Karen Armstrong is one of the most challenging, unique intellectuals on the role of religion in today’s world. An ex-Catholic nun who left an English convent to pursue a degree in modern literature at Oxford, Armstrong wrote a book Through the Narrow Gate, in 1982. This book, which tells about her life in the convent, earned worldwide resentment from Catholics. Her book The Spiral Staircase talks about her ensuing religious initiation after leaving the convent when she started to expand her iconoclastic interest on the tremendous monotheistic sacred convictions. Armstrong authored over 20 books revolving around the concepts of three religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Her books, particularly the authoritative A History of God and Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World, show how religions are affected by humankind’s experiences. Her new novel, The Bible: A Biography, is another novel that ignited debate. The book reflects her thoughts on religion and faith, especially her perceptions of fundamentalism as a result of modern society.
The dedication of the author in the Bible: A biography simply means that the faithful are called by prayers to communicate with their holy text. She pleads and reminds all Jews and Christians that “Midrash and exegesis were always supposed to relate directly to the burning issues of the day, and the fundamentalists should not the only people who try. “Her entire book is Bible veneration as a live text, with countless networks and calls for continuous versatility re-analysis and revision (Driller, 2008).
Through her impressive approach of making complex subjects more understandable, her book The Bible: A Biography successfully centered on the way Christians and Jews have used the Bible from the time of David’s empire to the present and how they connected with the books that have molded their community. Her passionate discussion on how to make the Bible a ‘living word’ in life and circumstances during this period, a strong presence on Christ, includes all truth to her, being a daughter of a Seventh-day Adventist minister. She calls this private connection “present truth” (Driller, 2008).
Her book gives its readers a brief account of how the Old Testament was formed, highlighting the background in which the texts were created and the flexibility with which they were employed. Several analyses of God, Creation, and society’s reflections are integrated into the Bible. Armstrong is reminiscent that there were no strict tenets imposed on the Israelites until the Post-Babylonian captivity. It was the exile that encouraged the high priests and academics to “canonize” the texts of the Bible and erect boundaries around faith, strengthening their perception of the truth (Driller, 2008).
Principally persuasive to its readers, the book is controversial because the Torah scholars considered the book, not just about predictions. By their explanation, they put the Bible into life, in the process, functioning as prophets. Consequently, it was not particularly odd that Christians developed this custom when they made imaginative applications of the Torah in discovering innovative significance in the sacred texts, reinterpreting them by way of their knowledge of Jesus and the early Christians. The obliteration of the second place of worship started an outbreak of scripts among Christians, at the same time as the exile had made among Jews. Halfway through the second century, almost all the New Testament books had been inscribed. For these Christians, the existence of Jesus could only be experienced in the study of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible (Driller, 2008).
In the examination after the second-temple exegesis of Judaism, Armstrong places importance on the ease of studying the Bible. Midrash had to be directed by sympathy; realistic piousness was acceptable with the Torah study for Jews in the late Roman Empire. The Bible was, therefore, “open,” as said by Armstrong, and rabbis educated their students of the continuity of God’s word and the descent of God’s spirit when the Bible is studied together. This teaching was parallel to what early Christians experienced during the Pentecost. The rabbis consequently worked hand in hand with Moses, David, Isaiah, and the other prophets to shape the continually growing and yet linked “Living Word” (Driller, 2008).
In the European Middle Ages, there were attempts to sensibly understand the Bible in a plain, solid common sense, reducing the most puzzling of their components. These endeavors to understand the Bible roused criticisms from the Jewish and Christian intellectuals. Her book illustrates that even as Reformists and present book lovers struggled to reclaim the “original” sense of the Bible, unconsciously, they permit the holy Bible to breathe new life and vision into the Christian population. Neither Calvin nor Zwingli perceived the value of applying the Bible in its historical context to the present day. They assumed that the Bible’s interpretation was unending (Driller, 2008).
In the Eighteenth Century, the Bible’s modern applications allowed Puritans to
increase nationalism rooted in the Bible’s representations concerning Israel as relating plainly to themselves. However, Armstrong cautions that “religious people were becoming acutely aware that the Bible was a confusing book, and this at a time when clarity and rationality were prized as never before.” (p. 182).
With the growth of ethically resentful atheism, both Christian and Jewish conformists became suspicious and threw their divergence with open-minded believers and worldly philosophers in the most apocalyptic ways. Armstrong proves that modern challenges to accurately and logically translate the Bible symbolize a new departure in the Bible’s history. Additionally, Armstrong shows that it is neither useful nor constructive (Driller, 2008).
In the 19th Century, common sense ruled the interpretation of the Bible. To the believers, words in the holy text are what is written and understood by any literate. It became gradually more vital to some believers that the Bible be exactly and true in the same way as all academic books were correct (Driller, 2008).
We, as readers and believers, must be cautious not to freeze these interpretations and perceptive discoveries; however, we must relentlessly be watchful to allow for more explanations of the Bible. Having said this, we must not allow religious intellectuals to have the final word. We must be careful to recognize the diverse hermeneutical and philosophical schemes and not allow any of these schemes to take over someday. It would be damaging to the future of Bible study if we were to hinder the hermeneutical process and confiscate conflicting epistemologies.
Up until now, The Bible: A Biography is a new milestone from our most celebrated writer on religion. Armstrong’s genius is a work of objective creation that is personally learned by the divine and ethical splendor of the spiritual believer. It affectionately rebuilds the entire history of the Bible – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to better allow the reader to take a glimpse of what history has made and unmade.
- Armstrong, K. (2007). The Bible: A Biography. Atlantic Monthly Press.
- Driller, L. C. (2008). Engaging Creatively: A Review of Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography. Spectrum. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://www.spectrummagazine.org/node/1019
- Karen Armstrong Profile. (n.d.) TED. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://www.ted.com/speakers/karen_armstrong.html