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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive Peter Ackroyd (1917 - 2005)

Peter Ackroyd was born September 15, 1917 and died on January 23, 2005. He received his academic training at Cambridge and London, with an honorary degree from St. Andrews. His distinguished career included lectureships in his own country, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.

He grew up in the Congregational Church, which became a part of the new United Reformed Church, and served as a Congregational pastor in Essex and London. Later he became an ordained Anglican priest. He was a member of the World Council of Churches' Commission on the Church and Jewish People.

His first wife, Evelyn, died in 1990. They had two sons and three daughters. He is survived by his second wife, the former Ann Golden.

He is most remembered as a distinguished scholar recognized throughout the world; a prolific author, editor, translator; university leader; and thoughtful mentor. He held several teaching positions but is associated most frequently with his position at London University King's College, where he was the Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament Studies, occupying the chair for more than 20 years.

His expertise in the archaeology of the Near East brought him chairmanships of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and the Palestine Exploration Fund.

His editorial responsibilities included such well-known series as The Old Testament Library, Studies in Biblical Theology, and The Cambridge Bible Commentary. He was the author of numerous articles, reviews, and books. His work on the Persian period served as a beacon for all who studied that historical period. The Hulsean Lectures on the Hebrew thought of the 6th Century B.C.E. serve as just one reminder of the pivotal impact he had on Persian period studies.

His books included The People of the Old Testament (1959), Exile and Restoration (1968), Israel under Babylon and Persia (1970) and Studies in the Religious Tradition of the Old Testament (1987).

None of his scholarship stood in the way of his making significant contributions to the administration of London University as Dean of the faculty of theology and as a member of its Senate. He was also Dean of the faculty of theology at King's College. He was President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1972, serving as its Foreign Secretary for three years. He was also a member of the Society of Biblical Literature.

In his inaugural lecture of the Walter G. Williams Lectureship in Old Testament entitled "Archaeology, Politics and Religion: The Persian Period," he made an introductory comment that speaks for his own understanding of scholarship:

Scholarship remote from life is often described as an "ivory tower"; such a place does not sound very comfortable for living. Or should we perhaps understand the expression as we are bound to interpret the reference to Ahab's "ivory palace" (1 Kings 22.39): it is not the palace but its decoration which is of ivory. It is certainly a proper concern that scholarship should be a thing of beauty and never narrowly utilitarian.

Peter contributed formative studies, established new directions, fearlessly confronted scholarly orthodoxies, and stimulated pivotal work. He brought together Old Testament scholars from North America, Germany, Israel, Australia, and his own country. He was not an island, but a bridge opening individuals to the richness of Old Testament studies.

Kent Harold Richards,, Professor of Old Testament and Executive Director of Society of Biblical Literature.

Citation: Kent Harold Richards, " Peter Ackroyd (1917 - 2005)," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited March 2005]. Online:


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