism of the new information being produced by seers and mediums and their desire to help Mrs. Pike.

On September 7th, 5 days after the Pikes had left Bethlehem to follow the footsteps of Jesus, the body of Bishop Pike was found.  He had apparently continued in the footsteps of his wife, believing that she was in trouble.  He had found a pool of water but went on, probably looking for his wife.  He had left a series of clues -- a map, undershorts, glasses, and a contact lens case -- to indicate the path he had taken.

Bishop Pike was climbing a steep ascent in Wadi Mashash (the upper Daraje) either to extricate himself from a box canyon or to get a better view, when he fatally slipped and fell.  The following day he was buried in St. Peter's cemetery in Jaffa under a large tamarisk tree by the sea.  The tombstone notes his birth in Oklahoma City in 1913 and his death in the Judean Wilderness in 1969.

Bishop Pike's grave by the Mediterranean  


Photo:  Barbara Kreiger

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Bishop Pike's grave with the Mediterranean


Sea in the background


When the body was found, Mrs. Pike eulogized her husband, "There could have been no more appropriate place for Jim to die, if he had to die.  He died in the country he loved as though it were his own, in the wilderness where Jesus, according to the Gospels went to pray and meditate."

Copyright 1983, 2005 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

View from Bishop Pike's grave in Jaffa

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View from Bishop Pike's grave in Jaffa


In 1999 a colleague of mine met the brother of Bishop Pike’s widow, Diane, and told him about the “Whatever Happened to Bishop Pike” article I had published in 1983 in the Israeli magazine, “Moreshet Derech.”  After he expressed interest, I emailed the article to him to forward to his sister.

Diane Pike wrote me, “I have read your article with great interest and with admiration for you for doing so much research and piecing together the story so well and so thoroughly.  You have done a fine job and you present a sympathetic understanding of my husband and of his death.”  She included some minor corrections which I incorporated in the text.  She added, “All the soldiers who helped in the search did so when they were off-duty, as volunteers.  That touched me very much.”

Diane’s brother, Scott Kennedy, wrote me, that he had visited Wadi Mashash with his daughter and a friend during a visit to Israel and added, “We spent several hours there, hiking into the wadi to the spot where Jim Pike died.  It has changed some since that time, though I hadn’t been into the wadi for more than 20 years!  I find it strangely beautiful despite the association with Jim’s death 30 years ago.”
More about the Judean wilderness
Cave number 4 at Qumran

Let's celebrate the Epiphany by the River Jordan

Let's find Herod's tomb at Herodion

Read about the Witch of En Dor who stars in the only scene in the Hebrew Bible where a character is actually summoned up from the netherworld.

The Witch of En Dor raising the spirit of Samuel

William Blake around 1800 | Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The Witch of En Dor raising the spirit of Samuel

The nineteenth and twentieth century Holy Land explorer and preeminent archeologist Sir Flinders Petrie was buried headless in the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  Read about why he is important and why he is headless!
The Merneptah Stele or Israel Stele was found by Flinders Petrie

Flinders Petrie the first biblical archeologist in Palestine

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Merneptah or Israel Stele

Archeologist Sir Flinders Petrie

David practiced his prowess with a sling, as he protected his sheep and goats, not too far from where the Pikes started that fatal journey through the wilderness of Judea.  The "traditional sling that killed Goliath" (see below) is an unusual gift for someone fighting giants -- or a creative Sunday School teacher!





Copyright © 2005-2024 Gila Yudkin. All rights reserved.
Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin