Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong.

On the Bible. Books that Shook the World.
NSW: Crows Nest. Allen & Unwin, 2007.

Karen Armstrong is regarded as one of the world’s leading historians of religion. Many will already know of her writings, especially the extremely popular A History of God. I expect this book to also become very popular with readers.

In this book, which is part of a series on famous or important books which have had a major influence in the world, Armstrong traces the history of the Bible’s usage over the generations, beginning with the (Hebrew scriptures) Torah through to Modernity (most readable and helpful in light of our current faddish flirting with fundamentalism and neo-orthodoxy) – in eight well-written, thoughtful chapters.

Then, the Glossary, Index and Notes, covering 71 pages, is a goldmine of information and references.

Finally, and this is where I want to end this review – with Armstrong’s own thoughts – is her Epilogue. It is here I hope many in the Uniting Church will find both informative and helpful, and as she says, a way forward. Let me offer some of those thoughts in note form:

• many modern assumptions about the Bible are incorrect;

• the Bible did not encourage slavish conformity;

• it has been suspicious of orthodoxy since the time of the prophets;

• the modern habit of quoting proof-texts to legitimise policies and rulings is out of key with interpretive tradition;

• there is a great deal of violence in the Bible – far more than in the Qu’ran.

And now this direct quote: “The Bible is in danger of becoming a dead or an irrelevant letter; it is being distorted by claims for its literal infallibility; it is derided – often unfairly – by secular fundamentalists; it is also becoming a toxic arsenal that fuels hatred and sterile polemic. The development of a more compassionate hermeneutics could provide an important counter-narrative in our discordant world” (Pg:229).

This is an important book about an important book by an important scholar.  Worthy of an active lending place in all parish/congregation libraries, ahead of some of the stuff we often find on those dusty, out-of-date shelves!