A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Over 700,000 copies of the original hardcover and paperback editions of this stunningly popular book have been sold. Karen Armstrong's superbly readable exploration of how the three dominant monotheistic religions of the world - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - have shaped and altered the conception of God is a tour de force. One of Britain's foremost commentators on rel...

DownloadRead Online
Title:A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Author:Karen Armstrong
Rating:
Edition Language:English

A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Reviews

  • Camille

    If I could give a book six stars, I would give them to this book. I feel like I learned something new on nearly every page.

    This book is truly a history book on a grand scale. It reminds me of the type of history Will Durrant wrote, where he would take a period of time and write extensively about all the facets of history within that time. Armstrong, on the other hand, takes just one facet of history and writes extensively about it over a long (4000 year) period of time. Reading it has allowed m

    If I could give a book six stars, I would give them to this book. I feel like I learned something new on nearly every page.

    This book is truly a history book on a grand scale. It reminds me of the type of history Will Durrant wrote, where he would take a period of time and write extensively about all the facets of history within that time. Armstrong, on the other hand, takes just one facet of history and writes extensively about it over a long (4000 year) period of time. Reading it has allowed me to see patterns and connections in history that I never considered before. I know I will continue to think upon what she said and use it as I try to make sense of the world.

    And, to make it even better, I learned recently that Karen Armstrong was a

    . I highly recommend her talk where she

    . (I highly recommend all the TED prize winners' talks!)

  • Jan

    Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun and studied at Oxford. Her book, The Spiral Staircase, is a good description of the struggles that led to her leaving the convent.

    There have been several good books written on the historic Jesus Christ, but very few on the historic God. As other reviewers have noted, this is a somewhat scholarly book, which it would have to be if one wanted to thoughtfully trace back man’s evolving beliefs on God. And, yes, over a sweep of 4,000 years, evolving is clearl

    Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun and studied at Oxford. Her book, The Spiral Staircase, is a good description of the struggles that led to her leaving the convent.

    There have been several good books written on the historic Jesus Christ, but very few on the historic God. As other reviewers have noted, this is a somewhat scholarly book, which it would have to be if one wanted to thoughtfully trace back man’s evolving beliefs on God. And, yes, over a sweep of 4,000 years, evolving is clearly the correct word.

    If you apply the same tools to the study of history of God that one would apply to the study of history of anything over 4,000 years, you will see it through the lens of different periods of time.

    Perhaps, somewhat unfortunately for religion and for God, we are in a period marked by the predominance of rationality. Ever since Kant, philosophers have admitted the existence of a god cannot be logically supported (and of course, Kant still willingly chose to believe).

    So where does Ms. Armstrong take us in world after Kant, Hume, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and the like?

    She worries about the intolerance inherent in monotheism (if I believe in the one true god, your god must be wrong). She reminds us that although the Existentialists told us we are better off without god since the pat answers and the certainty that god gives stifles our wonder of the world and negates our freedom, the growing drug addiction and crime rates are not signs of a spiritually healthy society.

    Apparently although Ms. Armstrong left organized religion, she never left her search for spirituality.

    I found the best statement of her conclusion was actually in The Spiral Staircase: “Compassion has been advocated by all the great faiths because it has been found to be the safest and surest means of attaining enlightenment because it dethrones the ego from the center of our lives and puts others there, breaking down the carapace of selfishness that holds us back from the experience of the sacred.”

    Interestingly, Huxley, who wrote the magnificent Perennial Philosophy on the similarities of mystical experiences across all religions said “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'try to be a little kinder.” '

    A fascinating book that can be recommended to any thoughtful seeker about spiritual matters.

  • Kaelan Ratcliffe▪Κάϊλαν Ράτκλιφ▪كايِلان راتكِليف

    This was a great book that seriously, seriously bolstered my understanding of the history of God, and has ultimately ignited an interest in me to read further books on the more specific areas of religious practice (there is a massive 'further reading' section at the back that I look forward to raiding). As such, I had a number of things I wanted to say in my review, yet, I think a quick bit of advise would suffice as an alternative.

    Unless you're moving into t

    This was a great book that seriously, seriously bolstered my understanding of the history of God, and has ultimately ignited an interest in me to read further books on the more specific areas of religious practice (there is a massive 'further reading' section at the back that I look forward to raiding). As such, I had a number of things I wanted to say in my review, yet, I think a quick bit of advise would suffice as an alternative.

    Unless you're moving into the field of Theology (in which case I doubt you'll read this anyway) I would advise NOT to try and kill yourself over remembering every name, every sub-catogary and every belief system held about God thought this book. You'll kill your enjoyment, and ultimately the point of the book along with it. Instead, try and cultivate a curious, open attitude whilst allowing yourself to be guided through the pages of Karen Armstrong's hard earned endeavour. I found that I enjoyed this text immensely when simply learning about how human beings tried to understand the ineffable. The different people who went up against this question have come up with some interesting thought trails, and it's quite fun to see how societies throughout time have deviated into their own systems of understanding, only for some of them to come to the same conclusion after much difference in doctrine.

    My only other advise would be to test yourself whilst reading this. See where you stand with your beliefs after reading about the God of Mystics, then come back and re-evaluate. Believe me, you won't think quite the same afterwards.

    Ultimately, this is just another story of human kind trying to make sense of what it is we're doing here, and I believe if the reader imagines this whilst reading

    , they won't be disappointed with the result.

  • Leslie

    Whew. I thought I'd never finish this book. But two months later, I somehow managed to get to the end. Now, what to say about it?

    I started this book knowing a moderate amount about the history of Christianity, a small amount about Judaism, and much too little about Islam. I relied heavily on my previous knowledge of Christianity and Judaism to make sense of Armstrong's extremely dense, often repetitive, and (to use her favorite word) esoteric prose. I found it a real challenge to keep up with he

    Whew. I thought I'd never finish this book. But two months later, I somehow managed to get to the end. Now, what to say about it?

    I started this book knowing a moderate amount about the history of Christianity, a small amount about Judaism, and much too little about Islam. I relied heavily on my previous knowledge of Christianity and Judaism to make sense of Armstrong's extremely dense, often repetitive, and (to use her favorite word) esoteric prose. I found it a real challenge to keep up with her train of thought; her chapters are very long (as well as her paragraphs) and she has no sections or headings whatsoever to help prime and guide the reader. I came away with a much fuller understanding about the evolution of the concept of God in Christianity and Judaism, and a somewhat better understanding of the origins of Islam. But not knowing much about Islam to begin with, I felt at a disadvantage as I tried to follow along and take in the massive amounts of information she shares. This is not the right book to introduce you to any of these religions. You will gain much more if you already have a moderate level of knowledge.

    On a personal note, as I am someone for whom religion (organized or otherwise) has played very little role in my life for close to ten years, this book sparked a great deal of introspective processes for me. Some of her writing confirmed my frustrations with organized religions while other portions encouraged me to have a more open mind about the innumerable ways to conceive of and worship God. I have appreciated this book immensely in this regard.

    A final note: Armstrong seems to have considerable beef with Christianity, and to an extent Judaism, and she considerably elevates Islam above the other two. Just a note to be prepared for that if you read this book. It didn't bother me too much given that I don't consider myself a member of any of the three faiths or prefer one over the other, but I can see how it might really annoy others. It's not an attempt to be objective or balanced, by any stretch.

  • Margitte

    I haven't finished reading the book. I still plan to though, but not in one sitting.

    The official blurb:

    '

    I haven't finished reading the book. I still plan to though, but not in one sitting.

    The official blurb:

    '

    My reading is going extremely slow, merely because it requires concentration to read the book and I suspect that it will take a few months to get through it. However, it is an informative journey, educational in many instances, and thought-provoking throughout. It is not only the historical timeline of the development of religion (of God), the evolutionary process of polytheism to monotheism for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also a philosophical experience. I can only hope that all information in the book is accurate and worth learning. It certainly can be essential reading for those studying theology (science beliefs), mythology and comparative religion.

    The God we all know, the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, has a history. This book tells the story as it unfolded through the ages, changed according to needs, and ultimately split people into different groups honoring the same God.

    Someone long ago said that people build different bridges to God, but in the end they worship their bridges instead of God. This book discusses this truth: the when, why and how of it all. The real story of mankind, widely accepted in the scientific world, is written down in the Enuma Elish, the Babilonian story of Creation which was discovered in the library of Ahurbanipal, estimated to have been written 1750 BCE. It is not the story as the Bible told it.

    The first few chapters were really interesting. Fascinating, in fact. But from then on it becomes a philosophical discussion of concepts and names which makes me feel dumb and an-alphabetic! But with increased concentration, and a few rereads, several rereads of the same, very long paragraphs, I finally get it all.

    There are several videos available on Youtube to enlighten the experience. My problem is that I constantly fall asleep.

    However, I do think this book is worth reading for those who are interested in an objective approach to the bridges we built to God.

  • Paul Bryant

    A MAJOR PROBLEM WITH RELIGION

    (You may have already thought of a few, but this is my current thing.)

    Religious thought is metaphorical and the constant danger is that the unlettered will take the metaphor literally. For instance, the Holy Trinity in Christianity - sorting out a satisfactory formula expressing the relationships between God the Father & Jesus the Son & the Holy Spirit presented hideous problems which took around 300 years to resolve and - it seems to me - the whole enterpris

    A MAJOR PROBLEM WITH RELIGION

    (You may have already thought of a few, but this is my current thing.)

    Religious thought is metaphorical and the constant danger is that the unlettered will take the metaphor literally. For instance, the Holy Trinity in Christianity - sorting out a satisfactory formula expressing the relationships between God the Father & Jesus the Son & the Holy Spirit presented hideous problems which took around 300 years to resolve and - it seems to me - the whole enterprise was utterly - utterly - futile because it stemmed from a misreading of a metaphor in the New Testament, i.e. Jesus as Son of God.

    You don't need to figure out the relationships between metaphors, but if you think they're actually describing realities, then you do.

    Fundamentalists appear to be unable to either grasp the idea of metaphorical language, or, allowing them that degree of intelligence, unable to accept that the Bible is poetry which uses metaphor

    And indeed, Christ is a metaphor - that is, the idea of his incarnation, and the idea of him being a sacrifice for our sins, and the idea of salvation itself - all metaphors.

    Religion has its educated few and its unschooled many - the elite develop the metaphorical philosophical reading of the text and leave the credulous literal reading to the laity and they bowl along on separate levels, mostly. But then it comes unstuck.

    You can see the incorrect understanding of metaphor right there in the New Testament. Various parables of Jesus have been transformed by error into miracles of Jesus - the stilling of the storm, the feeding of the 5000, turning water into wine, and the weird story of the withering of the fig tree - these make no sense until you read them as parables. We recall that Jesus explicitly rejects miraculous acts of this sort in the Temptation:

    So these mistakes were being encrypted into the canon at the point where the oral tradition was being written down. It was simple confusion, but it sowed the seeds for centuries of wrongheadedness.

    Karen Armstrong makes the excellent point that by the time of the Reformation even the learned in the West had become literalistic, and that this exposed their faith to the undermining effects of science as science extended its authority. The Church painted itself into a stupid corner. If it had remained the mystical transcendental Church it wouldn't have had to make any of those numerous embarrassing climb-downs it had to do. But maybe it would have been abandoned by the majority if it had.

    A MAJOR PROBLEM WITH THIS BOOK

    Karen Armstrong is a poor writer. Other goodreaders say stuff like :

    Earnest readers drag themselves through this book. That can't be good. She has the knowledge but she is turgid, she has no light touch, no human anecdotes, no humour, okay what was I expecting, Bill Bryson? No, but Karen really got on my wick. She's boring. You have to keep plugging away, then another big thinker from 17th century Lithuania hoves into view and you think... hey, I haven't watched Paranormal Activity 2 yet! I did not read every word of this. i flipped forward, backwards, sideways, hemmed & hawed, put it down for months, walked around it glaring at it, hoped someone would steal it, they didn't, finally took it on holiday where there wasn't a wifi connection, and really, I think the whole thing needed some oomph. It was oomphless. It was an oomph-free zone.

    A FAVOURITE ANECDOTE FROM PAGE 431

    Speaking as an atheist, I love this story. In fact, I revere this story.

  • Riku Sayuj

    A facebook conversation:

    , with the following Ambedkar quote:

    A facebook conversation:

    , with the following Ambedkar quote:

    Does this seem like a useful line of enquiry? Are there any books that explore the tendencies of religions? Would love to read a few.

  • John

    This is one of those books that make me feel woefully deficient in a certain subject. Having never taken a comparative religion class, and in fact bordering on an antiestablishment stance when it comes to organized religion, I can only conclude that this book was not the place to start.

    The first couple of chapters which reviewed mankinds evolution from a polythesim to the monothesims of Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam were interesting, and for me blessedly linear and understandable. From ther

    This is one of those books that make me feel woefully deficient in a certain subject. Having never taken a comparative religion class, and in fact bordering on an antiestablishment stance when it comes to organized religion, I can only conclude that this book was not the place to start.

    The first couple of chapters which reviewed mankinds evolution from a polythesim to the monothesims of Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam were interesting, and for me blessedly linear and understandable. From there things rapidly deteriorated as Armstrong ran through the impact and thought process that philosophy, mysticism, reform and enlightenment had on the three monothestic faiths.

    These chapters were filled with dense pondorous examples of each of these disciplines, crammed wtih foreign names and terms, forcing me to reread pages and chapters, still without making much headway.

    I hate to indulge myself this way, but to illustrate my point I quote from page 270 a part of a paragraph which starts, "Luria gave a new meaning to the original image of the exile of the Shekinah. It will be recalled that in the Talmud, the Rabbis had seen the Shekinah voluntarily going into exile with the Jews after the destruction of the Temple. The Zohar had identified the Shekinah with the last sefirah and made it the female aspect of divinity. In Luria's myth, the Shekinah fell with the other sefiroth when the Vessels were shattered." Granted, it is taken out of context, but it borders on reading a foreign language.

    And it goes on...Further compounding the problem are a lack of any headings on subgroupings in Armstrong's chapters, which are composed of paragraphs that run nearly a page long each.

    It is this amount of dense detail that continually makes rereading a necessity, rather than a luxury. I was tempted on multiple occasions to put this book down, and finished with a sense that I had read line for line the entire 2008 federal IRS tax code. Overall, not the place to start.

  • April Sheridan

    I still can't decide if it's good or not. That's that problem with being kinda dumb.

  • Jan-Maat

    This is at once a very simple and a very complex book. Simple in its argument, complex in the array of detail marshalled to tell Armstrong's story.

    Her view, it seemed to me, was firstly that monotheism was wide spread - well beyond the limits of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but that there was always a tension between two basic ideas within that belief across all these religions. On the one hand a faith in an objective reality of something like an old man with a beard out there somewhere who

    This is at once a very simple and a very complex book. Simple in its argument, complex in the array of detail marshalled to tell Armstrong's story.

    Her view, it seemed to me, was firstly that monotheism was wide spread - well beyond the limits of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but that there was always a tension between two basic ideas within that belief across all these religions. On the one hand a faith in an objective reality of something like an old man with a beard out there somewhere who was generally keen on smiting people, on the other hand a subjective individual striving within oneself that can lead to a sense of the numinous (

    (p259) ). She approves of the latter, while disliking the former whose finest or worst examples depending on your point of view she finds in the Western European Catholic and Protestant traditions which finally, in her opinion, hoisted themselves on their petards by embracing a literal faith in the Bible shortly before the age of Lyle and Darwin and Mendel.

    Armstrong's history of God then is the history of styles and manners of belief in God. The problem with the way she does it is that she unleashes, not hell, but such a mass of prophets, mystics, and philosophers upon the reader that we can move across the thought and ideas of three or four people in a single page - almost all of whom are men, Julian of Norwich, Bridget of Sweden, and Theresa of Avila just manage to squeeze in. I did wonder how representative and reasonable some of the judgements were at times - but then this is always the case in dense surveys like this.

    What is particular, and maybe refreshing for some readers, is that Armstrong doesn't much like her own native Western European tradition of Christianity. Every other approach to faith comes across as simply better. Sufis, Buddhists, and Hassidic Jews among others leap out of the pages as less anxious, more compassionate, kinder, and generally less inclined to self abuse. This may or may not be fair, but in the context of a post colonial world is certainly interesting, although I suppose not original. If belief in a single God is widespread, so is faith that the grass is always greener in the next field. Still her passion and commitment towards certain kinds of manifestation of faith is clear as evidenced by phrases like "religions such as Buddhism, which have the advantage of being uncontaminated by an inadequate theism" (p251), one can't claim that she hides her point of view.

    The sense of her struggle with her own religious background is palpable, but also the relief and comfort that she has found through learning about the three major monotheisms. The ideal reader for this book might well be someone who for all their Jewish, Christian, or Muslim faith feels estranged or simply somewhat distanced from the particular Synagogue, Church, or Mosque they are familiar with. This is a book that can provide that reader with a broader perspective.

    She compares trends in Hinduism and Buddhism to the big three monotheisms, this is something she could have made more of. The way that Buddhist Nirvana is described seems to her to be analogous to the experience of God as experience by mystics from the monotheistic religions for instance. Her survey is a wealth of detail, often curious. I particularly liked her account of the disappointment of the pagan philosopher Plotinus that he didn't get to visit India to study with its sages, he had thought of joining the Roman army as a means of getting there. Somehow turning up in armour, sword in hand, doesn't strike me as the best way to introduce yourself and your philosophical longings to the wise people of a different land. Maybe a similar thought occurred to Plotinus. Another point that caught my attention was the question of if the God of Abraham and the God of Moses were one and the same, equally she didn't soft pedal the polytheistic sides of Hebrew practice prior to the Babylonian captivity.

    Something that Armstrong I felt did well was the sense of how ideas from one tradition oozed over to others. The influence of the pagan philosophers on Christianity is, I imagine, fairly well known, but she points out as well the interrelationships of developments in Judaism and Islam, and Islam also had a strong engagement with Aristotle in particular. She even makes Origen's self-castration, as inspired by the Gospels, sound like a reasonable action for a good half a page

    .

    On the downside the mass of characters can be overwhelming, and you are probably best off approaching a book like this with a reasonable background knowledge to start with. If you don't know your Avicenna from your Aquinas this book may well be a struggle.

Best Books Online is in no way intended to support illegal activity. Use it at your risk. We uses Search API to find books/manuals but doesn´t host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners. Please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them


©2019 Best Books Online - All rights reserved.