2009 pages turned :: this year’s books

Here are the books that I read cover-to-cover over the course of the last year (articles and books of which I read only a portion are not included). They are loosely arranged by categories, many of which are likely an ill-fit. I’ve bolded the book in each category that I found most helpful/insightful/intriguing. In a couple of the larger categories, I’ve also put my least favorite book in brown text. It was a very light year for fiction and poetry, something which I’d like to improve on in 2010.

I’d be happy to converse or offer comments on any of the books below, but I’m not going to spend the time to leave thoughts on all of them generally.


Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, 133.

Christine Schliesser, Everyone Who Acts Responsibly Becomes Guilty: Bonhoeffer’s Concept of Accepting Guilt, 220.

Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, 325.

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 400 (s).

Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, 405.

Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, vol II, 230.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, 358.

George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine, 142.

John E. Theil, Nonfoundationalism, 123.

Michael Welker, God the Spirit, 360.

Jacob Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul, 160.

Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy, and Gender, 170.

David Balás, Metousia Theou: Man’s Participation in God’s Perfections According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, 187.

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, 105.

Gregory of Nyssa, De Hominis Opificio, 42.

Denis Edwards, Breath of God: A Theology of the Creator Spirit, 213.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa, 195.

Kirsteen Kim, The Holy Spirit in the World: A Global Conversation, 208.

Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium II, 150.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord I: Seeing the Form, 691

Adam Kotsko, Zizek and Theology, 174

Slavoj Zizek and John Milbank, The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic, 311.

Augustine, De Trinitate, 470.

John Behr, The Nicene Faith (Part 1), 259.

John Behr, The Nicene Faith (Part 2), 249.

Karl Rahner, The Trinity, 120.

Sergius Bulgakov, The Comforter, 400.

Joseph Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 110.

Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is, 316.

Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary of the Song of Songs, 287.


Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 110.

Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, 111.

Giorgio Agamben, The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, 192.

Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute:—or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?, 182.

Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, 185.

Matthew Calarco, Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida, 170.

Jacques Derrida, The Animal that therefore I am, 176.


Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse, 250.

Robert Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity, 258.

Jean-Claude Schmitt, The Holy Greyhound: Guinefort, Healer of Children Since the Thirteenth Century, 179 (s).

Christine Petra Sellin, Fractured Families and Rebel Maidservants: The Biblical Hagar in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art and Literature, 189.

Ancient/Medieval texts:

Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine, 100.

Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin of Tours, 30.

Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, 60.

Eunomius of Cyzicus, Liber Apologeticus, 30.

Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 30.

Plato, Phaedrus, 50.

Philo of Alexandria, On the Creation of the Cosmos According to Moses, 93.

The Life of Adam and Eve/The Apocalypse of Moses, 40.

Biblical Studies:

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: His Story, 255.

E.P. Sanders, Paul, The Law, and the Jewish People, 225.

N.T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective, 200.

Lloyd Gaston, Paul and the Torah, 262.

Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity, 370.

Antoinette Clark Wire, The Corinthian Women Prophets, 316 (s).

Neil Elliot, The Arrogance of Nations, 223.

Gary A. Anderson, The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination, 250.

André LaCocque, Onslaught against Innocence, 177.

Annette Yoshiko Reed, Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature, 277.

Norman Cohn, Noah’s Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought, 154.


Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 305 (s).


Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, 162.


C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, 213.

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49, 150.

Thomas Pynchon, V., 492.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha, 121.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Nathan the Wise, 70.

Gary Anderson :: Genesis of Perfection (Review)

The Paradise narrative of Genesis 2-4 haunts its readers with a host of lacunae that call for return after return to the text in order to venture out on various explanatory bridges. The story of Adam and Eve proceeds at a breathless pace, offering bare details of dialogue and action without developing a full and complete background. The movements of the text are sudden and superficial in a way that hints at an oceanic depth of backstory. These abyssal lacunae are all the more hauntingly urgent for readers because this narrative purports to account for humanity’s origins and provide a “place” for human beings in the web of cosmic relations. Perhaps for that reason, the spare and enigmatic compositional lines of this text have been a womb bearing an astounding variety of interpretations and explanations, the richness of which are an unparalleled gift. Gary Anderson’s Genesis of Perfection [1] attempts to takes stock of a number of these structural lacunae in the text of Genesis 2-3 and introduce a few of the myriad interpretive efforts that have inscribed fuller understandings of the universe into the lines of the Genesis narrative. In order delimit his sources to a manageable horde, Anderson focuses on readings of Genesis from within the traditions of Rabbinic Judaism and the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy.

The contemporary genesis of Anderson’s text is his sense that the divorce in the last few centuries between the history of composition (undertaken in historical-critical precision) and the history of reception (for which the origin of the text is often of little interest) belies an impoverishing narrowness (xvi-xvii). Continue reading “Gary Anderson :: Genesis of Perfection (Review)”

a false negative in Luther’s 95 theses

Preparing to lecture on Luther’s 95 theses to a hapless bunch of sophomores, I found several of the theses more impenetrable than I’d remembered. My suspicion that it might have something to do with the translation I was reading out of was confirmed pretty quickly when I dug up the German text. Number 89 is particularly awful; does this sound like Luther?:

“What the pope seeks by indulgences is not money, but rather the salvation of souls; why then does he not suspend the letters and indulgences formerly conceded, and still as efficacious as ever?”

Somehow the translator managed to slip the negation (in bold print) into a sentence where it is totally lacking in German, rendering the English sentence pretty much incomprehensible—at least historically. Here’s the German:

“Wieso sucht der Papst durch den Ablaß das Heil der Seelen mehr als das Geld; warum hebt er früher gewährte Briefe und Ablässe jetzt auf, die doch ebenso wirksam sind?”

Some of the other errors are equally egregious, and this is a fairly standard collection of Luther’s writings (Martin Luther: A Selection of His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger). How does this happen? And why is a translation this bad still being anthologized?

Lloyd Gaston, Paul and Torah

Wipf and Stock, 1987, 262 p .

Gaston employs a self-consciously experimental hermeneutic. Presuming that Paul is as familiar with covenant-nomism as E.P. Sanders and does not fundamentally misrepresent the Law (and thus Judaism) can Paul be read coherently? Gaston argues that Paul preaches exclusively to the Gentiles (and considers himself “apostate” from Israel’s covenant as a Gentile apostle), and that “nomos” functions in Pauline discourse in two very distinct ways: (1) as Torah, Israel’s law conjoined to the covenant; (2) as the law of Sinai administered to the nations by angels/powers, apart from the covenant, and thus with the inevitable result of a curse. Gaston’s exegesis is a strained, Procrustean attempt to weed out every hint of Anti-Judaism in Paul (though he is perfectly content to admit it in the rest of the NT). He opens up new readings with admirable creativity and problematizes old assumptions about Paul’s “antagonistic” relationship with Judaism, but his attempt to systematically re-read Paul simply cannot be taken seriously as a system. It succeeds as a goad to further conversation and as an experimental re-reading, it fails in terms of historical-critical rigor. Further, I’m not convinced that Gaston succeeds in furthering the cause that launches his project. Unless we are planning on re-pristinating a Pauline Christianity which was originally pure (and quickly distorted), the picture of the Pauline mission that Gaston delivers does not significantly avert anti-Judaism.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: His Story

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, 255p.

His StoryMurphy-O’Connor reconstructs the outline of Paul’s life and work using his letters rather than the account Luke offers in Acts. Large portions of the book are conjectural, and M-O has no qualms about telling the reader what was “logical” or “necessary” for Paul to have done. He also works within a “Great-Man” historical frame in which Paul seems to steer history, directing characters here and there as if they had no interests or projects of their own. By over-playing Paul’s missionary ambition (as an obsession from the moment of his conversion) and his ability to direct and control those loyal to him, M-O actually ends up underplaying Paul’s remarkable accomplishments. Largely a popular text, the book relies on the arguments and dating set forth in the author’s 1996 text, Paul: A Critical Life and makes no case for the dating or authenticity of letters. Nevertheless, the book provides a helpful narrative framework for Paul’s life, brings flesh and blood to his personality by setting his whole story down in a single account, and provides (as must be stressed) one possible account of Paul’s motives and thoughts over the course of his life.  M-O’s “common-sense” approach to Paul’s thoughts and feelings takes quite a bit of artistic license. 

[The blog has been languishing a bit as of late and so I’ve been thinking of different ways to use this space. Short reviews of books that I am reading (for class or otherwise) may feature more prominently here in the future. I don’t intend to bore the few people who read this by devoting entirely to my academic work, but realistically it will get more attention if it is more fully integrated.]