In this sweeping history, Ilan Stavans, one of today’s preeminent essayists, cultural critics, and translators, explores the way humans have evolved in their conception of the divine, from an animistic view defined by spirituality to Greek myths and the Aztec pantheon, onward to the development on monotheism as a powerful religion in the Middle East that was crystallized in the biblical narrative. He meditates on what type of divine presences coexist in the Hebrew Bible and how these entities take bifurcating paths in Christianity and Islam. He reflects on the difference between prophetic such as the Abrahamic type and wisdom religions such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. In these eight fascinating lectures he also ponders the way philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Maimonides, Averroes, Aquinas, Spinoza, and Nietzsche reflected on the role of God in the world. Stavans criticizes the legacy of monotheism as based on violence, analyzes theology from a strictly linguistic perspective, and ponders atheism as an alternative in a world such as ours defined by science and technology. Along the way, he explores his own ordeal - “my wrestling,” as he puts it - with his own personal God. God: A History will make the listener question preconceived ideas, seeing them in the larger narrative of human belief.
©2014 Ilan Stavans (P)2014 Crescite Group, LLC
This book is a light introduction to a history of God, and perhaps philosophy. Alternative titles that would have been more fitting kept coming to mind for me. "A Brief Introduction to the Abrahamic God" or "God 101" were a few titles that I kept thinking of.
"God: A History," is a series of lectures that are mildly similar to, "The Evolution of God," by Robert Wright. For those unfamiliar with this excellent book, Wright makes the case that the Bible is is a reflection of man's thoughts about God. And because of this, what you see in the Bible as God changing over time is really the evolution of man's concept of God -- from polytheism to monotheism, from law to love -- over time.
The weakness of "God: A History," is also its strength, however. Whereas the audiobook to "The Evolution of God" came in at 18 hours and 29 minutes, "God: A History," comes in at a much more comfortable 4.5 hours. Of course, trying to learn all about God in 4.5 hours of your life is slightly laughable. But on the other hand, the lecture series did bring something to the table, and did so in a timely manner. That's not always a bad thing.
The lecture series is divided into 8 lectures:
Polytheist and paganism
Hebrew Bible (and the god or gods thereof)
Legacy of monotheism in the Abrahamic religion
The wisdom religions. Prophetic vs. Wisdom traditions
Debate of philosophers regarding God.
God and Politics...
In my opinion, the best lecture was on the wisdom religions, followed by the lecture on atheism. Having the option of getting some deeper lectures on these subjects would be really nice. I think in the West, the eastern wisdom traditions are the least understood but at the same time, offer some of the greatest help to the general malaise we are steeped in here in America (the ego run amok).
What I thought Ilan Stavans really added to the conversation was his Jewishness, and the fact that parts of the lectures were at times touchingly personal. While certainly there are modern Jewish perspectives about God out there, the fact that this was aimed at such a general audience makes it a little different, in my opinion.
In fact, while listening to these lectures, I wondered who exactly the target audience was. It seems like an academic lecture, but it is certainly more than that. And yet it isn't necessarily aimed at a religious audience, either. Nor is it aimed toward Jews or any other group. Yes, it seems impossible to pigeonhole this lecture series, and I think that is what makes it worth of your time.
There is so much, it won't be possible to be comprehensive. It is essentially an Amateur Blog or Podcast. The 'author' moves from 'God' causing 9/11 to Borges imaging the internet before its time, to Woody Allen and Hemmingway. He fails utterly to make a distinction between man's conception & propaganda (of god) versus possible ultimate truth. He seems unaware that Eastern Orthodox Christianity has had a 'stop talking about god because we can't comprehend' attitude for centuries. Sorry my language is so poor here but I can't devote more time to this. I really wish I could be positive. I almost want to recommend people listen to it as an exemplar of messy thinking.
No, of course not.
The question is unanswerable because it's just a personalized rambling.
I own many audiobooks form the Great Courses and other publishers. I treasure works on philosophy, intellectual history, theology and history. I was hoping this tome would be in the same league as Karen Armstrong or Michael Sugrue. Words fail to describe how disappointing this 'book' is. I hate writing negative reviews. Whether you are a believer in a mainstream faith or atheist or agnostic doesn't matter, this diatribe is horrible.
The worst lecture series I have ever heard, albeit partial heard; I could not make to the end.
There was no discernible scholarship in this series. I approached the series with great anticipation: an Amherst scholar talking about the how civilizations have historically contemplated or understood the divine. Perhaps it would give some insights into the Torah, Koran, Gospels, Bhagavad Gita, etc.
Unfortunately, it was nothing more than uniformed musing or impressions of the lecturer. No textual discussions. No analysis of how the concept of the creator has changed age to age and from culture to culture. He does not seem to understand basic theological concepts.
The Christian concept of the Trinity he refers to as "God divided into three." That is a mistake that no scholar of religion should make.
He compared our current societal obsession with celebrity to ancient polytheism. Modern people know our celebrities are mortal. We know celebrities dwell on the earthly plain. The ancients' deities were immortal and did not, generally, dwell on this earthly coil. It was insulting to both ancients and modern people.
This is a topic worthy of serious scholarship. It will not be found in this series.
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