Felipe Fernandez-Armesto reviews Karen Armstrong's new book The Bible (Atlantic Books, 2007) for The Times (UK). He says:-
Armstrong leads us through the story (of the origins of the Bible) at unflagging speed. Much gets omitted. Hume, Newton, St Augustine’s conversion, Calvinism and the crusades are topics so compressed as to be traduced. But there is room for fascinating coverage of both Christian and Jewish exegesis, which converge surprisingly. The life of the Bible, in Armstrong’s version, happens inside great schools and brilliant individuals. There is not much about its impact at modest levels of education and society. We hear nothing about the role of sermons, liturgy, catechism and study groups in spreading biblical knowledge, influencing society or modifying the meanings of the texts. Disappointingly, the effects on Islam are unmentioned, and there is little on nonwestern churches.
Readers feel the want of these dimensions when confronting Armstrong’s conclusions, which are characteristically wise and searching. The Bible, she points out with relish, is “subversive”, yet so easily reinterpreted that all too often it just confirms readers in their prejudices. We need, she says, “a common hermeneutics” that Christians, Jews and Muslims can share. But the ingredients she specifies (charity, loving kindness, listening and compassion) sound too hard for this world. Fission characterises the history she relates, and it is hard to resist a conclusion she is reluctant to voice: that the Bible will go on generating more meanings, licensing more readings, inspiring more good, justifying more evil and defying consensus.
I haven't had time to read it yet but I must.
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