Who is the Biggest Name in OT Scholarship? (Or, can anyone beat Brueggemann)

A colleague and I had a fascinating discussion today over whether there was anyone in the field currently alive bigger than Walter Brueggemann.  Now, of course I am entirely biased here, but if I can put some objective criteria on it: name recognition, publications, response from the scholarly community, longevity.  By what metric does one measure such a thing?

We tossed around a few names, none of which really resonated . . . . John Collins was the closest we could come up with, but even that didn’t seem the same.  There are a number of scholars who would be strong contenders but are no longer living: Gerhard von Rad or the recently deceased Brevard Childs.  We could adduce plenty of ‘up-and-comers’ (i.e., David Carr in Pentateuch or Nancy deClaisse-Walford in Psalms) or formative folks in various subdisciplines or faith perspectives (i.e., Frank Moore Cross in ancient Near Eastern studies, John Goldingay or Bruce Waltke in conservative circles, etc.). 

On the NT side of things we were able to come up with several such names: NT Wright, Bart Ehrman, Ben Witherington (for the latter two the criteria was largely publication output of scholarly and popular volumes, while with Wright I think you again have the notriety of the name . . . I wonder if Wright even would rival Brueggemann.  But that is a question for another day).

So, make your case.  Who is the biggest, most significant living name in OT scholarship, that fits the criteria expected to go along with such an accolade?  Or, put another way . . . . can anyone beat Brueggemann?  I’m not convinced anyone can, but I’m curious what names are suggested.  And why.  I am particularly interested in what suggestions other scholars would advance, but I welcome all submissions.


21 thoughts on “Who is the Biggest Name in OT Scholarship? (Or, can anyone beat Brueggemann)

  1. Nathan MacDonald says:

    Whatever made you think you might be biased, John?

    These things are very difficult to judge, and look very different with the passage of time. Given the reception of Rowley in the 1950s, it would have been difficult then to imagine just how much his influence would be eclipsed in time.

    The one issue that you don’t mention is the reshaping of the field, and this is where I imagine Brueggemann – and Rowley – might struggle. I share your admiration for Brueggemann (though I doubt I could match the extent of your passion), but wonder whether his work is not something of a virtuoso performance. Indeed, the extent to which many of his interpretations can be identified as characteristically Brueggemannesque highlights the issue.

    In terms of shaping the field this was an area where Childs obviously scored highly. But here I might more naturally think of Clines, who has not only been at the forefront of pushing postmodern readings but done so much to promote new scholarship through JSOT and the supplement series, or Rendtorff, whose shake up of Pentateuchal criticism is still generating scores of articles and monographs. (Admittedly, he was not alone in this, but the way he highlighted the tension between source and form criticism has been crucial for a whole swathe of Pentateuchal scholarship in Europe).

    The mention of Clines and, especially, Rendtorff would also highlight the bias not just towards Brueggemann, but also towards American scholarship.

  2. Rick Wadholm Jr. says:

    He doesn’t come close to the writing volume and expansiveness as Brueggemann, but another up-and-comer is Tremper Longman III (in my opinion). Perhaps given enough time (he is still quite young)….though I can’t think of anyone exceeding Brueggemann

  3. El Bryan Libre says:

    I’ve never read any Brueggemann. So the criteria is volume of writing? Are you also counting contribution and influence in the field of OT studies? What about popularity and name recognition in the different sectors of the church and the academy?

  4. mshedden says:

    Tremper Longman III has written a ton and has worked on a couple of Bible translations. I don’t think he can rival Brueggemann but for the next conservative OT voice he will be tough to beat.
    Who would be the person most likely to replace Brueggemann is a more difficult question. Most biblical scholars can’t combine his deep Barthian existential tendencies with solid (although often overreaching) biblical scholarship. He would have been a great theologian.

  5. El Bryan Libre says:

    So if we count influence in the academy and the church, I have to wonder whether Brueggemman is really that well known or influential in Evangelicalism which is a big section (I don’t self identify as an evangelical btw)?

    I would like to see you make a defense of each of the areas you mentioned. : ) Is he the best in any of them or just really good in a lot of them. Does he win by having the highest average?

    • John Anderson says:

      I’m more interested in someone persuading me otherwise. But here are (but a few) reasons:

      -bridging the gap between faith and academia: much of Brueggemann’s worth is concerned with making the OT relevant for the contemporary life of faith. I have just recently attended a pastor’s school where he was the keynote. The buzz and respect for him was incredible.

      -scholarly output: see the bibliography in his Festschrift, God in the Fray. And even that is now 9 years old. The man has published on nearly every topic in the Hebrew Bible.

      -lasting impact: I think he has made an impact that will last for a great while. He is the first to pen a truly postmodern OT theology. His emphasis on problematic portrayals of God in the Hebrew Bible is a task that has recently seen a growth spurt in terms of interest. I know, I’m writing on the topic.

      -students: the number of students who have sat at his feet and continue his work (Tod Linafelt, Tim Beal, among countless others).

      -name recognition: I would suggest that if you went to every single person, scholar, student, pastor, etc. who attended the upcoming meeting of the SBL in Atlanta and asked them who Walter Brueggemann is that nearly all (dare I say, all?) would be able to tell you. Moreover, I would be willing to bet (and I’m not a betting man) that if you asked the majority of OT scholars to name their top 3 living scholars of the field Brueggemann would be on nearly all (all?) the lists.

      • Joseph Kelly says:

        I was asked that last question while interviewing at Southern. Brueggemann was in my list, but I combined him with Fretheim since both of them have been equally as formative for me in regards to Old Testament Theology.

        My question, who is the least influential scholar in Old Testament scholarship? I think perhaps Walter Kaiser. He has a big enough name to be known, but people know him as that guy who know one really follows.

  6. jill says:

    In terms of shaping the feild, Brueggemann can’t touch Cross. 1) how many grad students did Brueggemann trained? Cross directed the dissertations of Patrick Miller, John Collins, Carol Newsom, Kyle McCarter, Leong Seow, Jon Levenson, Baruch Halpern, James Vanderkam, Richard Freedman, and many others. 2) Bruggemann has published a lot more, but none of his theories have hardly shaped the field. The countroom metaphor for biblical theology can’t even touch the impact that Dtr1 and Dtr2 has had in biblical studies. We could also list Cross’ impact on textual criticism, scrolls, Ugaritic literature, exilic or post-exilic priestly houses such as the Zadokite and Mushite traditions. The impact across the field that Cross has made is unmatched.

    • John Anderson says:


      I agree that Fretheim is also of great importance, and I trust many know his name as well. He is certainly in my top 7 (how biblical of me!). Wenham has done some fine work on Genesis with which I am familiar, but I seriously wonder whether many would know his name. In terms of total, overall impact, and since the question was who is at present the biggest name in OT scholarship, I don’t think anyone can eclipse Brueggemann.

      A number of very seminal folk come to mind in thinking about big names in OT scholarship. Here are just a few (not an all inclusive list at all!) off the top of my head:

      David Petersen
      Richard Clifford
      James Crenshaw
      Terry Fretheim
      Leo Perdue
      R.W.L. Moberly
      Frank Moore Cross
      Bill Brown
      Joseph Blenkinsopp
      Marvin Sweeney
      Norman Gottwald
      John Collins
      Emmanuel Tov
      Konrad Schmid
      David Clines
      Kenton Sparks
      Lester Grabbe

      There are others . . . but I would be hard pressed to see any of these challenging Brueggemann. In my view Gottwald, Tov, Collins, and Cross present the best challenge, but in matters of totality, I still put Brueggemann at the top. And I think others would also, still.

  7. Roy Eli Garton says:

    While certainly not “Old Testament,” I would add Jacob Neusner to the list. True, the name recognition may not be there like Brueggemann, but there is no comparison to his publication record.

  8. mike says:

    In OT/HB i’m partial to Leo Perdue. He’s as theologically rich as Brueggemann but also a living encyclopedia when it comes to ANE studies, Hellenism, the Graeco-Roman world, etc. But he’s probably not a “bigger name” than Brueggy.

    As much as I love Brueggemann, though, he tends to ignore the old stock “backgrounds” scholars like Meredith Kline and such. Brueggemann’s large introduction in “Theology of the OT” fallaciously leaves out the impact of those scholars who made a connection between OT Theology and ANE covenants. Again, M. Kline is a telling example.

    New Testament – N.T. Wright is the big name, very helpful stuff. But An important scholar as far as I’m concerned (ethical dative!) is Gordon Fee – he still doesn’t get his due. Give him his due, people lol!!! His linguistic skills, backgrounds knowledge, and attention to theology and the life of the church tops everyone else I can think of.

  9. matthewdavidlarsen says:

    As a NT guy myself, I am curious, John, where would you locate someone like a Christopher Seitz in this conversation?

    • John Anderson says:

      Chris Seitz is a young scholar (40s?) who has done some very fine work. I have availed myself of his contributions largely in Isaiah. I would say he is a recognizable name in the field, but not yet in the same league as Brueggemann (or Cross). That isn’t a condemnation by any means! I do suspect he will be a significant player in the years to come. A bit general of a response, but there we be.

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