Timothy Beal is Florence Harkness Professor of
Religion at Case Western Reserve University and author of 11 books, including Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know, now in paperback (HarperOne, October 12,
2010). His essays have appeared in the New York Times, the
Washington Post and other publications. He lives with his
wife, Clover, and children, Sophie and Seth, in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
On your nightstand now:
Anne Lamott's Imperfect Birds, Cormac
McCarthy's Cities on the Plain.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I was not much of a
reader as a child. My mom was always trying to get me into novels, like Scott O'Dell's
The Black Pearl, and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. But I
have to confess, like most of the boys I knew, I much preferred those red
hardcover picture books by C.B. Colby about the history of weapons, from slings
and catapults to revolvers and machine guns. Our grade school library was full
of them, and we devoured them all. We'd try to draw the modern specimens and
replicate the more primitive ones. And then use them on each other in the
woods. I was very good with the sling. I doubt these books have remained on the
shelves in our post-Columbine world. Perhaps mom should've had me try Lord
of the Flies.
Your top five authors:
Cormac McCarthy, Flannery
O'Connor, Anne Lamott, Jacques Derrida, William Blake.
Book you've faked reading:
The Bible! Growing up conservative
evangelical, I knew what was supposed to be in there: God's magnum opus, The
Book of answers to all of life's questions. But whenever I tried to read it,
that wasn't what I found. It raised more questions than it answered. Its main
characters, including God, were often quite perplexing and disturbing. And the
range of human behavior and experience sometimes seemed downright unholy. It
wasn't until college that, with the help of William Blake, I fell in love with
it for the very same reasons I'd been avoiding it. I learned to let it be as
strange as it is, and haven't stopped reading it since.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Bible! I don't care if you're
religious, irreligious or antireligious. You need to get to know it. For one
thing, it's a prerequisite to cultural literacy. But beyond that, it's
fascinating, wonderfully strange, inspiring stuff.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Doubt: A History by
Jennifer Hecht. So simple: the word, set in black type, surrounded by white,
circled with what looks like a red colored pencil.
Book that changed your life:
Elie Wiesel's Night. I read it
while in seminary, and it radically altered the course of my own research as a
biblical scholar. Later, as a young professor at Eckerd College, I had the
amazing privilege to get to know Elie Wiesel personally, and am now pleased and
grateful to call him a colleague and friend.
Favorite line from a book:
From William Blake's Marriage of
Heaven and Hell: "How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy
way, Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?"