- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
The Bible: The Biography (BOOKS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD) Paperback – 1 Mar 2008
|New from||Used from|
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
As the single work at the heart of Christianity, the world's largest organized religion, the Bible is the spiritual guide for one out of every three people in the world. The Bible is also the world's most widely distributed book. Translated into over two thousand languages, it is estimated that more than six billion copies have been sold in the last two hundred years. It remains the best-selling book in the United States, year after year, with at least twenty-five million copies sold in 2005 alone. But the Bible is a complex work with a complicated and obscure history. Made up of sixty-six "books" written by various authors and divided into two testaments, its contents have changed over the centuries. The Bible has been transformed by translation and, through interpretation, has developed manifold meanings to various religions, denominations, and sects. In this seminal account, acclaimed historian Karen Armstrong discusses the conception, gestation, life, and afterlife of history's most powerful book. Armstrong analyzes the social and political situation in which oral history turned into written scripture, how this all-pervasive scripture was collected into one work, and how it became accepted as Christianity's sacred text. She explores how "as the pragmatic scientific ethos of modernity took hold, scripture was read for the information that it imparted" and how, in the nineteenth century, historical criticism of the Bible caused greater fear than Darwinism. As she writes, "'If Jonah did not spend days in a whale, ' asked a Lutheran pastor, 'did Jesus really rise from the tomb?'" Karen Armstrong's history of the Bible is a brilliant, captivating book, crucial in an age of declining faithand rising fundamentalism.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
She claims that in the West the 'idea that religion is inherently violent is now taken for granted'. Sorry Karen this is simply not true. It is a gross exaggeration without supporting evidence. I know of many people, academics in many disciplines, and others, who do not share this view. It is true that often faith is blamed for a particular war, for example the present conflct in Iraq, Syria and the everlasting one between Israel and Hamas. But this is not the same as saying that every war has been fought in religion's name. Many atheists, of course, do claim that religion is a major cause of war, for example,Richard Dawkins. Not true. Atheistic regimes have a record of violence, brutality, sadism, and mass murder. It has been calculated that the death toll of communist regimes is over 120,000,000.
The author's assertion that warfare is not part of man's nature would be challenged by many anthropologists, historians, psychologists and political scientists. Warfare has been endemic in human affairs since the earliest times. To argue that an army is necessary to wage war is disingenuous. How big an army? The Comanches, for example, fought numerous wars against other tribes using only small bands of warriors. Many tribal wars among primitive peoples did not involve an 'army' as we understand that term today. The author says :'warfare requires large armies, sustained leadership and economlc resources'. I am afraid it does not.
Furthermore, her claim that systemic violence only began in the Agrarian age because prior to it hunters were too busy to fight is highly contentious. Archeological finds many years ago indicate that group fights between hunter-gatherers, were often bloody,and were commonplace. Protection of ones hunting grounds was vital for survival. Greed and envy were causes of conflict then as they are often important causes today.
The author argues that religion was used to:'support the structural violence ot the state'. True but this was often a convenient excuse for launching a war. Followers of a faith were frequently heavily involved in wars, for example popes, and preachers galore. This is well documented but we do not then say this proves religion was the only cause of the conflict.
There is a surprising lack of scrutiny of Muslim beliefs and texts. This is in sharp contrast to her criticisms of the Bible. I wonder why? Armstrong also fails to mention that Muslims do not distinguish between religion and politics.
The notion that the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that ended the thirty years war heralded the beginning of 'secular war' is also false. She goes too far. Many non-secular conflicts occured over the next 150 years. Some historians have indeed argued that there was a sharp decline of religion as a political factor after 1648. In the realist school it was once a prevalent view that 1648 marked a turning point, a watershed. The enlightened age of reason, they argued, had now replaced religious wars. This view is still dominant in some quarters. From around 1980 this view has been heavily critised by writers such as Holt and Davis. Cultural historians have attacked the very definition of religion. They argue it is a sociological phenomenon not a set of dogmatic beliefs. If you follow this line of argument then some secular wars become heavily permeated with faith. For example:the war of 1665-67 against the United Provinces; Switzerland's plague of religious wars during the 17th century, and the Seven Years War. These make Armstrong's thesis appear over simplistic.
Who would be so foolish as to blame religion for the Crimean War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Great War or the Second World War. These were not caused by the Pope. Did the West topple an Iraq dictator for religious reasons? Far more important than faith were other factors and ideologies. Historians do not blame religion as the sole cause of the Crusades or the thirty years war, although faith played an important role in both. Economics, politics and adventure also played key roles. However, one cannot deny the major role of religion in jihadis, the Crusades, and the long running conflict involving the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. It is very difficult in fact to separate religious from political and economic motives in such a way that religious motives are innocent of violence. It is sometimes argued that there is an essential difference between religions and secular ideologies like marxism, and nationalism. It is an argument that is hard to sustain.
All conflct is multifaceted. Political factors are as important as religion in insurgencies and terrorism. I know of no book, and there are hundreds, that mentions religion as the cause of the Vietnam or Korean wars. Armstrong also argues that faith has often been used for peaceful purposes. Only those ignorant of history would disagree. Faith has throughout history often been a force for good and peace.
This reviewer is very surprised that Armstrong quotes S.L.A.Marshall's book about US soldiers in WW2 as evidence that man will do everything possible to avoid killing his own. She clearly is unaware that this book has been heavily criticised and the evidence it is based on found wanting.
So we leave this book's main thesis where we started. Many very bloody wars have indeed been rooted in religious hatred, for example, the French wars of the 16th century, and Muslim conquests. Religion is indeed a significant generator of human conflict but the principal causes of warfare throughout the ages are two: culture, and greed for land, resources and power.
Armstrong has simply argued what we have always known to be the case. Religion has played a role, often a major role, in wars but it is not true that it is blamed for all wars, this would be nonsense no matter how religion is defined. The author makes the major error of claiming that religion is the cause of no major wars, and comes very close to saying or of violence. I don't think those who suffered at the hands of the Inquisition, or Jews throughout history would take too kindly to these assertions. Are the grotesque and babaric actions of ISIS not too a large degree motivated by religion?
I am afraid, therefore, that I remain unconverted by this mass of poorly digested material. Frankly, it's very badly organised. I find it hard to understand why it was ever published.
Readers may find the following books far more authorative and very useful: 'Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace', by Roland Bainton; 'The Myth of Religion' by W Cavanaugh. There are many more.
I made that sentence deliberately vague because that is where the problems start. She says she is attacking the common notion that ALL wars are caused by religion. The trouble is, most people know that religion didn’t cause ALL wars. The question is how much blame does religion take?
She gives a good argument that things are not as simple as they first seem. Religion is often deeply infused into culture, making responsibility difficult to attribute. There is wisdom in that. Unfortunately she replaces one overly simple thesis with two more: that wars occur because men like fighting (her own words) and because nation states are inherently violent.
She shows interesting examples of religion promoting peace in India and China (did anyone doubt that there have been such examples?) What would be interesting to explore is whether western religions based on the idea of one true God have been more violent than eastern religions which are less jealous.
I couldn’t help feeling that this former nun is trying too hard to protect something dear to her heart. She even claims that jihad fighters are not motivated by religion, relying on a tiny instance of one or two reading a book on Islam for Dummies.
Atrocitology by Matthew White carried out a more impartial study of violent death throughout history. He found that 50 million people have been slaughtered in the name of religion. That is relatively small on the scale of mankind's atrocities, but it is still a lot.
In the eighteenth century philosophers developed a secular ideology based on the notion of objective scientific progress. In reality, as Carl Becker noted in 1932, they rewrote Augustine's City of God in secular language. Karl Marx did much the same thing in the nineteenth century, especially in his thoughts on alienation. Both were attempts to separate religion and politics based on the false assumption that the two were separate activities. The emphasis of pre-Enlightenment society was that everything was part of the cosmos and had an ultimate value. Post-Enlightenment thought concentrated entirely the activity of mankind as possessing ultimate value in itself. Armstrong uncritically repeats evolutionary theory about the brain, its physical development and the development of altruism which is purely speculative. She accepts that in the realms of recorded history archaeologists have found evidence of massacres. At the same time she draws the contradictory conclusion that the transition to agrarian life brought civilisation and civilisation brought warfare.
Armstrong argues that 'paleolithic communities had probably been egalitarian because hunter-gatherers could not support a privileged class that did not share the hardship and danger of the hunt'. Agriculture produced food surpluses which enabled small groups to exploit the situation for their own enrichment through violence. She suggests that 'All pre-modern civilisations adopted this oppressive system; there seemed to be no alternative.' She claims clergy adapted their beliefs to support the structural violence of the state. This is a gross over-simplification and fails to address the fundamental fact of human nature. The book concentrates on the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, examining the dilemma of violence and peace. Each one considers it has a monopoly of truth and elements within each tradition has used violence to impose its views on those who do not share their version. Armstrong correctly asserts that religious violence was in essence political and determined by economic pressures. She also notes secularism 'did not so much displace religion as create alternative religious enthusiasms'. Marxism has its prophets, holy books, its own wars and its own ruling elite.
Myths, stories based on imagination rather than fact, were used to justify human cruelty towards other human beings. Armstrong opines that a myth 'expressed a timeless truth underlying a people's daily existence'. Yet in many instances this truth was a way to preserve the status quo. It was less a timeless truth as a means of claiming legitimacy for action against others while in Aryan myths at least the conflict between civilised behaviour and the human condition was acknowledged. In the Old Testament the failure of the Jews to behave was the message of the prophets. Muslims believe Mohammad was the last prophet from God, a claim which Christians reject – not least because Jesus preached acquiescence whereas Mohammad authorised Muslims to fight to Meccans, the purpose of which was to enrich themselves. Indeed Muhammad led Muslims in battle whereas Jesus was crucified by the Jewish authorities. Political violence is at the heart of Islam, whereas political violence was perpetrated by professing Christians in direct opposition to the words of Jesus. Armstrong is naive in believing that human kind is not inherently war-like. Humanity is the source of all violence and uses politico-religious symbols to justify its actions.
Of course, it may be argued that theology underlies the Islamic state. However, its origins lies in the personality of Abu Musab al- Zarquawi, a Jordanian thug, who adopted the practice of takfir to justify the taking of the life of another Muslim. It was an extreme interpretation which found little favour amongst mainstream Muslim thinkers, just as Christian Identity perpetuates the myth that North Europeans are descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Notwithstanding the religious-speak in which such groups express themselves their aims are political. Hence history is not correctly interpreted when confined to religious motivation at the expense of power politics. Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics and religious 'fundamentalism' is too convenient a reason to attribute blame in a liberal society which has no fundamental values of its own. Armstrong makes the mistake of name-dropping in the hope that it serves as an indication of knowledge rather than mere page filling.
The history of the French, Mexican, Spanish and Russian revolutions shows that atheism is as much as cause of violence, justified by reference to their own 'holy' texts, as any religious movement. The First World War was attributable to nationalism rather than religion while Hitler was convinced Nazi Germany and Britain had too much in common to go to war. His comments on religion were made for political reasons. Did Protestants and Catholics believe they were fighting with God on their side during the wars of religion? Quite probably but it does not mean God was on their side only that they believed it. When Henry 1V said, 'Paris is worth a mass' he acknowledged the primacy of politics.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Most recent customer reviews
It is plainly written and highly readable at the same time as being...Read more