cover image The Lost Art of Scripture: Rescuing the Sacred Texts

The Lost Art of Scripture: Rescuing the Sacred Texts

Karen Armstrong. Knopf, $35 (624p) ISBN 978-0-451-49486-3

Religious historian Armstrong (A History of God) examines the world’s major religions to make her case that modern humanity has lost track of what scripture meant in the past and, in the process, departed from the compassionate heart of those faiths in her most profound, important book to date. She notes that scriptural narratives had never claimed to be accurate factual accounts; therefore, dismissing them as having no value because they don’t conform to “modern scientific and historical norms” is a mistake. Armstrong traces the development of scriptural canons in India and China, as well as in the monotheistic faith traditions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and how religions grappled with social inequity, which she views as inevitable in preindustrial economies—and inexcusable now. Along the way, she shows how “in all cultures, scripture was essentially a work in progress, constantly changing to meet new conditions,” a rebuttal to contemporary rigid literalist readings. Both nonbelievers and believers will find her diagnosis—that most people now read scripture to confirm their own views, rather than to achieve transformation—on the mark. “It is essential for human survival that we find a way to rediscover the sacrality of each human being and resacralise our world.” This is an instant classic of accessible and relevant religious history. (Nov.)