Herod as Pharaoh? My Talk for the Upcoming Rochester Preaching Conference (May 21, 2015)

On Thursday, May 21, I’ll be speaking at a conference called “From Interpretation to Preaching.”

My presentation will address Matthew’s use of Old Testament quotations/ citations in the infancy narratives (Matthew 1-2). There are four, five, or six citations, depending how you count them.

In chapter 1 Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 (the Immanuel prophecy), while chapter 2 contains quotes from Micah 5:2 (with an addition from 2 Samuel 5:2), Hosea 11:1, and Jeremiah 31:15 (plus a closing citation of “the prophets,” but there is no agreement what the OT reference is).

What Is Matthew Doing with the Old Testament?

As an Old Testament scholar, I’m interested in what Matthew is doing with these texts. Are they functioning simply as “proof texts,” or is there some exegetical strategy to their use?

Another, more theological, question is whether the infancy narratives in Matthew are simply a set of “feel-good” stories for the Christmas season; or do they have some intrinsic connection to the thrust of his Gospel? And if so, what might that be?

The title of my talk is “Herod as Pharaoh.”

Herod, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar

The connection to Pharaoh comes from Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 (which focuses on the exodus from Egypt). But I could just as easily have called the talk “Herod as Nebuchadnezzar” in connection with his use of Jeremiah 31:15 (which addresses the Babylonian exile).

Herod and David

There is also a link to David (as the shepherd of Israel) from the bit of 2 Samuel 5:2 that Matthew includes in the Micah 5 quote. But this is not an idealized David; the context indicates this is a David who is remarkably like Herod (and Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar).

The connection becomes clear from investigating each of the OT quotes in context. Not only do all the quotes address the crisis of ancient Israel in various sociopolitical contexts, but the context of the three prophetic quotes in Matthew 2 revolves around God bringing Israel back from exile and binding up their wounds.

Jesus as an Alternative “Son of David”

Matthew 1-2 is setting up Jesus, “the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1) as a different kind of leader for Israel after their time of extended exile. Unlike Herod, and even David (both of whom have certain affinities to Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar), this Messiah doesn’t slaughter or oppress helpless Israelites, but rather tends them as a true shepherd (and ultimately suffers with them).

Matthew’s infancy narratives thus constitute a significant challenge to the leadership of first-century Israel.

So the subtitle of my talk is: “Matthew’s Subversive Use of Old Testament Quotations in the Infancy Narratives.”

Implications for Preaching

The introduction of Jesus in Matthew 1-2 has significant implications for us today, including for preaching that aims to get beyond pious platitudes. Indeed, Matthew’s vision of Jesus, the true “son of David,” generates a serious ethical challenge for the nature of leadership in the church and the wider society.

Esau McCaulley on Paul and the Law in Galatians

After my presentation, we will be hearing from Rev. Esau McCaulley (PhD candidate in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews), who will be joining the faculty of Northeastern Seminary in July 2015.

His talk is entitled “Preaching Paul and the Law in Galatians”; this is how he describes his focus:

“Everyone who preaches from Paul’s letters must eventually talk about the Law. This session will show how recovering the narrative of Israel’s history that informed Paul’s understanding of the Law can bring nuance and vigor to our preaching about the relationship between faith, Law, and the reign of the Messiah.”

For more information on Esau’s talk, see his expanded explanation here.

Second Annual Rochester Preaching Conference

Rev. McCaulley and I will be giving our presentations at the second annual preaching conference sponsored by the Rochester Consortium of Theological Schools.

The three Schools are Northeastern Seminary (where I currently teach), Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (where I used to teach), and St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry (where my church used to meet, until just recently). So I’ve got a connection to all three institutions.

Last year’s conference was held at Northeastern Seminary and the speaker was the president of Colgate Rochester, Dr. Marvin McMickle. In 2016 the conference will be held at Colgate Rochester and the speaker(s) will be come from St. Bernard’s.

This year’s preaching conference will take place at St. Bernard’s, with a focus on the value of serious biblical exegesis for good preaching (hence the title: “From Interpretation to Preaching”).

So this conference is not meant to be an introduction to preaching; rather, it is for those who want to dig deeper into Scripture, in order to reinvigorate their preaching. And you don’t even have to be a preacher to attend.

You can register for the 2015 Rochester preaching conference here.

This blog is also posted on the Northeastern Seminary website.


Walter Brueggemann on A New Heaven and a New Earth

The writings of Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann have had a profound impact on my thinking over the years.

Back when I was a theology graduate student, I read Brueggemann’s The  Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Augsburg, 1984). This book introduced me to the importance of human experience embedded in the Psalter, especially the value of lament psalms in processing pain and helping us move towards newness of life. The Message of the Psalms was life-altering and spoke directly to where I was in my faith journey. Brueggemann’s insights into lament, both in this book and in his famous article on the “costly loss of lament,” greatly influenced my own argument about the inadequacy of classical theodicy in “Why the ‘Greater Good’ Isn’t a Defense.”

Then I read The Prophetic Imagination (Fortress, 1978; 2nd ed. 2000), which crystallized the contrast between the impulse to autonomy and control in Pharaoh’s Egypt and the Israelite monarchy, on the one hand, and the challenge to this autonomy in the exodus and in the Yahwistic faith in the prophets, on the other. This book, published a few years before the Psalms book, articulated the move in the prophetic literature from embracing pain (here Brueggemann focused on Jeremiah) to being energized by hope (here he focused on Deutero-Isaiah). It was The Prophetic Imagination, more than any other resource, that opened my eyes to the sociopolitical implications of the gospel. Brueggemann was helpful in providing a paradigm for interpreting both the Old Testament and the New; his chapters on the cross and resurrection of Jesus in terms of the prophetic pattern of the Old Testament were illuminating.

However, I began to see certain limitations in Brueggemann’s analysis of patterns in the Bible. His take on Scripture was very helpful in addressing suffering and injustice and in prodding us towards a redemptive vision. But his suspicious interpretation of creation texts in the Old Testament did not match my experience of these texts as liberating and empowering. In fact, Israel’s Praise (Fortress, 1988), his second book on the Psalms (he has since written more), was even more suspicious of creation texts, interpreting them, along with the enthronement psalms, as nothing more than royal legitimation for the status quo. It was my high respect for Brueggemann, combined with my perception of a different reading of creation in the Old Testament, that led me to publish a critical review of the topic, titled “Is Creation Theology Inherently Conservative? A Dialogue with Walter Brueggemann” (1994).

Prior to publication, I presented this paper at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in 1992. Since the conference organizers had put my paper right after a panel discussion that Brueggemann participated in, he was there to hear my paper. It also turned out that the person who was to present after me had pulled out of the conference, so there was a gap of half-an-hour. The conference chair asked Brueggemann if he would say a few words in response, since we had some time. I actually have no recollection what Brueggemann specifically said, since I was sick as a dog. I had laryngitis the night before and wasn’t even sure I would be able to deliver the paper. As it was, I had to speak in almost a whisper (I told the audience that I came to them in the weakness of the flesh).

All I remember is that Brueggemann was very gracious; he was basically affirming and appreciative. And then when my paper was published, he wrote a very positive response, locating my paper among various recent approaches to Old Testament creation theology. I found out later that even before my SBL presentation Brueggemann had already begun to come to a more positive view of the topic of creation, evident in his oral presentations (I later listened to some recordings). Some of his more positive views found their way into his Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination (Fortress, 1993), and later into his magnum opus, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Fortress, 1997).

I’ve had many contacts with Walter Brueggemann over the years, from responding to a paper he gave at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto (in 1997) to hearing him give papers at SBL and attending many of his speaking engagements in Rochester.

He wrote a great blub for the back cover of Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith for a Postmodern Age (IVP, 1995), which I co-authored with Brian Walsh, and he even sent me a nice card congratulating me when I got a full-time teaching appointment at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in 1996. Later, he wrote a very positive endorsement of my book The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Brazos, 2005).

More recently, Brueggemann has written an endorsement for A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014):

“Richard Middleton plunges boldly into a most-treasured misreading of the Bible. He shows the way in which ‘other-worldly’ hope of ‘going to heaven’ is a total misread of gospel faith. In a demanding, sure-footed way he walks the reader through a rich deposit of biblical texts to make clear that the gospel concerns the transformation of the earth and not escape from it. Middleton summons us to repentance for such a mistaken understanding that has had disastrous practical implications. This is a repentance that he himself avows. When his book catches on, it will have an immense impact on the way in which we think and act about our common future in the gospel, a common future with important socio-economic, political derivatives. The reader will be rewarded by Middleton’s boldness.”

Actually, it is I who have been rewarded by Brueggemann’s boldness—I’ve been rewarded again and again.

Blogging—An Introvert’s Dilemma

I’m a teacher by vocation and temperament. I love to explore ideas and share them with others.

But I’ve never blogged before. The basic reason is that I’m an introvert.

Of course, as most people now realize, introversion isn’t the same thing as shyness.

I used to be shy. I was so shy as a kid growing up in Jamaica that some of the teachers in my first school thought there was something wrong with me. Through my teenage years I was the person other teens described (if they were kind) with the phrase “silent waters run deep.”

I was so shy I had a visceral reaction if I was asked to make an announcement in my church youth group; my throat would constrict and my body would tremble.

Teaching is in my blood

Yet by seventeen I was leading Bible studies in my home church and even preaching from time to time. Yes, I was nervous to stand in front of a congregation and deliver a sermon. But if I prepared well and so had something to say (and breathed slowly at the start), I could overcome my nerves.

As an undergraduate student at Jamaica Theological Seminary, I soon found myself invited to speak at other churches throughout the island, both to youth groups and in Sunday worship.

During my undergraduate years I would often meet with fellow-students to help them figure out the class material and think through the significance of what they were learning. For my senior-year internship I requested (and was granted) two non-credit courses to teach, which were sponsored by the Seminary for the wider community.

Then in Canada during graduate school I taught multiple non-credit courses through campus ministry groups at various universities in South-Western Ontario (University of Toronto, McMaster University, University of Guelph, Brock University). When I came to study in the United States I taught similar courses in upstate New York (Syracuse University, University of Rochester, Cornell University).

I also served as teaching assistant for philosophy courses at the University of Guelph and for theology courses at Colgate Rochester Divinity School.

Throughout my graduate studies I continued to preach and lead Bible studies, and often spoke at campus ministry events at different universities, including chapels, workshops, retreats, and camps in Canada and the U.S.

The upshot is that long before I ever taught my first official credit course as an adjunct lecturer (at Redeemer University College, in Hamilton, Ontario), I knew that teaching was in my blood.

Teaching and learning intertwined

While working on my PhD at the Institute for Christian Studies (Toronto), I taught graduate courses in the Masters program (nine in all). By this time it was simply inconceivable that I not teach. Teaching and learning had become inextricably intertwined for me.

The synergy of teaching and learning continued after I got my first full-time teaching job at Colgate Rochester Divinity School (now Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School).

During my graduate teaching at Colgate, followed by teaching mostly undergraduates at Roberts Wesleyan College, and now back to graduate students at Northeastern Seminary, I have found that the discipline of interacting with others around important ideas and texts has shaped and honed my own learning profoundly.

A great deal of my motivation (and delight) as a teacher comes from seeing students rise to the challenge and join me on the journey of exploration that I’ve invited them on.

But blogging is different

But teaching is one thing. Blogging is quite another.

For years friends and colleagues have encouraged me to blog. Now my Seminary has encouraged me to set up a blogging site.

But its hard to blog when you’re an introvert.

Today I am no longer shy (how that change happened is a story for another time). I haven’t been shy for a while.

But I am (as I always have been) definitely an introvert on the Myers Briggs scale.

This means that I need lots of private, solitary time to thrive.

Introverts need time to recharge their batteries between times when they’re with people.

So I tend to lay low for as long as I can, and only surface for connection with people when needed. This connection includes more than just teaching courses; there are meetings with students outside of class, there are faculty and committee meetings, and sometimes just having a cup of coffee with a colleague or friend.

Truth be told, I love people and get a lot out of social interaction.

But it also takes a lot out of me. I find spending time even with good friends leaves me needing solitude so I can be recharged emotionally.

But blogging—that puts you in public view all the time. And you have to be constantly sharing bits of yourself. And I’m a very private person.

How I came to blog

I’m not sure I can do this. That’s what I told the friends and colleagues who have been challenging me to join the human race (a.k.a enter the Blogosphere).

But they kept encouraging me: You don’t have to expose your every thought. You can post your reflections at discrete (and discreet) intervals.

And you can keep the blogs short.

Which sounds good, since it means that I don’t have to spend too much time blogging. But which might be a problem, since once I get hold of an idea, I tend to have a bit of a go at it (hence the length of this first blog).

Alright, I said; I’m willing to try. After all, I do have things to say, ideas to explore.

Just so long as no-one expects me to tweet too.

Oh, didn’t we mention that?


My next post will explain the name of this website and what sorts of posts you can expect.