The Bible: The Biography Hardcover – 12 Jul 2007
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"'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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Top Customer Reviews
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 Had Armstrong read Newton's copious unpublished manuscripts on scripture, or any of the published works analysing these manuscripts in the last twenty years, she would know that Newton spent at least as much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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I was looking for a layman's introduction to the Bible - what it is, how it came to be written, what the books mean etc. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Chris
This is a very academic book, and very thorough. I learned quite a lot from it, but found it difficult to read as the language is 'highbrow'. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Mrs. J. E. M. Napier
Bit scholarly for me, I'm not that serious a reader (and am also menopausal which makes my brain function shrivel) but a good read for the general reader, some useful info in here.Published 19 months ago by Jill Hubbard
Karen Armstrong is variously described by her admirers as 'brilliant' and 'a genius' and this short book reveals why. Read morePublished on 26 Mar. 2011 by Mark McCormick
Despite impressive scholarly apparatus (copious references, index, glossary), this book seems to be aimed at a popular readership. Read morePublished on 22 Feb. 2008 by Jarvis Pickwick
As usual, Karen Armstrong's consummate scholarship is equalled by an almost scientific approach towards a subject that in others tends to invoke other responses. Read morePublished on 15 Feb. 2008 by E. A. Parfitt
There appears to be a concerted effort within this book to be economical with the truth and to dismantle the integrity of Scripture from a divinely guided perspective. Read morePublished on 9 Feb. 2008 by I. Haynes
This sort of book really annoys me. It's the type that tries to convey objectivity to the reader, while selectively quoting and subtly agreeing with a certain perpective. Read morePublished on 22 Jan. 2008 by Jon Mason