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The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BCE – 1492 CE
by Simon Schama
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v1, Finding the words , 1000 BCE - 1492 CE, 2014, c2013, xvi, 496 p., ill. maps, includes bibliographical references and index. v2, Belonging , 1492-1900, 2017, viii, 790, ill. maps, includes bibliographical references and index.
A highly engaging account of the history of the Jews during the medieval period. This volume does not cover the trauma of World War II and the holocaust of the German killing camps, so any reaction or assessment of the book may be relieved of the awful moral responsibility for that horror. However, it seems that the author assumes a certain familiarity with the foundation myths of the Jewish religion at the beginning of the book, such as the exile to Egypt and the return to Israel under the leadership of Moses, the commandments received from God, the awful sacrifice (of his own son, and not in an allegorical fashion) that God demanded of Abraham, the special covenant that God made with the Jews, and so on. For a reader not born or brought up in the so-called Abrahamic religious milieu, these fairly dire happenings invoke a puzzled wonder. In succeeding chapters, the book goes on to describe the almost unrelenting onslaught of the Christian and later the Moslem world on these unfortunate people, which is all the more puzzling to us outsiders, as all these so-called universal faiths evidently arose from that very Abrahamic covenant, and claim to be worshiping the very same universal and singular Lord of the Universe. So far, this history reinforces one's relief at being born into a culture and religion that assures us that though the Truth (or God) is one, there are many paths to reach it (or It). The author himself seems to be approving of the relatively more syncretist, multi-cultural life of the Jewish outposts in Pharaonic Egypt (at the start of the book), and perhaps is hinting at the need to make the faith more relaxed. The other great message that I would draw is that Eastern and traditional cultures and religions based on such a universalist, tolerant belief system should hang on to their basically open and welcoming values, and refrain from hardening their systems and boundaries just because the monotheists have been taunting them for all these hundreds of years of being idolatrous, unmanly, vain, sinful, or other calumnies of a similar nature.
Epic, thoroughly well researched, and beautifully written. Schama brings a frequently-tragic history to life, and this is full of fascinating historical surprises (to me) - such as the Khazar Correspondence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khazar_Correspondence).
If I were to make a criticism, it would be that this is not an introductory history, which is how it was marketed in the UK. A competent understanding of Judaism and the broad sweep of European history is required. If you don't know your mishnah from your haggadah, or your gemara from your talmud, you should begin elsewhere - as I had to.
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Wikipedia in English (5)
"It is a story like no other: an epic of endurance against destruction, of creativity in oppression, joy amidst grief, the affirmation of life against the steepest of odds. It spans the millennia and the continents - from India to Andalusia and from the bazaars of Cairo to the streets of Oxford. It takes you to unimagined places: to 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 Bible writers 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 Major can illuminator redraws the world; candles are lit, chants are sung, mules are packed, ships loaded with spice 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, too."--Publisher's description.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)909.04924 — History and Geography History World history Ethnic and national groups Other Semites Jews, Hebrews, Israelis
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