The Great Religions

Most of you probably already have a basic knowledge of the major western faiths and their scriptures. We will let you find your own level of participation with actual texts of the Bible and the Koran, as well as any faith-based commentary you find relevant. If you need a very quick refresher, you may want to find a The Children’s Illustrated BIBLE. It will help you keep the story straight.

Rembrandt’s Abraham and Isaac. Wikimedia commons

There are a number of books which are scholarly, without being too dry, that help to provide background, insight and understanding of the people, events and context for the holy texts and their creation. They are all thought-provoking and intended to inspire a healthy tolerance of beliefs.

Thomas Cahill has two books in this category. The first, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History), talks about the radical spiritual development of monotheism at a time when most other religions around the world had a whole cast of characters in their pantheons. The second title, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (Random House Large Print), describes the cultural circumstances surrounding the popularity of the ministry of Jesus.

The prolific religious scholar, Karen Armstrong, has a number of interesting contributions for your consideration. For a comprehensive review of the development of all three monotheistic religions, pick up her first work, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For an even more wide-ranging conversation about the most important formative developments for eastern and western religions, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions is extremely enjoyable. Her discussion of the creation and interpretation of The Bible: The Biography describes the processes that resulted in both the Old and New Testaments. Finally, Islam: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles) is a very readable introduction to the Muslim religion, the Prophet Muhammad, and the actions and implications of his successors.

A fragment of the Isaiah Scroll. by Daniel.baranek [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Howard Fast has written a straightforward history of the Jewish community in The Jews: Story of a People. It is an excellent supplement to books we have already mentioned that focus on the Jewish faith, culture and history, especially Jerusalem: The Biography (Vintage). The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948 caused a stir in the biblical research community. The history of the discovery and a discussion of their significance by one of the leading authorities on the Scrolls are the focus of The Story of the Scrolls. Those of you who wish to delve more deeply into the mysteries of the Hebrew Tree of Life should pick up a book on the Qabalah, perhaps Mystical Qabalah, or Qabalah: A Magical Primer.

For further reading about Islam, we strongly recommend No god but God (Updated Edition): The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, and What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. These two books, along with Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles), will help you understand the historic development of the religion, its internal conflicts between Sunni and Shiite sects, and its relation to the Judeo-Christian traditions.