Five Books That Have Most Influenced My Reading of the Bible (Meme Response)

While it may be a bit overdue, I am indeed reporting for duty, responding to the challenge posed by Michael Whitenton to name the five books that have had the most significant and profound effect on me as a student of the biblical text (N.B. see also my similar posts on “Five Books on Genesis I Could Not Do Without” and “Five MORE Books on Genesis I Could Not Do Without . . . “).  So, I present, the five books that have most influenced me as a biblical scholar.

 Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981.

No single volume has more influenced how I read the biblical text than Alter.  In light of my growing agnosticism about the success of the historical-critical enterprise within scholarship, Alter came along at just the right time and filled a gap for me.  I am deeply appreciative of not only the care with which I feel he reads texts, but also with the fact that his methodology–quite unlike historical-critical ones–allows for not just an appreciation of Hebrew art but also a) preserves and finds great meaning in the tensions of the text; b) a recognition of contemporary meaning and relevance for the text as well.


Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1984.

I have discussed this volume in the past.  It absolutely exploded my (naive) paradigm of God as omni-everything.  Fretheim focuses upon divine suffering, arguing that God has entered so intimately into relationship with creation that God is deeply impacted by the choices of humanity.  The idea of divine vulnerability and pathos is one that has, for those that are familiar with my work, greatly affected my conception of God.  I have not read this volume in a number of years, but it still sits on my shelf in a prominent place, heavily marked up from my earlier readings of it.  And when I think of volumes that have had a bearing on how I read the Bible and, more specifically, how I read God, this is surely one.


Elie Wiesel, Night. New York: Bantam Books, 1960.

While not explicitly a book about the Bible, I cannot underestimate the impact Night has had on how I read Scripture.  I am greatly influenced by Wiesel’s work, and I have a keen interest in Holocaust study and theology.  Wiesel taught me the value of questions, not accepting ‘pat’ answers, and, perhaps as is to be expected, very much about the character (or lack of character?) of God.  I still recall my first reading of Night in my intro to religion course freshmen year of undergrad; we read it alongside the biblical book of Job, and then literally staged a trial of God, indicting him for crimes during the Holocaust and crimes in Job.  I, interestingly, was selected by my professor to be God.  And yes, God was found guilty on both counts . . . and rightly so.


Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997.

No big surprise here, right?  Brueggemann’s massive tome stands out to me for a variety of reasons: 1) the emphasis on rhetoric as ancient Israel’s means of communicating theology, which correspondingly results in his near utter-dismissal of history as the lens through which to view the task of OT theology; 2) his desire to struggle deeply with the tensions in the biblical text and to let them stand where necessary; 3) his portrait of God.  I am excited to be meeting with Brueggemann in a tentative ‘sit down’ meeting at this year’s SBL.


Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.

Alan Segal’s Rebecca’s Children was in close contention here; in fact, I could likely call a tie.  Wilson introduced me to the intricacies of the Jewish roots of Christianity, while Segal’s volume gave that view greater precision.  This has greatly impacted my reading of not only the NT (in line with Boccacini, Segal, Boyarin, all of whom claim a twin birth for Jewish Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism from Israelite religion) but also the OT.  The overriding message of this book has been one that has interestingly been carried forward in each of my academic contexts . . . undergrad (Augustana), masters program (Duke), and now Ph.D. work (Baylor).  It has been an issue constantly at the fore for me, and one with which I have consistently struggled.


Well, there you have it.  I will tag my Genesis buddy, Chris Heard, Bryan Bibb, Jim West (since I don’t think he has posted up such a list yet . . . plus he needs the traffic), Mark Goodacre,  and Richard from Tehillim and YHWH Malak.

I look forward, as always, to your comments!



14 thoughts on “Five Books That Have Most Influenced My Reading of the Bible (Meme Response)

  1. John Anderson says:

    Thanks, Ken! I highly recommend any of Fretheim’s work, but this was a truly formative volume for me. Any student of the Bible, either Testament, should read it with great care.

  2. Michael says:


    Thanks for reporting, Sir. I’m going to check out the volumes by Alter and Fretheim. Both look to be very important works for the very reasons you mentioned. I suspect that the latter will particularly resonate with me, as I have long grown tired of systematized views of God, preferring a dynamic one. Beings are dynamic, not preprogrammed, right?

  3. Jill says:

    Given your interest in holocaust study, I’d imagine that you would interested in Tod Linafelt’s work (who you mentioned before in relation to God in the Frey): Surviving Lamentations, Strange Fire, etc.


  4. Claude Mariottini says:


    Thank you for recommending that I read Eli Wiesel’s Night. I finished reading the book today and I am glad I did. The book is fascinating. Wiesel’s experience is compelling because it reflects the struggle of a man who wanted to live and survive the brutality of the concentration camp.

    I was so moved by Wiesel’s story that I wrote a post on the book which will be published tomorrow in my blog. I hope you have an opportunity to read my post.

    I am recommending people everywhere to read this book. It is amazing that a book that is more than 50 years old was completely unknown to me. I want to thank you again for calling my attention to this important book.

    Claude Mariottini

  5. John Anderson says:

    Dr. Mariottini:

    Thank you for your note! I will look for the post tomorrow and read it with great interest.

    Indeed, Wiesel’s Night is one of the most powerful books I have ever encountered, and his words have stayed with me. They have taught me, as I say, the value in questions–of humanity, the Bible, and of God. And he has taught me very much about how to read the Bible.

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