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The Bible (Library Edition): A Biography (Books That Changed the World)

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  1,660 ratings  ·  217 reviews
As the work at the heart of Christianity, the Bible is the spiritual guide for one out of every three people in the world. It is also the world's most widely distributed book-it has been translated into over 2,000 languages-and the world's best-selling book, year after year. But the Bible is a complex work with a complicated and obscure history. Made up of sixty-six "books ...more
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Published November 27th 2007 by Tantor Media (first published January 1st 2007)
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Riku Sayuj

On Reading The Holy Texts: A Plea

The basic historical account of Armstrong’s fits nicely with the Aslan take and also elaborates it for the reader, both into the pre-christian past dealing with the consolidation of the old testament and the post-‘christo’ development of the holy texts.

In addition, this account gives a less detailed, and yet more comprehensive picture of this whole undertaking - it shows that Aslan might have tried to wind up his popular-history too fast and slacked on the detai
It is astonishing how much history Armstrong packs into a small space. While I am sure she knows her stuff, the brevity of coverage makes it impossible to independently evaluate her statements. For example, was Augustine's theory of original sin really inspired by the sacking of Rome? My other complaint is more a weakness of my own mind than of Armstrong's writing. I believe that approximately two weeks from now, I will not be able to remember the difference between the theology of Abelard and t ...more
I bought this on a whim in the bookstore at O'Hare and read much of it on the plane. I thought it was a very good summary of the history of the Bible, from origins in oral tradition to contemporary phenomena such as a literal reading. It was particularly good on outlining the differences in approach in Jewish and Christian traditions. As in her other books, Armstrong strikes a nice balance between critical analysis and broad understanding of the non-rational aspects of religious thought and trad ...more
This book is a 120 mph speed race through . . . what? I guess how people have approached the Bible over the past couple of thousand years? I think it is a shallow book and poorly put together. To me, it feels as if the author simply shuffled her index cards, lined them up, and copied them. I felt I was reading a text that has all of the interest of an online computer manual.

This is a book that talks about the Bible and how it's been interpreted, but actually does not give one "real life" example
I really wanted to learn something from this book. But my problem is – how do I know what I've learned? Armstrong presents many controversial theories, but just states them as declared fact. Nowhere does she explain the evidence that led her to those theories or any alternative views. Primary sources are limited in several chapters and no academic research is cited. I'm not even aware whether she's done any of her own academic research, or whether she just repeating the popular material of the p ...more
This book, a biography of the Bible, is very informative and it covers from the beginning of the Old Testament to the present time. I've never read a book before that talks about how the Old Testament canon was chosen, so that was very interesting. Armstong shows the different schools of thought that existed back in ancient Isreal. I was surprised how little time she spent on how the New Testament canon was chosen. Instead Armstrong concentrated on the many different ways of approaching scriptur ...more
Feb 06, 2008 Beckie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves the Old Manse
Karen Armstrong is among my top five religion scholars, and also probably my top five former nuns. She does a good job of making complicated history and theory comprehensible. At least one chapter of "The Bible: a Biography" pretty well summed up a semester-long class I had, and the book sweeps through history from ancient Israel through the present.
It's also worth noting that Armstrong traces the Jewish perspective on the Bible throughout that whole period, where many authors focus exclusively
Jon Stout
Mar 02, 2011 Jon Stout rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: atheists and believers
Shelves: religion
Like everything that Karen Armstrong touches, this work is exhaustive and erudite and wonderful. It does not summarize what is in the Bible, but rather is a broad scope history of how the Bible was written and how it has been interpreted unto the present day. The treatment supports Armstrong’s general theme that world religions do not offer a body of beliefs to be factually evaluated, but rather a way of life, a spiritual discipline including rites and rituals, which can only be evaluated by bei ...more
Ned Mozier
I found this illuminating, as I always do Armstrong's books, for its careful yet lively writing style. She makes history and scholarship come alive. Predominant themes are how the written word has been used as guide and history and since the enlightenment the book known as the bible has been subjected to the criticisms and a level of literalism for which it was not intended. Her writing style is superb and she has an experts level of understanding of ancient tomes and history and context. Three ...more
Wendy Jackson
Mar 02, 2008 Wendy Jackson rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All who want know more about the book their base their very lives on!
This was another helpful book by one of my favorite authors--Karen Armstrong. In it she traces the history of the Bible and its interpretation. As usual, Armstrong did a wonderful job. I only gave it 4 stars because, unlike all of her other books, it didn't really provide me with any new information/ideas. If you've never really studied the history of the Bible; however, I would highly recommend this introduction. I loved this quote from the epilogue:

"Making sense of the utterances and behavior
The book seems to be making a very convincing case against literal interpretation of the Bible. It takes us through ages of its development, adding and deleting texts, their interpretation and re-interpretation; from its origins in the Torah, through the Old Testament, the New Testament, to the Christian Bible.

One of its main points seems to be that the Bible was never meant to be read literally, as it contains both logos and mythos. Mythos is '...not intended to be factual.. it was concerned w
Dec 28, 2007 Katherine rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the bible curious
This is really a fascinating book on the Bible, a short biography of the book itself, how it came into being, and the religious movements around it. Armstrong's explanations of who shaped it and why are clear and easy to follow, even without having an extensive religious background. Her take on U.S. fundamentalists is deservingly harsh and welcome, but it's interesting to see how their views, wacky as they are, don't seem as wacky compared with all the other drastic changes that have happened as ...more
Sarah Clarke-Smith
Karen Armstrong tends to be a little on the squishy/feel good side as far as arguments go, but as a former nun, she knows the Bible. I clearly don't. Besides learning how little I know about the bible and its history, this book convinced me that I can no longer believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, nor do I believe that the bible is the word of God, more like the words of Paul and several other Jewish men. I appreciate Armstrong's reasonable view of the purpose of religion and where it goes w ...more
Laura Debenham
Fascinating look at the ultimate read. The author wrote this bio of the bible as if it were a person and not a book. It tells of all of it's adventures through different cultures and how it turned out to be what it is. I really enjoyed it.

The focus seemed to be to help people understand that the bible isn't necessarily truth. Reading this book after teaching two years of college level religion courses, one on the old testament and one on the new, I had the experience of understanding just how po
I loved this book. It gives a very simple account (as much of it can be simple) of a very complicated history. Although, when I picked it up I thought there would be more explanation of how the bible was put together, what got put in and why and what was thrown out i.e. the 7th Ecumenical Council. What this book is more about, is how the Bible was interpreted, used, and viewed throughout the ages. And this history is fascinating. I think the most fascinating chapters were the beginning chapters ...more
Karen Armstrong is a great purveyor/interpreter/teacher of religious history and this book (an awe-inspiring task, to write a "biography" of the Bible in a couple hundred pages) is no exception. She concentrates on the liberality in methods of interpretation that were encouraged throughout history and (some might say) over-emphasizes that in an attempt to counter fundamentalist notions as the "real" interpretation. I will most likely be checking out other entries in this series of "Books That Ch ...more
A good cultural history of the Bible. An important reminder of the long history of biblical interpretation, both Jewish and Christian. Most public pronouncements about the Bible assume that the only possible way to interpret it is literally--the Bible must be 100% factually true or it's worthless. We no longer discuss the Bible in public so much as argue about whether or not it's factually accurate. Armstrong does a good job of reminding us that this fundamentalism is very recent (nineteenth cen ...more
Less a biography of the Bible, but of the way the Bible has been interpreted and experienced through the ages. Use the glossary - it goes at quite a pace but it is very enlightening. Redemptionist fundamentalism is a relatively new thing and actually is based on an approach to understanding quite unlike any approach to reading the Bible before the late 19th Century Americans gained influence. A splendid cry for interfaith dialogue and for a return to reflection and inspiration within the context ...more
Andrew Lee
Got this off a list and it seemed interesting enough for the deal. I burned through it pretty fast however. Despite the name, it's more of a quick guide, hitting on some major plot points throughout the existence of the Holy Bible.

It begins with some great histories of the ancient Jews and how their experiences had changed their views and the eventual need for written works to compliment the oral traditions. To a relative newcomer to this subject of studying the bible from purely hi
Leila Mota
The Bible is the spiritual guide for one out of every three people in the world. It is also the world’s most widely distributed book and its best-selling, with an estimated six billion copies sold in the last two hundred years.

But one of the big problemas to deal with it is that it has been transformed by translation and interpretations from various religions, denominations, and sects.

Historian Karen Armstrong discusses the reunion of texts called the 'Bible', since its conception till our days
Chris Armer
I really enjoy Karen. She is a wealth of information and makes me think. In this book Karen presents an overview of the Bible from the lens of historical criticism. I especially enjoyed chapter 4 that described the interpretation and development of the Scriptures in Judaism. Understanding Judaic interpretation helps to make sense of the fact that the same liberty was taken in interpretation of the OT by the New Testament writers. Then Karen addresses the interpretive model of the early church fa ...more
A good counterpoint to my current course on the Anthropology of Religion. Not much that was new to me, and the first half was a bit of a dry historical rendition, but as Armstrong brought the issues into modern times it became much more interesting. I’m fascinated by the idea that the Bible has influenced so many for so long.
Janet Eshenroder
Obviously this is not a book for those who believe the Bible they currently read was written down "as is," the exact word of God, and therefore its words must be interpreted literally. I assume most people who chose this book already are used to the idea of multiple translations and reinterpretations and will find the history fascinating. For those seeking a deeper understanding of the Bible, and a personal awakening to its truths, this book offers new insights.

The author gives us a general but
Sort of a rehash of History of God - but she does delve into the changing interpretation of the Bible and the impact of Higher Criticism on Christianity and Judaism and then the subsequent backlash of fundamentalism in the post-WWI and II eras. Skims the surface of an impenetrably deep pool.
An accessible, if somewhat biased, overview of how people of faith have viewed, understood, and interpreted the Bible over time. A good introduction to the changing views of the Bible over time, and among different groups. She does tend to focus on marginal views at times to the exclusion of the dominant view. A quote from the epilogue perhaps sums up her approach and viewpoint best: "The modern habit of quoting proof-texts to legitimize policies and rulings is out of key with interpretive tradi ...more
I learned alot about the bible and how it came to be and has been interpreted over the years. I loved seeing how my own perceptions and ideas about the bible fit into the different historical contexts and it made me even more freaked out about fundamentalists.
A. J.
Fabulous topic. Author's style makes it like trying to see through peanut butter. I have read several of her books and usually like them. This is work to get through and while doing such... I find it difficult to stop and say what I just read or learned.
Fascinating book. Clear and well written with a particular agenda that comes to the fore in the epilogue. The Bible is a construct - more interesting because of that - and any literal interpretion is as much a modern construct as it is spiritually damaging.
at times difficult and a bit boring, but interesting look at the history of the bible/torah/koran and the 'characters' that wrote and studied them. reminds you that these texts are written by people!!
Armstrong's 1993 "A History of God" brilliantly distilled the intellectual history of monotheism into one superbly readable volume. Then her 1994 "A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam" was highly acclaimed, stunningly popular - a superbly readable exploration of how the three dominant monotheistic religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have shaped and altered the conception of God. Armstrong traces the history of how men and women have perce ...more
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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 Case for God The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism

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“Jesus” 0 likes
“Jesus himself remains an enigma. There have been interesting attempts to uncover the figure of the ‘historical’ Jesus, a project that has become something of a scholarly industry. But the fact remains that the only Jesus we really know is the Jesus described in the New Testament, which was not interested in scientifically objective history. There are no other contemporary accounts of his mission and death. We cannot even be certain why he was crucified. The gospel accounts indicate that he was thought to be the king of the Jews. He was said to have predicted the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven, but also made it clear that it was not of this world. In the literature of the Late Second Temple period, there had been hints that a few people were expecting a righteous king of the House of David to establish an eternal kingdom, and this idea seems to have become more popular during the tense years leading up to the war. Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius all note the importance of revolutionary religiosity, both before and after the rebellion.2 There was now keen expectation in some circles of a meshiah (in Greek, christos), an ‘anointed’ king of the House of David, who would redeem Israel. We do not know whether Jesus claimed to be this messiah – the gospels are ambiguous on this point.3 Other people rather than Jesus himself may have made this claim on his behalf.4 But after his death some of his followers had seen him in visions that convinced them that he had been raised from the tomb – an event that heralded the general resurrection of all the righteous when God would inaugurate his rule on earth.5 Jesus and his disciples came from Galilee in northern Palestine. After his death they moved to Jerusalem, probably to be on hand when the kingdom arrived, since all the prophecies declared that the temple would be the pivot of the new world order.6 The leaders of their movement were known as ‘the Twelve’: in the kingdom, they would rule the twelve tribes of the reconstituted Israel.7 The members of the Jesus movement worshipped together every day in the temple,8 but they also met for communal meals, in which they affirmed their faith in the kingdom’s imminent arrival.9 They continued to live as devout, orthodox Jews. Like the Essenes, they had no private property, shared their goods equally, and dedicated their lives to the last days.10 It seems that Jesus had recommended voluntary poverty and special care for the poor; that loyalty to the group was to be valued more than family ties; and that evil should be met with non-violence and love.11 Christians should pay their taxes, respect the Roman authorities, and must not even contemplate armed struggle.12 Jesus’s followers continued to revere the Torah,13 keep the Sabbath,14 and the observance of the dietary laws was a matter of extreme importance to them.15 Like the great Pharisee Hillel, Jesus’s older contemporary, they taught a version of the Golden Rule, which they believed to be the bedrock of the Jewish faith: ‘So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the message of the Law and the Prophets.” 0 likes
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