In this magnificently illustrated cultural history—the tie-in to the pbs and bbc series The Story of the Jews—simon schama details the story of the jewish people, tracing their experience across three millennia, from their beginnings as an ancient tribal people to the opening of the new world in It is a story like no other: an epic of endurance in the face of destruction, of creativity in the face of oppression, joy amidst grief, the affirmation of life despite the steepest of odds. Which makes the story of the Jews everyone's story, too.
In Egypt. Delving Divining. Classical Jews? The Menorah and the Cross. Among the Believers. The Women of Ashkenaz. In conveying all this, Schama's writing is at turns wry, sly and lavish, tumbling over itself much in the way that he describes the tens of thousands of documents and fragments of documents found in the Cairo Geniza , and yet often turning agonizingly spare in the face of the terrors that came — and they did come, over and over again.
What is it about Judaism that made the difference, the one thing if there can be only one, if we speak of history and not divine intervention that allowed both faith and people to survive even as others have been lost to humanity or very nearly so? The words, Schama says. The fact that from a very early stage, Jewish faith was centered on a book — portable, easily memorized, copyable, words that could live in the heart and the head, regardless of station or place.
This is what made the Jews into who we are: Our words. The rest is commentary. Now go study. Emily L. Hauser has studied and written about the culture, history and politics of the Middle East since the early s; she is a regular contributor to the Israeli daily Haaretz and can be followed on Twitter: emilylhauser. The Story of the Jews debuts 7 p. I was somewhat disappointed by the book.
Given the high profile of the author I had come to expect a very competent and thorough historical account but found myself confused from the first chapter onwards about the direction of the book. Although I appreciate that this is not meant to be popular science or Jews for Dummies the book expects a lot of prior knowledge in several disciplines, unless you want to continuously flick back to the index. I know some of the necessary background but not enou I was somewhat disappointed by the book.
I know some of the necessary background but not enough to follow Schama's narrative and train of thought which seemed to jump between tribes, locations, philosophical aspects and other topics. A very good book! Though at times I got lost in some of the minutia of Jewish cultural references, the book was well written and easy to read. Schama writes in a very engaging way and brings to light the horrors of suffering put on the Jews across the centuries, but also beautifully paints a picture of the rich culture and history that developed in spite of this.
All in all a brilliant insight into an often forgotten aspect of history! In this first volume, Simon Schama largely succeeds in attaining his two goals for a history of the Jews: It should tell the story of the Jews in their complex interaction with other peoples, and it should deal with a range of real Jewish character types, as opposed to the stock characters of the medieval rabbi and the modern Zionist. He starts out with the bold decision to begin his narrative, not in Palestine in the era of the patriarchs, but in Egypt around the time the Hebrew Bible was codif In this first volume, Simon Schama largely succeeds in attaining his two goals for a history of the Jews: It should tell the story of the Jews in their complex interaction with other peoples, and it should deal with a range of real Jewish character types, as opposed to the stock characters of the medieval rabbi and the modern Zionist.
He starts out with the bold decision to begin his narrative, not in Palestine in the era of the patriarchs, but in Egypt around the time the Hebrew Bible was codified. We're there presented with a community that's robustly Jewish to the point of constructing its own Temple in defiance of the Deuteronomic rule, but which routinely intermarries with its non-Jewish neighbors and even swears by their gods. This account raises a theme to which Schama frequently returns in the rest of the book.
Judaism and Jewish culture overlap, but one is not completely reducible to the other: Instead, they are in dynamic interaction, a state of affairs that's perhaps unavoidable for a civilization whose ritual of Torah reading is more a raucous conversation than a lecture. Jewish practice may often be at variance with religious rules, particularly those of a later age: It's not uncommon to find mosaics of animals, biblical personages, and even gods in Greco-Roman synagogues, perhaps in defiance of the Decalogue strictures against images.
On the other side of the coin, the Hasmonean monarchy's attempt to make Hanukkah a kind of second Passover was never really embraced by the rabbinical establishment. And though elite Jewish opinion agreed with the desirability of living in the Holy Land, Jews throughout the ages frequently found themselves seeking refuge in a place the Bible proscribes: Egypt.
There were always many ways of being Jewish. And though Schama is emphatic against "minimalist" critics that the Jews are a bona fide people of ancient provenance, he stresses that their culture has always existed in synergistic interaction with the cultures of others. With the advent of Christianity and Islam, Schama's account becomes more like a traditional lachrymose history of the Jews.
The cross-fertilization of ideas continued across the religious divide, sometimes in surprising ways: As just one example, the Passover seder may have been influenced by the Catholic rite of Holy Communion. And Jews continued to excel in many roles, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and industry e. But with the maturing of the Middle Ages, exclusion, massacre, forced conversion, and expulsion became a recurrent feature of Jewish existence, as though Christendom was attempting to forcibly eliminate the ancient interaction between Jews and non-Jews.
This probably marks the end of an era and therefore a logical place for Schama to conclude his first volume. Mar 02, Richard Block rated it liked it. Tale of Woe The brilliant, erudite and articulate Simon Schama produces a muddled, idiosyncratic history of his people OK, our people. Using his usual trick of engaging you through people you may or may not have heard of to make general points, this first volume only pays dividends in the later chapters on the late middle ages and the inquisition. Until then, it's a mess.
Schama does not credit biblical history much, unless it is Christian or Muslim history. He thinks the Old Testament is pretty Tale of Woe The brilliant, erudite and articulate Simon Schama produces a muddled, idiosyncratic history of his people OK, our people.
He thinks the Old Testament is pretty much invention, and the opening chapters are so disappointing, they nearly put me off reading it. Things pick up with Josephus, but Schama spends more time covering 10th Century Jewish poetry than he does on the Second Revolt. He totally blows the connection between the rise of Christianity and the destruction of the Second Revolt, or the rise of Pauline Christianity's anti-Jewishness in the light of the First Jewish Revolt. The later chapters redeem the book to a non-Turkey level. The sections on Maimonides and the end of the Spanish Jews are just brilliant, readable and special.
His English tale of woe is also terrific. This followed the television show - the first chapter was a mess, but it improved greatly in later chapters. When he shines, he shines brightly. When he feels it, he can really communicate. Ancient history is clearly not that compelling for Schama, and he often assumes his readers know a lot, when they know much less than him. He bends over backwards to be nice to Christians and Muslims, despite their terrible ideas and behaviours.
Most importantly, he never really addresses the core question of Jewish persecution - the Job question - why me? Why the Jews? The Greeks, the Romans, the Christians, the Muslims. I mean, Randy Newman wipes the floor with him -listen to the words on God's Song View all 3 comments. Jun 08, B A rated it liked it.
The content of this book was very interesting, although the book itself was surprisingly poorly written. I'll start with the good stuff I guess. Thanks to the broad perspective the books offers, I think I gained some interesting insights about Judaism and the historical cycles that it has gone through. I'll list a few of them here: 1. The Holocaust was horrible, but it has happened before. Even though nothing matches the overall scale of the Holocaust, throughout Jewish history there have been se The content of this book was very interesting, although the book itself was surprisingly poorly written.
Even though nothing matches the overall scale of the Holocaust, throughout Jewish history there have been several other disastrous events that were perhaps almost as devastating to the Jewish population on a percentage basis. The first devastating event was the 'Assyrian captivity' of around BCE in which the Assyrians destroyed the northern Kingdom of Israel and causing the loss of 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel.
In this magnificently illustrated cultural history—the tie-in to the PBS and BBC series The Story of the Jews—Simon Schama details the story of the Jewish. Editorial Reviews. From Booklist. *Starred Review* Schama is a professor at Columbia The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words BC AD by [.
However it's hard to know exactly how devastating this loss was, since a lot of the Israelis were able to escape to the southern Kingdom of Judah, which survived the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. The Kitos War, which was a rebellion of diaspora Jewish populations across the southern Mediterranean, resulted in the destruction of those surprisingly large communities. The last war, the Bar Kokhba Revolt, resulted in a huge loss of life and a ban on Jewish people from entering Jerusalem that lasted more or less for almost years.
Then came another years of 'pretty bad' stuff, except ratcheted up a level thanks to the advent of Christianity and Islam. Christianity was violently antagonistic with Judaism almost from the start, so when it became the state religion of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the persecution of Jews and Jewish religious practices was natural. The Muslim caliphates also persecuted Jews as well as Christians , for example by expelling the ancient Jewish communities of Arabia. The Crusades devastated Jewish populations throughout Europe. However, the next disaster-level event occurred from around in Spain, which probably had the largest population of Jews in the world at the time.
Moreover, suspicions about converted Jews resulted in the Spanish Inquisition, so even the New Christians didn't escape persecution. Persecution of Jews will continue to happen in the future. After reading through an exhaustive list of Jewish persecution, a clear pattern becomes very easy to see: 1 Jewish community finds a tolerant government, settles down, and prospers. This pattern has been repeating itself on both small and large scales without interruption for years, thanks to the fact that the Jewish people were essentially stateless refugees and therefore completely subject to the whims of the foreign governments that controlled them.
Massive Jewish persecution has happened as recently as the s in Ethiopia, and antisemitism is widespread throughout the entire world, including the US and Europe. One would have to be completely blind to history to think that just because we live in a 'modern' and 'enlightened' time that the history of Jewish persecution is over. The foundation of the Israeli state is remarkable. It took almost years after the Jewish-Romans wars for the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland.
If there is actually any hope for the end of Jewish persecution, it is the IDF the Israeli army , since it is the first fighting force devoted to protecting Jewish people for the first time since the Hasmonean dynasty years ago. Now for why the book was bad. In the first couple of chapters, the author jumps around early Jewish history in non-chronological order, which, for an ignorant person like me, was very confusing and frustrating. I think that perhaps the author struggled with approaching Jewish history from an archaeological perspective while also including including the more ancient, mythological history that has much less archaeological evidence.
Which may be why he starts with the Jewish mercenary settlement of Elephantine on the Nile, dating to the 's BCE, before jumping back to older times such as the Assyrians and then moving forward again from there. The timeline becomes better as the book goes on, but even a better timeline can't help the fact that the author just isn't a very good writer. I was continually unimpressed by the quality of the writing, and by how a book that should have felt epic and inspiring was instead often frustratingly confusing and opaque.
Mar 27, Bettie marked it as to-read. It is a story like no other: an epic of endurance in the face of destruction, of creativity in the face of oppression, joy amidst grie Description: In this magnificently illustrated cultural history -- the companion volume to the five-part PBS and BBC series THE STORY OF THE JEWS -- award-winning historian Simon Schama details the story of the Jewish people, tracing their experience across three millennia, from their beginnings as an ancient tribal people to the opening of the new world in It is a story like no other: an epic of endurance in the face of destruction, of creativity in the face of oppression, joy amidst grief, the affirmation of life despite 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. Review title: Lost, but never for words Schama has been a popular and prolific narrative historian covering topics as diverse as the French Revolution, American history, and now this history of the Jewish people.
I've read all three of those, and they usually leave me wanting something missing. This story starts strong as Schama describes the transition of the Jews from scattered wanderers to, well, scattered wanderers in different places but with a remembered homeland in Jerusalem. The early stor Review title: Lost, but never for words Schama has been a popular and prolific narrative historian covering topics as diverse as the French Revolution, American history, and now this history of the Jewish people.
The early story is as much about archeaology as history and Schama shines in describing the early diggers looking to prove the Biblical accounts, the modern correction to extreme "minimalist" skepticism, and the most recent correction to the center as the latest findings have proven the core of many geographical and political accounts once thought impossible. At the core of the story is not the architecture, though, but the words.
It was fascinating to learn that the early Jewish places of worship are distinguished and even solely identifiable by the absence of statues and alters of stone to gods of stone; they are instead storehouses and display cases for--just words. The scrolls of the Hebrew Bible, the written words some of them spoken words transcribed themselves, are the focus of attention, memory, and worship.
The writer of Deuteronomy told the Jews to write these words on their hearts and even wear them; the "New" testament writer John would say with the certitude of centuries and a new revelation that the Jews would reject that in fact the "Word was God" and God was in the Words. Rather than a continuous narrative, Schama stays with his theme of words as he time hops through sometimes obscure events and archives, and there is where he lost me.
Not that the writing flags or fails to tell the history he wants to tell, but that for a casual reader like me wanting and needing in my inexpertise to know the ligaments connecting the bones of the history, I was left studying bones in isolated detail without seeing the full body. And that is the key to my review. Indeed, the early sections roughly the first four chapters comprising Part One are well worth reading for those who don't understand the devotion to the words by the peoples of the Book.
Feb 27, Christopher rated it really liked it Shelves: history , middle-east-central-asia , europe. I really enjoyed both Mr.
See the bit about the Righteous? About the Author. After a massacre in 15 th century Spain Drawing on the resilience which was by now second nature to Jews, the community learned how to rebuild, repair, restore. Drawing on the resilience which was by now second nature to Jews, the community learned how to rebuild, repair, restore. The Independent Books.
Schama's multi-episode documentaries A History of Britain and The Story of the Jews, which this book is the first of a planned two-volume companion to that series, but I had never actually read any of Mr. Schama's works. I am pleased to say that Mr. Schama's style of telling history is just as good on the page as it is on the screen. This book spans the story of Jews and Jewish life from their earliest biblical days still being unearthed in Israel and Ancient Egyptian c I really enjoyed both Mr. This book spans the story of Jews and Jewish life from their earliest biblical days still being unearthed in Israel and Ancient Egyptian cities such as Elephantine to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal circa Like its accompanying documentary, Mr.
Schama typically starts with a more personal and intimate look at a single figure or event to illuminate a broad period of history, a style that deftly synthesizes both the ground level tales and the broad historical trends into a fascinating tale. This book also does a great job of illuminating the fact that Jews have been a persecuted group for centuries.
Even in early Islam, which some hold up to be a paragon of pluralism in the medieval period when compared to Christian Europe, was not an easy place for Jews to live as the Jizya, the tax Muslims applied to unbelievers, could be used in incredibly oppressive ways. And everywhere the Jews lived, as Mr. Schama points out, there always a sense that their good life would not last as pogroms, forced conversions, and expulsions were always somewhere in the offing. But the triumphs of Jewish culture, the Talmud, the building of beautiful synagogues, and the poetry and art remind us of the great contributions of Jews throughout history.
While not an exhaustive history, I would highly recommend this book and Mr. Schama's documentary to anyone interested in Jewish history. Jan 04, Bob Breckwoldt rated it really liked it. This very much encapsulates him and the book. It is like him, excitable and voluble, personal and academic, Jewish and learned, polemical and partisan, jokey and deadly serious. And everywhere there are words, words, words - yet images and artefacts abound too with mosaics and paintings which are often sensuous and arresting.
Illuminated books that imitate and transcend the environment in which they are created.
Heroes and heroines find their voice — often as at Elephantine in the humdrum events: births, deaths and marriages. The villains too — such as the golden tongued John Chrysostom —are given the chance to hoist themselves by their own petard. Throughout he weaves common threads, such as a pluralism and adaptation within limits to the surrounding culture, while creating a tradition of all encompassing law and stories that mould their dreams and aspirations through the centuries.
Simon Schama is a gifted speaker and writer. The book is fascinating and powerful, reminding how minorities can flourish whilst the demonization of any group can lead to appalling crimes. It is easy to question some of his judgements it is a story of argument and debate but the extensive bibliography and references give plenty of scope to follow up the diversity of opinion.. I would thoroughly recommend the book, and if you get the chance watching the series, to anyone.
Apr 19, Michelle rated it it was amazing Shelves: history. I think Schama could make the history of dirt exciting, and gory. So when I saw he was taking on the history of the Jews I was excited. I'd somehow missed--or possibly just never thought about--his being Jewish when I read his previous books. If you are a very religious traditional Jew who believes the Biblical narrative completely, you may have some disappointments in the early chapters. And then the book gets better and better as it goes, tracing Judaism through Persian and Greek and Roman domination, on into the Christian and Muslim worlds.
I knew some of what I was going to read or be subjected to herebut I still wasn't prepared for the experience of reading Schama's impassioned but thoroughly detailed telling of Jewish suffering. I should have known the bloody details were coming, having previously read Citizens.
And I knew what happened, the basic outlines anyway.
It sure seems different when you are talking about real people with real names and details. I am eager for Vol. The only part where I got lost in this book was on a chapter about Jewish poets writing Arabic poetry? Somehow I got lost here.