I don’t recall when Philip and I first met, but it must have been in the early 90’s when Tom Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche along with Philip and Keith Whitelam were busily developing the new historical methodology known as ‘minimalism’ and alternatively as ‘ The Copenhagen School’ (if you asked Tom or Niels Peter) and ‘The Sheffield School’ if you talked to Keith or Philip.
When we met in the flesh, at a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, after having been ‘list buddies’ on the Biblical Studies Discussion List (back then on a site called e-groups which was bought by someone else who was then bought by Yahoo), I remember thinking how very Monty-Pythonesque Philip was. To tell the truth, he always and still reminds me of John Cleese: tall, funny, and profoundly intelligent.
We, I think, hit it off immediately. We had both grown up Baptist (yes, Philip grew up Baptist) and we both had a deep love of things historical and biblical. So we had a lot to talk about.
Over the years we stayed in touch, met up at SBL, corresponded with weekly regularity, and I learned so much from him and his books that I can describe him to this day as one of my chief influences. It was a pleasure to proof some of his work and I can’t fully describe the pride and honor I experienced every time I got an email from him asking if I might look over his latest essay or monograph for infelicities of expression or lack of clarity of thought. He sometimes typed fairly badly (!)(there were typos…) but he never failed to deliver the intellectual goods.
Philip was the one who encouraged me to join the Society for Old Testament Study, a society of scholars primarily in the United Kingdom whose focus is – surprise, surprise, the Old Testament. He was one of the two required co-sponsors and it was he who invited me as his guest to the first meeting of the Society I ever attended (you have to be invited to a meeting if you are not a member of the Society), at the University of Chester. That first meeting was the very meeting where I was voted unanimously into membership (and since non-members are not allowed in the Business meeting, it was Peter Williams who advised me of my acceptance, curiously, whilst we were both making use of the facilities…).
Many of my happiest memories in life have a Philip connection. Discussing the so called ‘Deuteronomistic History’ in Cambridge or chatting about The Chronicler in San Diego at a little cafe are thoughts that now fill me with both joy and sadness. Never to have the chance to chat with him again is nothing short of a dark cloud over my mind.
Philip was a friend to me; a genuine friend. Ben Sira described Philip (without knowing it) when he wrote
A loyal friend is a powerful defence: whoever finds one has indeed found a treasure. A loyal friend is something beyond price, there is no measuring his worth. A loyal friend is the elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find one. Whoever fears the Lord makes true friends, for as a person is, so is his friend too. (Sir. 6:14-17)
Philip the Elixir. May you rest in peace eternal, friend.
Below is a gallery of photos I took at the Chester meeting of SOTS; my first, and the meeting whereat I was voted into membership, 10 years ago, in 2008.