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A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam Paperback – August 9, 1994


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 9, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345384563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345384560
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (352 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Armstrong, a British journalist and former nun, guides us along one of the most elusive and fascinating quests of all time--the search for God. Like all beloved historians, Armstrong entertains us with deft storytelling, astounding research, and makes us feel a greater appreciation for the present because we better understand our past. Be warned: A History of God is not a tidy linear history. Rather, we learn that the definition of God is constantly being repeated, altered, discarded, and resurrected through the ages, responding to its followers' practical concerns rather than to mystical mandates. Armstrong also shows us how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have overlapped and influenced one another, gently challenging the secularist history of each of these religions. --Gail Hudson

From Publishers Weekly

This searching, profound comparative history of the three major monotheistic faiths fearlessly illuminates the sociopolitical ground in which religious ideas take root, blossom and mutate. Armstrong, a British broadcaster, commentator on religious affairs and former Roman Catholic nun, argues that Judaism, Christianity and Islam each developed the idea of a personal God, which has helped believers to mature as full human beings. Yet Armstrong also acknowledges that the idea of a personal God can be dangerous, encouraging us to judge, condemn and marginalize others. Recognizing this, each of the three monotheisms, in their different ways, developed a mystical tradition grounded in a realization that our human idea of God is merely a symbol of an ineffable reality. To Armstrong, modern, aggressively righteous fundamentalists of all three faiths represent "a retreat from God." She views as inevitable a move away from the idea of a personal God who behaves like a larger version of ourselves, and welcomes the grouping of believers toward a notion of God that "works for us in the empirical age." 25,000 first printing; BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

More About the Author

Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous other books on religious affairs-including A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation-and two memoirs, Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. She has addressed members of the U.S. Congress on three occasions; lectured to policy makers at the U.S. State Department; participated in the World Economic Forum in New York, Jordan, and Davos; addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and New York; is increasingly invited to speak in Muslim countries; and is now an ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations. In February 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and is currently working with TED on a major international project to launch and propagate a Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public and crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, to be signed in the fall of 2009 by a thousand religious and secular leaders. She lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Nor, is this a book that you can just read leisurely in one setting, it must be read a second time to be absorbed.
silhouette_of_enchantment
Her sources (she doesn't list a bibliography, so I am going from her notes, as well as the "Suggested Reading" section) are, for the most part, much older.
Dustin White
This book does a great job of tracking the history of God through each of his religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Tim

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

614 of 648 people found the following review helpful By Petros of Marathon on February 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Karen Armstrong has put together an impressive work that examines in depth the evolution of God and our perceptions of the transcendent. It's a wonderful starting point, however a dedicated reader should certainly explore other books to round out topics that the author touched lightly upon (Paul) or even omitted entirely (the influence of Eastern religions).
I think some of the criticisms levied at this book are misplaced. There seems to be a theme in these reviews that the author tends to slam Western Christianity and goes easy on Islam. This seems true to a certain extent, yet deliberate. The book is obviously aimed at Western readers; Christianity is so deeply imbued in so much of our culture that it bears a fearless scrutiny. While no doubt painful for some (Christian) readers, it's illuminating and honest. The author is obviously learned in Muslim history, yet she may have covered it in more depth than many Western readers might want. Also as one reviewer noted, "by failing to extend to Islam the razor of her sarcasm, she invites distrust". True, yet again there is so little positive perception of Islam in the West, that this appears intentional. This is the most notable flaw in the book, but not a fatal one.
What she did explain *very* well:
1. How pagan idol worship evolved into Jewish monotheism.
2. How the Trinity concept came about and grew.
3. The intellectual rift between and differences in Western and Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
4. Mysticism and it's ramifications. One reviewer called this a modern "dead end". I couldn't disagree more.
Overall, quite excellent and probably the best starting point for someone who wants to explore this fascinating topic. She has struck the best balance I've seen so far between depth, complexity and readability. Highly recommended.
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243 of 270 people found the following review helpful By Missing in Action on April 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
A History of God was one of the most important books I've read. Karen Armstrong fearlessly, yet respectfully, traces the history of monotheistic thought from its earliest conception to the present day, all in a readable, lay-language book. It doesn't get much better, in my opinion.
However, be cautioned. If you are inclined to cling to old dogma, or frightened by the possibility that God might not be exactly what you were taught in Sunday School, then don't bother picking up this book. It will haunt you. On the other hand, if you are seeking a more clear picture of who God might really be, if you are open to the possibility that our concept of Him has evolved enormously since the days of Abraham, then this might be an excellent read for you.
Besides a good history lesson, it is insightful for the Western reader to gain an understanding of the "non-Christian" monotheistic traditions, i.e. Judaism and Islam. Armstrong does a wonderful (and contrary to some critics, I believe a FAIR) job of explaining how both Christianity and later Islam branched off of the Judaic traditions. Above all, it places the evolution of the God-concept into its cultural context, without which, our current God-concept is little more than a wholesale belief in so much mythology.
Be prepared to think, to change your mind, and to emerge from the end of this book a changed person.
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219 of 245 people found the following review helpful By Tanja L. Walker on November 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
Karen Armstrong gives the readers a comprehensive view of the evolution of the three monotheistic faiths. In many respects, this is an eye-opening history, and will probably make many fundamentalists of all three faiths weep and gnash their teeth, and with good reason. We need to see that God is as much an evolving idea as He is a Being (or, perhaps, "Non-being") that creates and sustains us. Armstrong deftly shows us how the early Hebrews developed their concept of Yahweh from the early pagan war and fertility cults, how the concept of Jesus as savior and sacrifice for our sins developed, how the issue of the Trinity was addressed, and how Islam came to be.

What was distressing, though, is that while Armstrong correctly, in my opinion, points out the dangers of a literal God, goes too far in condemning an anthropomorphic God. I found myself depressed by the end of the book, questioning the conclusion, it seemed, that God did not exist, or if he did, he wasn't there as a Being. Reading this book certainly shook my faith, and I recommend reading this book with care, especially as one gets into the later chapters that focus on the development of atheism. Readers who are in a state of spiritual upheaval could find this book extremely challenging, though I believe that faith grows from our doubts.
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116 of 129 people found the following review helpful By William Howard Wiggins on July 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
Karen Armstrong teaches the development of monotheistic faith in a way I wish my seminary professors would have done.

This book is extremely well documented. Every assertion is backed by historical documents or historical evidence. The glossary alone opens up a world of terms and concepts that leaves me in a meditative awe. The Suggestions for Further Reading is definitely my shopping list for future study. In constrast, my seminary education was long on political correctness and short on factual evidence.

Armstrong deals with feminist issues honestly and with sensitivity. Impressively, she does not relinquish factual evidence for political correctness, which almost all liberal education does today. She gives us an accurate history, and at the same time, frequently reminds us these are only feeble human ideas, and not the "Ineffable God."

Also, she tells the story of modern atheism in a way that makes me nod my head in agreement without giving up my own perception of God. Wow!

Armstong does seem to fudge on the person of Mohammed. She tells how he organized men for war and brutally defeated his enemies, then almost as a direct contradiction of the evidence, she proclaims him a man of peace. Putting that aside, I've been very enlightened by her account of the Islamic faith. So many things I hadn't known!

You can't miss the point of the book. God is "ineffable," beyond all human catagories, concepts, experiences, and even beyond existence itself. That blows my mind. She makes her point beautifully without leaving me feeling too threatened. Again, seminary professors should take a lesson.

I've told all my friends about the book, and I'm sure by now they're all sick of me and Karen Armstrong. Sorry. The book is simply excellent.
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