The Rev Professor Peter Ackroyd

Meticulous Old Testament scholar and editor of a series of major commentaries on the Bible

Peter R. Ackroyd left an enduring legacy for English-speaking bible-readers for the enthusiasm and energy with which, shortly after taking up appointment in 1961 as Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament Studies at King's College, London, he promoted and edited a series of major commentaries on the Bible. Most prominent were the Old Testament volumes of the
New Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges published between 1961 and 1979 and the
Cambridge History of the Bible (volume 1, 1970), but he published widely in the cause of religious education.

Peter Runham Ackroyd, Old Testament scholar and priest: born Harrow, Middlesex 15 September 1917; ordained minister of the Congregational Church 1940; Minister, Roydon Congregational Church 1943-47; Minister, Balham Congregational Church 1947-48; Lecturer in Old Testament and Biblical Hebrew, Leeds University 1948-52; University Lecturer in Divinity, Cambridge University 1952-61; ordained deacon of the Church of England 1957, priest 1958; Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament Studies, London University 1961-82 (Emeritus), Dean, Faculty of Theology 1976-80; Honorary Secretary, Palestine Exploration Fund 1962-70, Chairman 1986-90; Dean, Faculty of Theology, King's College, London 1968-69; President, Society for Old Testament Study 1972; married 1940 Evelyn Nutt (died 1990; two sons, two daughters, and one daughter deceased), 1991 Ann Golden; died Littleport, Cambridgeshire 23 January 2005.

Peter R. Ackroyd left an enduring legacy for English-speaking bible-readers for the enthusiasm and energy with which, shortly after taking up appointment in 1961 as Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament Studies at King's College, London, he promoted and edited a series of major commentaries on the Bible. Most prominent were the Old Testament volumes of the New Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges published between 1961 and 1979 and the Cambridge History of the Bible (volume 1, 1970), but he published widely in the cause of religious education.

His Free Church upbringing left him with a strong conviction that the Bible provides a central pathway to spiritual insight which lies at the heart of Christianity. It opens the door to spiritual maturity and freedom, without which religion becomes moribund and dangerous. His Archbishop's Lenten study book, Doors of Perception: a guide to reading the Psalms (1978), expressed this personal concern to use the hard-won insights of modern scholarship, as a means of enriching modern understanding and worship.

Born in 1917, in Harrow, Middlesex, into a family with a strong Dissenting tradition, Ackroyd went up to Downing College, Cambridge, in 1935 to read Modern Languages - an expertise which he was later to put to good use in his biblical research. Turning to theology he took the Bachelor of Divinity (London) in 1940 and proceeded back to Cambridge to undertake research, gaining his doctorate in 1945.

After a period as a pastoral minister (1943-48) he returned to academic life as a lecturer, first at Leeds University, and then at Cambridge from 1952. Here his disenchantment with what he felt to be an over-preoccupation with linguistic and lexicographical issues in the teaching and study of the Old Testament became widely known.

Ever an enthusiast for serious scholarship Ackroyd admired the strong, if sometime over-refined, literary and theological traditions of Germany that had been too long ignored in England. To help remedy this neglect he translated into English Otto Eissfeldt's huge Einleitung in das Alte Testament, acknowledged at the time as the standard text on the subject, as The Old Testament: an introduction (1965). Not only was the translation excellently done, but the 1934 original was improved by updated bibliographies, errors corrected and the whole presented in a most clear and readable fashion. It proved to be an important turning point for a wider international engagement with scholarly biblical research with which the aged Eissfeldt was himself delighted.

In 1961 Peter Ackroyd was appointed the Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament Studies at King's College, retaining the post until his retirement in 1982. During this period he edited a wide-ranging series of publications, aimed at making readily accessible the learning and insights about the Bible and its origins which scholarship had gleaned over a period of more than a century. He himself contributed commentaries on several historical biblical books.

Alongside his responsibilities at King's College and London University, he served as Honorary Secretary of the Palestine Exploration Fund and, for a number of years, edited their journal. He was a careful and accurate bibliographer, editing the Society for Old Testament Study Book List (1967-73), and elected President of the society in 1972. He also served as their Foreign Secretary for three years from 1986.

His own published contributions were numerous, but it was especially his 1960-62 Cambridge University Hulsean Lectures, published in 1968 as Exile and Restoration: a study of Hebrew thought of the sixth century BC, that broke fresh ground. The period had conventionally been regarded as one of decline from that of the great prophets, but Ackroyd saw it instead as uniquely creative, laying the very foundations of a biblically centred faith. The origins of the Bible lay in the need to maintain religious continuity in an era of political change and upheaval, not dissimilar to the upheavals of post-1945 Europe.

Ackroyd was generous with his time for students and eager to encourage potential authors, and he became a much-sought-after guide and counsellor. He was meticulous in the breadth and accuracy of his bibliographies, although often convoluted in his line of argument. The many contributing writers to the series and volumes that he edited will not forget the firm advice, the prompt reminders of deadlines and the brief postcards in a hard-to-decipher handwriting, which ensured that the work was done. These books established, as he had hoped they would, a bridge between the academic world and the general reader.

Ordained an Anglican priest in 1958, Ackroyd believed passionately that respect for truth, as the scholar saw it, and maturity in the spiritual life belonged together. The Church and the academic world can, and must, continually learn from each other. Among his pupils Desmond Tutu counted himself a profound admirer and learner.

The title of his inaugural lecture at King's College in 1961, "Continuity: a contribution to the study of the Old Testament religious tradition", introduced the theme which shaped the course of his most original research. All religions experience the changes common to human societies, but they counter these upheavals by recording core traditions in stories, poetry and prayers, which build up into systems of belief. These traditions then serve to maintain the continuity between the past and the present.

The Bible was precisely such an agency of continuity, not in itself a creed, but a medium of spiritual identity that enables the present to engage creatively with the past. The Abrahamic tradition of faith reaches down to us through the Hebrew Bible, embracing in its history Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Within this history scholarship opens doors of perception which maintain our continuity with this inheritance.

In various occasional essays and lectures, published as Studies in the Religious Tradition of the Old Testament (1987), Ackroyd explored this theme in several ways, not least by advocating, with admirable foresight, closer attention to the history of biblical interpretation down to modern times.

Never one to rest content, either with his own achievements or those of others, Peter Ackroyd was an inveterate questioner, urging students to rethink their assumptions, pressing preachers to rethink their sermons, and very pertinently pressing scholars to ask where their scholarship was leading. His own churchmanship remained resolute and committed, anxious to hold to central things, with a warm gentleness and tolerance.

Ronald E. Clements



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'