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Archive for the ‘The Bible: The Biography’ Category

Author:  Karen ARMSTRONG

Yet another excellent book from Karen Armstrong.  Not a large book for what you may think would be an enormous topic, but in terms of the themes she develops, it is wonderfully informative and thought provoking.

I would imagine, though, that it will outrage those who have a mind to take the bible as literal fact.  It may indeed be rather startling to learn that in early times, the stories that were to become the books of the bible, were not regarded by anyone as literally true, but were commonly changed, or radically re-interpreted, to illustrate a particular problem of the day.  Even after they became written accounts, the tradition of re-interpretation persisted, being regarded as a perfectly legitimate expression of a living faith.

After the advent of Jesus, Christianity and Judaism co-existed fairly happily for a time, Christianity being an offshoot of the parent faith.  Gradually, however, in response to significant events (for example the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple by Titus in 70AD) the two belief systems began to draw inexorably apart and hostilities developed.  Christians, (probably following tradition to a degree) re-interpreted the Old Testament writings so, that every story, every event, every reference pertained to Jesus, the Christ to come (and having established a power base, proceeded to develop an empire – and they’ve been fighting each other tooth and nail ever since!)

Karen A charts the significant developments of Christian and Judaic thought through the ages to modern times, the events, the people, the debates, the philosophies the driving forces.  And these are not just recitations of dry facts, but she provides insights into the thought and the thinking of the people of the times – Augustine, Luria, Martin Luther, Calvin, militant Zionism, the Kookists (I kid you not) and fanatical militant fundamentalist Christians.  Eventually we reach a vision of Jesus, not as the forgiving, gentle lamb of god but as (someone who) .. “comes forth as one who no longer seeks friendship or love.. His garments are dipped in the blood of others.  He descends that he may shed the blood of men.”  (Wow!  Believe in our loving god, or he’ll kill you!)

The epilogue to the book, apart from summarising and noting pointedly that many modern assumptions about the bible are incorrect,  is a wonderful plea to put aside aggression,  self/sectarian interests and intolerance and work towards finding a way forward.  That according to Karen A would involve interpreting the whole of the bible as a “commentary” on the Golden Rule and would demand an appreciation of other people’s scriptures as well.

How could anyone argue with that?  OK, OK, let me rephrase that, (sigh) – How could any rational, mature person argue with that?

I am not a Christian, nor yet a bible scholar, but I have long been fascinated at how this system of belief originated, became so dominant and so dominating, and how (for some parts of it anyway) it became so vicious, cruel and superstition ridden.  This and other books by Karen Armstrong has gone a long way towards providing answers.

I own, or have read several of Karen Armstrong’s books and they make good companion volumes to The Bible The Biography.  These are

A History of God

The Great Transformation

The Battle For God

The Spiral Staircase (Reviewed on this site.)

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