What is sin? Is it simply wrongdoing? Why do its effects linger over time? In this sensitive, imaginative, and original work, Gary Anderson shows how changing conceptions of sin and forgiveness lay at the very heart of the biblical tradition. Spanning nearly two thousand years, the book brilliantly demonstrates how sin, once conceived of as a physical burden, becomes, over time, eclipsed by economic metaphors. Transformed from a weight that an individual carried, sin becomes a debt that must be repaid in order to be redeemed in God’s eyes.
Anderson shows how this ancient Jewish revolution in thought shaped the way the Christian church understood the death and resurrection of Jesus and eventually led to the development of various penitential disciplines, deeds of charity, and even papal indulgences. In so doing it reveals how these changing notions of sin provided a spur for the Protestant Reformation.
Broad in scope while still exceptionally attentive to detail, this ambitious and profound book unveils one of the most seismic shifts that occurred in religious belief and practice, deepening our understanding of one of the most fundamental aspects of human experience.
"This is an elegant, well-argued book, at the heart of which is a scholarly detective story."-Revd Angela Tilby, Church Times
". . . [a] fascinating study . . . Anderson writes in a clear manner . . . [an] engaging study . . . For perspective, breadth, ease-of-access, thoughtfulness and care, Sin: a History is a real gem. It is as intelligent as it is enjoyable to read. I recommend it wholeheartedly . . . the study is truly profound (it might also be said) extraordinarily timely."-Jon Balserak, Evangelical Quarterly
Winner of the 2010 Christianity Today Book Award in the Biblical Studies category sponsored by Christianity Today International
Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2010 in the Religion category
"In this highly original study, Gary Anderson draws on a cornucopia of sources (biblical, patristic, rabbinic) to show how different metaphors, e.g. a weight on one's back or a debt to be paid, have shaped the development of Jewish and Christian understandings of sin. Though Anderson ranges far and wide, he never loses sight of the big picture."-Robert Louis Wilken, University of Virginia
"Anderson is developing a new approach to biblical theology, by probing the root metaphors for theological ideas, and tracing their interpretation in postbiblical Judaism and Christianity. This book is important not only for the history of sin, but also for the central theological idea of atonement. An important and original book."-John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament, Yale University
"An extraordinary piece of detective work. Anderson shows how the central way of representing-and conceiving of-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
"In an age of psychobabble and `my bad,' Gary Anderson provides a scholarly, insightful, and needed reminder that `sin' has been a crucial idea in humanity's moral self-understanding for millennia. Anderson is a master of sources and a gifted writer, ranging widely and knowledgeably over Jewish and Christian biblical and theological materials. A most impressive contribution to the recovery of the moral ballast of our culture."-George Weigel, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC