Aaronm's Reviews > Sin: A History

Sin by Gary A. Anderson
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Apr 18, 2010

really liked it
Read from April 18 to June 01, 2010

Sin traces the evolution of the Jewish concept of sin from the 1st Temple through the Roman period and then in early Christian conceptions, focusing somewhat on the east. The final bit is a somewhat unusual digression on St. Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th Century philosopher. The overarching idea is that the way a religion thinks of an abstract idea, like sin, can be explored through the metaphors they use for it.

The first bit of the book traces the evolution of the metaphor from one of a burden one must bear into the Second Temple idea of a debt, which must be repaid. Then the ideas surrounding the repayment of debt are explored, including the borrowing against a heavenly treasury built up by one's charity as well as that of the preceding generations.

Anderson's chapters on early Christian thought draw strongly from contemporary Aramaic texts, working from the idea that it was probably Jesus' native tongue. He then provides an interesting, and compelling answer to the question "How did Jesus' death on the cross actually redeem mankind from sin?", one which is not really explained by early Christian dogma the way that other foundational concepts are (The divine/humane nature for eg.). There is also some comparison between the writers of the early Christian east and the contemporary writers of the Talmud concluding with the importance of the specific act of almsgiving for repayment of the debt of sin.

Overall it is a complex, but well argued book. Though Anderson takes care to try and make it available to the layperson, some knowledge of the Bible as well as textual criticism is useful. I was only a bit disappointed that he didn't explore the concept of sin as polluting the land, in the laws of murder and the cities of refuge.
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