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A History of the Jews Paperback – September 14, 1988
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Paul Johnson says that writing A History of the Jews was like writing a history of the world "seen from the viewpoint of a learned and intelligent victim." Johnson's history begins with the Bible and ends with the establishment of the State of Israel. Throughout, Johnson's history is driven by a philosophical interest: "The Jews," he writes, "stand right at the centre of the perennial attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose. Does their own history suggest that such attempts are worth making? Or does it reveal their essential futility?" Johnson's history is lucid, thorough, and--as one would expect of almost any project with such a broad scope--a little wrong-headed. By the end of the book, readers will be grateful for Johnson's questioning of the Jews' confidence in their cosmic significance. However, readers may also be a little annoyed by his energetic inquiries as to whether this significance was man-made or providentially provided. Either way, it's a given: for a historian of Israel, this should adequately settle the question. Johnson's 600-page history is probably the best we've got by a living gentile--which is no small accomplishment at all. --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
Less a seminal contribution than a distillation of a wide range of sources, this history of the Jews focuses on their four-millennia interplay with, and adaption to, other, often hostile, civilizationsa "world history seen from the viewpoint of a learned and intelligent victim." Weaving biblical and archeological data, Johnson (Modern Times and A History of Christianity is particularly deft at placing the patriarchs and early Israelites (the Bronze Age through the destruction of the First Temple) in their historical context. His dense, somewhat arbitrary, capsule extols Judaic rational scholarshipwhich contributed to ethical monotheism and the 18th-century economic system, in turnand denigrates mystic kabbalah"heresy of the most pernicious kind." Although Johnson, who seeks to acknowledge "the magnitude of the debt Christianity owes to Judaism," traces "an inherent conflict" between the religion and the state of Israel through the various ages, the work is incontrovertibly sympathetic to Zionism. BOMC and QPBC featured alternates; author tour.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
In this book, Johnson has managed to present a detailed, historically accurate, and largely uncontentious history of the Jews (at least up until the 1940s.) He is passionate about his own Catholicism, and sees Judaism not as a precursor to Christianity, but as the very heart and soul of it. His passion and enthusiasm for the history of the Jews has made this volume a favorite of a number of Orthodox friends of mine, much to my surprise. I attended five years of Jewish education, and I've read a great many books on Biblical history, and I still learned an astounding amount from this book. Together with his History of Christianity these two volumes comprise the most fascinating, illuminating and complete history of Western religion you're likely to find anywhere.
"A History of the Jews" is not strictly speaking a history, in that Johnson delves instead into what Jews thought (and what others thought of Jews) rather than just what Jews did. He covers a broad spectrum of thought over an enormous span of time.
Judism's great contribution to mankind has been the rational study of man's relationship to his God. I have not read a better interpretation of this great journey in time and thought. I am amazed that one man, without a lifetime of study, has such an interesting and thorough understanding, and expresses it so well.
The reader will find much to agree with, as well as much to take exception to, in this book. He will also undoubtedly alter many of his views -- as did I. This is not a book to take lightly, nor to "skip" through. The story it tells requires attention and thought. But if the reader wants know the history of the Jews and the development of Judism, it is invaluable.
Most recent customer reviews
to tell a story well.