This year, my reading was much more focused than in years' past, largely focusing on Early Judaism. In many regards this made it much easier for me to pick my books of the year, as outside that topic, I only read a few classic works. In fact, I feel as if I only had six competitors for the five slots. As always this list covers the five best books I read for the first time this year.
5. Rereading Romans by Stanley Stowers
Now two decades removed from publication, Stowers work is hardly cutting edge. However, I feel that many interpreters have largely ignored him (to their own peril). It's an excellent explanation of Paul's use of diatribe throughout the letter to the Romans. His work on prosopopoeia in Romans 7 is outstanding.
4. Doctor Who: The Vault by Marcus Hearn
The BBC gave us three gifts for the 50th anniversary: the 50th anniversary special; the docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time; and The Vault. I haven't finished it yet but I've had a ton of fun and learned quite a bit along the way. It's full of cast and set pictures, costumes, drawings, examples of memorabilia, and well researched history. I even learned a few things about eras of the show that I knew well. It'd be a great Christmas gift for the Whovian on your list.
3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
While critics may disagree, I agree with the writer himself. East of Eden was his best work. It was artful, it was real, and it was a fascinating riff on Genesis 4.
2. John Vol. 1 by Urban von Wahlde
It will be interesting to look back in fifteen years and wonder either, 'why on earth did this crack my top five?' or 'how could this not have been number one my list?' von Wahlde's composition theory of John solves many of the interpretive difficulties of the gospel while explaining its relationship to the epistles of John all while giving us fascinating insight into the development of one critical strand of early Christianity. Or it is a monument to scholarly speculation. Only time and a more qualified reader than me can decide that, but it sure is interesting!
1. Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 B.C.E. - 66 C.E. by E. P. Sanders
Sanders' work is truly a classic in the field. Its' shortcomings are well known and don't need to be rehearsed here, but it still stands as the standard work on early Judaism, with good reason.
Now it's time for the five books that came out this year that I have not read but most look forward to reading.
5. Time and Relative Dimensions in Faith eds. Andrew Crome and James McGrath
I love Doctor Who. I love studying religion and ethics. Enough said.
4. Deuteronomy by Jack Lundblom
Recently I started doing some research into what scholarly commentaries on Deuteronomy were available. I was a little disappointed in the breadth of selection. Lundblom's contribution (it was originally intended to be in the now defunct ECC series) should help rectify that. I expect it to be a rich engagement both with the rhetoric and theology of the book.
3. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha eds. Richard Bauckham, James Davila, and Alexander Panayotov
This year I have spent a lot of time in both primary and secondary sources studying Early Judaism. Reading large portions of the two volume collection of Pseudepigrapha edited by Charlesworth has been invaluable. This collection contains nearly every other Jewish Pseudepigrapha written before the rise of Islam.
2. James by Dale Allison
Dale Allison may be the preeminent North American New Testament Scholar. His work with W.D. Davies on Matthew as well as his various monographs on Jesus have shaped the discipline. Without hesitation I opened my wallet when this commentary was released and am looking forward to the opportunity to use it next time I venture into James.
1. Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright
I've read the first three hundred or so pages. Is it cheating to include it on the list? Finally, Wright has released his major work on Paul. It will take me several months to get through, but so far is excellent. I think it is the best work I have read from Wright and it seems (so far) more careful and less prone to over-generalization than JVG (which still was excellent). The opening volume demonstrates just how well Wright understands the ancient world and provides important framework for understanding Paul.