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The Bible: A Biography (Books That Changed the World) Paperback – November 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Of all the Books That Changed the World-the recently launched series to which this book belongs-surely the Bible is among the most important. And of all contemporary popularizers of religious history, surely Armstrong is among the bestselling. Who better, then, to recount the history of the Bible in eight short chapters than this former nun and literature professor who relishes huge topics (The History of God) and panoramic descriptions (The Great Transformation)? Armstrong not only describes how, when and by whom the Bible was written, she also examines some 2,000 years of biblical interpretation by bishops and rabbis, scholars and mystics, pietists and critics, thus opening up a myriad of exegetical approaches and dispelling any fundamentalist notion that only one view can be correct. Readers unfamiliar with ecclesiastical history may feel overwhelmed by dense chapters that read more like annotated lists than narrative-a hazard of trying to cover so much in so little space. (A glossary helps to anchor the bewildered.) At her best when she pauses long enough to expand on a topic, Armstrong offers intriguing insights on, for example, the allegorical method developed by Origen in the third century and the mystical midrash of the Kabbalists in medieval Spain and Provence. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

For the Books That Changed the World series of brief "biographies" of momentous books, Armstrong accepted the arguably most daunting assignment. What other book has as long a history of influence as the Bible, or has affected more people and societies? The author of the sweeping histories of religion The Great Transformation (2006) and A History of God (1993) is, of course, up to the task and provides an excellent précis of the writing and compiling of the Bible and the ensuing centuries of biblical interpretation. Armstrong traces the Bible's transformation from a miscellany of texts into scripture, to which the Jesus movement added the Gospel and the other New Testament texts pretty much in tandem with the development of midrash and the Talmud by non-Christian Jews after the 70 CE destruction of the third temple in Jerusalem. She shows both Christian and rabbinic traditions of interpretation subsequently converging upon charity or love as the essence of God. The subjects of the last three chapters—the medieval monastic practice of reading the Bible called lectio divina, Martin Luther's doctrine of sola scriptura, and intellectual modernity—are each considered for the ways they gave rise to interpretive movements that affected Christianity directly and spurred reactions in Judaism. This is one terrific little book. Olson, Ray --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Books That Changed the World
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (November 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802143849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802143846
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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#92 in Books > History
#92 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

232 of 246 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Karen Armstrong's book is (despite a poorly selected cover on the American edition) the most straight-forward, lucid explanation of how the Bible originated that I've seen. In only 230 pages the reader is taken on a tour of the current scholarly consensus about what we now know about the Bible's beginnings and development, not what the Sunday morning popularizers would like us to think. This book is written for non-specialists (something the previous reviewer doesn't seem to appreciate), which means you get a general account without footnotes, and that makes it highly readable. If you recoil from the literalism of the proof-texting preachers, here is a measure of both liberation and exhilaration. Even the short introduction is a tour de force of common sense all by itself. Brilliant!
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92 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Smith's Rock on December 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I'd rename this book "Karen Armstrong Calls a Code on The Bible", as in calling a code in the hospital when someone has had a cardiac and/or respiratory arrest. By the end of Armstrong's book, the cardiac monitor hooked to the Christian Bible has a strong and steady beat.

I once took the time to read the Bible from cover to cover. Weary of being battered by Campus Crusaders (an oddly apt name), I went to the source (in English, I don't read Greek or Hebrew), and read every word, including the begats, including the many, many proscriptions for capital punishment, including the incredibly bloody and genocidal behavior of those who were supposed to be God's Chosen People, including funky dietary directions. My conclusion was that taking the Bible as the literal word of God can only be done by descending to a level of intellectual and emotional dishonesty that I could not personally access. If the Bible WAS the literal Logos (word of God), then, to paraphrase Ricky Ricardo talking to Lucy: God, you have some serious 'splainin' to do.

What then to do with this amazing collection of texts that has been somewhat haphazardly and arbitrarily lumped together and called The Bible? Answer: read Armstrong's remarkable, pithy, eye and mind opening book. The rich tradition of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity) springs into a Joseph's Multi-Colored Coat dazzler: Violence, religious ecstasy, profound desire for knowledge of God, sex, political manipulation, ego, faith, hope, love, and raw lust for power swirl through this kaleidoscopic, richly layered, many textured book called The Bible.
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63 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Leopold Boeckl on February 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
What other reviewers miss in their assessments of this book is the single most important fact about this book. Karen Armstrong presents the reader in a straight forward chronological timeline the historical evolution of the Bible. As she has written many books in this area some may feel it is a rehash but I disagree. She never walked the reader from early Hebrew history all the way to today and then overlays the Christian additions and movements to the most read book in the West. She does all of this in her succinct but deeply passionate style which conveys how important the evolution of this book has been and remains to be in our current culture and society.

With other books one can get pieces of this perspective but only in highly related and academically correlated subject areas. This means that for instance one can find books from a leading scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls from the esteemed Dr. Lawrence Schiffman but one can't find a book where Dr. Schiffman addresses the entirety of what is known relative to the Bible and related ancient writings. This is what is unique about Karen Armstrong. I wrote Dr. Schiffman and asked him where to find a book like this and he referred me to the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. In those reference books scholars have annotated what is commonly agreed to in terms of biblical scholarship. The problem with that approach is that it is not a complete linear overview. It comes in pieces and does not address the end to end to approach that Armstrong delivers with this book.
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74 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Robert Feather on May 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I quite liked parts of this book, but parts were appalling, in factual and discursive content. Karen Armstrong is a well respected religious writer, whose sincerity and efforts to bring different beliefs together in harmony cannot be doubted. All the more disappointing that she gets so much wrong in her latest effort.
One good test of a non-fiction work is to examine the dating of the source material quoted by the author. For the first part of the book, which deals with the Hebrew version of biblical accounts, her references tend to be from 20-25 years ago and are not in tune with latest scholarship. For instance she gets the dating of Abraham, and the Exodus wrong, talks about Palestine in the time of the Greeks, and says the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1942! Current thinking puts the Exodus around 1200 BCE and the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. Armstrong clearly has a limited knowledge of the Qumran Community and so-called Essenes, indicated by her thinking that they did not have a coherent vision of beliefs, and continued to worship at the Temple. That is quite wrong. Their corpus of sectarian texts has a commonality of style and purpose and repeated cross referencing. They hated the Temple in Jerusalem and kept away from it.

As she moves into the Christian era, her scholarship becomes stronger, as one would expect from a former Catholic nun. One has to admire her breadth of knowledge of the New Testament texts and Christian history. If only she would refrain from being so dogmatic in some of her assertions, and admit of the lack of certainty on so many issues she seems to take as gospel.
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