Joseph Lam

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Joseph Lam

Assistant Professor


Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2012
M.A., University of Chicago, 2005
M.Div., Regent College, 2003
B.A.Sc., University of British Columbia, 1999

Research Interests

  • The Hebrew Bible in its Ancient Near Eastern Context
  • Hebrew and Semitic Languages
  • Ritual and Cult in the Ancient Near East
  • Writing in the Ancient Near East
  • Metaphor in Religious Language

Professional Biography

I am a scholar of the languages, texts, and literatures of the ancient Near East, focusing on the diverse written traditions of the Levant (Syria-Palestine) in the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE, including the Hebrew Bible and the texts from ancient Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra). I am particularly interested in the elucidation of ancient religious thought and practice through the analysis of (sometimes difficult-to-decipher) written sources. At the same time, I maintain an active engagement with general questions in the philological study of Hebrew and in comparative Semitic linguistics.

My first book, titled Patterns of Sin in the Hebrew Bible: Metaphor, Culture, and the Making of a Religious Concept (Oxford University Press, 2016), examines the religious notion of sin through the most prominent metaphors used to express the idea in the Hebrew Bible, set against the background of the ancient Near East. Informed by a deep engagement with theoretical perspectives on metaphor coming out of linguistics and the philosophy of language, I demonstrate the pervasiveness of four root metaphors for sin in Biblical Hebrew – sin as “burden,” “account,” “path/direction,” and “stain/impurity” – revealing patterns in the understanding of sin that are developed in different ways in later Jewish and Christian literature. My other recent work includes articles on the use of Hurrian in the ritual texts from Ugarit, diachronic change in Ugaritic, the early development of the alphabet, and the metaphor of “disinheritance” in Psalm 2.

At Carolina, I have taught courses on Classical Hebrew language, Hebrew Bible, the literature and culture of the ancient Near East, and the place of metaphor in religious language.

Courses Recently Taught

  • RELI 117, Culture of the Ancient Near East
  • RELI 205H, Sacrifice in the Ancient World
  • RELI 211/212, Classical Hebrew I/II: A Linguistic Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
  • RELI 502, Myths and Epics of the Ancient Near East
  • RELI 527, Religious Metaphor and Symbol

Publication Highlights

Patterns of Sin in the Hebrew Bible: Metaphor, Culture, and the Making of a Religious Concept. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

“Psalm 2 and the Disinheritance of Earthly Rulers: New Light from the Ugaritic Legal Text RS 94.2168.” Vetus Testamentum 64 (2014): 34-46.

“A Reassessment of the Alphabetic Hurrian Text RS 1.004 (KTU 1.42): A Ritual Anointing of Deities?” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011): 148-169.

“The Invention and Development of the Alphabet.” In Visible Language: Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond, ed. Christopher Woods, 189-195. Oriental Institute Museum Publications 32. Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 2010.