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The Bible: The Biography Hardcover – 12 Jul 2007

3.2 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; First Edition edition (12 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843543966
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843543961
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 478,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"'Karen Armstrong is a genius' A. N. Wilson. 'A remarkable history... fascinating and highly readable... profoundly relevant.' Julie Wheelwright, Independent 'This book deserves nothing but praise.' Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times"

About the Author

Karen Armstrong is one of the world's foremost commentators on religious affairs. Her bestselling books include Islam: A Short History; Buddha; A History of God; Through The Narrow Gate; The Spiral Staircase and The Great Transformation also published in paperback by Atlantic Books in 2007.


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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book has attracted predictable criticism from religious conservatives, evident in some of the reviews here. One suspects the author would be entirely unperturbed by this - avoiding the ills of higher criticism is the concern only of fundamentalists. Their criticism that Armstrong's tone of scholarly detachment fails when she addresses twentieth-century fundamentalism is easily answered - this brand of Christianity has nothing to do with detached scholarship, they parted company a long time ago. The argument over Arianism is just one case in point. As just about any serious scholar who has studied early Christianity will tell you, early Christians were not Trinitarians.
On a more general level, Armstrong shows an ability to draw together an impressive amount of material into an accessible synthesis, and she has few peers in this regard. Her treatment of the twentieth century is, as noted by others, sketchy. More seriously perhaps, her knowledge of early modern history is inadequate. Whilst generalisations are unavoidable in a work of this kind, her treatment of the early modern period is simplistic and often misleading. Deism was not a 'new religion' (p.185), nor was it espoused by John Locke, author of a Paraphrase of the Epistles of St Paul. To say that Isaac Newton 'scarcely mentioned the Bible in his copious writings' (p.184) is utter nonsense. Had Armstrong read Newton's copious unpublished manuscripts on scripture, or any of the published works analysing these manuscripts in the last twenty years, she would know that Newton spent at least as much time buried in scripture and prophecies about the end of days as he did thinking about the laws of gravity.
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Format: Hardcover
I am not usually lost for words, to say the least. But I am struck alternately dumb and gibbering by this beautiful, beautiful book. Surpassing even Frances Yates in consummate scholarship, spanning millennia of allegory and exegesis Armstrong stands alone in her total mastery of the religious understanding which beats in the heart of all cultures. Here in following "the Bible" through four millennia of conflict and resolution she presents in the clearest possible narrative (aided by comprehensive glossary, footnotes and bibliography) how Logos and Love are inseparable in theology and praxis and how the greatest treasure of Western philosophy remains The Golden Rule.

I am neither Jewish nor Christian ( our family is half Rasta, half Muslim) but for me this is simply the most important book our century has produced. A book of immense transformative power: buy it, read it, share it around.
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Format: Hardcover
I have just read the preceding reviews and I note with disappointment the polarisation of views they represent, with little reference to the actual content of the book.

Armstrong is trying to stand outside the corpus of texts we have come to call "the Bible" (and note the connotations of that label), and to be quite even-handed (mostly) about the influences and lenses which have affected how it has been viewed. She has particularly sought to avoid the sin of "presentism", i.e. to assume that in the past things looked as they do now.

Where she is less than even-handed is probably in the treatment of "fundamentalism", which she sees as a serious error. I do agree with her on that, and I defer to her scholarship in tracing its roots, but her account of how it arose and its relationship to the Enlightenment is disappointing. On the other hand, that is a story which could well fill many volumes of this size (and indeed, has done).

Nevertheless, Armstrong's major achievement (apart from telling a fascinating story in a highly accessible way) is to examine how any artefact can be read and re-read in different contexts; she is not in thrall to the reputation of a "sacred text", but her analysis only enhances the status of these writings as very special (although not entirely unique) portals to the depths of human experience.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fantastic book and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who wonders what the Bible is all about. It clearly traces the history of the Bible and shows how it has been a living document - written, rewritten, edited and translated to suit the needs of different societies through the ages. As a starting point for understanding what the Bible means to the world today this cannot be bettered.
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Format: Hardcover
It is depressing that a benign, liberal book such as this should attract so much vitriol from some Amazon reviewers. True, this book exposes some of the contradictions of the Bible, leading to the inevitable conclusion that at least some of it was written by imperfect Man.

Perhaps what is most disturbing for believers is the even-handed approach that Armstrong uses to tackle Christianity and Judaism. (Islam is mentioned occasionally, but Armstrong's book is about the Old and New Testaments, not the Qu'ran.)

I learnt a lot from this book about Jewish scholarship, an area I knew almost nothing about beforehand.

The only reason I could not award this volume five stars is for its organisation. I would have liked the chapters to be broken up into digestible sections. I didn't know until I reached the end that there was a glossary -- some words such as 'theophany' weren't in the dictionary I tried referring to. Maybe boxes in the text, or illustrations or diagrams, would have helped. There is a lot to take in.

Unusually for non-fiction books of today, the final chapter (on Modernity) is the best. (Most airport books now seem to pile virtually everything into the first chapter.) Having read of all the awful things that have happened earlier in the world as a result of a literal reading of the Bible, it's so depressing to find parts of 20th century America re-inventing the literal approach, and using it to justify violence and death in the Near East.
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