Campus & Community

Philip J. King Professorship created to study ancient civilizations

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The Leon Levy Foundation has established the Philip J. King Professorship to support an outstanding scholar of the ancient world, Harvard University announced today (Nov. 9). The gift underscores the foundation’s commitment to fostering a cross-cultural academic environment that aims to understand ancient civilizations such as those in the Near East and the Mediterranean basin.

King, who currently serves as Harvard’s director of the Shelby White-Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications, has greatly influenced the fields of biblical studies and archaeology throughout his long career. After receiving his A.B. from St. John Seminary College in Boston in 1945, King went on to earn a licentiate in sacred theology (S.T.L.) from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., a licentiate in sacred scripture (S.S.L.) from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Italy, and a doctorate in sacred theology (S.T.D.) from the Pontifical Lateran University, also in Rome. King became professor of biblical studies in the department of theology at Boston College in 1974 and remained in the position until his retirement in 2001.

“The Philip J. King Professorship is a wonderful addition to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences,” says interim Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles. “This new chair will strengthen the study of ancient civilizations, and make it possible for Harvard to appoint an outstanding scholar of the ancient world.”

Having conducted archaeological fieldwork in places such as Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, and North Yemen, King has also worked with people and organizations in many other parts of the world. He served in many important roles over the years, including president of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association of America, and the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. In 1994, a compilation of essays written by colleagues and experts, “Scripture and Other Artifacts: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King,” paid tribute to King’s intellectual contributions to his field.

“The impact of this gift will be of enormous consequence for the study of ancient history and many other fields at Harvard,” says Jay M. Harris, Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard. “That the chair has been named for Philip J. King is only fitting. Professor King, now retired after many years as professor of biblical studies at Boston College, is an internationally esteemed scholar in the field of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israelite history and archaeology.”

The Leon Levy Foundation was established in 2004 under the will of the late Leon Levy, a Wall Street financier and philanthropist who founded the Oppenheimer Funds. The Leon Levy Foundation, directed by his wife, Shelby White, and co-trustee Mrs. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, continues his legacy. At Harvard, the White-Levy Program for Archaeological Publications has enabled 100 field archaeologists to prepare publications of their excavations over the past decade. Other activities funded by Levy before his death, as well as current Levy Foundation projects, include the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College, the White-Levy Roman Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Shelby White and Leon Levy Center for Mind, Brain and Behavior at Rockefeller University, the new Leon Levy Visitors Center at the New York Botanical Garden, the Mind Brain Initiative at the Institute for Advanced Study, the Leon Levy Archive Project at the National Museum of Cambodia, and, most recently, a $200 million pledge and gift to establish the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University.