From Publishers Weekly
In this concise but all-encompassing account of the Jews, Brenner (After the Holocaust) does a remarkable job of escorting readers from the biblical narrative of Abraham's journey from Ur and idolatry through the treacherous, monotheistic course of Jewish history, concluding with modern-day Israeli society. A professor of Jewish history at the University of Munich, Brenner treats much of the biblical narrative as lore, accepting as fact only those stories and time lines corroborated by extra-biblical evidence. Wandering, tradition, and tragedy emerge as themes as the Jews, once exiled from their biblical homeland of Israel, spend much of history defending their religion, being coerced to forsake it, and yearning for the re-establishment of the Temple. Tragedies have followed the Jews: Crusades, expulsions, book burnings, the Holocaust; yet there have also been periods of efflorescence and development during which the Jews have thrived and produced works of great scholarship and innovation. Brenner's work successfully conveys, in a comprehensive and comprehensible fashion, the enduring history of the Jewish people.
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As the title indicates, this is a compact survey of Jewish history, an introduction for general readers. Still, Professor Brenner manages to cover a great deal of ground while effectively explaining many of the key elements of the Jewish experience. From biblical times to the present, Brenner asserts, a recurring theme of Jewish history is migration, yet it is migration that constantly kept the land of Israel as the focus of Jewish emotions and aspirations. In the opening chapter, Brenner utilizes recent scholarly revelations to effectively glean fact from mythology regarding early wanderings of the Israelites and the supposed exodus from Egypt and conquest of Canaan, but these enduring myths continue to exercise profound influence on Jews. Subsequent chapters also emphasize Jewish movements, from the expulsion from Judea under the Romans to the Holocaust. Critics may object to the Eurocentric concentration of later chapters, which ignore the vibrant Jewish communities in North Africa and western Asia. But on the whole, this work serves as an excellent introduction. --Jay Freeman