Sinning in the Hebrew Bible: How the Worst Stories Speak for Its Truthby Alan F. Segal (Columbia University Press, 2012), 296 pp., $29.50 (paperback)
Sin: The Early History of an Ideaby Paula Fredriksen (Princeton University Press, 2012), 220 pp., $24.95 (hardcover)
Referring to sin in the title of a new book is a sure way to attract interest and perhaps even to sell copies; it raises at least the suspicion that there is something deliciously dangerous between its covers. Both these volumes may disappoint the reader looking for sensational material. Each is a sophisticated survey, by an outstanding scholar of the Biblical epoch, of ancient religious and literary questions, aimed at an educated but non-specialist audience; each shows the maturing effect of years spent in the classroom, explaining, clarifying and synthesizing; each is perhaps more a distillation of what respectable contemporary scholarship has to offer on the subject, than a bold expedition into new territory. As such, each is perhaps more useful—but less daring—than its title might suggest.