Statement from President Blount on the passing of former professor Dean McBride
RICHMOND, VA (May 13, 2020) — The following statement was made by Union Presbyterian Seminary President Brian K. Blount on the death of S. Dean McBride Jr., the Cyrus H. McCormick Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Interpretation, Emeritus, at Union Presbyterian Seminary (UPSem). Dr. McBride died May 12 at his home in Kilmarnock, Virginia, while surrounded by his loving family. He was 83.
Though I had long known of his scholarly reputation for excellence, I first met Dean McBride when I was invited to serve on the Presbyterian Church’s Cooperative Committee on Examinations. Dean was already in place. Naturally, he was on the team that prepared the Bible Exegesis Exam. My first impression on meeting him in person? An imposing figure with a formidable intellect. That deep bass voice booming, seriously and playfully, across the workroom was an appropriate fit for his commanding presence. Watching him, listening to him, I remember thinking that all of the superlatives colleagues had used when describing him were well deserved. Though I was a biblical studies professor posted at a fairly reputable theological school myself, I remember feeling just a little intimidated. I thought I had my own chance to intimidate him after my group drafted the Bible Content exam questions for that year. According to exam preparation tradition, the Bible Content exam questions were field-tested on the team members who were writing the Bible Exegesis exam. I figured this would produce at least a little anxiety. After all, Dean and his colleagues would take the test cold, without any preparation. They were also timed. I remember Dean finishing first. I don’t remember Dean making too many mistakes. If he did, surely, they were questions from the New Testament. I do remember his wonderful spirit during it all. The humor. The collegiality. The gentle teasing of colleagues. His own acceptance of their teasing. The more I saw of him, listened to him, the less intimidated I became. Ironically, I became even more impressed. Here was a scholar at the top of his field, worthy of high praise and respect, willing to show praise and respect for others, while refusing to take himself too seriously. In those sessions, as in every aspect of his life of research and teaching, he was the consummate biblical scholar.
Colleagues agree. Writes Chair of Biblical Studies and Professor of Old Testament Samuel Adams, “Dean McBride has been one of the most important mentors I have had in my life. He has modeled for me how important it is to combine rigorous engagement with the biblical text and ministry concerns. I have been fortunate enough to experience his passion, brilliance, and good humor many times. I will always treasure my relationship with Dean and feel so privileged to be his friend.”
Professor of New Testament John Carroll remembers Dean as a superb senior colleague in the Bible department and faculty of Union Presbyterian Seminary. He described him as an exemplary, model mentor to students, especially his doctoral student advisees. “He knew as much about the Bible, particularly the Torah, as anyone, yet he invested most of that knowledge in his students rather than in publications. Many used to joke (but was it a joke or the truth?) that Dean was really Moses, or at least that he knew more than Moses about Deuteronomy.” He added: “Dean cared deeply about the biblical mandate for justice-seeking, a commitment witnessed weekly as he was among the most dedicated participants in informal discussion of current events from the perspective of Christian faith.”
Professor William Brown, who long taught with Dean at UPSem, before moving to Columbia Theological Seminary, remembers him with great affection. “I mourn Dean as a mentor and treasured colleague, with whom I taught and from whom I learned so much for 13 years at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Dean’s prayers and lectures were wonders to behold, so also the 40-to-50-page syllabi he handed out in his introductory and seminar courses, much to the dismay of his students. I continue to cherish them. While Dean’s expertise was stunningly wide-ranging, a central interest of his was Deuteronomic ‘law,’ or what he preferred to call ‘polity’ (Dean was an ardent Presbyterian, after all.). Affectionally known as ‘Dr. Deuteronomy,’ Dean helped countless students appreciate the ‘decrees, statutes, and ordinances’ (Deut 4:45) that constituted the community of ancient Israel. Dean’s zeal for Torah was unequaled among biblical scholars. His ‘Joy of Lex’ was infectious.”
A native of Los Angeles, California, Dean attended Pomona College in Claremont, CA, where he earned a BA in religion. He received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Harvard Divinity School, where he also received the Rockefeller Brothers Theological Fellowship and the Harvard University Honor Scholarship. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, working with Frank Moore Cross. His dissertation was entitled “The Deuteronomic Name Theology.”
In 2014, Dean was invited by the faculty of Union Presbyterian Seminary to deliver the Sprunt Lectures. In focusing during one of his lectures on the name above all other names, perhaps he was bringing the research that began his career full circle.
Professor McBride served as an instructor at Pomona College, assistant professor of Old Testament at Yale, visiting professor at Cambridge University, England and Brown University in Rhode Island, associate professor of Old Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Northwestern University, and, of course, professor of Old Testament at Union Presbyterian Seminary, where he studied, wrote, and taught since 1984 until his retirement in 2007.
Professor McBride has worked with numerous academic associations and has been a prolific editor, working with such prestigious journals as the “Journal of Biblical Literature,” the editorial board of “Hermeneia Bible Commentaries,” the “Catholic Biblical Quarterly,” and UPSem’s own journal “Interpretation.” He also served on the committee which produced the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
He has published widely major biblical articles and has edited key and important volumes, among them: “Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross,” with Patrick Miller and Paul Hanson; “God Who Creates: Essays in Honor of W. Sibley Towner,” with Bill Brown; “The Song of Songs, A Commentary on the Book of Canticles” with Roland Murphy. A publication in Dean’s honor was edited by former students John Strong and Steven Tuell in 2005 entitled “Constituting the Community: Studies on the Polity of Ancient Israel In Honor of S. Dean McBride Jr.”
A Ruling Elder at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Kilmarnock, VA, Dean was married to Judith. He is also survived by daughter Elissa McBride, her children Isaiah and Rosalind Silvers; daughter Sharon Hancock, her husband John and daughter Sarah; and daughter Doran McBride, her husband Curtis Mills and their children Hillary and Lucas.
Professor Bill Brown notes that one of Dean’s favorite biblical passages comes from Exodus, where God pivots from liberating a people to constituting the people as a community. As the Israelites stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, God declares to them: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exod 19:4-6).”
Professor Brown rightly concludes: “Now borne aloft on the wings of eagles to the top of the heavenly mountain, Dean enters the great cloud of witnesses . . . no doubt with syllabus in hand, ready to provide instruction.”
Photos: Required attribution “Union Presbyterian Seminary”
McBride in classroom with Jeff Gibbs (PhD ’95) and Fred McCall
McBride in office
Director of Communications
Union Presbyterian Seminary