The Bible: A Biography (Review)

This past week I listened to Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography in audiobook format. And, I must say, I’m not sure if I have ever read a more poorly titled book. Overall, the information in the book was okay; however, there was a glaring issue that I simply could not get past. It was the lack of specificity in Armstrong’s use of the phrase “the Bible,” which could be extended to a lack of specificity in terminology in general. Certainly, this text was intended for a general audience; however, I do not think this problem stems from trying to make matters accessible.

The phrase “the Bible” appears in the title of the book, and Armstrong uses it very liberally throughout. Yet there seems to me a problem when in the same chapter she is using the term “the Bible” to refer to both Jewish and Christian scriptures.  These corpuses are obviously not the same, much less is there uniformity among Christian groups as to what books would fit into this corpus.  So, one is left with the problem that there can be no single biography on “the Bible.”  Rather there can only be biographies of different scriptural corpuses. Certainly something to the effect of Biographical Sketches of Christian and Jewish Scriptures does not sound as catchy as The Bible: A Biography; however, the latter title is misleading.

I would go into more detail on the book, but with this problem alone I do not recommend it for those interested in learning about the Jewish and Christian scriptures.  In fact, it is more of a history of Biblical interpretation anyway.  If you must, then I have placed the link below.  If you are interested in learning more about the differences between what is considered “the Bible” by different groups, I would recommend listening to the first lecture in the course The Hebrew Bible by Lawrence Schiffman, which you can get for free with a trial of Audible.