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Books

The Bible – The Biography by Karen Armstrong

Marcus Wheeler reads a Bible story by Karen Armstrong.

The Bible, like many other works of ‘holy scripture’, differs from most secular literature in being both descriptive and prescriptive. Believers look into it not only to learn about, for example, the historical circumstances in which Christianity developed out of Judaism, but to seek guidance about such issues as the priesthood of women or homosexuality. Given the use made of their sacred books by Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists, it is not surprising that Karen Armstrong introduces her study with the comment that today “scripture has a bad name.”

Armstrong traces the history of the composition and exegesis of the Jewish and Christian scriptures from the 6th Century BCE, when the Persian Emperor Cyrus permitted the refugees returning to Jerusalem from Babylon to bring with them nine scrolls covering the Old Testament books (as Gentiles know them) from Genesis to Kings.

Armstrong argues a connection between the political divisions in the land of Israel and the absence from the Bible of a ‘single message’.