Posted by: Ken Brown | June 14, 2009

Five Influential Books

As I’ve been preparing to apply for PhD programs, I’ve been thinking about those books and scholars who have most influenced the way I read scripture, and I’m curious which books have done the same for my fellow bibliobloggers. So, since I’ve always wanted to start a meme challenge of my own, here goes:

  1. Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five favorite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I want to know what five books have permanently changed the way you think.
  2. Tag five others.

Here are mine (in chronological order):

  1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I know this is an odd way to start, but this story of hope and sacrifice, which treats scripture not as a repository of facts but as a story to live into has profoundly influenced my thinking ever since.
  2. Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E.P. Sanders. My first introduction both to the New Perspective on Paul, and to a charitable reading of Judaism, I don’t entirely buy his interpretation of either, but I’ve never seen them the same.
  3. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. Simply brilliant introduction to reading the Bible as literature. My first experience of it was heightened by the unintentionally humorous notes some fundamentalist had left in the margins.
  4. The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem by Margaret Barker. The book that ignited my love for the mythology and symbolism of the Temple. It’s about as speculative as scholarly writing gets, but draws fascinating connections all over the place.
  5. Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible and The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity by Jon D. Levenson. I couldn’t decide–just read them!

I tag: Mike Koke, Brandon Wason, Daniel and Tonya, John Hobbins, and Chris Heard, and anyone else who wants to join in!

UPDATE: I’ve gathered a (full?) list of responses here. Thanks everyone!


  1. The one that I think has shaped me most is a volume of two: Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth Bailey. Awesome work.

    The other is Jesus in the Gospels by Rudolph Schnackenburg.

    The third – I have three that I go back two at least once a year every year – is Von Rad’s Commentary on Genesis. Still THE work to begin a good reading of the text.

    Maybe four – Barth’s Romans.

    Always love to see what you are reading as well Ken. I have not read some of those, but will remember this post when I have time to dig into another biblical text.

    And god bless on the PHD selection. I truly hope and believe that with perseverance, God’s will is going to work out for you. Peace.

  2. Crap, I forgot about Trible’s Texts of Terror. OK I have five. 🙂

  3. Interesting. The only one of those I’ve read (and only in part) is Barth’s commentary on Romans, though I have read some of Von Rad’s other work (his book on Holy War in Ancient Israel is fascinating, though now largely repudiated).

    Have you posted a review of Trible’s book? That’s one I’ve long been meaning to read.

  4. i cannot recount to you how i ended up at this blog, but i’ll give you my response just for kicks:

    1) Book- Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
    2) Scholar- CS Lewis
    3) Book-Sex God by Rob Bell
    4) Scholar- Charles Spurgeon
    5) Scholar- Karl Marx

    yeah…karl marx. btw…i’m getting ready to apply for grad school as well. i have my eyes on stanford. also, if you guys are avid readers, and want something fresh…i published a book and just recently set up a website for it.

    • Thanks for stopping by omer! Those are intriguing choices. I actually thought Das Kapital was brilliant, if only humanity wasn’t fallen. That is, it fails to account for the real source of the problem…

  5. Here are some books that had a profound impact on me, and not always in a positive manner:

    1. John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus. (This brought me to Christ, but it also made me insecure about my salvation.)

    2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

    3. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.

    4. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God.

    5. Madeleine L’Engle, Genesis Trilogy.

  6. One more on the list: Jonathan Edwards’ Nature of True Virtue.

    Oddly enough, these are books that I read eight years ago or earlier. Not many books have had an impact on me since then, although I’ve read some pretty good stuff. I still think about issues, but mostly they’ve been on the basis of blogs and web-sites, not books. Preterism and universalism are two issues I’ve thought about lately.

    • I’m glad you responded, James! I almost tagged you as well, but I thought you were more likely to see this on your own. What did you think of Ayn Rand? I’ve never gotten around to reading her.

      It’s interesting that you mention blogs, as they have had a major impact on my thinking as well–perhaps even more of an impact than some of those books.

      • Hi Kevin,

        Ayn Rand was an atheist libertarian. She really didn’t care for “altruism” or “being our brother’s keeper.” I doubt she went so far as to say we should let people starve, but she we against using “collective needs” to stifle the individual: his or her creativity and right to profit from it. Her experience in Soviet Russia probably formulated such views!

        She impacted me because she’s a powerful writer, but also because she split religion off from economic conservatism. I was somewhat of a part of the religious right in my college days: God, free market, etc. But here Ayn Rand was setting those ideas in opposition to each other!

        I guess she influenced my religious thinking because she made me think about altruism. She asked why we should assume others should get goodies, and not ourselves. I’ve read the Bible a lot with her in mind, trying to evaluate if she has Christianity right or wrong, and what the implications are of that. Altruism, self-esteem, etc. come up a lot in my reflections on Christianity, and a large part of that has to do with her!

      • I mean “Hi Ken.” Sorry about that!

    • I have another one to add: Zondervan’s More Than One Way? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. All four of those essays–especially the Hick one–creep up in my mind a lot.

  7. I’ve posted my 5 and tagged 5 others. Tonya is still thinking hers over.


  8. […] are today. We often fail to credit or blame them for shaping us and challenging us in fresh ways. Ken Brown tagged me in a challenge to pick out the top five books that have been most influential or have […]

  9. […] Tonya over at the Hebrew and Greek Reader to complete a book meme.  The originator of this meme is Ken Brown.  The idea is that you have to either share your top five most influential books or the top five […]

  10. […] comment » Reporting for duty, I’m answering the challenge of Brandon Wason (started by Ken Brown) to name five books that have had the greatest impact on me as a student of the Scriptures. As some […]

  11. […] Many Books, So Little Time There have been a ton of great responses to my question about what books or scholars have most significantly impacted how we read the Bible. Some lists are […]

  12. […] Hobbins has tagged me with Ken Brown’s “five books that influenced me” meme. This is not easy. First. here’s a reminder of his […]

  13. […] you, John Hobbins! You’ve tagged me with Ken Brown’s challenge to list the five books or authors who have had the most immediate and lasting influence on how I […]

  14. […] Influential Books 2009 June 19 by jimgetz Earlier this week I was tagged by Adam on Ken Brown’s most influential book meme challenge. With all that’s been going on in my life the […]

  15. Five Influential Books Meme…

    There is a meme floating around that asks what five books have most influenced the way you read scripture. I am going to list the five books that have most influenced me in the past year, in which I have spent a significant amount of time rediscovering…

  16. […] Daniel & Tonya tagged me, well specifically, Daniel did for the book meme began by Ken Brown regarding 5 books or scholars that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how we read the […]

  17. […] started here, and for more you can go here, but Dr. Gayle tagged me (here) before he quite blogging (for only a […]

  18. […] Reformed Reader on June 22, 2009 John Hobbins (Ancient Hebrew Poetry) has tagged us to be part of Ken Brown’s challenge to name five authors/books that changed the way we (Andrew and Shane) read the Scriptures.  […]

  19. I posted my five and asked others to join in. You may want to follow through with the “Top 5 blogs”. I think that would be a great survey, and we could find out who is reading what on the Internet and maybe show folks some great blogs they are missing.

    Anyway, my top five are here:
    on my blog

    Steve Rives
    Eastside Church of the Cross

  20. […] been MIA when this meme originally made the rounds, I’ll thank John at Ancient Hebrew Poetry for including me on a […]

  21. […] Uncategorized A large number of folks have responded to Ken Brown’s provocative challenge to name five books which “have had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read […]

  22. […] There were five burning scrolls in each group and each group represented a single messenger: Ken from the Brown Lands, Brandon the Wason, Jared the Pebble, Kevin of the Skull, The Daniel and The Tonya, James the Son […]

  23. […] busy with my grand translation project earlier. So, here’s my stab at the five books meme begun and cataloged by Ken Brown. I was tagged by Kevin Scull and kind of unofficially by John Hobbins, […]

  24. […] Evolution of a Meme It all started with Ken Brown’s five influential books/scholars meme in which those tagged were to name five books or scholars who have influenced their reading of […]

  25. […] Platypus has tagged me with what was originally Ken Brown’s challenge to name the five books (or scholars) that have had the most immediate and lasting influence on how […]


  27. […] have been tagged in the popular  “Five Books” meme and since I want to return to blogging more regularly, I figured I would add my five to […]

  28. […] Top Books/Scholars Meme by Joel Watts under Other Posts It started here, and for more you can go here, but Dr. Gayle tagged me (here) before he quite blogging (for only a […]

  29. […] Ken Brown at C. Orthodoxy challenged bibliobloggers to list five books or authors that made a difference in their […]

  30. […] meme began with Ken Brown at C. Orthodoxy. Ken tagged John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry who then tagged Darrell Pursiful at Dr. Platypus […]

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