The Illustrated History of the Jewish People
Eight notable scholars of Judaism have produced the essays that make up this text. Seth Schwartz contributes, “Beginnings,” which focuses mainly on developments after the destruction of the first temple (586 BCE) and relies heavily on sources (like Josephus) external to Biblical sources. Oded Irshai lucidly reviews “The Making of the Diaspora,” carrying us into the third century of the Common Era and paying special attention to the emergence of Babylonia as a place of prosperity and learning for Jews.
In “A Rejected People,” Ora Limor shows how Christianity and Judaism are “sister faiths,” whose relations have all the bitterness of sibling struggle. She chronicles the development of both Sephardic and Ashkenazic forms of Judaism and very fairly deals with Catholic attempts to convert Jews. Anyone unfamiliar with the Reformation’s effect on the relation of the sister faiths should read her account of Luther’s murderous about-face on the matter of Christian treatment of Jews.
In “‘My Heart is in the East’,” Jane S. Gerber describes the historic relations of Judaism and Islam, focusing on the remarkable flourishing of Jewish life of Moorish Spain in the high and late Middle Ages. Her treatment of developments in Jewish life in the Ottoman Empire after the expulsion from Spain is especially useful. David Sorkin’s “Into the Modern World” discusses the Haskalah (Enlightenment), that fateful period when Jews gained limited entrance into bourgeois European society—losing cohesion and realism in the process. Sorkin also provides a vivid picture of the rise of Hasidism and the great migrations to the New World.
Michael R. Marrus’ “The Darkest Hour” offers in forty-five pages one of the most useful summaries of the Holocaust ever written. Indeed, the book is worth buying just for this very judicious account—which is not for that reason any less shocking. The final two chapters bring the reader to the late 1990’s, with a speculation about Judaism after Zionism.
The volume contains an exceptionally useful selected bibliography, keyed to the eight chapters.