I was delighted to contribute an essay to the hot-off-the-press Festschrift honoring my doktorvater, Samuel Greengus. Many thanks to the scholars who were kind enough to endorse my essay, “The Administration of Copper Tools at Umma in the Ur III Period”:

“The finest piece of bathroom reading ever produced.”
—Seth Sanders

“This upturns everything I know.”
—Timothy Michael Law

“The most exhaustive treatment of the most obscure trivia.”
—Angela Roskop Erisman

“Charles who?”
—Roger Scruton

“[Insert title here] is a compelling book sure to delight its readers.”
—N.T. Wright

“I now know more about how the powers that be repressed vulnerable people through the technicalities of the transfer of copper in a specific town during a tiny window of time four thousand years ago.”
—Cornell West

“I embrace this essay.”
—Miroslav Volf

“Let’s do a podcast about this.”
—Mark Goodacre

“I don’t know where to begin…”
—Jacob L. Wright

“I’m busy grading.”
—Thomas Bolin

—Jeff Cooley

In all seriousness, it was an honor to be a part of this project to give back a tiny fraction of the kindness that Sam has shown me.

Windows to the Ancient World of the Hebrew Bible

Windows to the Ancient World of the Hebrew Bible
Essays in Honor of Samuel Greengus
EIS – Eisenbrauns
Edited by Bill T. Arnold, Nancy Erickson, and John H. Walton
Eisenbrauns, 2014
Pp. xvi + 286, English
Cloth, 6 x 9 inches
ISBN: 9781575063027
List Price: $59.50
Your Price: $53.55

I had a great time talking with Walter Brueggemann the other day. You can see my interview of him over at Marginalia or you can scroll down through the “Films” menu at the top of this site. Cheers!

Here are my favorite books that I’ve read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) in absolutely no particular order. I’d also love to hear from you on which books were your favorites. Best wishes and happy reading for 2014!

Jon Levenson, Inheriting Abraham

Levenson is one of my favorite scholars of biblical studies and he’s on my “read everything s/he writes” list. Inheriting Abraham is a completely fascinating look at the traditions of Abraham as they appear in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Levenson argues (persuasively, IMO) that the traditions are different enough that we should no longer talk about “Abrahamic” religions as if they all share the same understandings about this figure. And, as a bonus, I interviewed Levenson about this book for Marginalia.

Stephane Michaka, Scissors

An completely engrossing and wonderfully written novel inspired by the short story writer, Raymond Carver, along with his wife and editor. If you are a writer yourself, you will love this book. And if you’re not, you’ll still love it.

Russell Norman, Polpo

My favorite cookbook. A true work of art and the recipes are deliciously, traditionally Venetian while still easy to prepare.

Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek

What is the Bible? Why do different Christian traditions use different forms of it? This is a fascinating and helpful book for anyone interested in studying the Bible and learning of its origins and reception within Christendom.

Stephen Harrigan, The Eye of the Mammoth

A collection of essays so well written that you’ll be fascinated with as obscure things as the scientific study of road kill.

R. W. L. Moberly, Old Testament Theology 

Along with Ben Sommer and John Rogerson, Moberly is one of my favorite scholars to read on the topic of theology of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. This book reads representative passages from the Hebrew Bible in light of the insights of contemporary criticism as well as received traditions of the Christian faith to form a very substantial and thoughtful picture of the messages of the Old Testament.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences about Writing

If you read one book about the craft of writing make it this one. It is both inspirational and practical. Also, check out my interview with Klinkenborg for Marginalia.

Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton

Rushdie’s memoir that focuses on his life under the fatwa. Like all of Rushdie’s work, the writing is fabulous and the story moves at a good clip.

Miguel A. De La Torre, Latina/o Social Ethics

This book challenges the traditional foundation of Christian Ethics by exposing the fact that these approaches support the structures of those in power instead of the marginalized of society. It will change the way you view the entire field of ethical studies.

Matthew Specktor, American Dream Machine

This novel sets the standard for stories about Hollywood. It has a main character that you will simultaneous love and hate, and it’s ending is one that you’ll never forget.

Paul Theroux, Last Train to Zona Verde

A travel memoir from an absolute master. If you’ve ever wanted to wrap your head around the glories and challenges of Africa, this is the book for you.

Tim Parks, Italian Ways

It’s a book about exploring Italian via the railroad. It’s one of the most incredible books I’ve read. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Julian Barnes, Levels of Life

It’s Julian Barnes. He explores his grief and experience of loss at the death of his wife. One of the most tender, insightful, and profound books I’ve read.

Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss

Wiman explores his return to the Christian faith after receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer. His reflections are anything but neat and tidy but rather the complex thoughts of one of the most interesting poets of our time.

Christopher M. Hays and Christopher Ansberry, Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism

Evangelicals have tended to have a reactionary stance toward mainstream biblical scholarship in which they retreat into traditionalism and fail to be honest with the reality of the biblical text. Hays and Ansberry show that this is not only unhelpful but completely unnecessary.

Michael Frayn, Skios

A novel which produces hilarity through unfolding chaos.

Giacomo Leopardi, Canti and Zibaldone

Leopardi was a linguist, poet, and polymath. Canti is a collection of some of his stark poems mainly about Italy and Zibaldone is his collection of notes. Both are tremendously fascinating and pleasures to read.

We all know the story, Galileo Galilei had the audacity–church leaders at the time regarded it as hubris–to say that the earth rotated around the sun and not vice versa as many assumed. It’s hard to wrap our minds around this today since we live in a world that sent telescopes into orbit and peers into the human body with magnets, but many in Galileo’s day thought that the Bible contradicted a heliocentric view of the world and they deemed Galileo a heretic for saying otherwise.

Galileo's middle finger as it rests, presumably in an upright salute to the Catholic church, in the Museo Galileo in Florence.

Galileo’s middle finger as it rests, presumably in an upright salute to the Catholic church, in the Museo Galileo in Florence.


Verses like 1 Chronicles 16:30b seem to represent a fixed earth, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” Yet, Galileo observed that the Bible often means “things which are quite different from what its bare words signify.” He went on to elaborate:

Hence in expounding the Bible if one were always to confine oneself to the unadorned grammatical meaning, one might fall into error…Thus it would be necessary to assign to God feet, hands, and eyes, as well as corporeal and human affections, such as anger, repentance, hatred, and sometimes even the forgetting of things past and ignorance of those to come. These propositions uttered by the Holy Ghost were set down in that manner by the sacred scribes in order to accommodate them to the capacities of the common people, who are rude and unlearned (From Galileo’s “Letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany” translated by Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo [New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1957], 173-216).

Regardless of whether we agree with Galileo here (I for one do think that biblical authors believed that God got angry, repented, etc., but I digress), what’s important to notice is that Galileo was a sensitive interpreter of Scripture. He tried to listen to the text and go deeper than the surface. He tried to understand the particular genre of a passage before he presumed to know what it meant. That is, he tried to understand the macro-syntax of passage to see if it might affect meaning on the level of the sentence.

Galileo wasn’t the first to under go duress at the hands less scrupulous students of Scripture because of his nuanced reading strategy and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. But Galileo’s observation that words sometimes mean the opposite of what they say is foundational to a mature reading strategy.

If you’re interested in this topic, particularly as it applies to the interpretation of Genesis 1-11, you’ll be happy to hear that I’m editing a book on the implications of genre for the interpretation of the Primeval History. We’re still in the process of writing it, but it should be out sometime next year.