Saturday, June 27, 2009

Top 5 Influences Meme

Mike Koke has memed (is that the right term?) me on his excellent blog The Golden Rule. The meme was started by Kevin Brown, who says, "Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible."

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!


Jim said...

done did it. last week.

Moonshadow said...

I want to understand covenant as a Catholic should. Is Hahn's book Catholic or Presbyterian ... or is there a difference?

Anonymous said...

Moonshadow there should be a big difference between Catholic and Presbyterian Covenantal Theology. Scott converted in 1986 so I would imagine the book looks at it more from a Catholic perspective.

Although I understand your confusion, with all the fawning over Protestant biblical “scholarship” contained at ‘Singing in the Reign’ (e.g. N.T. Wright who mocks the Roman Catholic Church in his writings is given a higher ranking than Joseph Ratzinger) it wouldn’t be too much of a shock for Michael to cite a work by Dr. Hahn as a Presbyterian.

It is important to watch out for the Protestant influence upon Catholic Biblical Scholarship, after all Protestantism is a heresy. Notice I didn’t call Protestants heretics but their pride keeps them from submitting to Christ’s Church so anything they say needs to be viewed from that perspective. Can there be a more ridiculous notion than Sola Scriptura? Other than the people who still adhere to it?

Michael Barber said...

Anonymous (if that's your real name!):

These were listed in no particular order.

But frankly Pope Benedict himself would list a Protestant biblical scholar as among the most important today: Martin Hengel. He would also list a Jewish writer, Jacob Neusner. He has a very high regard for these two figures and cites them far more frequently than he does many Catholic writers.

Of course, for a Catholic to do academic work and remain faithful to his tradition he must first really be grounded in solid principles of Catholic biblical study. That's why I would not recommend that an average lay Catholic start with Levenson or Wright. For one thing, they presuppose a lot. For another, while there's gold in those hills, you've got to know how to determine the gold from the fools-gold. In fact, to know your Catholic faith well there's no better place to start than the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This should be read carefully from cover to cover. A great resource for those beginning to do Bible study (or anyone else!) is the new Catholic Bible Dictionary, which Scott Hahn edited. Marcus Grodi, for example, writes that Catholics should begin their Bible study with the Catechism and this book.

Go here:

Michael Barber said...


Have no fear about ever reading anything by Scott Hahn. Ever! He exemplifies Catholic biblical scholarship.

However, be forewarned that Kinship By Covenant is an academic monograph, so it is far more serious than something like The Lamb's Supper. There are, for example, no personal anecdotes. Nor are there any of those clever Hahn puns in the subtitles (e.g., "Idol Talk," "Moriah Carry," "Zion Aura," "Deviled Ham").

Michael Barber said...


One last thing. I overlooked something you said that I shouldn't have. I think it is utterly ridiculous to think that Protestants today are simply kept from the Catholic Church because of pride. I know a lot of non-Catholics who are FAR more holy than many Catholics I know. Many non-Catholic Christians put Catholics to shame in their love for Christ. Holiness is not simply found among Catholics, and pride is alive and well in the hearts of many Catholics.

I think that comment was quite offensive and ignorant. While I agree that Sola Scriptura is problematic, I do not think people hold to it simply because they are prideful, sinful, or not intelligent. That kind of rhetoric is not only uncharitable, it is inexcusable.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Let’s start at the end shall we. Is there really such a thing as rhetoric that is inexcusable? There is empty and offensive rhetoric, and I don’t mind copping to the latter, but if I sincerely apologized you would have to excuse me - compelled by Christian charity.

I do sincerely apologize for the statement, “Other than the people who still adhere to it?” That went too far, I know many people who do adhere to that heretical notion (understood from the Catholic perspective of course) and they are good, intelligent people. Though I think it a gross understatement to classify Sola Scriptura are merely problematic, it was a basis for the Protestant revolt.

Ultimately what could be more prideful than the claim that their own personal interpretation of Scripture is their sole authority on the road to salvation and holiness? Not that they can’t have ‘leaders’ per se but those ‘leaders’ are subordinate to what is found directly and/or logically in the bible, again as interpreted by the individual. That does have just a hint of pride there and it is not a stretch to say that that heretical notion is leading to the destruction of Christianity thanks to the adherents of Sola Scriptura spreading it far and wide.

If the Catholic Church had more apologists ready to defeat that heretical notion, instead of wanting to whitewash it away in the name of false ecumenism, we might actually win the war against this heresy. What if Augustine had decided not to defeat Pelagius? Where would we be?

I didn't say pride was the exclusive reason that people do not accept the truth of the Catholic Church there are many variables I am sure. I also didn’t state that Catholics are devoid of the sin of pride and are generally holier than Protestants. Although maybe you should get to know more holy Catholics, there are supposedly one billion of us, that way you can stop giving that backhanded complement and look for a new one.

Dov said...

Dear Professor Barber,

Thank you for ALL of your comments here. Very interesting.

I've actually read Hahn's recent book, "Kinship By Covenant," and was thoroughly impressed! It's probably the most important work dealing with the idea of covenant in the Bible in any language that I've ever read.

Interestingly, not too long ago I came across a Ph.D. dissertation written by Jeffrey Morrow at the University of Dayton which focuses on Scott Hahn's work on biblical interpretation.

As for my top 5 , difficult to say, possibly, in no particular order: 1) F.F. Bruce; 2) Cyrus H. Gordon; 3) Moshe Weinfeld; 4)Brevard Childs and 5) Gordon Wenham

James F. McGrath said...

I already did it, but I'll gladly provide five more influential books, since I had far more I could include than I had room for! :)

Anonymous said...

Ugh, the word "meme" was invented by Richard Dawkins. Must we use it?

Paul Cat said...

If you like Levenson you should check out "Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son".

Gary Anderson had me read it for a class he did on Genesis.

It was the best class on Scripture I had while doing my graduate studies.