Lives of Great Religious Books24

Lives of Great Religious Books is a series of short volumes that recount the complex and fascinating histories of important religious texts from around the world. Written for general readers by leading authors and experts, these books examine the historical origins of texts from the great religious traditions, and trace how their reception, interpretation, and influence have changed—often radically—over time. As these stories of translation, adaptation, appropriation, and inspiration dramatically remind us, all great religious books are living things whose careers in the world can take the most unexpected turns.

  • Augustine's Confessions Augustine's Confessions: A Biography
    Garry Wills

    In this brief and incisive book, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Garry Wills tells the story of the Confessions—what motivated Augustine to dictate it, how it asks to be read, and the many ways it has been misread in the...

  • The Book of Mormon The Book of Mormon: A Biography
    Paul C. Gutjahr

    Late one night in 1823, Joseph Smith, Jr., was reportedly visited in his family's farmhouse in upstate New York by an angel named Moroni. According to Smith, Moroni told him of a buried stack of gold plates that were inscribed with a...

  • The Koran in English The Koran in English: A Biography
    Bruce B. Lawrence

    For millions of Muslims, the Qur'an is sacred only in Arabic, the original Arabic in which it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. To many Arab and non-Arab believers alike, the book literally defies translation...

  • The Jefferson Bible The Jefferson Bible: A Biography
    Peter Manseau

    In his retirement, Thomas Jefferson edited the New Testament with a penknife and glue, removing all mention of miracles and other supernatural events. Inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment, Jefferson hoped to reconcile Christian...

  • The Talmud The Talmud: A Biography
    Barry Scott Wimpfheimer

    The Babylonian Talmud, a postbiblical Jewish text that is part scripture and part commentary, is an unlikely bestseller. Written in a hybrid of Hebrew and Aramaic, it is often ambiguous to the point of incomprehension, and its subject...

  • The Passover Haggadah The Passover Haggadah: A Biography
    Vanessa L. Ochs

    Every year at Passover, Jews around the world gather for the seder, a festive meal where family and friends come together to sing, pray, and enjoy traditional food while retelling the biblical story of the Exodus. The Passover Haggadah...

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography
    Martin E Marty

    For fascination, influence, inspiration, and controversy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison is unmatched by any other book of Christian reflection written in the twentieth century. A Lutheran pastor and theologian...

  • The Book of Job The Book of Job: A Biography
    Mark Larrimore

    The book of Job raises stark questions about the meaning of innocent suffering and the relationship of the human to the divine, yet it is also one of the Bible's most obscure and paradoxical books. Mark Larrimore provides a panoramic...

  • C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity: A Biography
    George M. Marsden

    Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis's eloquent defense of the Christian faith, originated as a series of BBC radio talks broadcast during the dark days of World War Two. Here is the story of the extraordinary life and afterlife of this...

  • Josephus's The Jewish War Josephus's The Jewish War: A Biography
    Martin Goodman

    The Jewish War is Josephus's superbly evocative account of the Jewish revolt against Rome, which was crushed in 70 CE with the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Martin Goodman describes the life of this book, from...

  • The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography
    David Gordon White

    Consisting of fewer than two hundred verses written in an obscure if not impenetrable language and style, Patanjali's Yoga Sutra is extolled by the yoga establishment as a perennial classic and guide to yoga practice—except it isn't....

  • The Book of Genesis The Book of Genesis: A Biography
    Ronald Hendel

    During its 2,500-year life, the book of Genesis has been the keystone to important claims about God and humanity in Judaism and Christianity, and it plays a central role in contemporary debates about science, politics, and human rights....

  • The Song of Songs The Song of Songs: A Biography
    Ilana Pardes

    The Song of Songs has been embraced for centuries as the ultimate song of love. But the kind of love readers have found in this ancient poem is strikingly varied. Ilana Pardes invites us to explore the dramatic shift from readings of...

  • The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila: A Biography
    Carlos Eire

    The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila is among the most remarkable accounts ever written of the human encounter with the divine. The Life is not really an autobiography at all, but rather a confession written for inquisitors by a nun whose...

  • Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae: A Biography
    Bernard McGinn

    Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae holds a unique place in Western religion and philosophy. Written between 1266 and 1273, it was conceived by Aquinas as an instructional guide for teachers and novices and a compendium of all the...

  • The Dead Sea Scrolls The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography
    John J. Collins

    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 Book of Common Prayer The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography
    Alan Jacobs

    While many of us are familiar with such famous words as “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here. . .” or “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” we may not know that they originated in The Book of Common Prayer, which first...

  • The Book of Exodus The Book of Exodus: A Biography
    Joel S. Baden

    Exodus is the second book of the Hebrew Bible, but it may rank first in lasting cultural importance. It is here that the classic biblical themes of oppression and redemption, of human enslavement and divine salvation, are most...

  • The Book of Revelation The Book of Revelation: A Biography
    Timothy Beal

    Few biblical books have been as revered and reviled as Revelation. Many hail it as the pinnacle of prophetic vision, the cornerstone of the biblical canon, and, for those with eyes to see, the key to understanding the past, present, and...

  • The Lotus Sūtra The Lotus Sūtra: A Biography
    Donald S. Lopez Jr.

    The Lotus Sutra is arguably the most famous of all Buddhist scriptures. Composed in India in the first centuries of the Common Era, it is renowned for its inspiring message that all beings are destined for supreme enlightenment. Here...

  • John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography
    Bruce Gordon

    John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is a defining book of the Reformation and a pillar of Protestant theology. First published in Latin in 1536 and in Calvin's native French in 1541, the Institutes argues for the majesty...

  • The Bhagavad Gita The Bhagavad Gita: A Biography
    Richard H. Davis

    The Bhagavad Gita, perhaps the most famous of all Indian scriptures, is universally regarded as one of the world's spiritual and literary masterpieces. Richard Davis tells the story of this venerable and enduring book, from its origins...

  • The I Ching The I Ching: A Biography
    Richard J. Smith

    The I Ching originated in China as a divination manual more than three thousand years ago. In 136 BCE the emperor declared it a Confucian classic, and in the centuries that followed, this work had a profound influence on the philosophy...

  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography
    Donald S. Lopez Jr.

    The Tibetan Book of the Dead is the most famous Buddhist text in the West, having sold more than a million copies since it was first published in English in 1927. Carl Jung wrote a commentary on it, Timothy Leary redesigned it as a...