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

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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 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 religious affairs, Armstrong traces the history of how men and women have perceived and experienced God, from the time of Abraham to the present. From classical philosophy and medieval mysticism to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the modern age of skepticism, Armstrong performs the near miracle of distilling the intellectual history of monotheism into one compelling volume.


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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 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 religious affairs, Armstrong traces the history of how men and women have perceived and experienced God, from the time of Abraham to the present. From classical philosophy and medieval mysticism to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the modern age of skepticism, Armstrong performs the near miracle of distilling the intellectual history of monotheism into one compelling volume.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    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 all the time - And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and it was not consumed. 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: And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. 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 : My braincells are rebelling against me for continuing to read this, giving up. It's all the waffle and blather about Ultimate Reality, I just can't put myself through it. I don't want to say that I have given up on this book. I enjoyed it so far, but I just moved on... It sits here out of my guilt, and becasue I haven't given it up completely. I may go back to it anyday now haven't picked it up for several months, hope to get back to it someday I predict that there will be a new religion created by the time I finish this book 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. One day in Auschwitz, a group of Jews put God on trial. They charged him with betrayal and cruelty. Like Job, they found no consolation in the usual answers to the problems of evil and suffering in the midst of this current obscenity. They could find no excuse for God, no extenuating circumstances, so they found him guilty and, presumably, worthy of death. The Rabbi pronounced the verdict. Then he looked up and said that the trial was over, it was time for the evening prayer.

  3. 4 out of 5

    April Sheridan

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

  4. 4 out of 5

    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 ( "The mystical experience of God has certain characteristics that are common to all faiths" (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 (view spoiler)[ which is quite an achievement (hide spoiler)] . 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    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 winner of the 2008 TED prize. I highly recommend her talk where she makes her wish. (I highly recommend all the TED prize winners' talks!)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    The Tendencies of Religions A facebook conversation: Started with this post, with the following Ambedkar quote: "The Hindus criticise the Mahomedans for having spread their religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity on the score of the Inquisition. But really speaking, who is better and more worthy of our respect—the Mahomedans and Christians who attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what they regarded as necessary for their salvation, or the Hindu who woul The Tendencies of Religions A facebook conversation: Started with this post, with the following Ambedkar quote: "The Hindus criticise the Mahomedans for having spread their religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity on the score of the Inquisition. But really speaking, who is better and more worthy of our respect—the Mahomedans and Christians who attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what they regarded as necessary for their salvation, or the Hindu who would not spread the light, who would endeavour to keep others in darkness, who would not consent to share his intellectual and social inheritance with those who are ready and willing to make it a part of their own make-up? I have no hesitation in saying that if the Mahomedan has been cruel, the Hindu has been mean; and meanness is worse than cruelty." Response (Professor X):What is worse? A. Use force to make others join your faith B. Use force to keep out of those who want to join your faith Me: an additional dimension is there: you keep them out and then you discriminate and degrade based on religion. Professor X: I wanted to strip the discussion of dalit angle, but, YES, this has got me thinking. Me: ah. okay. wouldn't majority of early religions (tribal) been exclusivist? missionary religions were probably an innovation. which is the more natural tendency? need to study more :) Professor X: No. This man has hit the nail on the head. Hinduism is the only one that opted to have exclusion as a theme and that, I suspect, because there was no occupation effort. The same religion in south east asia saw the need to absorb locals in :) Me: Ambedkar claims elsewhere that early Hinduism was an evangelizing religion and that once caste and varna systems were hardened, it had to stop being one. if a religion obsessed with purity starts absorbing, it will also try to exclude at the same time. this will have to give rise to a varna and then even a caste system as more and more walls are erected for more and more minute exclusions. eventually the evangelizing had to stop and thus occupation. that is the chain of causation i glean from reading ambedkar, not the other ay round. what say? now, if i assume that tribal religions are exclusivist and accept this line of reasoning, it would seem to imply that religions once they pass a critical mass, will become missionary in nature (religion and politics going together). however if they do not reinvent themselves to lose completely their exclusivist tendencies (as happened with islam etc), then they will eventually reach another critical mass when they harden and cant expand anymore. with that both religious evangelism and political expansion will end. [simplistic, i know. but seems to make some sense to me...] Me: btw, Hinduism is not the only such religion. there are other religions too that are exclusivist. a good example to prop up my case would be Judaism, a more or less tribal religion which probably never reached the first critical mass point. Judaism discourages missionary activities and maintains an exclusivist doctrine, again based on purity of the chosen people. we could say that Judaism once it came close to the first critical mass reinvented itself as Christianity - an evangelist religion but with no exclusivist tendencies - and hence it didnt have to hit the second point. could spread and spread :) islam too - another variation of the same theme. 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Margitte

    I haven't finished reading the book. I still plan to though, but not in one sitting. The official blurb: '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 religious affairs, Arms I haven't finished reading the book. I still plan to though, but not in one sitting. The official blurb: '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 religious affairs, Armstrong traces the history of how men and women have perceived and experienced God, from the time of Abraham to the present. From classical philosophy and medieval mysticism to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the modern age of skepticism, Armstrong performs the near miracle of distilling the intellectual history of monotheism into one compelling volume.' 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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kaelan Ratcliffe▪Κάϊλαν Ράτκλιφ▪كايِلان راتكِليف

    Nuances Of The Religious Tradition 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 Nuances Of The Religious Tradition 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 A History of God, they won't be disappointed with the result.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jay Delorenzis

    This is a phenomenal book. I've read this about 3 times. It has completely opened my mind about how religion works in the world. Karen Armstrong uses mind-numbing details to make her case as how the Bible became written and how we are to regard it. At the same time, we can have a personal relationship with that Being we call God. Religion is something purely human-made about a phenomena that is undeniable--God exists and He can exist purely for the benefit of the individual, however he or she de This is a phenomenal book. I've read this about 3 times. It has completely opened my mind about how religion works in the world. Karen Armstrong uses mind-numbing details to make her case as how the Bible became written and how we are to regard it. At the same time, we can have a personal relationship with that Being we call God. Religion is something purely human-made about a phenomena that is undeniable--God exists and He can exist purely for the benefit of the individual, however he or she defines God. This book is not for the light reader. It demands much attention and several rereads. I suggest reading the book quickly through first, to understand what the author is saying. Then concentrate on each chapter as a separate entity. Don't worry about understanding further chapters until earlier chapters are understood. I've underlined the original book until there was hardly a bare page in the earlier part of the book. I consider this one of my all-time favorite books. It is about time for another read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    [Name Redacted]

    Karen Armstrong has no background in history nor in the academic study of religion, and it shows. This book's approach to the three Abrahamic religions is overly simplistic, presenting only Armstrong's often-erroneous views of these three prominent religions with almost no grounding in historical fact. She picks and chooses which sources to cite in accordance with her own biases and agenda, and it is clear that however much distance she might put between her life as a nun and her life as an armc Karen Armstrong has no background in history nor in the academic study of religion, and it shows. This book's approach to the three Abrahamic religions is overly simplistic, presenting only Armstrong's often-erroneous views of these three prominent religions with almost no grounding in historical fact. She picks and chooses which sources to cite in accordance with her own biases and agenda, and it is clear that however much distance she might put between her life as a nun and her life as an armchair historian, she will never be able to escape her Catholic origins. Books like this are part of the reason why so many non-academics have such a poor understanding of the history of religion in the world, and do little more than contribute to the cloud of misinformation which surrounds the field.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Eric_W

    I know I'm an atheist and all, but I still enjoy Armstrong. Wrote this review several years ago: Rarely does one come across a book that is recognized as erudite, essential, and readable simultaneously. Karen Armstrong's The History of God has brilliantly analyzed the rise of fundamentalism as a reaction to the emphasis on logos of the Enlightenment as opposed to mythos that had been essential to one's view of the world. "The economic changes over the last four hundred years have been accompanied I know I'm an atheist and all, but I still enjoy Armstrong. Wrote this review several years ago: Rarely does one come across a book that is recognized as erudite, essential, and readable simultaneously. Karen Armstrong's The History of God has brilliantly analyzed the rise of fundamentalism as a reaction to the emphasis on logos of the Enlightenment as opposed to mythos that had been essential to one's view of the world. "The economic changes over the last four hundred years have been accompanied by immense social, political, and intellectual revolutions, with the development of an entirely different, scientific and rational, concept of the nature of truth; and once again, a radical religious change has become necessary." As science and technology began to become associated with such visible successes in overcoming disease and social ills, the tendency was to believe that logos (rational, scientific thinking related exactly to facts and external realities) was the only “means to truth and began to discount mythos [that which is timeless and constant, “looking back to the origins of life . . to the deepest levels of the human mind . . . unconcerned with practical matters” and rooted in the unconscious, that which helps us through the day, mythological stories not intended to be literal, but conveying truth:] as false and superstitious.” The temptation is to think of mythos as meaning myth. Inj this context that would be incorrect. Armstrong uses this word as it relates to mystery and mysticism, rooted ultimately in traditional biblical and Islamic history “which gives meaning to life, but cannot be explained in rational terms.”Logos, however, was unable to assuage pain and suffering leading to a vacuum the fundamentalists sought to revive. The danger unseen by modern fundamentalists is that they have tried to imbue mythos with an element of literalism essential to logos. The difference between these two concepts forms the basis for the battle between modernism and fundamentalism. She traces the beginning of the fundamentalist movement back to the time of Columbus when a crisis occurred in Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella expelled both Muslims and Jews from Spain. The three religious groups had actually coexisted quite happily and profitably together for several centuries, but the prospect of modernity and threats from a new world view, science, threatened age-old traditions and myths. The fundamentalist movement was an attempt by traditionalists to retain a sectarian view of the world. For many of these people the world can be divided into two camps: good and evil and those forces that are not allied with their own narrow view of the world are labeled as evil. That these believes are rooted in fear does not lessen their impact or importance to the faithful. Often an arrogance and condescension – I plead guilty here – make secularists insensitive to those who feel their religious beliefs have been undermined and challenged. The seemingly irreconcilable difference between rationalism and mysticism perhaps make militant fundamentalism inevitable. The danger for fundamentalist lies in their attempts to turn mythos into logos, e.g., have sacred texts be read literally and inerrantly as one would read a scientific text. That may lead to inevitable discrepancies between observation and belief that may hasten the defeat of religion. Of great benefit, is Armstrong's clear explanation of the differences and conflicts that exist in Islam. Shiite and Sunni branches represent very different interpretations of a major faith. The eventual outcome of the dichotomy of secular versus sectarian remains unknown. What is apparent is that fundamentalism cannot tolerate pluralism or democracy and compromise seems unlikely. The author identifies two major threads in the development of fundamentalism: (a) fear of the modern world and (b) that the response to fear is to try to create an alternative society by preaching "an ideology of exclusion, hatred, and even violence." She warns at the end of the book, "If fundamentalists must evolve a more compassionate assessment of their enemies in order to be true to their religious traditions, secularists must also be more faithful to the benevolence, tolerance, and respect for humanity which characterizes modern culture at its best, and address themselves more emphatically to the fears, anxieties, and needs which so many of their fundamentalist neighbors experience but which no society can safely ignore."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Drake

    While this is an excellent summary of the history of the idea of God in Abrahamic religion, and I highly recommend it, I cannot give it five stars for third reasons. First, the author is overly generous in her assumptions concerning the literal interpretation of myth. For example, she asserts that the creation myths of Sumeria, Canaan, and Egypt were not intended to explain the origins of the world. Second, in her attempts at syncretism she sometimes overlooks very real, significant and extremel While this is an excellent summary of the history of the idea of God in Abrahamic religion, and I highly recommend it, I cannot give it five stars for third reasons. First, the author is overly generous in her assumptions concerning the literal interpretation of myth. For example, she asserts that the creation myths of Sumeria, Canaan, and Egypt were not intended to explain the origins of the world. Second, in her attempts at syncretism she sometimes overlooks very real, significant and extremely relevant differences between religions. Finally, she cites original sources extensively, but fails to cite any of the critical sources from which she draws; when the Higher Criticism is introduced, it is not even referenced by that name, let alone any of its proponents. Still, it is a very good guide to the development of mystical (rather than theological) thought in the three Abrahamic religions, and I recommend it especially for those who, like me, disagree with its final conclusions.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Karen Armstrong does an outstanding job of describing the rise of the world's three most important religions besides Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It is a daunting undertaking which she absolutely masters from end to end. I keep saying this in reviews, but with all the slander of islam in on Fox, CNN, TF1, etc and the long history on anti-Semitism particularly here in Europe, it is critical for truly understanding and interpreting our modern world to understand where The Big Three came fr Karen Armstrong does an outstanding job of describing the rise of the world's three most important religions besides Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It is a daunting undertaking which she absolutely masters from end to end. I keep saying this in reviews, but with all the slander of islam in on Fox, CNN, TF1, etc and the long history on anti-Semitism particularly here in Europe, it is critical for truly understanding and interpreting our modern world to understand where The Big Three came from, how they are similar and how they are different.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David

    The most comprehensive, exhaustive, and fascinating study of the Abrahamic religions and how they have changed over a few thousand years. Of definite interest to both religious and non-religious folks. Absolutely fascinating, but be warned: it is very dense, well-documented and cited, and reads much like a textbook (though a very engaging one). Over 100 pages of endnotes, a glossary, extensive bibliography with annotations for further reading, and fortunately, copious amounts of space in the fro The most comprehensive, exhaustive, and fascinating study of the Abrahamic religions and how they have changed over a few thousand years. Of definite interest to both religious and non-religious folks. Absolutely fascinating, but be warned: it is very dense, well-documented and cited, and reads much like a textbook (though a very engaging one). Over 100 pages of endnotes, a glossary, extensive bibliography with annotations for further reading, and fortunately, copious amounts of space in the front and back of the book for microscopic notes on topics of interest. Brilliant, thought-provoking, prescient, and challenging.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tom Ippen

    This book would be difficult to process for anyone who didn't have at least some background in religious studies. It was recommended to me as a great way to "jump in" to the history of Abrahamic religions, but Armstrong's sources and references are obscure and complex. Beyond that, this book is bursting with tons of fantastic comparisons between Abrahamic and Eastern beliefs, and the level of detail in documenting every theological change, movement and debate for the last few millennia is incred This book would be difficult to process for anyone who didn't have at least some background in religious studies. It was recommended to me as a great way to "jump in" to the history of Abrahamic religions, but Armstrong's sources and references are obscure and complex. Beyond that, this book is bursting with tons of fantastic comparisons between Abrahamic and Eastern beliefs, and the level of detail in documenting every theological change, movement and debate for the last few millennia is incredible (particularly on all the middle-eastern goings-on between 300BCE and 400 CE, which a major chunk of the book is devoted to). The dissection of Islam was handled with an informed respect, and makes this book a useful guide for those whose knowledge on the subject is minimal (like myself). The history and competing image of the Koran is given a good deal of the spotlight-treatment, which I found very helpful. Besides covering the major movements of the Abrahamic faiths, Armstrong breaks down all the divisions that arose that most of us don't consider when analyzing the standpoint and structure these faiths at any given time; she is always careful to include the stance and specifics of the dissenters whenever she makes a statement on the more commonly-known positions of the Church or governing religious body. This is a good read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Adrian Stumpp

    Armstrong, a former Catholic nun, traces the histories of Christ, Yahweh, and Allah from their common roots to the present, taking brief excursions along the way to explore some of the more interesting and eccentirc sects that have sprung up and usually been exterminated with extreme prejudice along the way. She points out, for example, that all three trace their claims of Truth back to a single man, Abraham, who believed in a god named El, who is none of the three major monotheistic deities of Armstrong, a former Catholic nun, traces the histories of Christ, Yahweh, and Allah from their common roots to the present, taking brief excursions along the way to explore some of the more interesting and eccentirc sects that have sprung up and usually been exterminated with extreme prejudice along the way. She points out, for example, that all three trace their claims of Truth back to a single man, Abraham, who believed in a god named El, who is none of the three major monotheistic deities of the west. Oh, and while Abraham did worship a single god, he believed in many gods. Kabbalah, Gnosticism, Catherism, Sufism, and others are explored. Armstrong does a particularly good job in my opinion of distilling complex theological principles into succinct, easy to understand language without demeaning or simplifying the complexity of issues like the nature of faith, the mysteries of trinity, the Council of Nicaea, the process of biblical redaction, the particularities of Orthodox iconography, and the subtle differences between canonical and liturgical traditons. A very good read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    This book by Karen Armstrong covers the development of the world's three major monotheistic faiths. Although I am incredibly interested in the subject, this book was a tough read for me. It is very dense with information and I probably ended up skimming the text more than I should have. I'll most likely end up re-reading it some time down the road to gain a greater appreciation of the subject.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Arun Divakar

    You are plagued with this feeling at times which can most aptly be described as nagging. At times of mental or physical idleness, there is this thought that slowly seeps into your mind and like an ink stain spreads all over you. I thought that once the review for this book was typed and posted, I had gotten done with it but it was not to be. There was still a clamor in my mind that I might not have done justice to the book with the review I put in. Things came full circle when a friend who happe You are plagued with this feeling at times which can most aptly be described as nagging. At times of mental or physical idleness, there is this thought that slowly seeps into your mind and like an ink stain spreads all over you. I thought that once the review for this book was typed and posted, I had gotten done with it but it was not to be. There was still a clamor in my mind that I might not have done justice to the book with the review I put in. Things came full circle when a friend who happens to follow my reviews asked me ‘You didn’t much want to write a review for this book, did you ?’ and that made me want to attempt a review for this book once again and so here goes : Growing up in India is to grow up with Gods all around you. From a young age, I had seen people approaching God for reasons which are purely domestic and personal in nature. Looking at my time as school goer, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that students (myself included) look for a divine intervention prior to attempting a major exam. There was even an anecdote of a celebrity who mentioned about a time when he wrote his high school exams and had no hope of clearing them. The day before results were due, he goes to a place of worship and with a rather embarrassed face tells God : ‘I mean….you know….well…I am not saying you should get me through but then if I don’t make it then people would think you didn’t do your job well…so what say ?’ and he ended up passing the exam. He might have romanticized the whole episode but then these are little occurrences that cement our belief in this unseen entity. Belief also takes rather exaggerated forms too, for example did you know that there is a place of worship dedicated exclusively for blessings to get a visa to the US ? It might appear laughable to a lot of us but for those who tend to strongly believe in this aspect, the belief is strengthened with each new visa getting approved. Lighter side apart, not all forms of belief are laughable. A while ago, I did happen to spend some time with a doctor who told me of instances where patients with life threatening medical scenarios have managed to pull through simply by the power of their mind and their unshakable belief in an entity that they place higher than all forms of life on Earth. The interpretations that humanity have ascribed to God have turned this abstraction into both a boon and a bane. A boon in the strength of mind it imparts to people and a bane in terms of the atrocities committed in the name of religion. The scope of Karen Armstrong’s book is a detailed introspection on the nature of God as seen by the three major monotheistic religions : Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The centuries of history behind these religions means that the narrative is broad, exhaustive and rather difficult to grapple with. Armstrong however plods determinedly ahead and tries to make sense of how the abstraction of God has achieved shape and form among the followers of these religions. What is most interesting to note here is how the same root ( a belief in a supernatural, omnipotent entity) gave rise to three different offshoots of religions that now command a multitude of followers across the globe. The author devotes a couple of chapters for each religion and dissects them as best as possible in those few pages. The sad truth behind all religions is how much the tenets put down for lasting peace, tolerance and kindness have been bent into shapes that have supported fundamentalism and massacres across history. One question that has never ceased to trouble me about this abstraction is why does violence occur in the name of a kind, benevolent deity ? Is it that humanity is eager to take God back to his ancient roots of violence, bloodshed and sacrifices ? Armstrong offers no answers to these questions for her job here is to act as a bard, a person who recounts facts and nothing more or less. From pagan beginnings to the World of today, Armstrong traces the story of the old man in the sky. For all these thoughts around the meat around this topic, reading this book is like getting hit on the head with a load of bricks. I don’t mean that you get hit once and then recover, you get hit again and again and again. The flow of facts, theories and explanations are akin to a flood that can sweep you away if you do not hang on for dear life. A reading of the title of this book will bring to your mind an image of an easily understandable history of God as told by the three religions but then nothing could be farther from the truth. You practically have to wade your way through very hefty material which almost reads like a theology text book. Armstrong is not a great author in terms of her skills in associating with a common reader. It is as if - this is how I am going to write and you better keep up if you want to understand what I am trying to say. This is the one book that frustrated me the most in 2015. I wanted to skip and move away from this book but I simply couldn’t for the topic is an amusing one. Hemming and hawing, grumbling and mumbling I finally finished the book. Don’t come to this book expecting an easy, light and understandable read for you will be sorely disappointed. In the chapter ‘The End Of God’, I came across this : One day in Auschwitz, a group of Jews put God on trial. They charged him with betrayal and cruelty. Like Job, they found no consolation in the usual answers to the problems of evil and suffering in the midst of this current obscenity. They could find no excuse for God, no extenuating circumstances, so they found him guilty and, presumably, worthy of death. The Rabbi pronounced the verdict. Then he looked up and said that the trial was over, it was time for the evening prayer.

  21. 5 out of 5

    S.Baqer Al-Meshqab

    A History of God by Karen Armstrong How Men interpreted Divinity for the Last Four Thousand Years A History of God unveils the quest of humans to understand the purpose of creation and the mastermind behind it since the ancient times of Abraham's Canaan until the birth of Atheism in the 20th Century. Armstrong mainly discusses Judaism, Christianity, & Islam, being the most influential monolithic religions to reveal that over the course of time they have been divided into several branches, eac A History of God by Karen Armstrong How Men interpreted Divinity for the Last Four Thousand Years A History of God unveils the quest of humans to understand the purpose of creation and the mastermind behind it since the ancient times of Abraham's Canaan until the birth of Atheism in the 20th Century. Armstrong mainly discusses Judaism, Christianity, & Islam, being the most influential monolithic religions to reveal that over the course of time they have been divided into several branches, each modified to adopt the circumstances in which they were born, and each affected by and affecting the other sects in ways that may not be clearly perceivable. Mesopotamia, Persia, Arabia, Mediterranean regions & European empires, all have been exposed to waves of beliefs and human dominance which erased concepts, modified ideas, and introduced new notions. Abraham's El, Moses' Yahweh, The founding of Israeli Kingdoms, The expulsion of Jews, The birth of Christ and the Introduction of the Trinity, the Rise of Islam of Prophet Muhammad's Mission to create a world which works by the laws of Allah and for the benefit of his followers, the reformation of the idea of God and the roles of Mystics and Philosophers, the resentments towards the deity and seeking atheism as the solution of salvation, and many more events are covered in a brief, fast pacing way. Yes, quite a mix. A History of anything cannot be summed in a mere 500 pages or so. However, Armstrong did a good job collecting, organizing and analyzing the data of four millenniums of human history of understanding God, but how reliable the references were is to be seen. The presentation of words was not well-suited to the average reader to make it easily accessible, as ideas so complicated and foreign never ceased to pop up here and there, trying to clear things up but they blur other things out. Regardless, The book opens up a vast door to the world of theology. Confusing? Yes, very. Mistaken? At some points, yes, but that doesn't mean to question the validity of the whole research, it will make you ask more questions than you think. Informative? Definitely. Three stars because it gave me nightmares to connect the dots, which are still not yet fully connected.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

    First of all, this book's title is misleading. It is not a history of God. It is a historical retelling of many men's interpretations of the idea of the monotheistic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Still, "The Idea of God: A History" would not have sold as many copies. The Bible says God created man in His own image. Karen states as fact the exact opposite: Man created God in his own image, then re-created him a lot of times in response to changing historical and cultural conditions. Karen First of all, this book's title is misleading. It is not a history of God. It is a historical retelling of many men's interpretations of the idea of the monotheistic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Still, "The Idea of God: A History" would not have sold as many copies. The Bible says God created man in His own image. Karen states as fact the exact opposite: Man created God in his own image, then re-created him a lot of times in response to changing historical and cultural conditions. Karen takes us from God's creation in the desert up to modern times. She carefully lays out the major players in God's revisions- people like St. Thomas Aquinas, Plato, al-Ghazzali, Luther, Nietzche and so on...the list is intellectually impressive and at times overwhelming. In each case she ennumerates the person's beliefs. Instead of finding these 'brilliantly lucid, splendidly readable' as a Sunday Times reader once did, I found myself re-reading sentences repeatedly trying to get sense out of what I just read, and re-read, and re-read... I could only take a roughly 20-page dose of this book per DAY. Granted, the book is primarily nonfiction and therefore a more difficult read. -Except that it's not always non-fiction. Karen somtimes slipped her own opinions into her rendition of history without identifying that she was doing so. This tended to make her opinions seem objective. I want to point out that my next statement is extremely subjective: I felt that since Karen herself has no belief in an uncreated God, she is rather like an observer who studies a dead butterfly and reports on it. She says a lot but has missed something crucial about the whole topic- and she'll never pin it to her board because her specimen isn't alive. Ironically, she says this herself: “It is no good trying to understand religious 'information' that we have not experienced for ourselves.” I did manage to mine some interesting quotes from the book- quotes from famous religious followers down through the ages. Final note: I have misclassified this book as about Christianity and nonfiction because I did not want to create a new category for this single volume.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    One of the most informative, relevant, and fascinating books I've ever read. It was by no means an easy read. But for the amount of education you get out of it, the read is well worth it. The author traces the history of monotheism (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and shows not only their interconnectedness, but also their literal unity. The detail in the exploration of the history of monotheism was indeed comprehensive - but also appropriate as it shows how religion has developed from era to e One of the most informative, relevant, and fascinating books I've ever read. It was by no means an easy read. But for the amount of education you get out of it, the read is well worth it. The author traces the history of monotheism (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and shows not only their interconnectedness, but also their literal unity. The detail in the exploration of the history of monotheism was indeed comprehensive - but also appropriate as it shows how religion has developed from era to era and how there is absolutely no universal truth or standard even within those sects. Instead they bend and change based on the needs of the people and those who have power over them. It was a remarkably well-balanced and informative book that all religious people should read. There are few among us that would pick up a book of Shakespeare and just start reading it for enjoyment - those 500year old writings are incredibly difficult for us to understand because the language and culture has changed since their writing, so we know you should look up some background or cliff notes or something to help us understand the ideas of context of what we read. And it's only all the more true with the religious books that are much older and have the added barrier of the translaters' bias and agendas - it is irresponsible to read old spiritual books without reading about the history, translation, and context of those books. Karen Armstrong does us all a favor by making a single volume that it is so useful for exactly that purpose.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    tough read esp the middle part but basically liked the end because: (1) for believers - you'll see how the conception of GOD changes through time and it's sort of inevitable ( however real GOD is and can be). We fit GOD into our needs (2) for atheists - that even at the end of the day when you remove GOD from your life, you'll end up filling that emptiness with sth else. Basically you still need that spiritual stuff there in your brain (whatever you call it) Other salient points: (1) one has to take tough read esp the middle part but basically liked the end because: (1) for believers - you'll see how the conception of GOD changes through time and it's sort of inevitable ( however real GOD is and can be). We fit GOD into our needs (2) for atheists - that even at the end of the day when you remove GOD from your life, you'll end up filling that emptiness with sth else. Basically you still need that spiritual stuff there in your brain (whatever you call it) Other salient points: (1) one has to take a stand on the existence of GOD (2) FOR: this world emphasizes too much on Science and with it scientific methods to prove or disprove things. BUT spiritual stuff is really like an art where you need to feel it ( like a song. how do you determine it's good? Yes, you need some basic logic to construct it, but you experiencing it is all that matters ( and determines its merit) (3) AGAINST: that we move from monotheism to polytheism and back to monotheism (YES, it may shock some of us). Why? To fit our needs at the particular time. (4) your final verdict... Read it...it's dense but worth a shot

  25. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Question: Can you distill a history of the way in which humans have understood and experienced God over the past 4,000 years into one volume? Answer: Apparently, yes. This is a fascinating look at the religious developments and traditions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims from Abraham to the modern age. Armstrong includes the philosophes and mysticism that has been present in all three monotheistic religions over the centuries and clearly places the evolution in religious thought into its histori Question: Can you distill a history of the way in which humans have understood and experienced God over the past 4,000 years into one volume? Answer: Apparently, yes. This is a fascinating look at the religious developments and traditions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims from Abraham to the modern age. Armstrong includes the philosophes and mysticism that has been present in all three monotheistic religions over the centuries and clearly places the evolution in religious thought into its historical context. Armstrong traces the development in all three religious traditions of the idea of a personal God, but cautions that the idea of a personal God leads some believers in all three faiths to condemn and judge those who do not conform to their beliefs. She sees the fundamentalism that has emerged in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as dangerous, aggressive, and as a "retreat from God". While not an easy rad, this history of the development of monotheism is worth the effort. This is definitely a "read and discuss" book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Betty Cross

    Some people find Karen Armstrong's expository style "dense," or "difficult," but I've read a good bit of Joseph Campbell's works, so maybe it's easier for me. A History of God is one of the best books on the general history of the three monotheistic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- that I've ever read. To me, the most interesting thing about it is how, once all 3 faiths were established, they tended to move in parallel. For instance, all three were heavily influenced by Greek philoso Some people find Karen Armstrong's expository style "dense," or "difficult," but I've read a good bit of Joseph Campbell's works, so maybe it's easier for me. A History of God is one of the best books on the general history of the three monotheistic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- that I've ever read. To me, the most interesting thing about it is how, once all 3 faiths were established, they tended to move in parallel. For instance, all three were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy in the Middle Ages, with Thomas Acquinas applying Aristotelian philosophy to Christianity, while Maimonides was doing the same to Judaism, and various Muslim thinkers were reinterpreting Islam in Aristotelian terms. I recommend the work to anyone with a deep interest in comparative religion, but those definitely convinced their own religion is the only way will find little comfort in it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dan Scott

    As an orthodox, Evangelical Protestant, I was unnerved by Armstrong's treatment of Monotheism as a religion, which makes Judaism, Christianity and Islam something like its three major denominations. That offends the believers of all three religions! Nonetheless, it was a helpful way to allow each group to see how the same major philosophical premises have encouraged similar developments in each religious community. Each have Charismatics, for example. Each have contemplatives. Each have intellec As an orthodox, Evangelical Protestant, I was unnerved by Armstrong's treatment of Monotheism as a religion, which makes Judaism, Christianity and Islam something like its three major denominations. That offends the believers of all three religions! Nonetheless, it was a helpful way to allow each group to see how the same major philosophical premises have encouraged similar developments in each religious community. Each have Charismatics, for example. Each have contemplatives. Each have intellectual structures by which the faith and its implications are described and applied to 'secular' subjects. In short: this is a valuable book, especially for believers, even if they find themselves disagreeing on every page. It helps us understand one another better and especially helps believers understand the way secularly minded people view religion.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dallas Doctor

    I cannot really recommend this book, only because the author struggles with the enormous weight of the subject and simply tries to cover too much and ends up short-changing most ideas ... there were parts that were illuminating and interesting, but most of the text was cumbersome .. .. additionally, if the author had been half as critical of her own assumptions as she was of others, it would have been a very different, and much better book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Azita Rassi

    Objective but rather boring.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ericka Clouther

    This book is an amazingly detailed history by one of the major religious scholars of our century. But it's not the final chapter for Armstrong and I was really captivated by her change in view in her subsequent book, The Case for God. I recommend starting with this one, but definitely follow it with (the unfortunately very long) The Case for God.

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