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Sin: A History Paperback – August 31, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"'An extraordinary piece of detective work. Anderson shows how the central way of representing and conceiving sin changed dramatically within biblical times, and how this change in turn came to be elaborated in later Judaism and Christianity. This is an extremely important, indeed, mind-changing book for anyone interested in the history of these two religions.' James Kugel, Harvard University"

About the Author

Gary A. Anderson is professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies in the Department of Theology at Notre Dame, Indiana.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780300168099
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300168099
  • ASIN: 0300168098
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.7 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #367,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By NC Pastor on October 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Gary Anderson's new book, Sin, is the rare combination of informative academic work and thoughtful theological insight; of penetrating depth of research and commendable breadth in scope. Anderson is clearly well-versed in Hebrew Scripture, early Christian writings, and important works from church history (such as Anselm). And yet, the book never gets bogged down in any of them or becomes tedious. On the contrary, Anderson moves effortlessly and clearly between the disciplines, providing a rich pay-off for the reader. This is one of the best models I've seen of how sound historical-critical research can be theologically constructive. In particular, the discussion of Lev 25-26 and the contextualization of some of Jesus' sayings (such as the Lord's Prayer and his exchange with the rich young ruler) were alone worth the price of the book. Highly recommended.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By SK on September 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Who would have thunk to write a history of sin? Starting from biblical sources, Anderson argues persuasively that the metaphors for sin change through time. This change had real implications for early Judaism and Christianity, including Syriac Christianity, an Aramaic form of the religion that offers unique insight into the metaphor of sin as debt. This development of the metaphors for sin are not isolated linguistic or textual issues, but rather have actual impact on church history, including Anselm's theory of atonement and Catholic/Protestant dialogue. As a result, these metaphors for sin have practical implications in the life of the church, and this careful study of the topic can have fruitful impact on both inter- and intra-religious dialogue.

It is a rare scholar who blends cutting edge biblical scholarship with extensive knowledge of Jewish and church history. Anderson's book combines academic acumen, carefully executed methodology, and clear writing. The result is an innovative book on one of the oldest topics in the history of Judeo-Christian thought.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Andrew on July 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
To explore the different metaphors the Bible uses to talk about sin is a great idea. I read this book with fascination, and thoroughly enjoyed much of it. The book focuses heavily on the metaphor of sin as a 'debt'. Anderson explores this concept in useful detail, and insightfully demonstrated how other theological concepts linked in with this. He brings many Jewish texts into discussion in a very helpful way, using them to help understand the debt conception of sin. These sections of the book made for extremely interesting reading. However, Anderson spends long sections of the book giving his own interpretations of lengthy Old Testament passages which were unfortunately both boring and unconvincing. It is extremely hard to write biblical interpretation well, and Anderson does not have that gift it seems. That section seemed also a bit tangential to the rest of the book.

What struck me as strange is that a book supposedly about different conceptions of sin in history should cover so few of those conceptions. Anderson gets the concept of sin as 'weight' out of the way in the first 25 pages, and then proceeds to focus almost solely on the metaphor of sin as debt for the remainder of the book, which appears to be his preferred concept. Perhaps the book would be more accurately titled "Sin as Debt"? Particularly missing was any discussion of sin as a 'power' from which we are 'freed', an idea that is particularly relevant to the letters of Paul. In fact, references to the New Testament in general were remarkably scarce, with the Lord's Prayer being almost the only point of New Testament discussion. I would also have liked to see more discussion of the Old Testament conception of sin being 'washed' or 'cleansed'.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Pizzuto on January 20, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Gary Anderson's examination of sin was not the sort of book I was expecting when I chose it over and instead of Sin: The Early History of an Idea. The write-up on Amazon indicated his look at sin's progression from being seen as a weight to its interpretation as a debt. While this is technically true, the work is not as balanced as that description might lead you to believe. Anderson deals with the interpretation of sin as a weight or burden in very short order; after establishing that this was the most common conception prior to the exile, he leaves it behind and spends the remainder of the book treating sin as debt.

The initial chapters of the book come off as somewhat repetitive, as Anderson builds his arguments in short sections and then feels to the need to summarize them again only a few paragraphs later. As I continued to read, this problem became less apparent as he expanded the lexicon of ideas and managed to raise my level of interest. I cannot recall exactly when it clicked for me, but maybe a third of the way into the book I realized that Anderson is primarily concerned with linguistics. Theology is only secondary to him, and in fact he understands theology via language and its interpretation through translation. This is not a criticism per se, but it was unexpected. With this in mind, Anderson's arguments can be better appreciated.

Some parts are more interesting than others. His examination of the interpolations into Leviticus and the importance of the Sabbatical years is of some interest but wears thin. His attempt to parse the meaning of some very similar phrases in Daniel ("when the transgressions have reached their full measure" and "to finish the transgression") seems forced.
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