Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Book Review: Karen Armstrong – The Bible, The Biography

I previously read Karen Armstrong’s book Islam: A Short Introduction and although I did not agree with everything in it, I still found it well-written and well-researched unlike a lot of the pseudo-academic rubbish written about Islam by people who do not bother to take the time to learn about the faith and struggle to contain their prejudices about it.

I have also been having a conversation about the Bible with my bestest friend and have always been curious about the way it and the Torah sit alongside the Quran. For all of these reasons this book appealed to me. Armstrong lives up to her record with this book and I was absorbed from the first page. She begins with the formation and collection of the scriptures that became the Torah and the New Testament, moving quite quickly through historical events and onto the various methods of interpreting scripture and the philosophies behind them to the ways of looking at scripture which dominate today.

She explains the difference between any other book and a book of scripture highlighting the power and element of transcendence we place in our holy books. The Bible, The Biography was a real eye-opener to me in respect of how the bible and the Torah have been collated and interpreted, the way in which they have caused revolutions but also the way the zeitgeist of the time has informed scholars interpretation of them. What particularly intrigued me was the assertion by some that these were meant to be oral scriptures, memorised and kept alive, changing according to the needs of their community, a viewpoint so different to our belief about the Quran which has stood unchanged since the day it was revealed (part of the reason early scholars were loathe to write down the Torah was because of the fear that something written could be destroyed in the way the temple in Jerusalem was)

One of my few criticisms of this book might have been that at many points I would have liked more details (for example Jesus’s (AS) life is covered in a paragraph), but this indicates the level of interest that Armstrong elicits, it leaves you wanting to learn more. Also more details would have meant a bigger, more in-depth book and I think one of the writers aims (especially apparent in Islam: A Short Introduction) has been to bring the world of academic religious study to the layman.

I found this book accessible and eye-opening despite its complex subject and I liked how it ended with the problems created by some interpretations of scripture, but also offered solutions.


  1. the first book about islam that i read was by her - it was the biography of muhamed. its was very well written and not bias which i loved.

  2. Assalam-alikam Sis Ange,
    I think I might have read that book, she is such a good writer I will look our for it.