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On the Bible

Allen & Unwin – “Books That Shook the World”
RRP $24.95 (Soft cover)

Described as “one of the provocative, original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world” and as “arguably the most lucid, wide-ranging and consistently interesting religion writer”, Karen Armstrong in On the Bible first tells the story of the writing and coming together of the 66 books we call The Bible.

In what she describes as a biography of the Bible she tells us then of the many ways these words have been understood and used by Jewish and Christian scholars and leaders, in pre-Christian and early Christian times, then through the mediaeval and Reformation eras and now in modern scientific days.

Karen Armstrong is clearly not content with an arid academic text about these struggles for meaning: she writes with passion, disturbed by Jewish and Christian “fundamentalists” who have used the words of Scripture to justify violence and the oppression of those who believe differently.

For her the Bible is a spiritual resource, not a quarry to extract material to build forts or to find convenient projectiles.

She says, “Throughout this biography we have considered the ways in which Jews and Christians have tried to cultivate a receptive, intuitive approach to Scripture. This is difficult for us today. We are a talkative and opinionated society and not always good at listening.”

Thank you, Ms Armstrong, for helping us learn to listen, for this is a book scholars will appreciate and all can enjoy.

On the Bible is the latest of her 21 scholarly books. These include biographies of Muhammad and the Buddha.

Reviewed by Brian Lee