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In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis
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In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  346 ratings  ·  37 reviews
BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.

In this fascinating book by the author of A History of God and Jerusalem, one of the best-known and least-understood books of the Bible is clarified for modern readers. Armstrong shows readers how the ancient tales of the Creation, the Fall, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jac
ebook, 208 pages
Published August 10th 2011 by Ballantine Books (first published 1996)
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Lee Harmon
This is not a new book, but it’s one I enjoyed and want to share. It’s short, especially so when half the book is a reprint of the text of Genesis, which, surely, no one reads.

This is the story of the Bible’s first book, raw and unchurched. Karen introduces us one by one to the characters and their stories, making no effort to turn them into saints, for they are nothing like the impossibly and depressingly flawless characters we met in Sunday School. Throughout, the authors of Genesis remind us
Beau Johnson
For the person who has never picked up this remarkable book, Armstrong shows that Genesis stands in contrast to the things that frustrate us most about religion. It presents an unafraid and open dialog about justice, answer and questions, certainty, and hope.

Indeed a fresh interpretation of one of my favorite ancient texts, Armstrong sees Genesis through the lens of chapter 32 in which Jacob wrestles with God. She says, "...the editors who put together the final text of Genesis...felt able to in
In this short book, religious author, Karen Armstrong offers her offbeat reflections on the book of Genesis. Armstrong's writings have two consistent themes: (1) God is ineffable; i.e. unknowable and beyond our understanding, and (2) the true sign of religious passion is seen in compassion for the "other. Somehow she works these themes into her reflections. She adds a third theme - that God is inconsistent - to her reflections.

The book is helpful in getting the reader to reflect more deeply on t
From Publishers Weekly
Having written A History of God (1993) and Jerusalem (1996), prolific and bestselling author Armstrong turns her considerable imaginative skill and critical acumen to an interpretation of the first book of the Bible. In a series of short meditations, Armstrong explores each of the major scriptural units in Genesis, from the creation accounts (Genesis 1-3) to the death of Joseph (Genesis 50). In her reflection on and interpretation of Adam and Eve's fall from grace, she note
In general, I like Karen Armstrong's books because she picks a relatively straightforward position and then defends it. In this (very short) book, she's interpreting Genesis as an artifact of the human condition -- that relationships with God are always subject to the lens of human experience.

Her position is that the authors of Genesis deliberately make God "unknowable" - reminding us that attempting to label the divine with human logic, emotion and definitions of "fairness" are going to trip us
Armstrong is her usual self here - scholarly but personal, engaging and convincing. The more I research and teach Genesis, the more I believe a rigorous study of this book, in the way Armstrong advocates, could prevent most of the abuses of religion in the world. If we can only understand that religion and God are far more complex than our personal agendas, and that God is at least as complicated as life is, the more compassion we would have. Unfortunately, far too few people are willing to enga ...more
Angela Joyce
This made so much sense-- not of a book in the Bible that often doesn't make sense, but of how to consider the patterns, themes, and even horrors therein.

Furthermore, anyone who has studied Genesis and secretly thought Noah and Jacob were jerks, while Isaac and Dinah deserved particular sympathy, will find a kindred spirit in this author!
A very enjoyable read that brings a differing viewpoint of a well-known, but misunderstood book of the Bible. Armstrong's thesis is that God is ultimately unknowable and beyond human comprehension, humanity's search for the divine has been equally enlightening and simultaneously frustrating.
Armstrong draws from not only Biblical sources, but also compares it with other prominent Near Eastern mythologies from the time-period.
Possibly the only gripe I have is due to so much material being covere
I love Armstrong's interpretation of Genesis - she does a great job of walking you through Genesis, introducing the characters and stories of the book and providing a coherent interpretation of Genesis that builds through the book. She also - helpfully - included the book of Genesis in the back so that you could refer to it as you read her summaries and interpretations (for those of us that have not memorized it and tend to read in bed this was a lifesaver). A short work (the 120 pages of interp ...more
Armstrong always brings facts and a female perspective to subjects often seen only from the male view. This discussion included some things I had read before, but provides the background needed to understand why the book (Genesis) was written the way it was. The insight on the family relationships in the book was obvious after she pointed it out, but I think we don't see some of this because it's in the Bible. She is right- few of the characters had happy family lives, and there are conflicting ...more
Robert Seeley
Political controversies over creationism and evolution have, unfortunately for all of us, made Genesis appear far more one-dimensional than it is. Armstrong's short book, which grew out of her participation in a PBS discussion series, reminds us that Genesis is not a scientific textbook or a definitive history but an attempt to understand the human condition and the nature of God. As usual, Armstrong's writing is clear, and it repays careful study.
Cedric Rudolph
Armstrong uses current Western views of psychology and ethics to explicate a centuries-old text. From the terse chapters of Genesis, she derives stunning and often-surprising characterizations of the classic archetypes--Noah, Abraham, Lot, Jacob. Some of your favorite Biblical characters may not be your favorites anymore, though, as Armstrong lets everybody have it right between the eyes.
This book brought to me some new reflections on the book of Genesis and how it can be interpreted.
In her exploration into the text the 'fictional' characteristics come into center view, and I can see other reflections in the light of it being a fictional work, with the use of events and characters to lighten issues with the self. To me, this makes the Bible much more in the present.
Armstrong, one of our best writers on religion, wrote this book after becoming involved in the Bill Moyers PBS series about Genesis. She takes an interesting look at the patriarchs as leaders of essentially dysfunctional families and asks what we can learn from them (the answer is, a lot). It is a book that will certainly make you think about Genesis in ways you never have before.
I read this book three times back to back. It is certainly an interesting interpretation and gives one a great deal to ponder upon. At one point I thought we were heading for the Machion heresy but the author neatly steered her way past that and gives a different insight into the workings of God and his relationship with his creation. Well worth the read.
Amazing essays that made me look at the stories that have been repeated to me since I was a toddleron Sunday school with a fresh eye. Armstrong is not afraid to ask tough questions, or admit that there aren't always definitive answers for those questions. I wish she did one of these little books for every book of the Bible.
Frank Roberts
I love the book of Genesis, and I love new readings and commentaries on it. Armstrong's brief essays emphasize the sort of religious feeling that has become meaningful to me: the struggle with the Divine, as epitomized by Jacob's wrestling with the angel.
Martin Patrick
Armstrong's "new interpretation" may raise the eyebrows of some people and get their brain thinking, but halfway through I've found nothing incredibly insightful. She is a very good writer though, this short book could be quite helpful to some.
This was very good. She relates the story of Genesis with all the dysfunctional families. Families who manage all the same to send their religion on to us. It is helpful that she includes the Book of Genesis at the end.
Rebecca Parme
Great book - I've read this book for the past 3 years when I read the book of Genesis. I love the way Ms. Armstrong interprets this book of the Bible - really makes me think. I wish she did this for every book in the Bible!
Peggy Lo
It was pretty good but I wished it had more historical social background as her book on the Bible did. It look at Genesis through the lens of examining the human psyche rather than reading it as a historical text or linear story.
Kathy Hurd
A women's interpretation of gensis. She follows the interpretation with the "orginal" story. This really helped explain some parts of the bible and biblical history for a "non believer."
Interesting, although by no means definitive. It does suggest a different way, certainly not conventional, to read the Book of Genesis. Not scholarly as there are very few endnotes.
'In the Beginning' shows us a book of Genesis that is powerful, mythical, and non-literal - a rich, often dark & strange world full of stories of deep meaning and equally deep confoundment.
Another interesting read. Armstrong takes Genesis and breaks it down, giving historical context, explaining where myth takes over, and what those myths may have meant.
Sep 02, 2011 Aaron rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in an intelligent critique of the Christian Bible.
What an interesting book. Armstrongs analytical analysis of the Christian Bible is both intelligent and compelling.
A really great way into one of the most troublesome books of the Bible, with Armstrong's clear style and solid sense.
Fascinating re-reading and exegesis of Genesis. I love Karen Armstrong. She is brilliant and thoughtful.
John E
Nothing much happening here folks, just keep moving along. Bill Moyer's book is much better.
Easy read, interesting interpretations. Not as deep or complex as some of her other works
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British author of numerous works on comparative religion.


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More about Karen Armstrong...
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Islam: A Short History The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness The Case for God The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism

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