Joseph Lam, "Patterns of Sin in the Hebrew Bible: Metaphor, Culture, and the Making of a Religious Concept" (Oxford UP, 2016)


On this program, I spoke with Joseph Lam about his book, Patterns of Sin in the Hebrew Bible: Metaphor, Culture, and the Making of a Religious Concept (Oxford University Press, 2016). Joseph Lam is an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and civilizations from the University of Chicago. His articles have appeared in Vetus Testamentum and the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions. Sin, often defined as a violation of divine will, remains a crucial idea in contemporary moral and religious discourse. However, the apparent familiarity of the concept obscures its origins within the history of Western religious thought. Informed by a deep engagement with theoretical perspectives on metaphor coming out of linguistics and the philosophy of language, Lams book identifies four patterns that pervade the biblical texts: sin as burden, sin as an account, sin as path or direction, and sin as stain or impurity.In exploring the permutations of these metaphors and their development within the biblical corpus, Patterns of Sin in the Hebrew Bible offers a compelling account of how a religious and theological concept emerges out of the everyday thought-world of ancient Israel, while breaking new ground in its approach to metaphor in ancient texts. Far from being a timeless, stable concept, sin becomes intelligible only when situated in the matrix of ancient Israelite culture. In other words, sin is not as simple as it might seem.
Garrett Brown is a book publisher and editor and the host of New Books in Biblical Studies. In addition to several other trade publishers, he worked for almost seven years at the National Geographic Society, where he acquired and developed books on religion and on science. He blogs intermittently at and can be reached at Twitter: @newbooksbible

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