The Silence of Abraham, the Passion of Job—Exploring Genesis 22 in Mirfield

This is the fourth installment about my journey through the UK.

After leaving Durham, I visited friends (David and Ruth Hanson) in Leeds overnight, then David drove me to the College of the Resurrection in nearby Mirfield to speak on the same topic I had presented on in Durham—Genesis 22.

The College of the Resurrection is an Anglo-Catholic seminary attached to a monastery in Mirfield. There I was hosted by Dorothea Bertschmann, tutorial fellow in New Testament at the College.

Those organizing the event decided to give my talk on Genesis 22 the same title as the book I am currently working on, “The Silence of Abraham, the Passion of Job,” even though most of the talk was focused on Abraham, with only a bit on Job at the end.

I met some great people at the College of the Resurrection. Besides Prof. Bertschmann, I had a good chat with Steffan Mathais, a senior student (who already had a PhD in Old Testament) currently studying for the pastoral ministry.

Below is Steffan’s account of my talk on Genesis 22 (written for the community’s newsletter). He starts with a Rabbinic quote about how to study Scripture, and why it is worth studying.


Turn it and turn it again, for all is in it; see through it; grow old and worn in it. – Rabbi Bag Ben Bag, Pirke Avos, 5:22

One of the great ironies of biblical scholarship is that often those who have given their lives to study of the bible are at best bored, and at worst irritated, by the texts they spend their days with. By contrast there was an infectiousness of Prof J. Richard Middleton’s excitement and playfulness, in his lecture The Silence of Abraham, the Passion of Job, delivered to the college on the 27th April, in conjunction with SIIBS, the Mirfield Centre, and St Hild’s College.

Prof Middleton is Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary, New York State. The body of his lecture focused around the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. While central in the imagination of Judaism and Christianity – and Islam – Middleton initially explored some of the ethical ambiguities of the narrative, before pointing out some of the interesting quirks of the story, notably the breakdown of relationship between Abraham, Isaac and Sarah, who henceforth in Genesis are said to live in different parts of the land.

Middleton asked if, perhaps, the text is more complex than our traditional reading, that Abraham was tested to see if he was willing to kill his son to submit to God. Through a close reading of the Hebrew (and without giving any surprises away to those who wish to read his next book on the subject!) Middleton read the story as a test of a very different kind: that God required Abraham to argue back, to say no, to be so sure of the mercy of God that he could wrestle with him. And in the end Abraham failed the test, remaining silent where those such as Job could not, but God’s faithfulness to his covenant carried them through.

Middleton’s reading was surprisingly compelling for one so provocative, but even more compelling was a reading of an old text which brought it alive again; which rather than ironing over the difficulties understood the creative tensions at play – the gaps, the lacunae, the ambiguities – and saw the scriptures as something to be enjoyed, to be wrestled with and poured over, not to be compartmentalised and ‘solved.’ Through his reading Middleton – partly through his study of Jewish exegesis – embraced the advice of Rabbis of old to always make the scriptures always new: ‘turn it and turn it again, for all is in it.’

~Steffan Mathais


I shared three meals with faculty and students at the College of the Resurrection, as well as gathering for coffee, drinks, and conversation. I also participated in a eucharistic liturgy led by the principal of the College, Fr Peter Allan.

All in all, it was quite wonderful to share worship, meals, camaraderie, and theological reflection with the members of this unique community of ecclesial learning.

My next post recounts my time in Leeds, with the Thinking Faith Network.

After Tom Wright—Speaking on the Lament Psalms in Aberdeen

This is a continuation blog post about my speaking tour in the UK.

After a great time with Tom and Maggie Wright, I left St. Andrews, heading north for Aberdeen, before I would need to head south from Scotland to England.

I arrived in Aberdeen at the start of the weekend and had some time to poke about the city and work on polishing some of the talks I would be giving over the next couple of weeks.

The Lament Psalms in Aberdeen

On Monday morning I was picked up by Grant Macaskill, the Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen. We drove to “Old Aberdeen,” where part of the university campus was located. There I spoke on the lament psalms (“Voices from the Ragged Edge: The Gritty Spirituality of the Psalms for a Broken World”) in the School of Divinity, History, and Philosophy.

Lament was was one of the topics I had addressed in St. Andrews and it was the topic Grant specifically requested for my Aberdeen visit. Not only did this topic relate to the interests of many graduate students, but the lecture was attended by Brian Brock, Lecturer in Moral and Practical Theology, who has co-edited an important volume of essays called Evoking Lament: A Theological Discussion (T & T Clark International, 2009), in which he has a chapter on Augustine and lament.

I had a great discussion with students in a variety of fields, including biblical studies, systematic theology, and practical theology on the value of the lament psalms for the church’s processing of pain and suffering, in prayer to God.

Meeting Grant Macaskill in the Islands Group at SBL

I had originally met my host Grant Macaskill (who is an excellent New Testament scholar and ethicist) at the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) meetings a few years ago, in a session on Islands, Islanders, and the Bible. Although most of the presenters in these sessions were from either the Caribbean (like myself) or the Pacific islands, Grant did a beautiful paper called “Gaelic Psalmody and a Theology of Place in the Western Isles of Scotland.”

His paper and mine (which was called “Islands in the Sun: Overtures to a Caribbean Creation Theology”) were both published in Islands, Islanders, and the Bible: Ruminations (Semeia Studies 77; Society of Biblical Literature, 2015).

The Jamaica-Scotland Connection—Past and Future

Grant and I managed to carve out time for some preliminary talks about a possible doctoral program in theology that Aberdeen might co-sponsor with the Jamaica Theological Seminary and the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology.

Having been made aware of the possibility of a joint PhD with Aberdeen by my colleague Easu McCaulley, I had been deputized by these two schools to begin the conversation; Grant and I discussed some intriguing possibilities about how we might go about developing a workable doctoral program in theology between Jamaica and Scotland.

It is not well known, but Jamaica and Scotland have numerous historical ties, including our flags. It turns out that the Jamaican flag was modeled on the Scottish flag, due to the advice of Rev William McGhie, a Church of Scotland minister who was living in Jamaica at the time of independence. This has led to an organization called Flag Up Scotland Jamaica, that is dedicated to developing ties between the two countries.

When my lecture was over, Grant put me on the train to Durham, which was the start of a long, but leisurely trip, from Aberdeen through Edinburgh, then on into England.

What happened in Durham is the subject of my next post.

Heading to San Antonio for the Annual SBL and IBR Meetings

I’m getting ready to go to San Antonio to attend the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (November 19-22) and also of the Institute for Biblical Research (November 18-20); the two meetings overlap a bit.

I’ll be presenting two papers at the SBL this year.

How the Prophet Samuel Abuses His Prophetic Office

The first paper is called “Orthodox Theology, Ulterior Motives in Samuel’s Farewell Speech? The Characterization of the Prophet in 1 Samuel 12.” This paper will be presented in (15 minute) summary form in the Contextual Biblical Interpretation Program Unit, on November 20, 2016 (click this link for further information).

This paper begins by by exploring how my Jamaican context, especially the folk tradition of Anansi (the trickster/spider), might impact my reading of 1 Samuel. The bulk of the paper is an attempt to understand the very convoluted (even contradictory) speech of Samuel in 1 Samuel 12, which comes right after the confirmation of Saul as king. I try to show (from a careful textual reading) that that the prophet is twisting the facts of Israel’s history and using underhanded rhetoric in order to portray himself as the “solution” to the problem of the monarchy, despite the fact that God has explicitly given permission for the monarchy and specifically designated Saul as the first king. The paper proposal can be accessed here and the full paper can be accessed here.

God’s Desire for Vigorous Prayer

The second paper is called “God’s Loyal Opposition: Psalmic and Prophetic Protest as a Paradigm for Faithfulness in the Hebrew Bible.” This paper will be presented in full (25 minutes) in the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures Program Unit, on November 21, 2016 (click this link for further information).

This paper explores the theology of the divine-human relationship underlying the sort of vigorous prayer found in the Bible (especially the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament), by looking first at the psalms of lament, then at prophetic intercession (with Moses as the model). The paper proposal can be accessed here.

Institute for Biblical Research

I won’t be presenting at the IBR this year, though I will be attending a number of sessions, including the annual lecture by Edith Humphrey, a fellow Canadian teaching in the USA. Her lecture (on the evening of November 18) is called “Reclaiming all Paul’s Rs: Apostolic Atonement by Way of the Eastern Fathers” and will be followed by two responses, one by Michael Gorman. You can find information about the lecture by scrolling down the IBR conference page.

Next year (November 2017) I’ll be giving an invited paper at IBR on Ecology and Eschatology in the Ecological Ethics and Biblical Studies research group (this year’s topic is on ecology and justice, and two of my friends, Brian Walsh and Steve Bouma-Prediger, are participating as paper respondents).

Esau McCauley, the new Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Northeastern Seminary, will be presenting in another IBR research group, devoted to Biblical Theology . His paper is entitled Exile, Restoration, and the Inheritance of the Son: Jesus as Servant and Messiah in Galatians 1:4.