This is an impossibly difficult task for me, so I'll just name 5 "of the most influential" books or scholars who have had a lasting impact on the way I read the Bible and I'm listing them in no particular order. I'm going to limit my selections to authors who have lived in the past 30 years--otherwise, Thomas Aquinas and patristic sources would probably have to come first!
1. Scott Hahn. When I was a young teenager I was first exposed to a lecture given by Dr. Hahn--it literally changed my life. I was immediately hooked on Scripture. I must have been around 13 or so and I was hooked. I told my dad I wanted to major in Theology, get my Ph.D. and become a professor. I've been on that track ever since. So I mean it when I say that really no one has impacted me more than Dr. Hahn--he introduced me to Biblical Theology and was the first to light a fire in me to study my faith. And his work continues to profoundly shape my thought.
Of course, Dr. Hahn has numerous books. Many of them are written for popular or semi-popular audiences. Having said that, I realize that because he has so many best-selling popular books, many people are unfamiliar with his scholarship. Here I can single out one academic title of his that is a true must-read: Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God's Saving Promises (Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library; New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2009). This is Scott's doctoral dissertation which was completed at Marquette in 1995. It was only recently published by the Anchor Yale Reference Series. Previously it was available (in an earlier form) through UMI Dissertation services and has been cited in many monographs.
I can't stress enough how influential this single book has been on me.
Readers of his popular works of course will be struck by the strikingly different style of this work. If you are an academic and you do not have it yet, stop everything you're doing and order it today. Seriously. I mean it when I say that practically nothing has affected my outlook on Scripture more than this one single volume, which looks at the theme of covenant--a pretty important motif!--in the Old and New Testaments.
I plan to write a review post eventually, but suffice it to say Scott's analysis of covenant impacts the way you read just about the whole Bible. And you should see the reviews (David Noel Freedman, Scot McKnight, etc.)!
2. N.T. Wright. This is definitely NOT a sweeping endorsement of his work, though certainly I do like a lot of what he has to say. The man is so influential in scholarship at large--historical Jesus research, Pauline studies--it is almost impossible to remain unaffected by his work. Of all his works, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press; London: SPCK, 1996) is probably my favorite.
3. Jon D. Levenson. Levenson is a genius writer. Again, this is not a sweeping endorsement. But I must say, a lot of the ideas in his book Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985) have had a profound impact on the way I read the Bible.
4. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). Of course, long before he became the Bishop of Rome, Joseph Ratzinger was a leading Catholic theologian, who especially emphasized the need for theologians to become rigorous exegetes of Scripture. A profoundly thoughtful writer (he is German, of course!), I firmly believe that he is deserving of a hearing from Catholics and non-Catholic scholars alike. As Ratzinger once put it, "Dogma is nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture." Numerous works could be mentioned here. In particular, I would highlight the following titles:
Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1988).
Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).
Behold the Pierced One (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).
The Nature and Mission of Theology: Essays to Orient Theology in Today's Debate (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995).
The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996). The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993).
5. Brant Pitre. Yes, Brant is my good friend and co-blooger. I realize this might seem like I am simply being impartial, but the honest truth of the matter is I read the dissertation he wrote at Notre Dame before I really knew him well at all. Of course, it is now published by Baker Academic. The title is Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006). Of course, so much could be said about it. But above all else three things stood out to me about this work.
First, Brant's methodology is brilliant. Among other things he does his exegesis prior to his historical analysis. Anyone familiar with Jesus research knows that this is the exact opposite of what one finds in most works; typically the historicity is established first and only then are exegetical considerations are brought into the discussion. Brant makes the point that this is absurd--how can we establish the historicity of a saying or deed of Jesus if we do not properly understand it?! Obviously, we cannot.
Second, Brant demonstrates that for ancient Jews restoration hopes were typically linked to the idea of a period of eschatological tribulation. In fact, he shows that this period of eschatological affliction was also tied to the idea of atonement. The overview of such ideas in Jewish sources is spectacular. He goes on to demonstrate a pervasive presence of eschatological tribulation traditions in the Gospels. The treatment on the Apocalyptic Discourse is extremely important. In addition, he shows how some of the most obscure passages in the Gospels become clear once the Jewish notion of eschatological tribulation is properly understood from the Jewish sources (e.g., Daniel, DSS, etc.), e.g.,
"From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt 11:12-15).Moreover, he traces the origins of atonement theology into these texts.
After reading this book, I've come to see the significant importance of the tribulation theme in the New Testament--it seems that I can't turn a couple of pages without finding such imagery! Again, much more could be said, but the work is a must-read--and I'm not just saying that as Brant's friend. I can truly say that even if Brant was not a good buddy of mine, this would probably still be my favorite work on the historical Jesus.
Five Other People
So now I'm supposed to "tag" some other people. I actually am really interested in learning which books were most impactful on them: Michael Bird, Chris Tilling, Jim West, Nick Norelli, and James McGrath.
I should say that I normally dislike getting memed so I feel a little guilty doing it to these guys. But the question was a fun one, so I hope they won't mind too much!