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Martin Luther King’s Biblical Epic - His Final, Great Speech

Martin Luther King’s Biblical Epic

His Final, Great Speech

By Keith D. Miller
Series: Race, Rhetoric, and Media Series

Hardcover : 9781617031083, 208 pages, November 2011
Paperback : 9781617038242, 208 pages, May 2013

An analysis of the course and content of the prophetic Memphis declaration


In his final speech “I've Been to the Mountaintop,” Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his support of African American garbage workers on strike in Memphis. Although some consider this oration King's finest, it is mainly known for its concluding two minutes, wherein King compares himself to Moses and seems to predict his own assassination. But King gave an hour-long speech, and the concluding segment can only be understood in relation to the whole. King scholars generally focus on his theology, not his relation to the Bible or the circumstance of a Baptist speaking in a Pentecostal setting. Even though King cited and explicated the Bible in hundreds of speeches and sermons, Martin Luther King's Biblical Epic is the first book to analyze his approach to the Bible and its importance to his rhetoric and persuasiveness.

Martin Luther King's Biblical Epic argues that King challenged dominant Christian supersessionist conceptions of Judaism in favor of a Christianity that affirms Judaism as its wellspring. In his final speech, King implicitly but strongly argues that one can grasp Jesus only by first grasping Moses and the Hebrew prophets. This book also traces the roots of King's speech to its Pentecostal setting and to the Pentecostals in his audience. In doing so, Miller puts forth the first scholarship to credit the mostly unknown, but brilliant African American architect who created the large yet compact church sanctuary, which made possible the unique connection between King and his audience on the night of his last speech.


"In Martin Luther King’s Biblical Epic, Keith Miller far surpasses all previous work on King’s last speech. In his masterful and haunting re-creation of the historical moment and his analysis of the speech as though it were a summary of King’s life work given cumulative testimonial form, Miller demonstrates how deeply and passionately King believed the kingdom of God to be alive in the history of man.”"

- Eric J. Sundquist, author of King’s Dream: The Legacy of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

"We cannot live by ‘bread alone.’ We require words—good, true, generative words. Nobody in our time has given freedom and gravitas to words as has Martin Luther King Jr. Now Keith Miller offers a full, thoughtful exposition of King’s ‘final words’ to us in his Memphis speech. Miller shows how King’s words are a rich collage of biblical text, the long tradition of black preaching, and the wise courage of liberal Protestant preachers who preceded him. The outcome is a fresh awareness and appreciation of how King, in his moral courage and imagination, managed to create a new world of possibility that continues to echo and to haunt us."

- Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

"In this thoughtful, insightful study of Martin Luther King’s extraordinary final speech, Keith Miller re-creates the biblical inspiration of the civil rights movement and brings to life that remarkable moment in American history."

- Susannah Heschel, author of The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany