What Books HAVE TO Be on the Shelf of a True Old Testament Scholar?

My Books

As a junior scholar I am still amassing my personal library (contra my wife, who already thinks I have far too many books; odd, I feel the same way about her clothes and shoes!). So I pose this question to my readers, and invite you all to comment: what books HAVE TO BE on the shelf of a true HB/OT scholar? In other words, what books should every OT scholar own, and why?

Just to get things rolling (but not usurp the conversation), here are a few off the top of my head . . .

*Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (2 vols.) – dated, but I continue to learn from (and agree with) von Rad on many occasions!

*Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy – the first truly postmodern OT theology, and one that sets out truly to read the text, warts and all, and interpret it theologically.

*Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon – DUH!

*Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar – certainly not a teaching grammar, but a great reference grammar that has stood up to time.

*Context of Scripture (3 vols.) – even for us literary/rhetorical folk, gotta have the ANE stuff covered.

*Norman Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction – another formative book given its methodology.

*Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic – still a formative book several decades later; classic Cross.

*Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture – I cannot underestimate the importance of Childs in bringing about a paradigm shift in biblical studies, largely through this volume. While I am not as amenable as I once was to the canonical method as he describes it, this is truly a must have book if you want to call yourself an OT scholar.

*Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible – the definitive work on TC; I’ve read it and still reference it. Great resource.

*Hermann Gunkel, Psalms: Introduction to the Religious Lyric of Israel – Gunkel revolutionized study of the Psalter, and while form criticism is no longer at the fore within psalm study at present, this is a seminal volume that one must have.

*Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative – with literary/narrative critical approaches very much ‘in vogue’ right now, this is a wonderful volume, with great examples, that shows the communicative power of both what and how the Hebrew text means.

*Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective – perhaps a less familiar choice to many, this book should be read by all OT scholars–whether you agree or not with Fretheim on the presentation of God–so that you are aware of the issues involved. This book has been formative and transformative for me, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

*Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality AND Texts of Terror – two works by a scholar I deeply respect that have also transformed biblical studies in a way that was much needed; Trible’s perspective is one any OT scholar must be familiar with.

That’s a fair start; I’m curious what others will suggest, and why.

24 thoughts on “What Books HAVE TO Be on the Shelf of a True Old Testament Scholar?

  1. Paul A. Nierengarten says:

    From one junior to another, that’s a great start. You listed some I don’t have!

    I would add Child’s “Biblical Theology of the Old & New Testaments.”
    Don’t forget HALOT to compliment that BDBH; possibly even TWOT.
    For ANE backgrounds, add ANET.
    I think Wolfram von Soden’s “The Ancient Orient” is important.
    A good resource for covering ANE thought development is Frankfort, Henri, et al’s, “The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man.”

  2. agathos says:

    I would also add Davies “Scribes and Schools” and “The Origins of Biblical Israel”; Berquist “Judaism in Persia’s Shadow” and “Approaching Yehud”; Grabbe “A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period”; Mullen Jr. “Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations”. Of course there are other scholars (Lemche, Liverani, etc.)who have written along the same vein, but this at least would give a representative of an approach to scholarship on the OT that is quite popular (and in my books persuasive!).

  3. James says:

    Everything in Eisenbrauns catalog, of course!
    Definitely HALOT, Gesenius et al., Waltke & O’Connor, Jouon/Muraoka for starters on the Hebrew Language end. TDOT would be good, too. The SBL WAW series would be good for ANE background. Man, there are so many…


  4. Adam Couturier says:

    Great idea! While there are many more, here are three that came to mind that weren’t all ready on your list or mentioned by others.

    Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (CANE) ed. Jack Sasson.
    Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches by Ziony Zevit
    Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East ed. John G. Gammie and Leo G. Perdue.

  5. John Anderson says:

    @Paul: I almost added Childs’ Biblical Theology. I think it belongs on this list. I agree also on HALOT and ANET, though COS may be an adequate replacement for ANET.

    @Agathos (Scott): Grabbe’s historical volumes would indeed be a great addition. Very nice. Berquist is good too, and Davies.

    @James: Of course the entire Siphrut series especially! And I am with you on there being so many . . . that’s why I’m after the best of the best here. One could pose the question another way: if you are an OT scholar, what book(s) would you be embarrassed to admit are NOT on your shelf?

    @Adam: Zevit is a good current piece on Israelite religion. I almost put down Ahlstrom’s blunt object (er, book), but I think it is terribly dated and I’m not entirely clear about his view of the biblical text and its use in historical reconstruction; seems he uses it when it is convenient for him.


    R.N. Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch – what I call in my forthcoming book, and many others before me have said the same, the most sustained, systematic denouncing of the documentary hypothesis thus far (and thankfully so!).

    Rolf Rendtorff, The Problem of the Process of Transmission of the Pentateuch – Rendtorff’s argument that source criticism and traditions history are not compatible is vital in disarming the classical documentary hypothesis. Would that more people read these works so they would stop talking as though DH is alive and well (N.B. – this does NOT mean I think the task of Pentateuchal composition is worthless, just that I am unconvinced that source criticism is the way to do it).

    Martin Noth, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions – while terribly dated, you’d be hard-pressed to argue Noth has not made a seminal contribution at the time.

    Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament – while I agree with Eichrodt very little on just about everything he says, these volumes are a vital piece of the puzzle of how one does OT theology.

    Gerald Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter – talk about a paradigm-shifting book! Wilson, in this 1981 Yale dissertation, changed the entire flow of Psalms scholarship.

    Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship – again, somewhat dated, but the argument that the Psalms are tied to ancient Israel’s worship is still a vibrant part of contemporary Psalms study.

    Elie Wiesel, Night – perhaps an odd choice for such a list, but I am of the firm belief that anyone who reads the Hebrew Bible should read this book and have Wiesel’s words and story in your mind as you interpet. It is especially worthwhile and illuminating to read it alongside Job. And most recently I’ve said this book should be required reading for the entire human race.


  6. Adam Couturier says:

    @James I was rather shocked you didn’t list CANE, esp. with your current sale. I also thought you would have liked my Sage . . . suggestion. 🙂

  7. Rick Wadholm Jr. says:

    I would echo almost all of those that have already been given and include:

    Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques (Library of HB/OT Series-JSOTsupp) – Wilfred G. E. Watson

    The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis – ed. Willem VanGemeren

  8. Paul A. Nierengarten says:

    Good job on the list fellas! Rick, yes. Great suggestions for newbies like myself. These are excellent in coverage. You’re right about the COS, John, though ANET does have additional material. I can adjust my reading list now. Take care all.

  9. Rick Wadholm Jr says:

    I was also going to mention (but for some reason forgot):

    A. Leo Oppenheim’s “Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization” that simply has not been surpassed (in my opinion) in covering the ANE world.

  10. James Tucker says:

    Well, I may be stretching the semantic range of “shelf” a little bit, and likewise “books” but I would certainly add Accordance Bible Software to the “Shelf.” I have open perpetually my IBHS, JM, HALOT, and BHS. Moreover, having other modules like the Journal of BIblical Literature or Judean Desert Corpus or MT/LXX Parallel or Syriac Peshitta are extremely handy for philological research.

    The recent syntax charts (Holmstedt-Abegg Database) are also a welcome addition that enables quick syntax searching for exegetical and hermeneutical research.

  11. Jill says:

    Hi John,

    Your comment about Whybray reminded me to ask if you’ve seen the heated conversation about Carr’s rbl review of Baden’s book over on Jim Getz’s blog. Some very heavy hitters have commented (Bernard Levinson, Jeffery Stackert, Ronald Hendel, Mark Leuchter, Simion Chavel, Seth Sanders, David Carr, Nathan NcDonald, etc.) Its basically all the up and comers in Hebrew Bible today, along with a few senior scholars.

    • John Anderson says:

      Hi Jill,

      Yes, I did read that thread with interest. It was a delight to see such important scholars engaging one another in such a public forum. To be quite blunt, I see the documentary hypothesis and source critical attempts to explain the composition of the Pentateuch to be essentially bankrupt and worthless. The type of work in the Dozeman/Schmid edited SBL volume ‘A Farewell to the YHWHist’ is where things have been going, as you may know, and while that isn’t my cup of tea in terms of my own method, it is a more worthwhile attempt to make sense of the matter. From my perspective, Rendtorff’s emphasis on blocks of tradition sounds like a quite convincing way to talk about things.

  12. John Anderson says:

    Thanks for all the suggestions, friends. Here’s what I find intriguing: save for very few comments (mostly from me), the majority of the titles listed are either language resources (which are of course of great importance) and historical works. Very little in the way of literary readings, OT theology, theodicy, etc. That’s interesting to me. So I want to press you all to think more deeply, offer more suggestions: what else simply CANNOT be absent from an OT scholar’s shelf?

    I’ll add two more, both of which I received in the mail today:
    Leo Perdue, The Collapse of History
    Leo Perdue, Reconstructing Old Testament Theology

    Are any of you familiar wtih these books? They do for OT theology what Childs’ Intro to the OT as Scripture did for the task of OT study more broadly. They are quite important.

    • Ray Van Leeuwen says:

      Meir Sternberg, _The Poetics of Biblical Narrative_. While not light reading it is the essential work on reading biblical stories. Robert Polzin, _Moses and the Deuteronomist_. This and the following two volumes (on 1 and 2 Samuel) are magisterial demonstrations of “literary” reading.

  13. jill says:

    On the topic of biblical theologians, Dennis T. Olson has a thoughful but critical discussion of The Collapse of History in an essay in Troubling Jeremiah, edited by Pete Diamond.
    Practically speaking, I’m wondering about the future of source criticism in North America. What I mean is that while Rendtoff and the supplementary approach has a foothold in Europe, the scholars defending Baden’s book are the younger(-ish) people working at major research universities with PhD programs such as Berkeley, Yale and Chicago with scholars at other research universities like U of Minn (Levinson) and Temple (Leuchter) siding more with Baden than Carr as well. So I wonder if we will see a renewal of the source critical approach if these scholars are teaching at schools which will train the next generation of biblical scholars over the next few decades. To put it another way, Dozeman may have a point about E, but, unlike Baden, he does not have graduate students.

    • John Anderson says:

      Always thoughtful, Jill; I always enjoy reading your comments.

      You raise an interesting point about source critical theories. I may quibble a bit with what you say, though. Van Seters is certainly the champion of a supplementary hypothesis, and he’s on this side of the ocean. I also wouldn’t call Rendtorff’s view supplementarian.

      Admittedly, there comes a point where one can probably start talking about sources (but this is a quite different animal than source criticism has long-assumed), and Rendtorff’s big point is that source criticism and tradition history as practiced and assumed by documentarians were incompatible with one another. I find that convincing. What I disagree with is beginning with the biblical text and trying, from that basis, to establish sources. I think that ship has sailed, sunk, and been eaten by sharks! I think one has to take tradition history into account, and redaction thereafter, and so the work of Rendtorff, Blum, Schmid, Dozeman, Gertz, etc. is more convincing to me (though not necessarily equally interesting to me).

      I also wonder whether what you call “defending Baden’s book” is more a defense of Baden as a junior scholar in conflict with a senior scholar (Carr) and less a defense of the book itself.

      It will indeed be interesting to see where things go. I know David Petersen is writing the OTL Genesis commentary now, and unless things have changed, I am fairly certain he is doing a P/non-P thing quite similar to Carr (though I don’t know how similar and what areas of disagreement are).

  14. Esteban Vázquez says:

    Thanks for this, John! I often worry that I may have some significant gap in my reading when it comes to OT Studies, but I’m pleased to see that, though no aspiring Alttestamentler, I seem to own and have read most of the books mentioned here. That’s a relief! 🙂

  15. jill says:

    John, you’re right about van Seters. I guess I was thinking more about the younger scholars who will be actively teaching in graduate programs over the next few decades (Baden and Stackert, the so-called “neo-documentarians”) rather than the scholars have already retired. In other words, trying to look down the line a few decades from now regarding the shape of the field. Regarding van Seters, his most celebrated student Kenton Sparks differs him significantly in dating texts and general approach.

    I agree that it was probably more about defending the author rather than the book. See espacially the comments of Chavel and Leutcher.

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