Joseph Lam

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Joseph Lam

Associate 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 other Semitic languages
  • Ritual in the ancient Near East
  • Writing in the ancient Near East
  • Metaphor in religious language

Professional Biography

Joseph Lam is 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). He is 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, he maintains an active engagement with general questions in the linguistic study of Hebrew and in comparative Semitic linguistics.

His 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, he demonstrates 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. His current book project reconsiders the relationship between the notions of sin and sacrifice in ancient Israel in light of other sacrificial traditions from ancient Syria-Palestine and Anatolia. He has developed a course for Wondrium (The Great Courses) on “Creation Stories of the Ancient World,” and is a current member of the SBL Council.

At Carolina, he regularly teaches courses on Classical Hebrew language as well as on the history, culture, and literature of the ancient Near East. He also offers periodic, targeted instruction in ancient languages beyond Hebrew at the graduate level (e.g., Akkadian, Aramaic/Syriac, Ugaritic).

Selected Awards

  • Schwab Academic Excellence Award, UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities, 2017
  • Lydie T. Shufro Research Fellowship, Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, 2017
  • UNC Junior Faculty Development Award, 2016
  • Faculty Course Development Grant, Carolina Center for Jewish Studies, 2014

Courses Recently Taught

  • RELI 080 (FYS), Religion and Writing in the Ancient World
  • RELI 109, History and Culture of Ancient Israel
  • RELI 117, Culture of the Ancient Near East (video)
  • 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. [OUP website]

Reviews: K. van der Toorn, Journal of the American Oriental Society [DOI]; Y. Feder, Journal of Religion [DOI]; B. A. Anderson, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament [DOI]; T. Mayfield, Religious Studies Review [DOI]; G. Carey, Theology Today [DOI]; L. DiFransico, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 80 (2018): 123–125; M. E. Biddle, Interpretation [DOI]; L. M. Morales, Journal of Theological Studies [DOI]; C. Thomson, Themelios [link]; S. Schweitzer, Reading Religion [link]; R. Bonfiglio, Review of Biblical Literature [login]; C. Imes, Bulletin for Biblical Research 26 (2016): 573-574

(Co-edited with H. H. Hardy II and Eric D. Reymond.) “Like ’Ilu, Are You Wise”: Studies in Northwest Semitic Languages and Literatures in Honor of Dennis G. Pardee. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 73. Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 2022. [link]


“On the Etymology of Biblical Hebrew חַטָּאת: A Contribution to the ‘Sin Offering’ vs. ‘Purification Offering’ Debate.” Journal of Semitic Studies 65 (2020): 325-346.

“Metaphor in the Ugaritic Literary Texts.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 78 (2019): 37-57.

“The Concept of Sin in the Hebrew Bible.” Religion Compass 12 (2018): e12260.

(With Dennis Pardee.) “Standard/Classical Biblical Hebrew.” In A Handbook of Biblical Hebrew, 2 vols., ed. W. Randall Garr and Steven Fassberg, I:1–18, II:1–4. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 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.

(With Dennis Pardee.) “Diachrony in Ugaritic.” In Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew, ed. Cynthia Miller-Naudé and Ziony Zevit, 407-431. Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic 8. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012.

“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.