Customer Review

58 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars nice work, not up to her usual standard, July 7, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis (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.
Armstrong does not try however to reconstruct the true history of the events that Genesis describes. She spends most of the book speculating on the psychology of the protagonists (including God) as revealed in the Genesis story. In doing this, she is scathingly critical of nearly everyone. Noah is castigated as a drunkard and child abuser, Abraham as a bad father (because he rejected Ishmael and traumatized Isaac for life by nearly killing him), Isaac as an all-round loser, and Joseph as an arrogant ___. Jacob receives an especially bad press, mainly because of his bad treatment of his senior wife Leah and his cold indifference to his daughter's rape. God is not spared! Armstrong points out, with ruthless logic, that his behavior in Genesis can be judged as incompetent, unfair and even evil.
Bottom-line: while Armstrong's scholarship and logic are as always superb, it is important to remember that she is presenting an openly subjective and speculative analysis, with which the reader is free to agree or disagree. However, no reader can come away from this book without a better understanding of Genesis. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read the Bible, whether as a devout believer (Jew or Christian or Muslim) or as a curious agnostic.
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