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The Bible: The Biography


The Bible, The Biography
A Review

Karen Armstrong's book, The Bible: The Biography (2007),  is a historical account of how the Bible was formed, interpreted, and used by Jews and Christians over the centuries. Armstrong argues that the Bible is a living document that has been constantly reinterpreted and applied to different contexts and situations by its readers. She traces the development of the Bible from its oral origins to its written form, and from its canonical status to its diverse interpretations.


Armstrong begins by exploring the origins of the Hebrew Bible, which was composed by various authors who had different views of God, creation, and society. She shows how the Israelites did not have a rigid orthodoxy until after the Babylonian exile, when they began to canonize their scriptures and define their beliefs. She also explains how the Torah scholars considered themselves as prophets who could find new meanings in the ancient texts.


Armstrong then examines how the early Christians used the Hebrew Bible creatively to understand their experience of Jesus and the Christian community. She describes how the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE prompted the writing of the New Testament books, which were also influenced by the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures. She emphasizes how the Christians experienced the presence of Jesus in the study of the scriptures, both old and new.


Armstrong continues by analyzing how the Jews and Christians developed different methods of exegesis and interpretation of the Bible after the second Temple period. She discusses how the Jews created the Talmud and the Midrash, which were commentaries and stories that expanded and explained the biblical texts. She also discusses how the Christians developed the allegorical and literal methods of interpretation, which were influenced by the Greek philosophy and the Roman law.


Armstrong then surveys the history of the Bible from the medieval period to the modern era, highlighting the major developments and challenges that affected its understanding and use. She covers topics such as the rise of monasticism, the Crusades, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the historical criticism, the fundamentalism, and the postmodernism. She shows how the Bible has been used both to inspire and to oppress, to justify and to challenge, to comfort and to confront.


Armstrong concludes by calling for a creative and compassionate engagement with the Bible, which she considers as a sacred and human document that can reveal the divine and the human realities. She urges the readers to approach the Bible with respect, curiosity, and imagination, and to apply its teachings to the contemporary issues and problems. She affirms that the Bible is a biography of God and of humanity, and that it can help us to discover ourselves and our relationship with the divine.

The APA style references:

Armstrong, K. (2007). The Bible: The Biography.  London: Atlantic Books.

Sutton, G. W. (2024, January 9). The bible: The biography—A review. Interdisciplinary Book and Film Reviews. Retrieved from

 Available from AMAZON

Note: I read the hardcover version.

 I used Bing Chat to help with the review.

Quoting Armstrong

Several of Armstrong’s quotes are relevant to my writing about the psychology of religion including psychology and fundamentalism, sociomoral conflicts, and evolution. Following is a selection of quotes.

Anger and the Reformers

Even after his great breakthrough, Luther remained terrified of death. He seemed constantly in a state of simmering rage: against the Pope, the Turks, Jews, women, rebellious peasants, scholastic philosophers and every single one of his theological opponents. He and Zwingli engaged in a furious controversy about the meaning of Christ's words when he had instituted the Eucharist at the last supper, saying 'This is my body'.38 Calvin was appalled by the anger that had clouded the minds of the two reformers and caused an unholy rift that could and should have been avoided: 'Both parties failed altogether to have patience to listen to each other, in order to follow truth without passion, wherever it might be found,' he concluded. 'I deliberately venture to assert that, if their minds had not been partly exasperated by the extreme vehemence of the controversies, the disagreement was not so great that conciliation could easily have been achieved.'39 It was impossible for interpreters to agree on every single passage of the Bible; disputes must be Conducted humbly and with an open mind. Yet Calvin himself did not always live up to these high principles, and was prepared to execute dissenters in his own church. (Armstrong, 2007, p. 173)

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and the End Times

He was convinced, on the basis of a literal reading of Revelation, that God would shortly bring this era of history to an end in an unprecedentedly terrible disaster. Antichrist, the fake redeemer whose coming before the end had been foretold by St Paul,35 would initially be welcomed and would deceive the unwary. He would then inflict seven years of tribulation, war and massacre upon humanity, but eventually Jesus would descend to earth and defeat him on the plain of Armageddon outside Jerusalem. Christ would then rule on earth for a thousand years until the Last Judgement brought history to a close. The attraction of this theory was that true believers would be spared. On the basis of a chance remark of St Paul, who suggested that at the Second Coming Christians would be 'taken up in the clouds' to meet Jesus* Darby maintained that shortly before Tribulation, there would a 'rapture', a 'snatching' of born-again Christians, who would be whisked up to heaven and would thus escape the sufferings Of the end time.  (Armstrong, 2007, p. 200)

The Scopes Trial of 1925

The southern states had hitherto taken little part in the fundamentalist movement but they were worried about the teaching of evolution. Bills were introduced into the state legislatures of Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas to ban the teaching of Darwinian theory. The anti-evolutionary laws in Tennessee were particularly strict and John Scopes, a young teacher in the small town of Dayton, decided to strike a blow for freedom of speech and confessed that he had broken the law when he had taken a biology class in place of his principal. In July 1925 he was brought to trial. The new American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a team of lawyers to defend him, headed by the rationalist campaigner Clarence Darrow. Bryan agreed to support the law. Immediately the trial became a contest between the Bible and science.

Bryan was a disaster on the stand and Darrow emerged from the trial as the champion of rational thought. The press gleefully denounced the fundamentalists as hopeless anachronisms, who could take no part in the modern world. This had an effect that is instructive to us today. When fundamentalist movements are attacked they usually become more extreme. Before Dayton, the conservatives were wary of evolution, but very few had espoused 'creation science', which maintained that the first chapter of Genesis was factually true in every detail. After Scopes, however, they became more vehemently literal in their interpretation of scripture, and creation science became the flagship of their movement. (Armstrong, 2007, p. 210)


Geoffrey W. Sutton, PhD is Emeritus Professor of Psychology. He retired from a clinical practice and was credentialed in clinical neuropsychology and psychopharmacology. His website is


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