The Bible is the most widely distributed book in the world. Translated into over two thousand languages, it is estimated that more than six billion copies have been sold in the last two hundred years alone. In this seminal account, Karen Armstrong traces the gestation of the Bible to reveal a complex and contradictory document created by scores of people over hundreds of years.
Karen Armstrong begins her analysis with the origins of the very earliest books of the Hebrew Bible, in which God was called both 'Yahweh' and 'Elohim'. She then traces the development of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament to reveal the disparate influences that helped to form these sacred texts. From the Jewish practice of Midrash and the Christian cult of Jesus; to the influence of Paul's letters on the Reformation and the manipulation of Revelations by Christian fundamentalism, Armstrong explores the contexts in which these sixty-six books were understood and explains the social needs they answered. In the process she reveals an unfamiliar and paradoxical work that will permanently alter our understanding of the Bible.
Of all the "Books That Changed the World" the recently launched series to which this book belongs surely the Bible is among the most important. And of all contemporary popularizers of religious history, surely Armstrong is among the bestselling. Who better, then, to recount the history of the Bible in eight short chapters than this former nun and literature professor who relishes huge topics (The History of God) and panoramic descriptions (The Great Transformation)? Armstrong not only describes how, when and by whom the Bible was written, she also examines some 2,000 years of biblical interpretation by bishops and rabbis, scholars and mystics, pietists and critics, thus opening up a myriad of exegetical approaches and dispelling any fundamentalist notion that only one view can be correct. Readers unfamiliar with ecclesiastical history may feel overwhelmed by dense chapters that read more like annotated lists than narrative a hazard of trying to cover so much in so little space. (A glossary helps to anchor the bewildered.) At her best when she pauses long enough to expand on a topic, Armstrong offers intriguing insights on, for example, the allegorical method developed by Origen in the third century and the mystical midrash of the Kabbalists in medieval Spain and Provence.