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Prof Philip Esler

Portland Chair in New Testament Studies

I specialise in the interpretation of biblical and extra-biblical texts and ancient legal papyri using social-scientific ideas and perspectives to open up new lines of enquiry and to help understand the results. Chevron icon

Biography

Professor Esler, who gained his New Testament doctorate from Oxford, practised law in Sydney, Australia, before moving to the UK with his family permanently in 1992, initially to the University of St Andrews. From 2005 to 2009 he was on leave from St Andrews to serve as the first Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Philip Esler specialises in the social scientific interpretation of biblical and extra-biblical texts and ancient legal papyri, and in biblical theology and the Bible and the visual arts. He has been Portland Chair in New Testament Studies since September 2013. Prior to his appointment here he had been Professor of Biblical Criticism and the Vice-Principal for Research at the University of St Andrews, Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Principal of St Mary’s University College, Twickenham. His first career was as a solicitor and barrister in Sydney, Australia. He holds a D. Phil and a DD from Oxford University and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Membership of professional bodies

Society of New Testament Studies, Society of Biblical Literature

Teaching & Research

Research

In 2017 Oxford University Press published Philip’s Babatha’s Orchard: The Yadin Papyri and An Ancient Jewish Family Tale Retold. Babatha was a Jewish woman who hid her legal documents in a Dead Sea cave in ad135, where they were found in 1961. In this book, Philip shows that underlying the oldest four documents (written in Nabatean Aramaic) is a remarkable chain of events from ad99 by which Babatha’s father came to buy a date-palm orchard on the Dead Sea shore that he later gave to her. Most ancient sources only focus on elite people and a story like this, of ordinary villagers, is very rare.

Publications

More publications from Prof Philip Esler can be found in the Research Repository.