In our increasingly secular world, holy texts are at best seen as irrelevant, and at worst as an excuse to incite violence, hatred and division. So what value, if any, can scripture hold for us today? And if our world no longer seems compatible with scripture, is it perhaps because its original purpose has become lost?
Today we see the Quran being used by some to justify war and terrorism, the Torah to deny Palestinians the right to live in the Land of Israel, and the Bible to condemn homosexuality and contraception. The holy texts at the centre of all religious traditions are often employed selectively to underwrite arbitrary and subjective views. They are believed to be divinely ordained; they are claimed to contain eternal truths.
But as Karen Armstrong, a world authority on religious affairs, shows in this fascinating journey through millennia of history, this narrow reading of scripture is a relatively recent phenomenon. For hundreds of years these texts were instead viewed as spiritual tools- scripture was a means for the individual to connect with the divine, to transcend their physical existence, and to experience a higher level of consciousness. Holy texts were seen as fluid and adaptable, rather than a set of binding archaic rules or a 'truth' that has to be 'believed'.
Armstrong argues that only by rediscovering an open engagement with their holy texts will the world's religions be able to curtail arrogance, intolerance and violence. And if scripture is used to engage with the world in more meaningful and compassionate ways, we will find that it still has a great deal to teach us.
Little is known about Arabia in the sixth century, yet from this distant time and place emerged a faith and an empire that stretched from the Iberian peninsula to India. Today, Muslims account for nearly a quarter of the global population. A renowned classicist, G. W. Bowersock seeks to illuminate this obscure and dynamic period in the history of Islam-exploring why arid Arabia proved to be such fertile ground for Muhammad's prophetic message, and why that message spread so quickly to the wider world. The Crucible of Islam offers a compelling explanation of how one of the world's great religions took shape.
A remarkable work of scholarship. -Wall Street Journal A little book of explosive originality and penetrating judgment... Part of the joy of reading this account of the background and emergence of early Islam is the knowledge that Bowersock has built it from solid stones, the weight of every one of which he has tested with his own critical mind. Secure that we are in the hands of a master, let us think about the implications of the substantial gains to scholarship that Bowersock has brought us... A masterpiece of the historian's craft. -Peter Brown, New York Review of Books
The unabridged version of this definitive work is now available as a highly designed paperback with flaps with a new introduction by Robert Hanks. Part of the Knickerbocker Classics series, a modern design makes this timeless book a perfect travel companion.
Thomas Bulfinch helped popularize mythology with his three-volume collection of tales for an English-speaking audience. This edition includes the first volume, Stories of Gods and Heroes, which was originally published in 1855 and presents the stories of Greek and Roman mythology. Considered to be one of the most popular and entertaining books of mythology, Bulfinch's Mythology is as relevant today as when it was originally published.
By turns terrifying, exhilarating, and poetic, this collection of traditional Japanese folktales conjures monsters, ghosts, samurai, and princesses. Fifteen stories transport readers back to a time of adventure and enchantment, and each one is paired with a gorgeous illustration by Japanese artist Kotaro Chiba. This new instalment in the Tales series is a celebration of storytelling, art, and Japanese culture.
Unraveling the controversies surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls Since they were first discovered in the caves at Qumran in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls have aroused more fascination--and controversy--than perhaps any other archaeological find. They appear to have been hidden in the Judean desert by the Essenes, a Jewish sect that existed around the time of Jesus, and they continue to inspire veneration to this day. In this concise and accessible book, John Collins tells the story of the scrolls and the bitter conflicts that have swirled around them since their startling discovery. He explores whether the scrolls were indeed the property of an isolated, quasi-monastic community or more broadly reflected the Judaism of their time. He unravels the impassioned disputes surrounding the scrolls and Christianity, and looks at attempts to reclaim the scrolls for Judaism after the full corpus became available in the 1990s. Collins also describes how the decades-long delay in publishing the scrolls gave rise to sensational claims and conspiracy theories.
Britain is well-known for its churches and cathedrals; buildings of great architecture and religious grandeur that form many of our recognisable skylines. But these grand structures are also full of facts, histories and stories that you may not have been aware of.
Did you know that there are only three cathedrals in Britain without a ringing bell? Or that St Davids Cathedral, nestled away in a Welsh valley, has a very unique choir, where the top line is sung only by female choristers, aged eight to eighteen? How about that the Great Pyramids in Egypt were the world's tallest structures for over 3,870 years, until the construction of Lincoln Cathedral in 1311?
Award-wining travel writer and editor Sue Dobson takes us on a journey around the United Kingdom, showing us her highlights while providing fascinating details and stories along the way.
Discover the world's greatest myths and legends - from Greek mythology to Norse mythology - in this comprehensive guide.
What did Japanese mythology say about the beginning of the Universe? How did Oedipus become the classic tragic hero in Greek mythology? Who brought about the origin of death in Maori mythology? Combining vivid retellings of famous legends with over 1,000 illustrations of characters, famous artworks, and artefacts, Myths and Legends makes it easier than ever before to understand the stories that are central to every culture.
Delve into the well-known tales of the ancient Greeks, which hold the key to such phrases as Achilles' heel , to the lesser-known but richly colourful myths of Africa and the Americas. Explore global ideas such as fate and fortune, and the Underworld, and find out about the key characters - heroes, tricksters, gods - that make up each myth system. Filled with the cultural and religious meanings behind each legend, and the influence they have had both in their own time and in today's world, this book is a must-have for all mythology enthusiasts.
While many of us are familiar with such famous words as oeDearly beloved, we are gathered together here. . .
or oeAshes to ashes, dust to dust, we may not know that they originated in The Book of Common Prayer, which first appeared in 1549. Like the words of the King James Bible and Shakespeare, the language of this prayer book has saturated English culture and letters. Here Alan Jacobs tells its story. He shows how The Book of Common Prayer from its beginnings as a means of social and political control in the England of Henry VIII to its worldwide presence today became a venerable work whose cadences express the heart of religious life for millions.
In today's world of cultural climate change, argues Jonathan Sacks, we have outsourced morality to the markets on the one hand, and to government on the other. If the market rewards it, it must be OK - unless the law says not to.
Yet while the markets have brought wealth to many and the state has done much to contain the worst excesses of inequality, neither is capable of bearing the moral weight of showing us how to live.
On the one hand, traditional values no longer hold, yet recent political swings show that modern ideals of tolerance have left many feeling rudderless and adrift. In this environment we see things fall apart in unexpected ways - toxic public discourse that makes true societal progress almost unattainable; the rise of religious extremism on the one hand and of aggressive atheism on the other; a drive for respect of all that establishes 'safe space' only where true debate is off limits.
How can we build - or rebuild - a collective culture that is able to both respect difference and draw us together to work for the common good? Talking to key modern influences and thinkers - including Jordan Peterson, Melinda Gates and David Brooks - and drawing inspiration from the Bible and the historical experience of the Jewish people, Sacks argues that there are eight key factors in establishing, maintaining and passing on resilient moral values within a broad group, among them attitudes of lifelong learning and of thanksgiving, the importance of family life and community, and a culture of positive argument in place of destructive conflict.
Combining his passionate belief in a positive way forward with a careful weighing of the realities and challenges of the position in which we find ourselves, Jonathan Sacks sets out a clear picture of a world in which we can all find our place and build a future worth working for.