A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest for Judaism, Christianity and Islam

A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest for Judaism, Christianity and Islam

by Karen Armstrong

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345384560
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/1994
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 59,681
Product dimensions: 5.68(w) x 10.90(h) x 1.11(d)

About the Author

Karen Armstrong 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, created online by the general public, crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. It was launched globally in the fall of 2009. Also in 2008, she was awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal. In 2013, she received the British Academy’s inaugural Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding.

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History of God 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 57 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My opinion of this book changed enormously during the course of reading it. This is not a particularly interesting subject to me, but I realize that it is an important one and Armstrong was recommended to me as a particularly good authority. I don't know enough about the literature of the field to say if this is generally worth reading for all its flaws, or if other books do the same job better. For the first half of the book Armstrong recounts the rise of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in a reasonably dispassionate and sympathetic manner; this is what I wanted. Viewing religion as a human historical event is, of course offensive to some, and I¿m sure that one hundred scholars would have one thousand objections to her facts and interpretations, but I would take that as unavoidable no matter how excellent the book. Armstrong has obviously done an enormous amount of research and she comes across as both learned and lucid. While it is not an easy read, I never felt puzzled by the concepts. I feel that I have learned a lot and reading this book has been worthwhile for me, despite my upcoming criticisms. I am also willing to cut her a little slack on the subject of Western Christianity; writing in English, she can assume that most of her readers are either familiar with the topic or at least have access to other sources. She seemed to be focusing upon the formal theology of the religions, and not the day to day aspects as experienced by the typical believer; when this struck me I reminded myself that this is not a cyclopedia of religion and she cannot cover everything. She then began to become a little partisan, dispraising Western Christianity and idealizing Islam, which I attributed to a laudable desire to enhance the Western view of Islam, although the attack portion of her program probably backfired with some readers. But as I read on, the work becomes more and more judgmental, personal and advocative. Armstrong¿s hatred of Western Christianity as the least mystical and most fundamentalist creed is revealed in ever stronger terms as she goes along. According to Armstrong¿s theses, Islam and Eastern Christianity should have produced societies that were more tolerant, eqalitarian, and generally possessed of fewer social ills than Western Christianity owing to what she considers to be their more advanced and healthier beliefs. I cannot say that all this has ever struck me as being so unfailingly true as to be self-evident, and she does not even attempt to prove it. Her coverage of the last couple of centuries seems somewhat spotty. Armstrong discusses the effect of European colonization of the Islamic heartland on Muslims, but says nothing of the effect of decades of Communism on any religion. Her section on the Jewish theological response to the Holocaust is somewhat sketchy, and there is little or nothing on the modern divisions of Judaism. Sikhism is briefly noted, but Bahai, oddly enough given her professed admiration for religious fusion, is never mentioned, nor is Mormonism. Meanwhile, and hardest to explain in terms of size limitations or focus, Eastern Christianity virtually vanishes from the book after the fall of the Byzantine empire. Armstrong sounds remarkably foolish to me for the last fifteen or so pages of the book; perhaps her apparent belligerence is to convince herself. Armstrong proclaims that the failings of Western Christianity make it too brittle to absorb change and have lead to the so-called ¿Death of God¿ and for the health of our society *we* need to create a vibrant new mystical faith to assuage the despair of humanity. I have visions of a pageant of piety for the benefit of the *less advanced* or perhaps Prozac communion wafers. This is where is becomes necessary to consider the typical lay person. Perhaps it¿s just my ignorance, but I thought that in dealing with the question of evil, the local clergy of mo
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a religious Christian, I wish to thank Karen Armstrong for this wonderful book that taught me about the depth and richness of my religion and its history, as well as of other religions that believe in God. This is not an easy book, of course, but then who ever said that theology is easy? Flipping through the first few pages I was at first appalled at what seemed like blasphemy: ¿people invented a god¿? As I progressed in the reading, however, I understood a lot more about what the author means. While we do know stories about God from the collections in the Bible and other Holy texts, those stories are revealed and we therefore cannot collect more by our own scholarly means. This is therefore not a history OF God itself, since the God Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in is beyond time, beyond history. ¿History¿ itself is a human concept, and therefore the only history we humans can write about is HUMAN history. What Armstrong has delivered to us here is a very thorough and dispassionate history of the human CONCEPT of God. Viewed in that light, the book is actually a very reasonable introduction to the three Western religions. The ideas in the book furthermore are no different from the material taught in theology seminaries ¿ it¿s just that we lay people are not taught or conditioned to think critically about these issues, and so we tend to hold our prior understanding as dogma, rather continuing on the quest for a true meaning of religion. The book thoroughly describes the evolution of the concept of God, and how every generation of humanity brought a refinement to the idea. Thus we see how early Judaism divorced itself from the multiplicity of pagan gods while retaining some of the pagan legends; how the Judaic God later evolved to that of the Pharisees and Rabbi Hillel, then the Cabbalists, then the reformers; how Christianity at the same time evolved in a path separate from Judaism; and later fragmented into many branches. One even learns about the relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism to the Judeo-Christian traditions. This evolution is traced all the way to the present day, where the concept of God has been transformed but nevertheless remains. In parallel, Armstrong also explores Islam with its various branches: Sunni, Shi¿a, Sufi, Ismaili, Alawite, Druze, etc. Since most people in the West are unfamiliar with Islam, Armstrong devotes somewhat more pages to it. This has led many critics to unfairly criticize her as being biased towards Islam. I however found her description and analysis of Islam to be as unbiased an accurate as the rest of the book, and quite as informative. You may be surprised, but after reading this book in full, my Christian faith has not been shaken a bit. Rather, based on the solid understanding I had gained, my faith only grew deeper and deeper. The book furthermore has pointed out to me many interesting references and ideas to explore about my religion and others discussed. I became particularly intrigued in mysticism and how close the mystic branches of all three religions are to each other. The index reads like an encyclopedia of everything you might want to know about religion. This is of course a major strength of the book. It is so comprehensive that the reader comes out with a very deep understanding of the subject matter. I myself read it slowly and took notes along the way, but found this exercise extremely rewarding. All in all, this is an excellent and highly recommended addition to your library. It is a book you¿ll want to keep and consult over and over.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tired with every Religion claiming to be the only way to salvation? Cannot reconcile proclaimed theological claims of dedication to peace for all mankind? Cannot fathom why so much blood has been shed by one Religion or the other in the name of God? Then engage the pages of this book and Armsttrong's thoroughly accesible presentation of complex and abstract religious myths. In the end, I am convinced of three things: first, that we are essentially Spiritual beings who will forever remain in search of the purpose of life, in search of God if you will. Second, instead of a fanatical adhereance to one faith or the other, we may well be able to expedite our search by studying the wisdom of all great Religions. And finally, seeking God is a very personal thing. Some may not need a Rabbi, a Minister, an Imam or Spirityual guide. Others may need such guidance. It does not matter. We must each seek God in a way that is suitable to our temperament. This is the radically liberating message of this book. Frankly, Armstrong is the only spiritual guide in my experience, who has pierced my heart and soul.
Shiva More than 1 year ago
This book appears to be written primarily from a christian perspective about other non-christian and some fringe christian religious movements. The author gives a brief overview of each religion and then goes on to explain why these religions are inacurrate or false, and how christianity is the truth and thus superior to all other religions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not qualified to comment on the scholarship involved in the sections on Christianity and Islam. However the writing on Judaism seems to me to somehow ' get it wrong ' seems as if its done without any real understanding from inside. My real objection however to the book has to do with the strong sense that what Armstrong seems to be trying to do is replace the God of Abraham,Isaac and Jacob with ' Armstrong' I had the feeling that this is a book of a person who has lost faith in a personal God and so writes about God as if it were an impersonal subject.I may be wrong, and if so I am doing a real injustice to the author .I wonder what other readers think.
mtTR More than 1 year ago
The major point of the book is the structure of the Old Testament written by Moses. The Author takes the position that the division is the results of auditors or those that make side notes on the page to the point eventually it became part of the scripture. The division of the question E source, J Source, P source is not the real issue. If you will divide the books written by Moses originally into separate manual you will come up with a conclusion that will surprise even you. Moses first of all was raised as a Pharaoh in Egypt NOT a Jew. He was some 40 years old before he noted he was a Jew not Egyptian. Real point is his training was to manage a Nation, run an Army and administer civil affairs. No Jew had that training except him After his act of killing an Egyptian for harming a Jew at 40 the true came out and he was kicked out of the Nation, not killed because he was raised by one of the daughter of the King. His return and taking of the leadership as commanded by God. They left Egypt, traveled to the Mt. Sinai wrote down the laws of God. The rebellion of Israel at the gate into the promised land resulted in 40 years in the wilderness in which it is obvious he wrote what God expected. Based on his background the books of Moses bread down into 3 books. One is addressed to the People, the next is addressed to the Government, the last and most extensive was addressed to the Priset. THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT A MAN TRAINED AS HE WAS WOULD DO! It is obvious the book were combined over the years tos form 5 books related to scrolls and the amount of material you can place any one. The book does a good job o tracing the names of God and how they effected the world prior to the Old Testament being written and how they impacted others after Israel became a State of God as they have returned to in our age. This is the critical part that each most review. It is also obvious that all writing is based on this same principle even the Jewish Bible and how it is arranged. Good book well documented and very accurate except where I dispute with its structure as proposed by the author, Karen Armstrong.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the greatest book i've ever read. I learned about history of religion and the way other people view God. I've spent a lot of time studying religion so I already knew some of the things in this book. Karen Armstrong was able to keep the book interesting by not staying on one topic too long and making the book boring but she also was able to not leave out important information. I recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in reading about religion and history. It will make you think about how you view God and give you a greater understanding.
invisibleinkling on LibraryThing 29 days ago
As someone who's constantly making comparisons with structured belief systems (and someone with eclectic spirituality herself) this book gave me a new cultural and comparitive look at the "big guns" of monotheism. This book has a very well lain out format where it could have been a comlicated mess of many complex issues at once. There are parts that are a bit drawn out, but that's almost unavoidable because of the subject matter.
rayski on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Never finished it, maybe someday I will. Really reads like a text book. The early chapters were good covering the beginnings of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The later chapters were very dry as it started discussing different views on these religions.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing 29 days ago
I am a big Karen Armstrong fan! I liked this book, it is a good overview of the western religions, given by someone that respects the basic beliefs of the religions.
jbushnell on LibraryThing 29 days ago
An exhaustive, intensely compressed overview of 4,000 years of theological debate. A fascinating book, excellent for newcomers to the topic (like myself) although the sheer density of the volume is occasionally numbing.
hrissliss on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Follows the formation and development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I felt this book was very informative. While it was very much a survey (due to an incredibly large amount of subject matter) it managed to put all three religions into a historical perspective, all the while remaining, by and large, neutral. (Total neutrality is impossible.) It was cohesive, and explained a lot about how the modern version of these religions were synthesized. While a bit heavy, Armstrong managed to make the material engaging and present. Highly recommend for anyone interested in religion. 10/10
Neutiquam_Erro on LibraryThing 29 days ago
It is difficult to know where to begin when reviewing this book. What appears to the eye as a slender tome of some four hundred pages turns out to be quite a long read. The reason for this is that it covers some three thousand years of religious and philosophical history and does not skimp on the details. Sufiism, Kabbalah and Gnosticism, as well as more mainline theological ideas are all well-covered along with a healthy sprinkling of Hindu, Buddhist and Zoroastrian concepts.Karen Armstrong begins with a discussion of the origins of monotheism and then proceeds to a describe its development within the three main monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While there are probably better, more detailed accounts of each (ie. Hodgson on Islam), she does a credible job of describing many of the nuances of the three. Her primary thesis, agree with it or not as you will, is that religion and its conception of God changes with time. She charts these changes and dwells upon the similarities and relationships between Islam, Christianity and Judaism with considerable insight. She devotes considerable time to the problems of theology each encountered and discusses specific issues such as original sin, the trinity, creation (ex nihilo versus emanation) and the perennial conflict between rationalism and mysticism.While many who practice the faiths in question will find much of what she says disturbing or heretical, her ideas provoke thoughtful contemplation. She is generally even-handed in her analysis and has a sympathetic tone for almost all of the ideas on which she touches. She is perhaps harshest with Christianity - not surprisingly - since according to the introduction, she spent her early life in the Catholic tradition. Her softest spot seems to be for mystical spirituality and she gives short shrift to modern-day fundamentalism. I find curious her idea that atheism is one in a long line of mystical approaches to the spiritual.If I have one concern with this book it is that it is too much Karen Armstrong and not enough of anyone else. She holds strong views on nearly everything and is unafraid to state them as if they were objective truths. Dissenting voices are often entirely ignored, leaving the reader unfamiliar with this material feeling that opinions are facts. While the author's analysis is sharp, fresh and eye-opening, it is not necessarily the last word on the subject. Still, as one who comes from the Christian faith, I would recommend this book to those who don't mind having their preconceived notions challenged.
ebethe on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Smart author, but wants to help you understand, not make sure you understand that she is smarter than you are (or at least smarter than I am). Kind of like a book with lots of dates and who did what to whom at times, but overall, a book that a lot of people would enjoy, and that everyone diplomat or politician should read.
Cygnus555 on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Very informative book by a very talented author. Her credibility on the topic immediately caught my attention and I was not let down.
Atomicmutant on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This is a wonderful, dense, comprehensive survey. Quite a feat of research to present so many diverse ideas in an engaging and digestible way. The book rarely bogs down, and is staggering in its scope. What a great place to start any sort of study of historical monotheistic religion. Although it's primarily concerned with the Abrahamic religions, Armstrong does take the time to compare and contrast evolving perceptions of God with Hinduism, Buddhism, and other schools of thought. A treasure, for being both educational and absorbing.
awicaks on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Karen Armstrong is an Oxford University educated Roman Catholic nun who left her order in 1969 to write widely (and intelligently) on religious matters -- books on Islam, Muhammad, Buddha, and her best-known work, "The Gospel According to Woman." In today's world, when many are trying to make sense of a world full of religious hatred, "A History of God" should be required reading for all. Karen Armstrong shows very clearly what I sensed gazing at the Sinai Peninsula from my diving mask: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are first cousins, closely related, and if there are problems between us, it is family strife rather than the enmity of strangers. All three religions, of course, share what Christians call the "Old Testament" as their starting point.Religious "truths" are not a static reality but evolve from generation to generation and vary from place to place. Christianity, for instance, embraces such a wide spectrum of thought in the United States today -- from Pat Robertson on the Right to women clerics presiding over gay marriages on the Left -- that is difficult even to think of it as a single religion. Armstrong's book is finally not about God at all, but rather about mankind, the history of how human beings have imagined God, probing the universe for meaning.Armstrong presents her material objectively -- and a vast scope of material it is, covering 4,000 years of thought! But she isn't afraid to express her own opinions as well: that religious stories are metaphors, parables that the best minds of the past never intended for us to take literally. That "God" is not a personal figure, no dictator in the sky -- neither a He nor a She -- and that to "personalize" the notion of God is to wrongly and dangerously project our own tribal prejudices and human limitations onto a non-human divinity.I found "A History of God" the sort of book I preferred to read only a few pages at a time, absorbing the intricately varied philosophies of our human attempts to become wise, ethical creatures. Karen Armstrong is a terrific writer, making a difficult subject accessible to the average reader. As for the wisdom, ethics, and divinity of which she writes -- one senses that the human species still has a long way to go.
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I would tell prospective readers with a religious bent to only read this if you approach the subject with an open mind. If you are entrenched in the religion you were raised in, I ask you why you want to read it in the first place. And as with any book, you should be ready to devote some time in additional research and contemplation. Some who posted comments found issue with her data, yet fail to point to any specific data, or propose where one would go to gain the "correct" information. One who has a belief system will be enriched only if they are ready to put the bases of their beliefs to task. Hers is not a book preaching atheism; rather, it supplies data and gives context to those natural phenomon called religions?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book helped me to understand where monotheism came from. At times it is a lot to chew through but overall a great learning experience.
Seghetto More than 1 year ago
This book is fundamentally about the evolution of the idea of "God". Religious or not, catholic, Islamic, Buddhist, no matter what your background you will learn about religion from this book. It traces the idea of God from its roots right up until modern times. Much of what was the past of the semitic religions was pagan. This is something I completely neglected to think about when I was being raised within Christianity.
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