Bob Gooch's Reviews > A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

A History of God by Karen Armstrong
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's review
Jul 18, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: theology-philosophy, did-not-finish
Read from July 20, 2011 to January 06, 2012

Disclosure – I am a Christian, so I clearly had difficulty with this book. Although the author has history in the church, it is evident that she is not a believer in orthodox Christianity. In addition, I am not a scholar, but even an idiot like me can see the mistakes and misleading statements in this book.

I got about 50 pages or so into this book and gave up. I started taking notes on areas where the author makes claims that are at best strictly her opinion or at worst, outright misrepresentations. But I gave up on the note-taking even sooner, after about 15-20 pages. This is not a book I would have chosen to read, but I was asked to read it by a co-worker and give her my opinion. My opinion is – don’t waste your time. Some examples in the first few pages:
• References to the biblical history as mythology is a judgment based on her opinion. Orthodox belief is that these accounts are true.
• Difficulty with two accounts each of creation and the flood. This has been addressed by many people over hundreds, maybe thousands of years. These are only problems to people who superficially read the accounts and have done no investigation.
• Claims that the Bible is full of contradictions, but doesn’t point out any. Again, there is a ton of information written addressing so-called contradictions that the author ignores. Again, there appears to be no effort in researching these issues.
• Multiple authors of the first five books of the Bible. All the author says is that this theory has come under “harsh treatment, but nobody has yet to come up with a more satisfactory theory…”, but the author doesn’t mention any other theories. There are in fact other theories that scholars find more than satisfactory. Bad scholarship on her part.
• The claim the “I Am Who I Am” is merely a Hebrew pun, explaining it by saying that Hebrew didn’t have a metaphysical dimension. Who says that God is limited by the Hebrew language? Why couldn’t it refers to his self-existence, as the vast majority of scholars believe? Does she have some special insight? Please…
• Attributing to God the bad behavior of his followers, which is just not logical.

Content aside, I also thought the book was difficult to read.

Not recommended.

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Reading Progress

08/27/2011 page 60

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Rob (new)

Rob I read this book in college. I have yet to investigate Armstrong's claims in detail. I don't think she handles criticisms to liberal theological views very well. Note page 12, where she says that the JEPD theory of Pentateuch authorship "has come in for a good deal of harsh treatment, but nobody has yet come up with a more satisfactory theory which explains why there are two quite different accounts of key biblical events, such as the Creation and the Flood, and why the Bible sometimes contradicts itself." First of all, this is an appeal to ignorance, a fallacy. She's saying that no one has come up with a better theory, and so the JEPD theory is the one to hold. Second, she doesn't explain what she means by this "harsh treatment." Does she mean that there are sound criticisms with solid evidence against the JEPD theory, or is she referring more generally to theological conservatives' rejection of it? Third, it's not true that there are no other more satisfactory theories. A decently satisfactory theory is that these two accounts of the Creation and the Flood are giving first a general treatment of the events and then a specific, detailed treatment of the events. This could be an ancient literary device to improve the hearers' memory of the events. Notice that I said hearers, because very few had access to these texts in the ancient world. These oral cultures relied on repetition and other mnemonic devices to communicate their stories, law, and so on, especially to create emphasis. Third, she throws out the vague blanket assertion that "the Bible sometimes contradicts itself." Where? She doesn't say, at least not near this passage. It's very unsatisfying to read this and not see examples.

Maybe I'll read it again someday.

message 2: by Bob (last edited Jul 22, 2011 07:16PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Bob Gooch Rob wrote: "I read this book in college. I have yet to investigate Armstrong's claims in detail. I don't think she handles criticisms to liberal theological views very well. Note page 12, where she says that t..."

Thanks Rob. I was asked to look at it by a co-worker and give her my thoughts. I haven't started reading it yet - it looks pretty daunting - but already just the jacket notes give me pause.

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