|Story of the Book
The Bible: a biography
Karen Armstrong, Translated by Shoureen Nag
Published by Sandesh, Price: Tk 198
Shoureen Nag translates Karen Armstrong's 'The Bible: a biography'. The Bible is the most widely circulated and one of the most influential texts in human history. Yet the exact origins of the Bible remain unclear. Over centuries, the Bible has gone through much revision and re-interpretation. The author, a renowned historian with extensive knowledge on religion – notably the Abrahamic faiths, draws into perspective the circumstances under which the Bible came into being.
After going through her research work on the Bible, readers are left with a clearer picture of what the Bible is and how revision and re-interpretation were important factors in the composition of the modern day religious scriptures. Bible readers will be encouraged to read the holy book with a new perspective with the knowledge that the interpretations that they find in the modern book have actually been put there by religious experts of those times, often to sanitise some of the more 'unholy' actions taken in the name of religion. Some of the historical circumstances in which the Bible had been transformed are also laid down and how they are similar to some of the actions taken by the society of those days is also demonstrated in some cases. The highly contrasting ways in which the Jewish and Christian scriptures come together in the Bible and the very different methods used to interpret the scriptures over the centuries is described in detail.
One of the arguments of this book is that a particular text means differently to different people. Their actual meaning has been argued in the past, and they shall be argued in the future. The Bible like many other holy books including the Quran can be used for achieving different aims. The Bible may be utilised for achieving the greater good of mankind. Similarly, it may be used by many to justify acts of war, as has been done by religious scholars and political leaders in the past, and will probably be used in the future to legitimise genocides and other 'unholy' acts.
Armstrong also endorses the viewpoint that Jesus Christ, the prophet of Christianity, was at that time hardly acknowledged as being a reincarnation of God. She notes that although Jesus was referred by St. Paul as 'the son of God', according to Armstrong, these words were used in the Hebrew perspective as referring to someone who has a special relationship with God similar to the ancient Jewish kings. St Paul never claimed that Jesus himself was God. Also, Armstrong says that discounting the facts found concerning him in the New Testament, there is little historical evidence to the actual life and work of Jesus Christ.
Another essential point that should be mentioned is how Armstrong thinks that the destruction of King Solomon's temple in 6th century BC, and the destruction of the second temple in 70 BC followed a few decades later in the razing of the holy city of Jerusalem resulting in the formation of religious communities dependent no longer on physical buildings or places but on words written down in scrolls and later collected into books.
After reading her research work, many readers are likely to wonder how religious interpretation was styled to benefit a particular group of people at the expense of others, and how a fundamentalist interpretation of these religious texts shall undoubtedly erupt in religious violence.
Translating a book like this from its original English to Bengali can never be an easy task. As the book was filled with Latin, Hebrew and Greek words, the translator's job was undoubtedly much harder. Although Nag's translation of Armstrong's book retains the original meaning in which the book was written, the Bengali version is understandably not as easy to read as the original version.