- Hardcover: 460 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; First American Edition edition (September 28, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679426000
- ISBN-13: 978-0679426004
- Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (488 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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History Of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam First American Edition Edition
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
I really loved how this book explained how religion came into existence! There were some fasinating views of history that I throughly enjoyed!!! A very eye opening read.
To me, being raised in a strict Baptist home (thank God I broke free), this book would really be a good read for any christian to understand their bible better, understand how their religion came about, and to get an open opinion/understanding of other religions. That being said, the things I found confusing in the book are
A) I have a very hard time with Arabic words and ideas. With that in mind, at some points, it was very hard to understand the Muslim chapters. Names were very hard to pronounce and ideas were hard to understand. . . which in turn made that certain chapter very boring and hard to read through cause I was only able to pick up on some parts. . . but agin very educational!
B) Some of the Greek chapters were hard to understand as well. Not the concepts, but more trying to read through all the names. I was actually on a tour of Greece when reading this so it was still very helpful.
All in all, I felt like this book was a step ahead of my own reading level (which is pretty high). There were a lot of things in it that were hard to understand. There were 3 chapters in the book, I ended up just skimming through cause they were hard for me to understand . . but the rest of the book was AMAZNG! I think if anyone can just grasp a couple things from the harder chapters then the rest of the book is totally worth it! It's filled with amazing facts and accounts of history. It even has maps of the areas it discuses from the ancient timeline it discuses . . which I think it would be a great tool to use when reading a Bible and trying to figure out places in it.
I chose not to keep this book in my own personal collection, because it's probably not something I would read again, but it was a great read and I'm happy I chose to experience it. . . and I passed it on to someone who would had the same intrestet as I did.
~ Chapters 1-2 (In The Beginning, One God).
The author begins by exploring the most primitive conceptions of the divine. She delves into the Axial Age (800 - 200 BCE) and explains the Aristotelian god, Buddhism conceptions (Nirvana, Atman, Brahman), the old polytheistic pagan religions, and the important revelations and that have become expedient in the doctrines and worship of the major religions of the world today (Moses, Abraham, etc). Also - and perhaps most importantly - the author explains how monotheism and the praising of one god came about.
~ Chapters 3-5 (A Light to the Gentiles, Trinity: The Christian God, Unity: The God of Islam)
As you can probably expect, these chapters explore the roots of the major Abrahamic religions. It is interesting to see the trials and tribulations each one endured. You can expect to read about the evolution of ideas between the religions, how they relate to each other, and their ever-evolving conceptions of outsiders.
~ Chapters 6-8 (The God of the Philosophers, The God of the Mystics, A God for Reformers)
Perhaps the most interesting sections of the text. In these chapters, history is amalgamated with philosophy: the author explores the 3 major conceptions of God, with how they came about, and then ties them to their implications, doctrines, and perceptions. To explain each briefly: The God of the philosophers came about when God got caught up in the mix of philosophy. As civilizations started to advance, philosophers took it upon themselves to look at and try to prove the existence of God rationally. The philosopher's God was one that can be proven through inquiry and rational thought, and one that should be liable to discourse. For some time many religious sects adopted this game plan for God, for example, the Faylasufs. The God of the Mystics was an alternative: it can not be proven through rational thought because it lay beyond experiment and observation. The God of the Mystics was one that could be felt deep inside us, and in nature, even though it's essence itself was impenetrable. The God for Reformers is a more contemporary, personal, and rule imposing entity. This God was used to reform certain societies and their norms; it was the centerpiece for theocratic empires.
~ Chapters 9-11 (Enlightenment, The Death of God?, Does God Have a Future?)
If there's history in any sense in these chapters, it is not the main goal of them. These chapters talk about the enlightenment era with its advent of science and technology. This was the time in history where discoveries were made that shattered preconceived conceptions of the physical world, the solar system, and most importantly our place in it. This was the time where we really started to discover that perhaps life does not have any divine meaning, and by observing natural phenomenon we come to see that there is also no purpose. For the first time, it was possible to become an Atheist. Many prominent intellectuals came to abhor the idea of a creator, or master engineer, that that twists and turns the knobs of life and discriminately favors some while punishing others. Much of the general public had severe reservations of how personal God was, and can be, just like the Mystics and the Buddhists. Is God dead? The New Right Christian movement of the late 20th century doesn't seem to portend to any fatality of superstition. Does God Have a Future? Who knows. Apparently the author believes that the God of the Mystics does, which I discuss below.
I must concede that what is so prolific about the book is the author's candor. In her sentiment you can detect of a whiff of fate, and thus reckon her intrapersonal disappointment in her tone, but she nevertheless casts her emotions aside to justly display the truth. Much sections of the book reads as if it was written by an atheist. But this doesn't mean that she didn't purvey her opinions. Often you can extrapolate her convictions on matters by the way she alludes to it and by what (I almost said 'who', but that would have been incorrect) she chooses to quote. I'm not an expert on religious matters, but she seemed to be objective - atleast in motivation - for the most part when explicating and trying to explain God's history. I believe that for the most part, such a goal (i.e. objectivity) is not feasible. In the history of divinity and religion; with it's prophets and revelations; there are too many uncertainties to be able to explain these topics without a substantial amount of subjectivity. The whole religious enterprise seems to be subjective. This isn't an existential rejoinder, but an observational truth. It's possible for such experiences to be "real", in the non-materialist and neuron-void sense, but it is not plausible. There is admittedly not a complete material understanding of consciousness and the brain, but there is a fairly adequate scientific understanding of it that takes dominion over the archaic notions of Dualism and non-material "magic" that so many intellectuals have resorted (or succumbed) to in the past when explaining subjective experience and the human mind. It seems that the author, Karen Armstrong, doesn't seem to understand this and I think the contemplative reader is ultimately left in the midst when trying to string together her "God", the one that would purportedly work in the future. She rejects a personal God, and denotes such an idea as unjustifiable, dangerous, and detrimental to religion. So then wouldn't she be a deist? She speaks a lot about deism but doesn't seem to allude to being a deist, per se. She seems to be enthralled by the God of the mystics; the one that lacks shape or form, that can't be anthropomorphized, and is all around us; and that's attainable through introspective practices. She doesn't mention it, but if she doesn't believe that this God created the universe, and is knowledgeable incorporeal entity, than what is the point of God? She seems to insinuate that you need such belief or faith because it attenuates the inner conflict of struggle and inevitable death, but this conclusion is parochial in nature and it does not deserve any kind of fidelity.
I would also like to mention, as other reviewers did before me, that she seems to paint Islam in good light. She is in no way a Muslim, but perhaps she felt propelled to be a little persuasive in tonality when speaking on behalf of Islamic religion and Koranic scripture because of prevailing vitriol and inflicted cultural subjectivity in the Western portrait of Islam. This of course was around the time the book was published (1991), and i'm sure although Islam deserves much of it, many academics nevertheless go overboard; that is, doing it fallaciously; in demonizing it. The problem is that Armstrong's fervor shows in this aspect, and often seems to undermine and juxtapose the other major monotheistic religions which seems like an effort to bring them down just to enhance the comparative look of Islam. At one point she seems to blame the downfall of what used to be an open-minded and rationally motivated religion (i.e. Islam) on the Westernization of Islamic territory through Colonialism. This seems like a feeble attempt to deposit blame on other things while simply ignoring requisite facts of an (or at least what came to be an) inherently destructive religion. Maybe some positive light needed to be shedded, because anything that is entirely bad doesn't last long. Even though Islam may have, or have had, some good tenets, I still remain a little skeptical of its exegesis in this text.
Note that when I say "seems that the author, Karen Armstrong, doesn't seem to understand this...", i'm coming from my pre-conceived conviction in the fidelity of Materialism (which is what I meant by "this"). In other words, I'm assuming it to be the truth, which many people - especially readers of this book - wouldn't adhere to. Even though I don't necessarily agree with everything the author has to say, the text itself was engaging and I sincerely enjoyed reading it. There is a lot of information to be gleaned and I do recommend it. It deserves a high rating.
Do you get the point? Armstrong takes you on a tour of the "Big Three" (Judaism, Islam and Christianity). You will feel like you've taken a course in theology and history and comparative religions by the time you get to the end of this book. If you believe in God, or god, or gods, or if you just want to know something, facts, history, etc., then read this book. Take your time. Do it over a few weeks. I read a chapter at each sitting (that was all that my mind could handle).