- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: HarperOne; 1st Edition edition (April 29, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060783400
- ISBN-13: 978-0060783402
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,149,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Original Sin: A Cultural History Hardcover – April 29, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this brilliant account, Wheaton College literature professor Jacobs (The Narnian) traces the idea of original sin from the Bible to the present day. The doctrine has inspired fierce debate for the last two millennia. In every generation, it seems, someone defends the doctrine, pointing to all manner of evidence that people are (as Jacobs, in one of his rare stylistic lapses, too cutely puts it) bad to the bone. Their opponents in turn ridicule the notion, noting the unfettered greatness of human potential. Thus Augustine tangles with Julian of Eclanum, and John Wesley clashes with Rousseau. It is a compliment to Jacobs that in his hands these abstruse theological disputes are utterly engrossing. Jacobs makes clear that he has a dog in this fight—he thinks original sin is the most persuasive explanation of the world he lives in (though he dissents, irenically and charitably, from some classic Christian formulations, such as Augustine's view on infant damnation). Jacobs hazards some quirky and intriguing ideas, such as the notion that the kind of kinship created by a universal doctrine of original sin is perhaps as good a basis as any for a brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity, in which no one lords it over anyone else. This book is truly sui generis. (May)
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“[A]n engaging and lucid work by a sophisticated Evangelical from the American South. . . . For all its American bias, Alan Jacobs’s highly readably ORIGINAL SIN might fill one of the gaps in the post-Christian memory banks.” (Times Literary Supplement (London))
“One wouldn’t expect a book about original sin to be entertaining, but Jacobs makes it so with deft prose and a touch of humor.” (Christian Century)
“Jacobs is a superb writer whose work is beginning to get the wider notice it has long deserved.” (Books & Culture ("Top Ten Books of the Year"))
Alan Jacobs presents an engagingly written, eminently humane, and insightful account of an all-important subject that is both timeless and timely. (George Marsden, author of Jonathan Edwards: A Life)
“Alan Jacobs’ cultural history of the controversies that Saint Augustine’s concept gave birth to is fascinating, entertaining, wonderfully researched, and thoroughly even-tempered, giving even the most disagreeable voices their say. Original Sin may well become the definitive book on the subject.” (Ron Hansen , Author of Exiles and A Stay Against Confusion)
I do not believe in original sin. I do believe in Alan Jacobs. He is one the smartest and wittiest writers around on matters involving religion, and ORIGINAL SIN is a gem. (Alan Wolfe, Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College)
In this brilliant account, Wheaton College literature professor Jacobs traces the idea of original sin from the Bible to the present day. . . . In his hands these abstruse theological disputes are utterly engrossing. (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
“With extraordinary erudition and just enough lightness of touch to leaven the lump, Alan Jacobs traces the tangled ways that we have tried to think about human cussedness. (Frederick Buechner, author of Secrets in the Dark)
Replete with examples drawn from a number of different cultural expressions, including literature, film, and philosophy, [Original Sin] is intended to introduce a broad genearl audience to the complexity of explaining how human beings act evilly toward one another. (Library Journal)
A brilliantly illuminating, deeply thought-provoking intellectual journey. (Booklist)
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Isn't it immoral to suggest that everyone alive today bears the guilt of the transgression of a hypothetical Adam, lost to the mists of history? That we're all guilty before a judgmental God of something we didn't do? And isn't it a bit misogynistic, with the stuff about blaming Eve for the Fall of Man?
But then again, looking at the rivers of blood that flow through history, and perhaps even looking at our own imperfections, our own failings ("When viewed from the inside, every man's life is a series of failures," George Orwell--no Christian and well-acquainted with worldly success--is reported to have said), don't we find that there seems to be something...broken...at the heart of human nature? Something we all share--something inherited, perhaps--that, in some mysterious way, bends the timber of our humanity?
One of the most powerful and important concepts that Western civilization has used to try to make sense of this paradox of human nature has been the idea of original sin. And it's precisely nowadays, when the concept is left to the wayside, that if we want to understand our own culture, we need to know more about it. Alan Jacobs, a distinguished scholar of literature (and a Christian) provides with this excellent book a wonderful overview of, just as it says on the tin, the history of this concept of original sin in our culture.
A disclaimer here: Alan is a friend of mine. Despite our friendship, and our shared Christianity, and my knowledge of his talents as a writer and scholar, it took me a long time to pick up this book, because I was afraid it would be mostly dry, academic scholarship. Don't make the same mistake. It is an absolutely engaging, well-written, lucid book, very easy to read. Though Jacobs is a Christian, he writes here first as a lover and scholar of culture, not as an apologist.
Jacobs finds precedent for the notion of original sin even outside of Judeo-Christian culture, and then traces the idea's evolution through the ages of history. Throughout, he cites literature and other cultural examples, to show how people have understood the concept and how it has shaped our history. But it is when he gets to the post-Christian era that the book truly shines. As Modern civilization rejects the notion of original sin as outmoded, it finds itself, staring at the horrors of the 20th century, grasping for some concept that could account for the catastrophe of human fallibility (fallenness, even?). Jacobs masterfully describes how many writers, trying to break free of the notion of original sin, end up finding their way back to something very much like it.
It seems that as much as we want to let go of original sin, it won't let go of us. Which, of course, is very fitting. If you want an understanding of one of the most important concepts in Western civilization and Christianity, Jacobs' book is the best recommendation.
This is a fantastic overview of the "our intrinsic wickedness" - whether you view it as something bred by natural selection or inborn by rebellion against God. I blew through it in a one day of nursing a cold, and at the end found myself (more thoroughly) unconvinced of Rousseau, et al's assertion of the intrinsic goodness/purely situational behavior of mankind. Jacobs consistently brings up and then answers intriguing lines of thought, and does so in a style both entertaining and enlightening.