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In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of…

In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis

by Karen Armstrong

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In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis by Karen Armstrong. Age: adult. Karen Armstrong is a talented writer on religious subjects; this book is filled with her new insights on the book of Genesis. This book has two sections, first, her writings about Genesis, and second, in the back, the whole of Genesis itself for easy reference while reading her comments about it. I don’t know exactly what makes this a NEW interpretation; however, as she tells the stories of the Genesis characters – Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Joseph and all the rest, these bible personages come truly alive.
I remember while studying Hamlet in high school we watched a film in which an old British actor told us that Hamlet had something for everyone – regicide, revenge, madness, suicide, impending war, ghosts, lots of swash and buckle – imagine seeing it onstage at the Globe Theater in Elizabethan London! In the same way Genesis covers the entire human condition – love, hate, murder, total destruction of the world, revenge, journeys into the unknown, and come-uppances for a variety of characters – Joseph’s brothers, for example. This is what makes it so exciting and meaningful – the characters’ hopes, needs, and foibles mirror our own.
Perhaps it is a new interpretation because Armstrong discusses the extent to which this new monotheistic God of the ancient Hebrews communicates with his early believers. In the beginning of Genesis, God is the main character on center stage – busy creating the universe, and admiring His own handiwork. After the creation of man, God regularly communicates with Adam – he meets him often in the cool of the day in Eden. But as the chapters fly by, God communicates with his human creations less and less. Sometimes he is benevolent (creating a mate for Adam), sometimes demanding (telling Abraham to “get up and go” from his home and clan to a “place I will show you” – how’s that for ambiguity?), sometimes angry and vengeful (creating the flood to destroy all He created). As the centuries go by it seems to me that the less God and man communicate with one another, the more of a mess humankind makes. No wonder God gets fed up with his people from time to time.
But through the generations, God never totally gives up on humankind, a good message to take away from the first book of the Bible. God is always ready to listen, ready to love, ready to aid those who believe in and pray to Him.
I enjoy reading Armstrong’s works – her books are easy for the average person to read, yet very authoritative. Each sentence offers much to ponder with many “a-ha!” moments. In this book she focuses on the relationships: person to person and person to God. It’s endlessly dramatic, really like a psychological study of who did what and why. Our library has two other books by her, A History of God and The Battle for God. All are excellent –check them out! ( )
  Epiphany-OviedoELCA | Aug 26, 2011 |
This is not a new book, but it’s one I enjoyed and want to share. It’s short, especially so when half the book is a reprint of the text of Genesis, which, surely, no one reads.

This is the story of the Bible’s first book, raw and unchurched. Karen introduces us one by one to the characters and their stories, making no effort to turn them into saints, for they are nothing like the impossibly and depressingly flawless characters we met in Sunday School. Throughout, the authors of Genesis remind us that we can expect no clear-cut answers. We wrestle with the text, measuring its inconsistent doctrines and contradictory lessons, as we struggle to grasp the character of God. How can God be omnipotent, but powerless to control his creation? How can God be benevolent but a killer; wise but arbitrary; just but partial and unfair; omniscient but ignorant of human yearning?

Let me tell one story to set the tone of the book.

Jacob and Esau were twin brothers destined to conflict from the moment they emerged from the womb; Esau, first, to claim the coveted birthright, but not for Jacob’s lack of trying, who followed with his hand grasping his brother’s heel. As adults, the day came when the two would meet, and Jacob feared the meeting, for he had stolen his brother’s birthright through deception.

Jacob didn’t sleep the night before. Instead, says the Bible, he wrestled all night with a stranger, and became aware only at the end of the match that he had been fighting with God. Jacob brushed with the divine, and no two people experience God the same way. Was it real, or was it a dream? Psychologists speak of the “dream work” that we all accomplish at night at some profound level of our being, which enables us to look at issues that our conscious, daytime self finds impossible to face. Perhaps in some deep reach of his memory, Jacob recalled his wrestling match with Esau in the womb, as he internally prepared for his meeting with his brother in the morning.

Transformed and enlightened, Jacob set off at daybreak to meet his brother face to face. ( )
1 vote DubiousDisciple | Jun 5, 2011 |
Somewhat sapre, but nontheless challenging psychological view of Genesis ( )
  wamser | Nov 14, 2010 |
I really enjoyed this book. It shows that religion isn't as black and white as some people try to make it. Armstrong does a good job of showing that religion and the Bible aren't about providing all of the answers, it's about struggling to find the answers and looking at the struggles of past peoples and their ideas to shed light on what it means to be a person of faith. ( )
  ladonna37 | Aug 5, 2009 |
I wasn’t very impressed with In the Beginning. It struck me as being basically a collection of Armstrong’s opinions on Genesis. None of the entries were really in depth enough to be of much practical use in either interpreting Genesis or in provoking questions about it. It was a little like reading Cliffs Notes.
While reading it, I got this terrible feeling that her underlying theme is something along the lines of “I don’t really understand it, but I’m sure that it is all right.” The only positive thing I can think of to say about is that it is probably well intentioned. Oh, and including Genesis at the back was very helpful as it kept me from having to juggle two books. ( )
  amanda4242 | Jan 25, 2009 |
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One of the most haunting scenes in Genesis is surely the occasion when Jacob wrestled all night long with a mysterious stranger and discovered that he had in reality been struggling with God (Genesis 32:24-32).
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345406044, Paperback)

Karen Armstrong makes reading the Bible a smooth and liberating experience. The brilliance of Armstrong's analysis of Genesis lies in her ability to draw together the story, the contemporaneous situations of the characters and the writers, and the relevance of themes amid multifarious contradictions, then hold them up for us to contemplate. Edifying and engaging, this short but impressive book comes complete with the entire Genesis text.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:21 -0400)

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Presents a new interpretation of the stories of Genesis, explaining how these ancient tales illuminate the human quest for meaning and the struggle between good and evil.

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