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A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (1993)

by Karen Armstrong

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7,282851,090 (3.86)135
"As soon as they became recognizably human, men and women--in their hunger to understand their own presence on earth and the mysteries within and around them--began to worship gods. Karen Armstrong's masterly and illuminating book explores the ways in which the idea and experience of God evolved among the monotheists--Jews, Christians and Muslims. Weaving a multicolored fabric of historical, philosophical, intellectual and social developments and insights, Armstrong shows how, at various times through the centuries, each of the monotheistic religions has held a subtly different concept of God. At the same time she draws our attention to the basic and profound similarities among them, making it clear that in all of them God has been and is experienced intensely, passionately and often--especially in the West--traumatically. Some monotheists have seen darkness, desolation and terror, where others have seen light and transfiguration; the reasons for these inherent differences are examined, and the people behind them are brought to life. We look first at the gradual move away from the pagan gods to the full-fledged monotheism of the Jews during the exile in Babylon. Next considered is the development of parallel, yet different, perceptions and beliefs among Christians and Muslims. The book then moves "generationally" through time to examine the God of the philosophers and mystics in all three traditions, the God of the Reformation, the God of the Enlightenment and finally the nineteenth- and twentieth-century challenges of skeptics and atheists, as well as the fiercely reductive faith of the fundamentalists of our own day. Armstrong suggests that any particular idea of God must--if it is to survive--work for the people who develop it, and that ideas of God change when they cease to be effective. She argues that the concept of a personal God who behaves like a larger version of ourselves was suited to mankind at a certain stage but no longer works for an increasing number of people." "Understanding the ever-changing ideas of God in the past and their relevance and usefulness in their time, she says, is a way to begin the search for a new concept for the twenty-first century. Her book shows that such a development is virtually inevitable, in spite of the despair of our increasingly "Godless" world, because it is a natural aspect of our humanity to seek a symbol for the ineffable reality that is universally perceived."--Publisher's description.… (more)
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» See also 135 mentions

English (81)  Russian (1)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Spanish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (86)
Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
According to Karen Armstrong (and I agree), monotheism has an inbuilt tension between a transcendent God who isn't very approachable (or even comprehensible) and a personal God who can be human, all too human. Armstrong describes the pendulum swings between the two extremes throughout history. The prose in this book is very dense and the chapters are long, but it's well worth the effort. ( )
  villyard | Dec 6, 2022 |
Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" is an expansive and exciting work. In it, she attempts a broad sketch of the evolution of the concept of God in three major monotheistic faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judiasm. I enjoyed this book a great deal, both for its introduction (to me) of new conceptions of God, and more importantly, in its demonstration that God, as conceived of by man, has never been a static or unchanging entity. Indeed, the main strength of "A History of God" is its illustration of how dynamic and mutable conceptions of God really are.
For this book, it is important to focus on what it is not, as much as what it is. It is not an effort to justify or to prove the existence, or to demonstrate the correctness of any one religious view. While Armstrong does question the development of certain religious practices, in particular those of Christianity, her questions are important ones, and do not seem malicious or destructive in intent. Instead, her goal is one of the mapmaker. She does not say what the land is or whether it is good or evil; she merely charts it as she goes, and primarily leaves the duty of determining the value of the land surveyed to the reader.
In doing so, she provides the reader with a chance to examine the cultural evolution of so many of the ideas that we currently hold as universal and immutable. While her challenge is not a direct one, any serious reader must question their own beliefs in the face of a clear demonstration that God is in many ways a man-made entity, and that God, as a concept, has developed as man has developed, to fill his needs and desires.
I did have some complaints about this book. As others have said, the book feels heavily weighted towards Islam, at times to the exclusion of the other two faiths it aims to cover. However, it is important to recognize that a topic of this magnitude is going to have to make ommissions, and for western readers, a greater focus on Islam is at times sorely needed. Additionally, she also at times seems somewhat hostile towards Christianity. Again though, her complaints are most often valid ones that should be addressed or at least considered.
At times a difficult book to get through, due to its depth, but in all an excellent and enlightening read. I highly recommend it. ( )
  Azmir_Fakir | Oct 31, 2022 |
Generally good writing, but a bit too daring - large sweeping statements without much support. Informative and well-organized. ( )
  oranje | Oct 13, 2022 |
answer of many questions
  sidrasabir | Sep 11, 2022 |
Armstrong excels in the art of story telling. In this book, she weaves the threads of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history into a coherent story.

I learned from this book that all three of these faiths influenced each other throughout their development, and all three have constantly changing ideas of God. Each tradition struggles with the idea of a single, ultimate God. Certain questions come up again and again, changing the way that God and the tenants of the faith are understood.

Is God universal or linked to a particular group? Is God only good or does he also encompass evil? Is God a subjective concept or an external reality? Each religious tradition has periodically struggled with these questions. As the world changed, new issues became important and the answers to those questions changed. Not surprisingly, this makes for a lot of information, but Armstrong handles it nicely.

This book is not completely without bias. She does not manipulate history to conform to her beliefs (well, as far as I know), but she does make it clear which positions she has greater sympathy for. Partially because of her deep knowledge of many different religious traditions, she tends to be sympathetic towards ideas which point to a universal, transcendent deity and less sympathetic towards ideas which encourage division and exclusivity.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karen Armstrongprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cracknell, RobinCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lynch, KathleenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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As a child, I had a number of strong religious beliefs but little faith in God.
In the beginning, human beings created a God who was the First Cause of all things and Ruler of heaven and earth.
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"As soon as they became recognizably human, men and women--in their hunger to understand their own presence on earth and the mysteries within and around them--began to worship gods. Karen Armstrong's masterly and illuminating book explores the ways in which the idea and experience of God evolved among the monotheists--Jews, Christians and Muslims. Weaving a multicolored fabric of historical, philosophical, intellectual and social developments and insights, Armstrong shows how, at various times through the centuries, each of the monotheistic religions has held a subtly different concept of God. At the same time she draws our attention to the basic and profound similarities among them, making it clear that in all of them God has been and is experienced intensely, passionately and often--especially in the West--traumatically. Some monotheists have seen darkness, desolation and terror, where others have seen light and transfiguration; the reasons for these inherent differences are examined, and the people behind them are brought to life. We look first at the gradual move away from the pagan gods to the full-fledged monotheism of the Jews during the exile in Babylon. Next considered is the development of parallel, yet different, perceptions and beliefs among Christians and Muslims. The book then moves "generationally" through time to examine the God of the philosophers and mystics in all three traditions, the God of the Reformation, the God of the Enlightenment and finally the nineteenth- and twentieth-century challenges of skeptics and atheists, as well as the fiercely reductive faith of the fundamentalists of our own day. Armstrong suggests that any particular idea of God must--if it is to survive--work for the people who develop it, and that ideas of God change when they cease to be effective. She argues that the concept of a personal God who behaves like a larger version of ourselves was suited to mankind at a certain stage but no longer works for an increasing number of people." "Understanding the ever-changing ideas of God in the past and their relevance and usefulness in their time, she says, is a way to begin the search for a new concept for the twenty-first century. Her book shows that such a development is virtually inevitable, in spite of the despair of our increasingly "Godless" world, because it is a natural aspect of our humanity to seek a symbol for the ineffable reality that is universally perceived."--Publisher's description.

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Book description
From the back:

Why does God exist? How have the three dominant monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - shaped and altered  the conception of God?
How have these religions influenced each other? In this stunningly intelligent book, Karen Armstrong, one of Britain's foremost commentators on religious affairs, traces the history of how men and women have perceived and experienced God, form the time of Abraham to the present.
The epic story begins with the Jews' gradual transformation of pagan idol worship in Babylon into true monotheism - a concept previously unknown in the world. [Aside from Akenaton] Christianity and Islam both rose on the foundation of this revolutionary idea, but these religions refashioned "the One God" to suit social and political needs of their followers.
From classical philosophy and medieval mysticism to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the modern age of skepticism, Karen Armstrong performs the near miracle of distilling the intellectual history of monotheism into one superbly readable volume, destined to take its place as a classic.
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