Posted by: Ken Brown | June 20, 2009

Biblioblog Top 10 Most Influential Authors and Books

With more than fifty people having offered their top five most influential books or scholars, we’ve produced a tremendous collection of recommendations that could keep us all busy for years. I think what I have enjoyed most about reading these lists are the explanations people give for their choices. Some books merely confirmed a long process of reflection; some came out of nowhere and upended people’s worldviews; a few were so unexpected that they couldn’t be finished until the reader had grown a bit more. Some lists noted major figures in the field, others focused on relative unknowns. Many responses were as much intellectual autobiography as top five lists.

I think the most remarkable thing about these lists is their diversity. In 55 lists (275 selections1) more than 200 authors were identified. In fact, only 32 authors received more than one vote. The resulting list represents a great diversity of perspectives, and is almost a who’s-who of biblical studies (with a good number of general classics thrown in), though it does show a few clear biases (e.g., towards the New Perspective) and a shameful under-representation of women (only Margaret Barker and Toni Morrison received more than one vote, with two each). Clearly, the value of these lists is by no means limited to their most popular choices. Thus, here are two lists, the Top 10 most influential authors among those who answered, and the Top 10 most unique lists offered:

The Top Ten Most Influential Authors

1. N.T. Wright No doubt confirming Jim West’s distaste for memes, Wright was the clear winner, with twice as many votes as anyone else (ten, plus two more supplemental mentions). Most highlight his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, especially Jesus and the Victory of God, but also The New Testament and the People of God.

2. Walter Brueggemann Brueggemann, E.P. Sanders and Gordon Fee all received five votes, but Brueggemann gets the nod for having the greatest range of books chosen, particularly: The Prophetic ImaginationIntroduction to the Old Testament, Theology of the Old Testament and The Psalms and the Life of Faith.

3. E.P. Sanders Sanders comes next, with most noting his monumental Paul and Palestinian Judaism, but Jesus and Judaism and Paul, the Law and the Jewish People also earning mention.

4. Gordon Fee (with Douglas Stuart) Listed fourth only because his most popular book has a co-author in Douglas Stuart. Most point to How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, though New Testament Exegesis and Pauline Christology also received a vote each.

5. James Kugel Close behind are James Kugel and Robert Alter, each with four votes plus one supplemental. Kugel gets 5th place for a slightly wider selection of works. His votes are divided between How to Read the Bible, the magisterial Traditions of the Bible and its shorter counterpart The Bible as it Was, with The Idea of Biblical Poetry and In Potiphar’s House also getting a nod.

6. Robert Alter Alter is mainly noted for his groundbreaking The Art of Biblical Narrative, with The Art of Biblical Poetry, The Pleasures of Reading, and The Literary Guide to the Bible (with Frank Kermode) also receiving mention.

Here things really get messy, as five authors received four votes each (James D.G. Dunn, Peter Enns, Jon D. Levenson, C.S. Lewis, and Bruce Malina), so consider this ordering entirely subjective. Since I trust Lewis is well-enough known without any help, he’ll take eleventh place. Seventh place is a tie between Levenson and Dunn, who each had three books mentioned:

7. Jon D. Levenson Levenson is noted for his introduction to the Hebrew Bible in Sinai and Zion, his treatment of the problem of evil in Creation and the Persistence of Evil, and his fascinating monograph on child sacrifice: The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son.

7. James D.G. Dunn Continuing to reveal our bias towards the New Perspective, Jimmy Dunn comes next with his Jesus Remembered: Christology in the Making, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, and his commentary on The Epistle to the Galatians.

9. Bruce Malina (with Richard Rohrbaugh) Malina comes next since two of his votes are for the co-edited Social Science Commentaries on The Synoptic Gospels, The Gospel of John, and The Letter of Paul; his The New Testament World and Windows on the World of Jesus also got one vote each.

10. Peter Enns Enns rounds out the top 10, unanimously selected for his excellent Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. If you ask me, he should get bonus points for enduring the whole Westminster Theological Seminary fiasco.

Honorable Mention: C.S. Lewis (4 votes), Bart Ehrman (3 votes, plus 1 for his edition of Metzger’s Text of the New Testament), Richard Bauckham (3, plus 1 supplemental), Kenneth Bailey (3), Richard B. Hays (3), Walter Wink (2, plus 2 supplemental). [UPDATE: With Jim West adding his two votes for Rudolf Bultmann, the latter finally avoids the dishonour of having the same number of votes as Rob Bell (2).]

Ten Unique Lists

In alphabetical order:

Jared Calaway at Antiquitopia: M.M. Bakhtin, Erich Auerbach, Michel de Montaigne, Shakespeare, “vacant for Elijah.”

Kevin P. Edgecomb at biblicalia: Lionel Casson, Henry H. Halley, James B. Pritchard, Jacob Milgrom, Yehezkel Kaufmann.

J.K. Gayle posted twice at Aristotle’s Feminist Subject: Homer, the LXX, Kenneth Lee Pike, Jacqueline Jones Royster, Philip Yancey (plus then Ruth Behar, Anne Carson, Cheryl Glenn, bell hooks, Gayl Jones, Anne Lamott, Nancy Mairs, Toni Morrison, Krista Ratcliffe, Alice Walker).

James R. Getz at Ketuvim: W. G. Lambert, Marvin Pope, Frank Moore Cross, David P. Wright, Catherine Bell.

David Ker at Lingamish: The Children’s Living Bible, The CEV, Better Bibles Blog, Bible bloggers, African story-telling

Darrell Pursiful at Dr. Platypus: A. T. Robertson, Joachim Jeremias, Joseph Campbell, Morton Kelsey, Thomas C. Oden (plus Watchman Nee, James Michener, Mircea Eliade, Walter Wink, Dan Williams)

Rich S. at An Exegete Reflects: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, C. F. W. Walther, James Voelz, David W. Pao, Frederick Danker.

Jane Stranz at Of Life, Laughter and Liturgy: Rosemary Radford Ruether, Janet Morley, Fulbert Steffensky (plus Dorothee Sölle, Arndt Noack, Charles Elliott), André Chouraqui, Toni Morrison (plus Barbara Kingsolver).

Theophrastus at What I Learned From Aristotle : Ramban (Nachmanides), John Milton, Dante, Augustine, Rambam (Maimonides), (plus Averroes [Ibn Rushd], Thomas [Aquinas], Schneur Zalman, Shimon bar Yochai, Louis Ginzburg, Alter/Kermode, Gerald Hammond, James Kugel).

Weekend Fischer at Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength: Vladimir Lossky, Eusebius the Historian, A.J. Heschel, Lao Tzu, Ambrose Bierce.

1 So that everyone would have an equal number of “votes,” lists with more than five authors were limited to the five that seemed to be primary; the remaining selections are identified as “supplemental.”

UPDATE: Since responses continue to come in (at least 90 now), here is a list of all writers who have recieved at least two votes. Unlike the “Top 10,” I will keep this up to date (+# indicates supplemental votes):

N.T. Wright (18+6), Walter Brueggemann (10+1), James D.G. Dunn (8), Gordon Fee (2, and 6 with Douglas Stuart), Peter Enns (7), Richard B. Hays (7), C.S. Lewis (6+2), E.P. Sanders (6),  Bart Ehrman (5, and 1 with Bruce Metzger), James Kugel (5+1), Robert Alter (5+1), Jon D. Levenson (5),Richard Bauckham (4+2), Rudolf Bultmann (4+1), Bruce Malina (4 with Richard Rohrbaugh), Karl Barth (3+3), Kenton Sparks (3+1), Kenneth Bailey (3), John Barton (3), Rob Bell (3), John Calvin (3), Frank Moore Cross (3), William Dever (3), Walter Wink (2+2), Michael Fishbane (2+1), Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza (2+1), Abraham Joshua Heschel (2+1), George Eldon Ladd (2+1), Eugene Peterson (2+1), Gerhard von Rad (2+1), William Barclay (2), Herman Bavinck (2), the Bible itself (2), Margaret Barker (2), James Barr (2), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2), Daniel Boyarin (2), Martin Buber (2),  Charles Dickens (2), Walther Eichrodt (2),Michael V. Fox (2), Richard Eliott Friedman (2), Terence E. Fretheim (2), John Goldingay (2), Michael Horton (2), Hans Küng (2), Bernard Levenson (2), Dale Martin (2), Christo van der Merwe (2), Bruce Metzger (1, and with Bart Ehrman 1), William Mounce (2), John Piper (2), Plato (2), James B. Pritchard (2), E. Randolph Richards (2), John A.T. Robinson (2), Albert Schweitzer (2), Shakespeare (2), Mark S. Smith (2+1), John Shelby Spong (2), Paul Tillich (2), Geerhardus Vos (2), Gerd Theissen (1, and 1 with Annette Merz), D.A. Carson (1+1 and 1 with John D. Woodbridge),  John Ashton (1+1), Aristotle (1+1), Augustine (1+1), F.F. Bruce (1+1), David Carr (1+1), Brevard S. Childs (1+1), Hermann Gunkel (1+1), Larry Hurtado (1+1), Toni Morrison (1+1), The Septuagint (1+1), Francis Schaeffer (1+1), Moises Silva (1+1), Anthony Thiselton (1+1), Christopher Wright (1+1), Raymond Brown (0+2), Mark Nanos (0+2), Phyllis Trible (0+2).

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Responses

  1. Ken, well done, you have put alot of work into this. You should get a prominent place at the June biblical studies carnival, since half of the posts seem to respond to this meme 🙂

    • Heh, I hope we’ve got more important things to talk about than just this meme! 😉 But I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s responses, so it’s been no trouble collecting them.

  2. Ken, thanks for putting so much time into all this. It’s pretty fun to sit back and enjoy the fruit of your labor!

  3. Late to the game, but here’s my list: http://foolishsage.com/2009/06/21/tagged-my-5-most-influential-books-on-the-bible/

    • Thanks! I’ve added it to the list, but now that the “top 10” has been posted (such as it is), I’m not planning to modify it. I figure the fact that people didn’t know they were voting gives it more objectivity than otherwise.

  4. Mine here http://davidkeen.blogspot.com/2009/06/5-books-that-influenced-me.html

    You’re right I think Ken, I’d probably have put different books if i’d thought it was a vote, and certainly left off at least one of mine, who I violently disagree with but put up there because it had made me think so much.

  5. Ken,

    Thanks so much for this initiative. What a joy!

    I think the cumulative totals are telling from a number of points of view. First of all, Wright and Brueggemann have succeeded more than other recent authors in making the New and Old Testaments, respectively, come alive for people.

    Secondly, the number of votes Kugel, Alter, and Levenson received says a lot about the relevance and creativity of their research.

    Thirdly, the number of votes the intro of Fee/Stuart received is fascinating. That’s pretty special.

    • Thanks John!

      It’s very interesting how people can have such different reactions to a book. For instance, I read Fee and Stuart my first year as an undergrad and thought it was good but it never would have occured to me to put it on my list, yet it clearly had much more of an impact on a number of people. The number of unique boks people have chosen points in the same direction–sometimes a book just finds you at the right time.

      I think what most surprises me though are the scholars who got few or no votes. Barth, Childs, Bruce, Von Rad, Jeremias, Charlesworth, Milgrom, etc.–none received more than 1 or 2 votes (even Bultmann only had 2 until Jim added 2 more). Major figures like Raymond Brown and Emmanuel Tov didn’t get a single vote.

      I wonder if that says more about the nature of the biblioblog-o-sphere, or more about what kind of books tend to have the greatest impact on individuals (as opposed to on the guild as a whole), or if it’s simply a relic of the small sample size of this poll.

  6. […] This week’s Christian Carnival is up at Fathom Deep. Among others, includes my post on the Top 10, and an interesting reflection on how words like grace, covenant and faith are […]

  7. […] The Top Ten most influential authors […]

  8. […] Brown’s meme has been very successful. Just as interesting is his summary of some of the key influences that get repeated […]

  9. […] Bible.”  Ken has briefly cataloged most of these responses here, and has also provided a few statistics and reflections.  As I considered the question, I found it difficult to limit my list to five!  […]

  10. Here’s my contribution – http://joninbetween.blogspot.com/2009/06/bible-meme.html

  11. […] So 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 very similar, others rather unconventional, but all of them have been fun to read and offer plenty to add to anyone’s “need to read” list. I’ve also compiled some summary observations (including the highest “vote” getters) in a separate post here. […]

  12. predictable!

    😉

  13. […] to propose a hopefully constructive way of responding to one underlying issue.  When Ken Brown summarized the results of his fantastic meme on the top 5 books, he noted “a shameful under-representation of women […]


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