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The Bible: A Biography

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,884 ratings  ·  332 reviews
As the single work at the heart of Christianity, the world's largest organized religion, 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 the Bible is a complex work with a complicated and obs ...more
Paperback, 302 pages
Published November 1st 2008 by Grove Press (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
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 06, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Thomas Strömquist
DNF @ pg 170-something, which is way too late in this book where at least the last quarter is but references and glossary. It really started out interesting - or, maybe not interesting as much as bewildering.

This always happens to me when I try to read anything on the subject, I end up in a confused state over how so many have the ability to just turn off logic reasoning and just decide that "I'm going to believe this.". In this case, the discrepancy is of course the mutual exclusiveness of bel
Apr 15, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, audiobook
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
Dec 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jon Stout
Mar 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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
John Martindale
Karan Armstrong not only quickly did an overview of the development of bible from a highly skeptical secular perspective, but also touched on Christian and Jewish history. The most interesting part to me was the brief overview of Jewish and Christian interpretations of scriptures through history. As I listened, I did notice some straight up errors (if what I've learned elsewhere is to be believed), and the book seemed very biased. Again and again she would share what was in reality an extremely ...more
Jan 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spirituality
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
Sarah -  All The Book Blog Names Are Taken
Wavering back and forth between two and three stars. This wasn't just about the Bible, which is what the title purported it to be. Full review to come.

Rating: 2 Stars

Man, this book was dull.

Considering the fact that the topic is one of the most important books ever compiled, you'd think the history could be put together in an engaging way. It's not. There is a ton of information in this short volume, but it is so haphazard and random that I don't even recall anything I learned. My total lack of
Jason Pettus
Goodreads 2019 Summer Reading Challenge
17. Genre explorer: Read a book from a genre you’ve never read before

A few years ago I added to my literary bucket list the challenge of reading the Christian Bible from cover to cover; but since I'm an atheist who knows little about biblical history, this means that to do a thorough job at it, I also need to read several dozen other books on Judaism, Middle Eastern history, the history of Bible interpretation, the history of early Christianity, and more. I
Jan 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
for me, often involuntarily in the promised land, this was interesting, but i accept it might be a minority interest here in godless europe. karen armstrong is one of the greatest writers today on the history of religion - learned, fair, fairly concise. i trust her in a subject needing objectivity as the desert needs some rain. i enjoyed the early chapters, illustrating the variety of peoples and religions and writers that got shoe-horned into being the 'chosen people' of this book. the jewish a ...more
Steve Herman
Jul 29, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ms. Armstrong is a former nun who has become a popular writer on religion. Her faith-based “biography” of the Bible runs roughshod over the facts. There are far too many errors to discuss here, so I will focus on a few key points and her overall conclusion.

Like many others, Ms. Armstrong says that we should not read the Bible literally. This leads to too many problems. But Ms. Armstrong goes further and insists that Christians did not read the Bible literally: “It is … crucial to note that an e
Wendy Jackson
Jan 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  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
I can understand why the publisher's marketing department decided to name it The Bible: A Biography; it's because A History of Biblical Exegesis just doesn't have the same popular ring. But that's what the book really is. If you are looking for theoretical histories of JEPD and the New Testament text, you will be sorely disappointed. These things are skimmed over. Is it a good book anyway? In some ways. There is interest to be found in the discussion, especially in the history of Jewish exegesis ...more
Ericka Clouther
Armstrong writes about the interpretation and reinterpretation of the Bible, over and over again through the centuries. It has a similar thrust to her book, The Case for God, but it is much shorter because it focuses only on the text of the Bible and not the overall concept of God. It was a little boring in its early history and sped through contemporary history, and it wasn't as strong a thesis as The Case for God, but it was a solid read.
A. J.
May 21, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 07, 2013 marked it as could-did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
I am a life-long Baptist and a science person. No matter how contradictory that sounds, it means that I do a very good job separating my belief from my reason. I can completely accept scientific facts while still believing that the Bible was written how most of us believe it was written.
So, from this point onward, it's my reason talking. And the writer in me, not the Baptist.

I stopped reading this book because it seemed so thoroughly biased in unbiasness. It is a completely scientific-based book
Whenever I mention my admiration for Karen Armstrong and try to discuss her work with people I know are interested in the history of religion, they usually give me an incredulous look and talk about how dense and boring her books are. That always shocks me, because I find her writing riveting. This is the fourth book I have read of hers, and I have noticed that she frequently reuses examples, parables, and citations, but always to provide some fresh insight or illustrate a different, more grand ...more
Mar 08, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
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
Karen Armstrong has long been one of my favorite authors to read on religious topics (her "A History of God" continues to be one of the best books I've ever read on religion), and her "biography" of The Bible continued show why. She is direct, thorough, and concise in exploring how not only the parts of The Bible came to be considered scripture, but how those parts have been interpreted have changed over the course of history. What is of particular interest is how the rise of literal translation ...more
Dec 28, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  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
Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Laura Debenham
Dec 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
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.
Jan 27, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2008
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.
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Karen Armstrong, a comparative religion specialist is the author of numerous books on religion, including The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and Fields of Blood, as well as a memoir, The Spiral Staircase.

Her work has been translated into 45 languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion,

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“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.” 1 likes
“De vroege christenen geloofden dat het hun voornaamste plicht was om elkaar lief te hebben, maar ze stelden zich niet open voor vreemdelingen. Deze gemeenschap voelde zich aangevallen en klitte samen tegen 'de wereld'. Sommige van hun leden hadden hun leer onverdraaglijk gevonden en 'gingen niet verder met Jezus mee'. De gelovingen zagen deze afvalligen als 'antichristenen', vervuld van een dodelijke haat jegens de messias. De leden van deze christelijke sekte waren ervan overtuigd dat alleen zij het bij het rechte eind hadden en dat de hele wereld tegen hen was.[...]Omdat Jezus Gods laatste openbaring aan de wereld was, hield dit gebrek aan acceptatie een oordeel in: degenen die hem afwezen, waren de kinderen van de duivel en zouden in de duisternis blijven.” 0 likes
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