The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions

Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation is an engaging and highly readable compendium and survey of the great religious and philosophical traditions of India, Israel, Greece, and China that focuses on the period of roughly 900–200 BC. The German philosopher and writer Karl Jaspers first termed this period “The Axial Age,” a title Armstrong adopts in this and her other works about the era because she, like Jaspers, sees it as the axis around which human history pivoted. This age is also important to Latter-day Saint readers because it is the period of the great Hebrew and Book of Mormon prophets. The late Hugh Nibley, for instance, concentrated on this period even before he became familiar with Jaspers’s works, noting, “It is not without significance that Lehi counted among his contemporaries not only the greatest first names in science, politics, and business, but also the most illustrious religious founders known to history: Guatama Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tze [Laozi], Vardhaman Mahavira (the founder of Jainism), Zarathustra, and Pythagoras were all of Lehi’s day.”

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