Karen Armstrong is one of my favorite authors. So I was excited at the prospect of getting into her “interpretation” of Genesis. In The Beginning. Ordinarily Armstrong is an accessible writer about issues of religion. This book made me just a little confused and angry. Problem, the book doesn’t seem to know exactly what it is. It is not so much an interpretation of Genesis as a meditation of the fallenness of humankind, seen through the lens of Patriarchal frailty. A large portion of this small book strays into strange and awkward territory…for no reason.
While the canonical-Genesis raises its share of seemingly complex scholarly issues (authorship, translations, editing), Ms. Armstrong does little more than give them a passing nod.
Anyone who know Ms Armstrong knows she is not a psychologist. I was vexed by the seemingly endless trips into the psyches of the Patriarchs. Not to say that I did not understand and even agree with much of her analysis, but when I couldn’t remember having read “…that…” in Genesis, I found it disruptive, irritating and ultimately pointless. (the complete text of Genesis is included in the book, so cross-checking was tedious, not difficult.)
After finishing the first read of In The Beginning, I was loath to simply pan the book. I thought I could strategize a second read, which turned out a winner! My strategy:. Read the last chapter first (and last), glossing over anything in between that made me blink or wince in the first.
Although I don’t like the idea of having to strategize the reading of any book, I enjoyed the second read very much. Afterwards, it occurred to me that no matter how much I love Armstrong’s later works, she is not someone to whom I would have ever thought to turn for exegetical insight. So, I check out her bibliography. To her credit, among the 60+ books attributable to her, she has not written another book devoted to scriptural interpretation
I’d like to think that either she wised up or that her editor simply dropped the ball on this one.
Reviewed by Randy Hurt