Sunday, August 19, 2012

Five of the best books on sin

Paula Fredriksen is an historian of ancient Christianity who works as well on the social relations between pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Roman Empire. Among her books are From Jesus to Christ; Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews; Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism; and, most recently, Sin: The Early History of an Idea.

One of her five best books with an original way of approaching the subject of sin, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Angle of Repose
by Wallace Stegner (1971)

'Angle of repose' is a technical term, from mining; but it describes the course of two marriages in this lyrical, emotionally complex novel. The contemporary American West provides the time frame for one marriage; the settling of the West, in the later 19th century, the other. What links them is the 20th-century grandson-narrator's attempt to piece together the story of his grandparents' relationship. His research leads him to uncover an awful and heartbreaking moment of marital betrayal and its terrible consequences: sustained loss, aching guilt and remorseless, relentless punishment. The grandson's own marriage is similarly afflicted. Listening to the westward train as he lies awake at night "in this not-quite-quiet darkness, while the diesel breaks its heart more and more faintly on the mountain grade," the narrator wonders whether "I am man enough to be a bigger man than my grandfather." The only life-sustaining response to sin, he realizes, is forgiveness.
Read about the other books on the list.

Angle of Repose is one of Andrea Wulf's six favorite books.

The Page 99 Test: Sin: The Early History of an Idea.

Writers Read: Paula Fredriksen.

--Marshal Zeringue