Detailed review of the creation and study of the Bible through the centuries.
Religion scholar Armstrong (The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, 2006, etc.) opens with the accepted explanation for the creation of Hebrew scripture, then moves on to the prophetic and wisdom writings. The book’s early chapters are especially notable for the author’s strong presentation of historical background. After discussing the basics of the Hebrew Bible, Armstrong moves on to the life of Jesus and the written documents that ensued. From this point forward, she does an exceptional job of balancing and interweaving Jewish and Christian approaches to scripture. She discusses the tradition of Midrash both as an art in its own right and as an influence on early Christian perceptions of scripture. Likewise, when exploring Christian study of the Bible in medieval monasteries and universities, she compares their work to that of contemporary Jewish counterparts. The narrative advances chronologically into the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment and finally the modern era. Today, Armstrong avers, readings of the Bible are influenced by the techniques of scholarly criticism, which lessens the faith of some while fueling a fundamentalist backlash among others. Again, she seamlessly weaves together the history of Jews and Christians in this period. Little here is new, although that is not really an issue for an entry in Atlantic’s Books That Changed the World series. More troubling: The text often reads like a long academic paper, with only limited original insight from the author. Armstrong concludes by urging scholars to employ charity and compassion in their biblical exegeses—though her faith in humanity’s ability or desire to do this seems shaky at best.
Overshadowed by Armstrong’s more ambitious A History of God (1993), but religion students will find this a worthwhile resource.