Sin: A History

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Overview

What is sin? Is it simply wrongdoing? Why do its effects linger over time? In this sensitive, imaginative, and original work, Gary Anderson shows how changing conceptions of sin and forgiveness lay at the very heart of the biblical tradition. Spanning nearly two thousand years, the book brilliantly demonstrates how sin, once conceived of as a physical burden, becomes, over time, eclipsed by economic metaphors. Transformed from a weight that an individual carried, sin becomes a debt that must be repaid in order to be redeemed in God's eyes.

Anderson shows how this ancient Jewish revolution in thought shaped the way the Christian church understood the death and resurrection of Jesus and eventually led to the development of various penitential disciplines, deeds of charity, and even papal indulgences. In so doing it reveals how these changing notions of sin provided a spur for the Protestant Reformation.

Broad in scope while still exceptionally attentive to detail, this ambitious and profound book unveils one of the most seismic shifts that occurred in religious belief and practice, deepening our understanding of one of the most fundamental aspects of human experience.

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Editorial Reviews

Commonweal

“Wonderful and surprising . . . a significant contribution both to scriptural interpretation and to theology proper, and an object lesson in how to do both well. . . . [Anderson] brings the traditions he interprets alive and shows how Christianity and Judaism each provides a thread in a single figural fabric.”—Commonweal
Christian Century

“Astonishing . . . compelling . . . . This book merits wide and sustained attention . . . . There are few books available that offer as many generative insights as this one.”--Walter Brueggemann, Christian Century

— Walter Brueggemann

Commentary

“Impressive . . . powerfully reasoned and compelling.”--Peter Lopatin, Commentary

— Peter Lopatin

Choice
“Scholarship at its best . . . well-argued insights and lively prose . . . . Highly recommended.”—Choice
Catholic Books Review

"Anderson''s clear concise writing and solid line of argumentation on the history of sin as a debt is to be highly commended to students, scholars, and libraries as a valuable and insightful addition."--Theodore James Whapham, Catholic Books Review

— Theodore James Whapham

Colloquium

"One of those rare volumes that charts new territory, that speaks new wisdom . . . fascinating . . . [and] as gripping as a detective novel."—Nicola Hoggard Creegan, Colloquium

— Nicola Hoggard Creegan

Robert Louis Wilken

“In this highly original study, Gary Anderson draws on a cornucopia of sources (biblical, patristic, rabbinic) to show how different metaphors, e.g. a weight on one's back or a debt to be paid, have shaped the development of Jewish and Christian understandings of sin. Though Anderson ranges far and wide, he never loses sight of the big picture.”—Robert Louis Wilken, University of Virginia
John J. Collins

“Anderson is developing a new approach to biblical theology, by probing the root metaphors for theological ideas, and tracing their interpretation in postbiblical Judaism and Christianity. This book is important not only for the history of sin, but also for the central theological idea of atonement. An important and original book.”—John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament, Yale University
Christian Century - Walter Brueggemann

“Astonishing . . . compelling . . . . This book merits wide and sustained attention . . . . There are few books available that offer as many generative insights as this one.”—Walter Brueggemann, Christian Century
Commentary - Peter Lopatin

“Impressive . . . powerfully reasoned and compelling.”—Peter Lopatin, Commentary
Catholic Books Review - Theodore James Whapham

"Anderson's clear concise writing and solid line of argumentation on the history of sin as a debt is to be highly commended to students, scholars, and libraries as a valuable and insightful addition."—Theodore James Whapham, Catholic Books Review
Colloquium - Nicola Hoggard Creegan

"One of those rare volumes that charts new territory, that speaks new wisdom . . . fascinating . . . [and] as gripping as a detective novel."—Nicola Hoggard Creegan, Colloquium
Restoration Quarterly

"This slender volume, bearing the author's wide learning with a rare grace, addresses a significant question in Jewish and Christian thought, one with far-reaching implications for theology, ethics, and the church's work. . . . [Anderson's] work offers a learned, and in many ways spiritually liberating, alternative to both evangelical and liberal views of sin and justification while taking human obligation seriously."—Restoration Quarterly
The Journal of Religion - Jeffrey Stackert

"Anderson is entirely successful in demonstrating the significance of metaphor in shaping thoughts and actions in relation to sin and especially the importance of the debt metaphor in early Judaism and Christianity. Equally impressive in this book is the way that Anderson takes complex issues and presents them in a way that is entirely accessible to a more general audience. Such an achievement is exceedingly rare in biblical and Second Temple studies. . . . In sum, Sin: A History is erudite, informative, and accessible."—Jeffrey Stackert, The Journal of Religion
Theological Studies - James F. Keenan

"At times Anderson's insights are breathtaking . . . This book might—and should—have enormous impact on theology."—James F. Keenan, Theological Studies
Choice

“Scholarship at its best . . . well-argued insights and lively prose . . . . Highly recommended.”—Choice

Library Journal
In this accessible book, Anderson (theology, Univ. of Notre Dame) argues that human understanding of the nature of sin, and thus the nature of atonement (divine-human reconciliation), underwent an important change during the period in which the Bible was written. While the earlier biblical writers understood sin primarily as a burden of the sinner, later biblical and postbiblical writers understood it primarily as a debt the sinner owed. Virtue became correspondingly associated with merit. This shift in metaphor had a far-reaching effect upon subsequent doctrine. In the course of his argument, Anderson offers fresh perspectives on such foundational works as Saint Anselm's Cur Deus Homo? and Gustaf Aulén's Christus Victor. VERDICT This will appeal to readers at the undergraduate level and beyond who seek a close understanding of the doctrines of sin and atonement. Recommended for libraries with large collections in biblical or theological studies.—Lisa Richmond, Wheaton Coll. Lib., IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300149890
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 9/29/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Gary A. Anderson is professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.
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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Introducing the problem

Ch. 1 What Is a Sin? 3

Ch. 2 A Burden to Be Borne 15

Ch. 3 A Debt to Be Repaid 27

Pt. 2 Making payment on one's debt

Ch. 4 Redemption and the Satisfaction of Debts 43

Ch. 5 Ancient Creditors, Bound Laborers, and the Sanctity of the Land 55

Ch. 6 Lengthening the Term of Debt 75

Ch. 7 Loans and the Rabbinic Sages 95

Ch. 8 Early Christian Thinking on the Atonement 111

Pt. 3 Balancing debts with virtue

Ch. 9 Redeem Your Sins with Alms 135

Ch. 10 Salvation by Works? 152

Ch. 11 A Treasury in Heaven 164

Ch. 12 Why God Became Man 189

Notes 203

General Index 237

Index of Ancient Sources 244

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