History of God Top Ten Booklist

Depiction of an Israelite worshiping Yahweh, who becomes the foundation and name of God in the ancient Jewish faith.

Background to the List

The concept of God and his historical development is an extraordinarily complex topic and it is not easily addressed in ten books. These books seek attempt to explain a complex story on how the concept of God, or single divine being, developed in different cultures, places, and across time. The history of the idea of God is long and has its roots from prehistoric to early historic periods in the ancient Near East. Later cultures developed concepts that derive from ancient Iran, Greece, Egypt, and perhaps other regions. In a period over several hundred years, in the late first millennium BC and during the first centuries AD, several faiths, including Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism emerged that took the idea of God to levels that influence us today. While no easy task, here are the ten best books that try to make sense of this complex history.

Top Ten Book List

Armstrong, Karen. 1999. A History of God. London: Vintage.: The book is somewhat more narrow that later books, looking mainly at Judaism, Christianity and Islam, along with Buddhism and Hinduism, as examples of different religions that emerged. The evolution of the idea of God is investigated in the ancient Near East, where the book looks at how the idea of God developed up to the modern day.

Smith, Mark S. 2002. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel. 2nd ed. The Biblical Resource Series. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.: This book provides a detailed analysis on the early history of Judaism as it developed in ancient Judah and Israel. The book discusses the surrounding cultures and states that developed along these two states, explaining how cultural influence and regional politics begin to shape the idea of God as it emerged.

A History of God by Karen Armstrong

Bowker, John Westerdale. 2002. God: A Brief History. 1st American ed. London ; New York: DK Pub.: The book looks at the origins of the Israelites, their development of the ideas of God, and then later influences that come on the Near East, in particular Greek influences that integrate new philosophies in the Near East. However, the book looks more at later views of god from other cultures and does not so much focus on the original ideas and how they evolved.

Winston, Robert M. L. 2006. The Story of God. London: Bantam Books. This book looks at the development of the concept of God from prehistory to the historical development in ancient Judaism and Christianity. It looks then how the concept developed in Islam and how modern ideas of God are shaped by the modern world. The book looks at how science has affect modern understanding of God.

Mitchell, Stephen, and Peter van Nuffelen, eds. 2010. One God: Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.: Unlike some of the other books, this one focuses on how polytheistic faiths in the Roman Empire may have influenced early Christian and monotheistic developments. Cults around individuals gods or a "higher god" developed during the Roman Empire and these are seen as influential, in some circles, in developing concepts of monotheism that began to mature in the period of the early Roman Empire.

Ludwig, Theodore M. 2006. The Sacred Paths of the West. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Prentice Hall.: This book looks at the development of Western theology in ancient periods. The development of Western religion has multiple roots, from its polytheistic origins to influences from the east, including Persia and the Zoroastrian religion.

One God: Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire

Porter, Barbara N., ed. 2000. One God or Many?: Concepts of Divinity in the Ancient World. Transactions of the Casco Bay Assyriological Institute 1. Chebeague, ME: Casco Bay Assyriological Institute.: This book looks at the polytheistic faiths in the ancient Near East and the concept of gods and god that developed in the region. The way in which an idea of a singular god develops is discussed in the volume.

Streeter, Jarvis. 2016 God and the History of the Universe. 2016. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.: This volume looks at the development and ideas revolving around God as well as the scientific developments that occurred in more modern times to understand the concepts of the cosmos. It argues for the Christian God using scientific discoveries made mostly in the last century.

Dimont, Max I, and Ethel Dimont. 2004. Jews, God, and History. New York: New American Library.: This book looks at the history of the Jews from ancient to more modern periods. The history and struggle of the Jews has also shaped their views on God and this has had an influence on the theologies of not only the Jews but also other monotheistic faiths.

Wright, Eric and Miles Braun. 2010. God: Specific Conceptions From Architect to Zoroastrianism. Charleston: BiblioBazaar.: The book investigates major conceptions that develop in relation to God, dealing with the concepts of creator, devil, lord, father, supreme being, Trinity, salvation, resurrection, and other concepts that have developed in different faiths. The book looks at these concepts and their relationships to each other.


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