It is a story like no other: an epic of endurance against destruction, of creativity in oppression, joy amid grief, the affirmation of life against the steepest of odds. The first of two volumes, The Story of the Jews spans the millennia and the continents—from India to Andalusia and from the bazaars of Cairo to the streets of Oxford. It takes readers to unimagined places: a Jewish kingdom in the mountains of southern Arabia, a Syrian synagogue glowing with radiant wall paintings, the palm groves of the Jewish dead in the Roman catacombs. And its voices ring loud and clear, from the severities and ecstasies of the writers of the Bible to the love poems of wine bibbers in a garden in Muslim Spain.
Within these pages, the Talmud burns in the streets of Paris, massed gibbets hang over the streets of medieval London, a Majorcan illuminator redraws the world, candles are lit, chants are sung, mules are packed, and ships loaded with spices and gems founder at sea.
And a great story unfolds. Not—as often imagined—of a culture apart, but of a Jewish world immersed in and imprinted by the peoples among whom they have dwelled, from the Egyptians to the Greeks, from the Arabs to the Christians.
Which makes the story of the Jews everyone’s story.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What I most like about Schama’s book was the emphasis on the tangible. He concentrates on archeological discoveries, surviving papyrus letters and fragments, the ruins of ancient synagogue, their styles, locations and decorations, in other words, things that can be seen, felt, read. He does not start the history with Abraham, Moses and similar mythic characters for whom there is no real evidence. Since he deals mainly with the tangible, the history does not start as early as one might have thought, but starts early enough, at around 1000 B.C.E., and follows the Jews through Hellenistic, Roman, and Medieval Ages up until nearly the 16th century.
One question that always comes to mind when reading Jewish history is how did this particular group survive when just about all other cotemporaneous religions and ethnicities disappear ages ago. Schama stresses the great advantage literacy gave the Jews for enduring cohesively through two Temple destruction, numerous exiles,...
This book is an expansion of part of Prof Schama's superb TV documentary `The Story of the Jews' which covered Jewish history from early to modern times. The volume takes us from settling the hill fort that became Jerusalem up until the massive persecution and eventual expulsion of the Jews in late mediaval Spain. I do hope a second volume is in preparation. Be prepared to have some cherished biblical tales questioned. For example despite much searching by Israeli and other archaeologists no traces have been found of any mass migration of the Israelites from Egypt. It is hinted that the so called Exodus was actually a marauding mob of Semitic tribesmen who were defeated and forced out of the country. Much later, under Greek domination Judaen soldiers and their families were imported to the Egyptian city of Elephantine on the Nile near Abu Simbal to guard the border against invasion. Detailed records of that settlement have been discovered, many on potsherds and the settlers even...
A very pragmatic point of view on the "talmudic history" of the Jews as juxtaposed with empirical, archeological data presented from the regional and contextual history of the Jews in those areas. Quite comparable to similar studies of "Biblical Christianity" and empirical, contextual Christian history in enlightened, modern interpretation of ancient belief systems. I found it very good reading.
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