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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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6,903761,047 (3.87)129
"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 129 mentions

English (73)  Russian (1)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (77)
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
A well written introductory history to the history of how the 3 major Abrahamic religions formed and changed. ( )
  illmunkeys | Apr 22, 2021 |
Questo libro è il frutto di una ricerca approfondita della storia comparata delle tre principali fedi monoteiste e di come le idee religiose possano mettere radici, sbocciare, mutare ed anche morire. Karen Armstrong è una ex suora cattolica romana, nel suo libro sostiene che il giudaismo, il cristianesimo e l'Islam hanno sviluppato l'idea di un Dio personale, che ha aiutato i credenti a maturare come esseri umani a pieno titolo. Armstrong dice però anche che l'idea di un Dio personale può essere pericolosa, perchè ci spinge a giudicare, a condannare ed emarginare gli altri. Detto questo, ciascuno dei tre monoteismi, nei loro modi diversi, ha sviluppato una tradizione mistica fondata sulla consapevolezza che la nostra idea umana di Dio è semplicemente un simbolo di una realtà ineffabile ed incomprensibile. Per Armstrong i moderni fondamentalisti delle tre fedi non sono altro che ``un allontanamento da Dio''. Lei sostiene che le tre fedi, se non si decidono ad escludere dal loro pensiero l'idea di un Dio personale ed esclusivo, saranno destinate ad essere sempre conflittuali e i loro fedeli schiavi di un pensiero dogmatico. ( )
  AntonioGallo | Sep 24, 2020 |
Brilliant Thinking and Brilliant Writing

"A History of God" is a synthesis of where and how Jews, Christians, and Muslims acquired their faiths and theologies. It is an overwhelming book in its breadth and requires the reader to focus and contemplate on each section of the book.

Author Karen Armstrong has three shining talents: 1) the ability to synthesis a tremendous amount of history, 2) the ability to interpret that history and place it in the context of regional and world events, and 3) the ability to use language effectively in her conclusions. These, in my opinion, make her such a good historian.

She not only connects the three religions (as well as a few more in passing), but places them in a historical context and continues that historical context as all three religions change over the centuries.

"A History of God" is a book that I will reread. There are so many details that readers will find fascinating, but it is hard to keep track of all of them given the tremendous scope of Armstrong's task. ( )
1 vote mvblair | Aug 8, 2020 |
Karen Armstrong’s A History of God is an superb work that surveys the great religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Armstrong traces the concept of God from the time religions were polytheistic in Canaan to the beginning of monotheism with the Israelites. It was a rather convoluted journey with the focus on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham’s was called by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. The Israelites eventually escaped via the Red Sea from the pursuing army of Pharaoh. Their wanderings in the desert, conflict in worshiping their tribal God, Moses and the Ten Commandments, and the worship of Ball were all documented.
What followed what Israelites’ settlement in the Promised Land, their subsequent conquest by Babylon, and period of exile. Their kingdom was again overrun by Assyria, and later Persia. And Israel was able to return to their land. Armstrong wrote that God had become a universal. Monotheism had taken hold with the activities of their conflicted prophets predicted Israel’s fate. But during these times God appeared as a conflicted personality who was moody. He was warrior, liberator, destroyer, father, friend, and a despot, who changed the rules without good reasons.
Much emphasis was on the 4,000-year history of Judaism, Christianity, and Judaism. In the beginning there was Adam and Eve when sin entered the world. The consequences of the flood followed when mankind was destroyed, and Noah – his family, and two pairs of every animal were saved. God’s promised never to destroy the world again came in the form of a rainbow. The growth of Christianity led Emperor Constantine to champion its cause, after Christians were killed for many years for failure to worship the Roman gods, instead of Jesus Christ who was believed crucified and risen from the dead. Islam with its belief in the submission to God, and its five pillars came on the scene the early CE, when Muhammad began receiving revelations and was told by the angel Gabriel to recite Scripture. He became the first Arabian prophet uniting the Muslims who would undertake the hajj to Mecca to circumambulate the Kabah.
Later readers read about the changing face of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam through the medieval period, during the Age of the Renaissance and Reformation with exploration, conquests, and flourishing of the arts. Divisions followed with splits in the Roman Catholic faith of East and West, the rise of Protestantism with Martin Luther, and the struggles for religious supremacy in Europe. But the 17th and 18th century witnessed the Age of Enlightenment, scientific revolution, and new ways of interpreting the scriptures. This not only impacted the monotheistic teachings of Judaism and Islam, but also the Trinitarian concept of Christianity with God the Father, Logos – his Son, and the Holy Spirit. ( )
  erwinkennythomas | Jun 12, 2020 |
Karen Armstrong's astute overview of monotheism is an excellent read for anyone looking for a broad conception of theology. She gives insightful oversight into histories and byways of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. For me, it gets a bit muddled through the "God of the Philosophers" chapter, but in total she has a coherent vision for the text and wraps up the discourse with grace and elegance. ( )
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
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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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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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