Monday, April 6, 2009

'Fifteen' Scholars Who Have Influenced Me the Most . . .

I have seen such lists on several other blogs, and I believe they reveal a great deal about who a particular scholar is. I am certain some of these names may be little known, and others perhaps all too well known. These, though, are 15 scholars that have influenced me the most (in no particular order).

Walter Brueggemann
No big surprise here, right? Regular readers of my blog will be well aware of my appreciation for the honesty with which Brueggemann interprets even the most difficult of biblical texts, as well as the relevancy he seeks in his interpretations for contemporary communities of faith. His Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy is a masterful, magisterial work from which I have learned more than I can adequately recount, and his Genesis commentary in the "Interpretation" series is, from my perspective, an exceptional volume for this series. Walter Brueggemann, without a doubt (and yes, I know this is bordering on haggiography!), is without a doubt one of the most formative scholars for the work I do, both in the questions he asks and in the conception of God he sees in the Hebrew Bible.

Brevard Childs
I have often found Childs' work to be quite compelling, even in his earlier, form-critical days. His canonical methodology has greatly influencd my work, and I would argue has set the stage for much current biblical scholarship since his seminal Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture in 1979. He is also one of a very few scholars who I feel has successfully bridged the Testaments, being able to write successfully and prolifically in both the OT and NT. I was saddened to here of his recent passing, but I trust that his methodological programme, at the very least, will continue unabated for some years to come.

Terence Fretheim
Fretheim's theological work on the God of the Hebrew Bible was foundational very early on in my studies. While in undergrad, I read his The Suffering of God, which revolutionized my understanding of the deity in relation to creation. The material Fretheim adduces in the service of highlighting the intimacy with which God has chosen to involve Himself in creation is not only compelling but also beautifully moving. And while this 'open theism' may be unpalatable to some contemporary theologians, I contend it is not only necessary to a proper comprehension of God but also vital--as Fretheim notices--to addressing questions of theodicy. Reading Fretheim is always a transformative exercise for me. My encounter with his The Suffering of God exploded an 'original' paradigm of God I had long held, and replaced it with something far more honest, and far more valuable.

Gerhard von Rad
While the certainty with which von Rad wrote, as well as several of his conclusions (i.e., that the kleine credo are ancient recitals of faith that have been expanded into the larger narrative traditions of the Hebrew Bible) is arguably no longer able to be maintained, I have been greatly influenced by the reading of his two volume OT theology. I find him to be a necessary dialogue partner in any theological work I do. Among my greatest take-aways from von Rad is what may seem to be an innocuous enough point, namely that the ancestral promise in Gen 12:1-3 is the conclusion to the primeval history (Gen 1-11) rather than the beginning of the ancestral narratives (Gen 12-50). Surely his 'unassumed' center for his theology--heilsgeschichte--dictates in large part this conclusion, but I do think he is on to something in reading the Hebrew Bible as a narrative of salvation history.

Elie Wiesel
Renowned Holocaust survivor, Nobel peace prize recipient, and prolific author Elie Wiesel has transformed for me the very language in which one can (and should?) talk about God. Auschwitz is a crisis of faith, surely, for Christianity just as much as it is for Judaism; it has become my 'crisis,' in a way. The poetically haunting beauty of Wiesel's words has affirmed for me the importance and fidelity of questions--a liturgy of questions--for faith. Wiesel has said that after the Holocaust he still prays to God . . . but only with questions. This perseverence of 'faith' has always struck me to be beautifully honest. The words of his memoir, Night, have never left me. And while Wiesel is not a formal biblical scholar, his midrashic treatment of the biblical text (see for example his Messengers of God has cracked many a biblical text wide open for me.

Gerald Wilson
Wilson's work on the shape and shaping of the Hebrew Psalter has undoubtedly revolutionized contemporary Psalms scholarship; quests for the overarching "metanarrative" of the canonical Psalter are now very much in vogue, and these discussions are very much on my scholarly radar. His The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter is one of the most satisfying, engaging, and compelling volumes I have read in a while. And his later work was equally as rewarding (see his essays in the McCann edited Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, 1993). I deeply lament his untimely passing, but I am thankful for the wealth of work he has left us.

Robert Alter
Again, regular readers of my blog will likely be well aware of my deep appreciation for Alter's methodological insights and application in The Art of Biblical Narrative. His recognition of the literary-aesthetic qualities of Biblical Hebrew has--to be intentionally repetitive--set the stage for modern biblical interpretation (along with other seminal works such as Sternberg's Poetics), and I am thankful for his emphasis on not only what the text means but how it means. Anyone who reads my work knows I have gleaned very much from Alter, and his modeling of close-reading of the biblical text is a foundational hermeneutical principle that I take very seriously.

James Crenshaw
One of my teachers at Duke, I am most appreciate of Crenshaw's work on the character of God as a sometimes-oppressive entity (see his A Whirlpool of Torment and his Defending God). The import of his work on wisdom literature also goes without saying. I must also mention that he was always a delight to interact with, and was one of the kindest men I have spoken with in academia. Some of the stories he told in class--off-topic--were among the funniest things I have heard in a long while.

E.P. Sanders
I was not fortunate enough to take a course with Sanders while I was at Duke; he retired at the end of my first year there. I was able, however, to schedule an appointment with him to discuss his work and get him to sign my books. My attraction to Sanders is twofold. First, I have always found his understanding of the historical Jesus to have much to commend itself. And second, covenantal nomism and his volume Paul and Palestinian Judaism has helped me to have a greater understanding of Paul within his all-important Jewish context.

Richard Hays
Dr. Hays was another one of my teachers at Duke. Among those aspects of Hays' scholarship that have influenced me most are his work on intertextuality and the use of the OT in the NT. I recently had the opportunity to catch up briefly with him again at SBL in Boston and offer my congratulations for his recent festschrift (The Word Leaps the Gap, Eerdmans, 2008), which I have yet to read but hope to soon. The work required of me in Dr. Hays' class--which I got an A in, thank you very much!! (wink)--set a standard I had to work quite assiduously to meet, and I feel helped prepare me very much for Ph.D. work. Dr. Hays is also among the most gentle, helpful, and giving men I have had the opportunity to know in academia; we had many one-on-one meetings in his office, discussing issues ranging from Paul to the historical Jesus to graduate work.

Anathea Portier-Young
Dr. Portier-Young is a recent Duke Ph.D. grad and current professor in OT at Duke Divinity School. It is because of her constant pressing that my Hebrew is at the level it currently is (that's a positive statement). As I have mentioned elsewhere, it was also in her course on Genesis that I first developed an interest in the texts of deception in the Jacob cycle and first articulated my ideas on the topic in writing. At bottom, I attribute much of where I am currently to Dr. Portier-Young.

Murray Haar
Dr. Haar is chair of the religion department at my undergrad, Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD. He was born to Jewish parents who were also Holocaust survivors; he later converted to Christianity and was ordained as a Lutheran pastor. After living that existence for thirty years, he returned to the Jewish faith. From him I have learned the importance of questions, boundaries, interfaith dialogue, as well as my interest in Judaism. It is because of him that I became a religion major and entered this field in the first place (I was originally a psychology major). I am privileged to call him not only my teacher but also a dear, dear friend.

Richard Swanson
Dr. Swanson also teaches at Augustana College, where I did my undergrad, in NT. Some of you may recognize his name as one of the originators of what has come to be known as 'performance criticism' (see his Provoking the Gospel introductory volume, as well as the series on each of the gospels). In sum, 'performance criticism' involves the embodying of biblical texts as an interpretive tool. Having taken part in several such performances in the past, I can attest to the tremendous insights that may arise from such a methodology. I am most appreciative to Dr. Swanson for this method as it has transformed the biblical text from a flat, two-dimensional entity into a three-dimensional embodiment of characters. As such, seemingly innocuous matters such as attire, intonation, facial expression, etc. assume deep hermeneutical implications. I am also thankful to Dr. Swanson as he married my wife and I!

W.H. Bellinger, Jr.
Dr. Bellinger is currently chair of the religion department at Baylor, where I am working towards my Ph.D. in biblical studies (OT). He has influenced me in a number of ways, not least of which is introducing me to Old Testament theology, which based upon several of my entries above (Brueggemann, von Rad, Childs) has become a main area of focus in my studies. I have found him to be an invaluable dialogue partner, and his questions are always helpful in honing and sharpening my work. I am also currently working with him on two of his book projects: a Psalms commentary to be published by Smyth & Helwys, and the second revised edition of his Psalms: Reading and Studying the Book of Praises published with Hendrickson, which has afforded me many insights into the publishing side of academia. I am very much looking forward to writing my dissertation with him, beginning in the fall.

J.P. Fokkelman, Mark Brett, and Chris Heard (three-way tie)
See my post below on "Five Books on Genesis I could not do without . . . " for an explanation.

I look forward to your thoughts on the list. I am sure as I think about it further, more names will come to me.


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. What's your take on John Goldingay?

  3. Thanks for the comment, Kaylee. I am glad you enjoy it, and I hope you will continue to post!

    Regarding Goldingay, my first comment would be that he didn't make the list, did he? I have read very little of his work. I have NOT read his multi-volume OT theology (nor do I honestly plan to do so anytime soon). I do not mean to denigrate his work; I just have not encountered it in what I am doing.

    One of my colleagues here at Baylor had Goldingay for a course, and he has told me several stories that are wonderfully hilarious. Given those stories alone, I can say I like Goldingay's personality, at the very least.