In Memoriam: Philip R. Davies

downloadThe world of biblical scholarship recently learned of the death of Professor Philip Davies. I first met Philip in the Common Room on the tenth floor of the Arts Tower at the University of Sheffield, where the Biblical Studies department was housed. I had recently arrived as a PhD student and a number of us were relaxing in the room and Philip was there. We began talking and we got onto the topic of literary criticism of the New Testament. Philip was aware of some of the recent developments and wanted to know my opinion on a recent book by a particular scholar. Philip was interested in my opinion, but did not hesitate to express his own as well. I think that this characterizes Philip well—he was a great conversationalist with a quick mind, being able both to express an opinion and to hear the opinions of others.

Philip spent most of his academic and professional career at the University of Sheffield during the height of its influence in biblical studies. After studying at Oxford for his undergraduate degree and St. Andrews for his PhD, and after a brief time of teaching in Ghana, Philip came to Sheffield in the mid 1970s, and moved up the ranks until he was given a personal professorial chair in 1994, a chair he kept until he retired in 2003. Philip’s area of initial expertise was Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, on which he wrote a number of his early books. However, in the early 1990s, Philip became identified with the minimalist school of thought in Israelite historiography, along with a number of those in the Copenhagen School (including Thomas L. Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche, among others). He wrote a number of books in this area as well, and many will remember some heated debates, both live and in print, in which Philip and others engaged on this topic. Philip was always a very passionate advocate for his position—although usually with at least a faint sense of humor over the entire proceedings.

Even if many biblical scholars would disagree with Philip over his position on Israelite historiography (and I have to admit that the evidence seems to be minimal for the minimalist position), many are also indebted to Philip for the work that he did with Sheffield Academic Press, at one time one of the great academic biblical studies publishing ventures. Philip was one of the founders and publishers of SAP—originally JSOT Press—with its initial humble origins in some journals (JSOT, and then JSNT) and then monograph series, until the entire enterprise grew to large and distinct proportions. SAP was known for its edgy approach to scholarship that mirrored the innovative and creative emphases within the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield. I had the privilege of being Senior Academic Editor of SAP in 1991-1992, as well as continuing to be involved as a series editor until its demise in the early 2000s, and I remember Philip’s continual active involvement in the Press. I also remember the day when Philip arrived at the Press to deliver on disk his latest manuscript for publication, In Search of ‘Ancient Israel,’ with all of the fanfare and consternation that accompanied it as he gave directions for its publication.

In some ways, Philip always seemed to be in the shadow of others at Sheffield, as there were a number of larger-than-life figures of various sorts in the department from the 1980s to the 1990s. However, Philip definitely had his own areas of expertise and helped to make Sheffield the great department of biblical studies that it was during that time. His passing represents not only the passing of a person, but the passing of an idea and a vision that once lived in Sheffield.

— Stanley E. Porter


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