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In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis Paperback – October 7, 1997


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In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis + The Bible: A Biography (Books That Changed the World) + A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 195 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 7th edition (October 7, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345406044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345406040
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Karen Armstrong makes reading the Bible a smooth and liberating experience. The brilliance of Armstrong's analysis of Genesis lies in her ability to draw together the story, the contemporaneous situations of the characters and the writers, and the relevance of themes amid multifarious contradictions, then hold them up for us to contemplate. Edifying and engaging, this short but impressive book comes complete with the entire Genesis text. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Having written A History of God (1993) and Jerusalem (1996), prolific and bestselling author Armstrong turns her considerable imaginative skill and critical acumen to an interpretation of the first book of the Bible. In a series of short meditations, Armstrong explores each of the major scriptural units in Genesis, from the creation accounts (Genesis 1-3) to the death of Joseph (Genesis 50). In her reflection on and interpretation of Adam and Eve's fall from grace, she notes that the act of plucking the forbidden fruit renders the couple like God, in that they use their "wisdom and the power that comes with it for apparently evil ends as well as for good." Armstrong integrates the sophistication of biblical scholarship with the more raw inquisitiveness of the common reader. The result is a lyrical chronicle of one woman's wrestling with Genesis that can serve as a guide to others grappling with the book. While many of Armstrong's readings may provoke controversy, she provides a model of scriptural interpretation that is as notable for its scholarship as it is for its honesty and vulnerability.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

In The Beginning is written by the author of The History of God, Karen Armstrong.
Philip Khoo W H
For one thing, Armstrong is a lyrical writer -- as a copyeditor, I truly marveled at her sentences for both their clarity and poetry.
Alex Nichols, author of Shadow Rock
Karen writes very well; this book is easy to read since she comments on selected important passages.
F. R. Femenia

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 139 people found the following review helpful By Alex Nichols, author of Shadow Rock on November 25, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Karen Armstrong's "In the Beginning" came to me at the tail end of a two year study of Christianity. I looked at its dustjacket (a reproduction of Adam from the Sistine Chapel) with indifference, and decided to read it only because it was brief. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. For one thing, Armstrong is a lyrical writer -- as a copyeditor, I truly marveled at her sentences for both their clarity and poetry. For another, in this book she does something many clerics and scholars have failed to do: successfully apply meaning to the garbled message of Genesis.
She states her case pretty early on: there is no way to get a coherant understanding of God from reading Genesis. He is utterly contradictory -- creative and all-powerful in one story; vengeful and capricious in the next. This paradox has befuddled many of reader. I, for one, had come to think of Genesis as typical of the flawed meaninglessness of the Bible. But Armstrong has me reconsidering my conclusion. It seems clear, she says, that all the characters in Genesis have to endure afflictions and unfairness. Whether they are favored in God's eyes or not, their lives are difficult. A relationship with God doesn't spare them difficulties -- instead the meaning in their lives is derived in part by making it through their difficulties with their faith intact.
I really enjoyed this book. Just when I had grown tired of a subject, a new author has revived familiar terrain with a fresh perspective. I look forward to reading Armstrong's other books.
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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is a brief running commentary on Genesis (the entire NRSV text of Genesis is included). The main point is that Genesis does not aim so much to explain how the world and the Israelite race began, which is not a very important question from a practical point of view. It aims more to describe why we dont experience God as a tangible first-hand reality. (This _is_ an important practical question: why should a God we never directly experience be relevant to important life decisions?).
The main story of Genesis, according to Armstrong, is one of a God who progressively distances himself from the human race. He walks and talks with Adam, Noah and Abraham, but Jacob only wrestles with him as a stranger in the night, and Joseph never experiences him directly, not even in his famous dreams. Armstrong is careful to point out that no adequate explanation is given for this distancing in Genesis, forcing readers to grapple with the issue on their own. One possible resolution that Armstrong seems to suggest---walking and talking with God may just be unnecessary overhead, he will take care of one as long as one plays by his rules (=Joseph). She does not seem to approve of the standard Catholic explanation of original sin.
Armstrong quickly takes care of fundamentalists by pointing out that there are two different and contradictory creation stories in Genesis, so that the editors who put Genesis together were obviously not fundamentalists. (They believed that both accounts were equally inspired, in which case the inspiration obviously did not refer to the literal truth of the accounts, but to deeper meanings). She also points out briefly that the historical details of Genesis are usually wrong--it is full of anachronisms.
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68 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Joel Brown on February 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
"In the Beginning" takes a modern look at the teachings of the book that starts it all, Genesis. I suspect that the read should be enjoyable to the believers and unbelievers alike. ( believers, excluding fundamentalists who are offended when anyone suggests anything less than orthodox about Yahweh ) In the earlier portions of Armstrong's work, she hits the nail right on the head about why people misinterpret this book. (and all of scripture for that matter) They treat scripture as a "holy encyclopedia" as she put it. They think that every word in Genesis is literal, and that evolutionary biology is gravely mistaken. Karen reminds us that, "The true meaning of scripture can never be wholly comprised in a literal reading of the text, since that text points beyond itself to a reality which cannot adequately be expressed in words and concepts. " (pp. 5) And that, "Our authors are not interested in historical accuracy." (pp. 7) We might regard a 'myth' as an untruth, but in the premodern world it was regarded as a psychological form charting the inner world. Her commentary's main focus is on the nature of religion, and God himself. She looks at it then and now, and brings up the difference in portrayal as given in the book of Genesis and modern Christian theology. She purports to show God as arbitrary, big emphasis on this, and unpredictable. Not only this but that the Genesis authors are inconsistent when writing about God, we can't fully understand the divine. She compares what "faith" was in that day, how a true religious life was lived, and the emphasis of all the great religions, kindness to others. You should try this work if you would like to open up to an alternate perspective on the God of the Israelites, and his intervention in human antiquity.
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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.

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