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The Idea of the Holy [Paperback]

R. Otto , John W. Harvey
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 31, 1958 0195002105 978-0195002102 2
Since the English translation first appeared in 1923, Rudolf Otto's volume has established itself as a classic in the field of religious philosophy. It offers an in-depth inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the rational.

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The Idea of the Holy + The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion + Dynamics of Faith (Perennial Classics)
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Editorial Reviews


"This translation has firmly established its position as an authoritative and lucid representation of an acknowledged classic of religious thought."--London Quarterly Review

Product Details

  • Series: Galaxy Books (Book 14)
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (December 31, 1958)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195002105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195002102
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
166 of 171 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic worth reading March 15, 2001
C.S. Lewis once wrote, "I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand." This pronouncement applies to Rudolf Otto's classic The Idea of the Holy (which Lewis had read.) This book explores the esoteric and ineffable, and is best approached with a pen or pencil in hand to underline passages and write in the margins. It is not a lengthy book (less than 200 pages in the edition I own) but chewing the sinewy theology takes some work to digest.
Traditional theology has usually concerned itself with doctrine, with focus on the rational aspects of God. Otto, following the tradition of mystics, gave careful consideration to an oft-neglected aspect of theology: the non-rational aspects of God. In doing so, he coined the word "numinous" to depict that which transcends or eludes comprehension in rational terms. It suggests that which is holy, awesome, and 'wholly other.' He also applies the expression "mysterium tremendum" to the numinous, describing that which is hidden, esoteric, beyond conception or understanding, awe-inspiring, fear-instilling or uncanny, an absolute overpoweringness of an ineffable transcendent Reality.
Otto illustrates his concepts with scripture passages such as Isaiah 6, where the vision of the Lord and his robe filled the temple. God's holiness overwhelmed Isaiah, who cried, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.
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78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
By Ryan
Few theological books have made the impact on the fields of theology and philosophy that this one has. Its impact and importance are for good reason.
"The Idea of the Holy" is not a terribly long book, but it is certainly not a casual or quick read. It is not aimed at a popular audience, and for many people it will require a dictionary close at hand.
In this book Otto embarks on the paradoxical task of describing the incomprehensible qualities of God. It is not written as a Systematic Theology categorizing doctrines that can be deduced from Scripture. Rather, it describes philosophically what it means for God to be "wholly other", or transcendent. Often the technical language is difficult to process and the ideas are not simple ones to grasp, but still it is worth wrestling with.
As Otto describes the Mysterium Tremendum, he examines the emotional response of humans as we encounter God in his Holiness. The reader is reminded of the Awe-Inspiring God who we claim to believe in and serve. This is perhaps the most memorable and humbling aspect of the book.
Take a copy of this book on a long trip and spend some time with it. Expect it to be difficult and when you're tempted to quit... keep reading!
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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Knocked Off Your Horse March 21, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book, first published in 1917, is rightly regarded as a classic of religious philosophy.

Otto's great contribution to Christianity was to assert the importance of a non-rational approach to the divine. Christianity, which is the most dogmatic and moralistic of the major world religions, needed the corrective. Otto created the word "numinous" to stand for the sense of a divine presence that operates beyond rational understanding. He also coined the term "mysterium tremendum" to connote the inchoate sense of awe and dread that humans feel in the presence of the divine. To him, both of these ideas were essential to a full expression of the religious spirit.

One reaction to this book over the years goes something like this: either you've been knocked off your horse like St Paul, in which case you already have a direct experience of the numinous, or you haven't. Why bother to analyze something that by its very nature can't be put into words? Here Otto makes a subtle but crucial distinction. He's not talking about a numinous feeling, but about a feeling of the numinous. In other words, the numinous exists out there, not inside us, so we can approach it as an object to be observed and, at least by analogy to the sensations it excites with us, described.

Otto didn't reject the rational, though. Without rationality, he says, we can't have belief, only feelings. In his view of religion, the rational and non-rational interpenetrate each other like the warp and woof of a fabric, which can't be separated without destroying the very garment it makes. He points out several times that fully understanding the non-rational conception of god deepens our rational religious ideas.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
This magnificent book is a neglected classic. The concept of "numinous" would be so satisfying to any intelligent person at the end/beginning of the millenium. The chapters "The Holy as a Category of Value", "The Numinous in the Old Testament", "The Numinous in the New Testament" and the "The Numinous in Luther"--with its great analysis of Plato, are deeply insightful, even life-changing. And the appendices are great--so learned, so relevant.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strange, But Important, Read
Many of the ideas in this book, such as the difference between terror and horror, are seminal and cannot be overlooked by anyone interested in the deep things of God. Read more
Published 9 days ago by Scáth
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional book even after 80 years on the numinous ...
An exceptional book even after 80 years on the numinous and the other in the life of the believer
Published 9 days ago by Canon Carla Archer
5.0 out of 5 stars Golden Oldie
This is a golden oldie I had never got around to reading though I've seen it quoted a lot. I thought it was great -- remarkably "modern" considering when and where it was... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Marysc
5.0 out of 5 stars perfect
the product was just as told by the seller. Great book. Although if you have never had any experience with meditation the book will be a waste of time for you.
Published 1 month ago by elias
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult, Dry, and Deficient
Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), a German professor of theology, is considered by many to be one of the foremost writers on the theory of mysticism. I'm not one of the many. Read more
Published 1 month ago by L. Ron Gardner
3.0 out of 5 stars Good
Good service but book has not the same look as it is shown. That was not what i was expecting
Published 4 months ago by Ji Lee
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh, yes, the Mysterium Termendum!
Wanted to find out where the nomenclature for this phenomenon, which I have experienced, evolved. Can't say I agree with Otto's conclusion. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Larry Walters
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic insights
Much of the discourse on religion and spirituality that I hear around congregations and in reading groups is grounded in concepts and meanings articulated in this classic... Read more
Published 13 months ago by GreenKat
5.0 out of 5 stars On The Idea of the Holy
The word Holy (in Hebrew, Kadosh) is often used in many contexts, but escapes simple definition. Otto discusses this very important concept; although I am Jewish and not Christian,... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Lawrence Horwitz
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fundamental Work in Twentieth Century Religious Thinking
I first read "The Idea of the Holy" while I was in college in the mid sixties. While preparing an essay on religious experience recently, I re-ordered this book and, on... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Curmudgeon in the Kitchen
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