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A History of God

The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam

By Karen Armstrong
19-minute read
Audio available
A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong

A History of God (1993) traces the related histories of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim concepts of God. From the jealous God of the ancient Israelites to the revelations of Allah, and from the life of Jesus through to theological doctrinal discussions and God’s status in the modern world, these blinks tell the story of how conceptualizations of God in these three related religions have developed and changed over time.

  • Jewish people, Christians, Muslims and all people of faith
  • Historians and philosophers
  • Atheists interested in the role of God in monotheistic religions

Karen Armstrong is a commentator and writer whose interests encompass all aspects of religion. She spent seven years as a nun in the Roman Catholic faith, obtained a B. Litt. at Oxford University and also taught literature at the University of London. She regularly writes reviews and articles for journals and newspapers. Her other books include The Battle for God, Islam: A Short History and Buddha.

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A History of God

The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam

By Karen Armstrong
  • Read in 19 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 12 key ideas
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A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong
Synopsis

A History of God (1993) traces the related histories of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim concepts of God. From the jealous God of the ancient Israelites to the revelations of Allah, and from the life of Jesus through to theological doctrinal discussions and God’s status in the modern world, these blinks tell the story of how conceptualizations of God in these three related religions have developed and changed over time.

Key idea 1 of 12

A distinctive concept of God emerged among the Israelites in the Levant.

How do you see God? Perhaps as the creator of the world, as the Almighty or as a spiritual presence? Different conceptualizations of God have existed for millennia, and the best way to understand them is to trace them as they emerge in the related histories of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.

The journey starts 14,000 years ago in the Middle East. There, pagan tribes developed their own notions of deities.

Take Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq, the cradle of Western civilization. People living there saw society as a fragile thing; they worshipped gods that countered the forces of disorder and quelled chaos.

The Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, tells the story of the first gods emerging from a primeval wasteland. These deities were associated with water, earth and heaven. The god Marduk then created humankind by mixing his blood with dust, which meant humans were thought of as semi-divine in nature.

But one group stood out for their ideas about the divine: the Israelites. They had settled in Canaan in the Southern Levant in around 1850 BCE and claimed descent from Abraham and his grandson Jacob, who was also known as Israel.

The Israelites initially had a similar view of divine power but started worshipping a single God, one that had developed from a version of a pagan heavenly High God or Sky God.

In the earliest books of the Bible, Genesis and Exodus, written in the eighth century BCE, God is referred to as both “Elohim” and “Yahweh.”

Elohim was the Israelite High God, while Yahweh means “the God of our fathers.”

It is thus quite possible that two separate pagan gods, each with a specific local domain, were merged.

In fact, after the Israelites’ return from their enslavement in Egypt, they swore to make Yahweh their only god. In return, it is said that Yahweh promised to protect the Israelites.

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