The One Book Meme

My buddy over at Diglotting posted a new meme recently, and while I’m not usually one for meme’s, this one was somewhat interesting. Feel free to join in and link back to this post.

1. One book that changed your life: Terry Fretheim’s The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. I first read this book about ten years ago during my undergraduate work and it literally exploded my nice and tidy paradigm of God. I have continually gone back to this book, most recently using it in my intro course this past academic year, a practice I will be adopting again this coming academic year. If you haven’t read this book yet, do it. No really. Now!

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Three immediately come to mind (assuming I don’t repeat myself and list Fretheim’s book again here): one is my friend Chris Heard’s Dynamics of Diselection, which first really got me interested in the power and beauty of a literary approach to the book of Genesis, and Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Regular readers of this blog will in no way be surprised by me listing Brueggemann here; he has been formative for me, I think he’s on to a great many very important things that many theologies unfortunately ignore. Plus, I’m glad to call him a colleague and that he is interested in and supportive of my work. And lastly, my friend Eric Seibert’s Disturbing Divine Behavior. I reviewed this book for RBL (see HERE) and have had several enjoyable discussions with Eric about it. I think he’s wrong, but I am glad for his contribution. I also use this book, with great success, in my intro courses.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: While it may sound cliche, I’d definitely pick a reader’s Hebrew Bible (even I don’t have all the grammar and vocab down in all circumstances!). What better opportunity to just read, undisturbed, and really digest the text and come to know it at a far deeper level?

4. One book that made you laugh: I recently read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Carolyn Sharp’s Wrestling the Word: The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Believer. She has a very good sense of humor. Another top contender here is a book I am currently reading: Kristen Swenson’s Bible Babel . . . she does in a book what I do in the classroom: make the Bible interesting and funny by appealing to various media and technology that are relevant to the students I am teaching, and for whom she is writing.

5. One book that made you cry: Barring Where the Red Fern Grows, which I read and re-read religiously as a child, I’d have to say most recently Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? I cried, not literally, but on the inside (more like screaming and cringing), not because I take umbrage at the question offered in the title but because the question itself–which is so important at present in my view–is dealt with and answered in such an irresponsible and unconvincing way. Seldom am I unable to finish a book. This was one of very few times where I couldn’t.

6. One book that you wish had been written: In a way the answer to this question is deceptively (pun intended) easy–I WROTE the book that I wish had been written (see HERE). Outside that, I’d have to agree with Diglot and say Jesus: An Autobiography.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: I’m not a big fan of phrasing the question this way. Maybe I’m living too much with the Holocaust right now (I’m teaching a course on the Holocaust and Christian Faith this Fall), and this conjures up the image of book burnings and of Jewish and German poet in the 19th century Heinrich Heine’s eerily prophetic words: “where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.” That may be probing a little (or a lot) deeper than the question intends, but I wouldn’t even put Copan’s book as one I wish had never been written. But perhaps, in line with the thought developed already in this question, I should (and could, in good conscience) answer this way: Mein Kampf.

8. One book you’re currenly reading: I’m currently reading about seven books, but of those seven let’s pick one: Tod Linafelt, A Shadow of Glory: Reading the New Testament After the Holocaust.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: My former teacher, Joel Burnett’s, recent book with Fortress, Where is God?: Divine Absence in the Hebrew Bible. I started it several months ago and then other books pushed their way to the fore for class and publishing prep.

10. One book you regret reading: First book that comes to mind is Copan’s (see question #5), but again I don’t REGRET reading it, because it is one voice in a very important conversation. Granted, I think that voice is wrong, and I think Copan does a quite poor job of ‘defending’ God (as though the biblical text seems terribly interested in that endeavor), but a voice nonetheless.


3 thoughts on “The One Book Meme

  1. James Tucker says:

    I too coudn’t bring myself to fnish Copan’s book. Despite it being directed to more a “lay” audience, I think his treatement of syntactical issues, linguistics, and ANE is negligent. I was even more appalled over William Lane Craig’s recommendation of the book at his recent debate with Sam Harris, who wasn’t shy in making some jabs and landing a few punches on this issue. I am not a large fan of Craig, nor of analytical philosophy, but I was shocked that someone of his erudition would see Copan’s work as a compelling voice in understanding the Hebrew Bible.

    I concur with your thoughts on Sharp’s recent monograph. I started reading Sharp several years, and she, along with John Collins, is why I desired to study at Yale. I have particularly enjoyed her work, Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible.

    • John Anderson says:


      Thanks for weighing in. I share many of your critiques. I will likely pick up his book again in the coming months; I would love to do a course on problematic images of God in the OT sometime, using Copan, my friend Eric Seibert’s ‘Disturbing Divine Behavior’ (which I also take issue with; see my RBL review of his book), Stark’s ‘Human Faces of God,’ Lamb’s ‘God Behaving Badly,’ and probably two or three other books that address the problem in diverse ways.

      I think what annoyed me most about Copan’s book was his constant uncritical acceptance of the biblical text as entirely historical; more specifically, his comparisons with ancient Israel and other ANE peoples, and especially his constant assertions that such and such an event must be understood–historically, mind you–after the ‘Fall’ in Gen 3. Oh boy. My head hurts just recalling it. I think he’s taken up an admirable task, and is asking the right question (is God a moral monster?!), but I don’t have a lot of room for apologetics in response to that question, especially not the type Copan offers.

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