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The Bible: A Biography Paperback – Jul 14 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre (July 14 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1553654250
  • ISBN-13: 978-1553654254
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2 x 19.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #62,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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 the Hardcover edition.

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 the Hardcover edition.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Observer on April 26 2010
Format: Paperback
I am admittedly a fan of Karen Armstrong and find that her books never disappoint. Writing a treatise on the bible fits beautifully with her other dissertations such as 'A History of God' and 'The Great Transformation'. Our journey in pursuit of the creation of the Good Book takes us through the various stages from earliest antiquity to the present. However, it is more than a mere history of its formation, as it also introduces us to the development of styles in reading and understanding scripture. We are reminded that scripture doesn't directly impart information about God but rather evokes sacred truths that can guide our lives if we allow them to flourish within us. As always Ms. Armstrong expertly brings us to a better, more educated understanding of what religion is all about. Anyone interested in the development of our society will be sure to find something of interest in this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard J. Smith on Feb. 14 2010
Format: Paperback
I`ve been a fan of Karen Armstrong for many years and always look forward to her latest publication. In a world that sometimes appears chaotic and unstable Ms Armstrong voice has a calming influence. With this publication she has once more put things into a proper perspective. Whether you look at the historical perspective of the Bible or how it is perceived by some in the present Ms Armstrong provides a basis from which you can grasp the significance of the meanings the Bible has held for some and the impact it has had on them and the world. Amen.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By James Gallen TOP 100 REVIEWER on Nov. 16 2008
Format: Paperback
This book provides an overview of the story of the Bible, not the text itself, but how it was written, how the canon was selected and how it has been interpreted and used over the centuries. Spanning the millennia from the writing to the present, it gives a view of the place of the Bible in the world that is often missing when reading about a particular book or thene of the Scriptures.

Author Karen Armstrong introduces, or reminds, the reader, about the sources of the Old and New Testament, the multiple authors of Isaiah and the way the Bible shaped the Jewish self-image. As it progresses, she cites comments by many writers, Christian and Jewish, including Sts. Augustine and Jerome, Martin Luther and many others.

I have read a fair amount about the Bible (see my Listmania, "Thinking of God") but I learned things I had not previously known. From my perspective, telling the story in a continuum is the most helpful aspect of this book. For one who has studied the Bible less deeply, it will provide a good introduction.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Bible: A Biography" provides the reader with an overview of the life of the book that shaped the Western World. A book, like a person or a community has a life, a story of how it was created, used and the effects it has had on the culture which it nourished. The Bible's story is like no other.

Author Karen Armstrong leads the reader through the process which created the Bible. A work compiled over centuries, it is a blend of Old and New Testament traditions. Gradually the unconnected books came to be recognized as sacred and were collected into canons which were finally defined in early Christian centuries. As readers of my Amazon reviews are aware, I have read much about the Bible but this book still taught me new things. For example, I was unaware that the Gospels initially circulated anonymously before acquiring the names by which we know them today.

Karen Armstrong not only explains how the Bible was formed, but how it shaped the cultures that used it. We read about the role it played in the development of Post-Temple Israel, its influence on intellectual thought in the Middle Ages and how modern social movements draw inspiration and support for this book.

Although "The Bible" is short, it does give the reader a deeper appreciation of its subject. For someone, like me, who is knowledgeable about the Bible but not an expert, it educates without overwhelming.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 124 reviews
232 of 246 people found the following review helpful
Great overview Oct. 14 2007
By Amazon Customer - Published on
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!
91 of 101 people found the following review helpful
Resurrection of the Good Book Dec 17 2008
By Smith's Rock - Published on
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.

By tracing the Abrahamic roots of biblical religions, tracking the gradual coalescence of religious writings that would eventually become the Bible, and giving a thorough AND thrilling history of the way Western faithful have reacted to Sacred Scripture, Armstrong made me, and might make you, want to again pick up a book that seems more often used for hitting people over their theological or political heads than inspiring compassion and cohesion. Armstrong's closing comments strongly belie the negative reviewer comments about her "attacking the Bible". Armstrong does nothing of the sort. She breathes life and hope into a book that has more often been used, of late, as a theological/political, anti-scientific football than a source of spiritual enrichment and growth. Read with a spirit of inquiry, Armstrong's The Bible, A Biography, is a resurrection, a healthy dose of CPR, for a Good Book that is dusty, unoriginal, dated, and often brutal when taken literally (except for the sexy parts, of which there are more than a few). Armstrong's book can't make The Bible into Chicken Soup for the Atheist, but it does make The Bible rich and enticing, even to those who are more concerned about freedom FROM religion than freedom OF Religion. Doubt me? Give it a whirl, we'll chat afterwards.
62 of 71 people found the following review helpful
Armstrong delivers what can not be found anywhere else Feb. 13 2009
By Leopold Boeckl - Published on
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. What Armstrong is doing in her works, and this book in particular, will be understood later in history as having been on the same footing as what Guttenberg did with the printing press for the bible or what Martin Luther did when he translated the good book into his native language for all of his countryman to read. The importance of making this historical information available to all of us, the common everyday people can not possibly be under rated.

Armstrong writes so powerfully and with such care and precision that one also wonders whether or not she is creating new insight for the many which might someday either be incorporated or by itself seen as having the majesty of the Vedas, Psalms, Koran and several other seminal spiritual texts. Given the current state of spirituality in the world this may seem far fetched but from the perspective of where new spirituality is headed it is conceivable, more so than one might initially suspect.

The scope of this book is so large that Armstrong can not go into the level of detail equally for each subject area. However what she does for us this time is to leave markers with individual names and dates so that one could delve further into an area which further interests them. I personally am such a fan that I could read 10,000 page offering from Armstrong on this subject and still be left wanting for more. I am hopeful that she may construct future writings in such a way where we will be able to bolt them together for the production of detailed grand view of agricultural eras contributions in spirituality to our world. On a personal note, I would dearly love to see and read Armstrong take on the all of it. From the hunter-gatherer era, through the agricultural era up into the current industrial era. She has touched on the inherited structures from the hunter-gatherer world views in previous works spanning the Fareast and Near East. She also touched on the industrial eras main focus for the leading edge thinkers when she briefly discusses Kant, Hegel and Feuerbach in this book (the rise of social governmental systems). Therefore I have no doubt that she clearly sees the direction that all of this is headed from a future facing perspective. The implications in understanding the direction for humanities evolving world views requires no further qualification on import for us today. However even without such a book, Armstrong's legacy is in helping us construct an understanding for the trajectory of humanities spirituality. We hope she continues her work well into the future!!!!!
72 of 84 people found the following review helpful
More Curates Eggs May 4 2008
By Robert Feather - Published on
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. As the book progresses we drift more and more away from a Biography of the Bible into a highly knowledgeable, and often interesting dissertation, on commentary from outside sources. There are diversions into, what can only be described as backwaters of Bible evolution, like Kabbalah, which she, in my view, gives far too much prominence to. The Bible has certainly been an evolving creation, and she rightly comments that Talmudic studies continue this evolutionary process. I would contend that the Koran is an evolutionary development of the Bible and as such should have been a major consideration in assessing the Hebrew-Christian texts. From someone who has done so much valuable work in Muslim areas, in helping to bring ideas and people together this is an even more surprising omission.

Books by well-known authors tend to be viewed automatically as being as good as their predecessor. They should be viewed on their own merits, and this book is lacking in comparison to her previous works. It also reflects poorly on the editors of Atlantic Books as well as the back cover reviewers; Hugh MacDonald, of the Glasgow Herald; Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Sunday Times; Edward Norman, Literary Review. They are clearly not experts in this field, although one could equally blame their editors for asking them to review such a complex work. Would you ask a gereralist to review a book on gardening? Better to ask the gardening columnist, or if there isn't one, bring in an expert from outside.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A big fan of Karen Armstrong, but this is not her best work. Oct. 15 2011
By Mary C. Romaniec - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have read several other books by Karen Armstrong and have found her to be insightful and respectful of historical and religious understandings. This book, however, is rife with agnostic chauvinism that is somewhat antagonistic to the reader. She asserts with a measure of certainty that Exodus did not happen, early Christians are known as the "Jesus group" and the lives of Abraham and Moses are relegated to being almost mythological. Jesus, in fact, is given less attention than the rabbis of Kabbalah, which seemed disproportionate in measure of importance.

By comparison her books about Mohammad and Buddha and The History of God, are far better in their historical perspective. She also does not demean the reader in these books by putting forth as much personal conjecture as she does in The Bible. Because this book is so different from the other books I have to wonder if it was the work of her editor, and not her original writing style. Either way I would love to see Karen update and strengthen the context of this book because I believe the subject matter is important.