- Series: Very Short Introductions
- Paperback: 168 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 16, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199730989
- ISBN-13: 978-0199730988
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.4 x 4.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) 1st Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
"I highly recommend the book: it is a uniquely competent introduction to a very complex, fascinating history." - Dennis Clark, The Association for Mormon Letters
"Myers has managed to capture the vast sweep of Jewish history without sacrificing its substance or its nuance, all the way from the ancient Israelites we encounter in the Bible to the modern Jewish communities in which we live now." - Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal
About the Author
David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA. He is the author of numerous books and articles in the field of Jewish history, with a particular focus on modern Jewish intellectual history.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
David Myers' book, "Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction" (2017), the 526th in the series, presents a special challenge. The book attempts to introduce Jewish history, with its diversity and complexity in both time and breadth, in a challenging and informative way without falling into stereotypes or preconceived notions. Virtually every element Myers discusses, from the Bible, the Jews in the Middle Ages, to the contemporary state of Israel, and much more, has been the subject of extensive and controversial study. For all its brevity, Myers' book is insightful. The Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA, Myers is the author of several large books about Jewish history and the editor of ten additional volumes on the subject.
At the outset, Myers states the theme of his study as "[w]hy have Jews survived through the ages while other civilizations have come and gone?". Myers properly declines to give a supernatural answer to this question. Instead, he gives a broad, nuanced answer which focuses on two elements. The first element is the characterization of the Jewish people as a "people in movement" throughout their long history. Jews have been in many places throughout their history and have had the gift of adaptability and of acculturating themselves to broadly different environments. The second element is the prevalence, to varying degrees, of dislike for the Jewish people. Jews have had to define themselves against various forms of anti-Semitism and this attempt has given them cohesion and a foil against complete assimilation into a host country.
In developing his theme, Myers does not offer a linear, chronological account beginning with the Bible and ending with the early 21st Century. He develops his subject using five organizing themes each of which moves back and forth through various time period. The book thus has a patchwork approach but it explores Myers' basic position from a variety of perspectives and avoids the superficiality that would be the inevitable result of a linear history in a very short book.
The themes that Myers develops as "major animating forces of the Jewish past" are Names, Numbers, Cultures, Politics, and Perceptions, each of which is explored in a chapter. Each subject is stated in the plural to emphasize the diverse character of Jewish experience. The book focuses inevitably on Jewish identity, but a wise lesson of the book is that there are many inter-related Jewish identities and not one. The various chapters and concepts show different ways Jews have seen themselves and been seen through time and space. Anti-Semitism and persecution receive a great deal of attention as they must. But the book also shows the complex relationship between Jews and their host countries, both Christian and Muslim, in which Jews and their neighbors often lived in an uneasy harmony and in which Jews received a measure of protection from the political and religious leadership of the places in which they lived. The book offers a nuanced account in the way it shows both acculturation/assimilation and anti-Semitism as contributing to Jews sense of themselves and to their survival over millennia.
The book shows the forces of integration and separateness at work beginning with the Babylonian Exile. I particularly liked the discussion at various places in the book of the Greek Jewish philosopher Philo who in his writings attempted an early synthesis between Greek thought and Jewish Biblical texts. Among other things, Myers offers good if brief discussions of Spinoza and of the later Enlightenment thinker, Moses Mendelssohn.
In the chapter of the book dealing with politics, Myers offers competing communal and individualistic pictures of contemporary Jewish identity. He describes the individualistic picture, following other scholars, as the issue of the "sovereign self". Myers explains that the "sovereign self" is
"the typical Jewish individual who decides on her life path without excessive fealty to the weight of the past or to established communal institutions. This form of 'sovereignty' rests on the proposition that there are many portals, not just one, through which to enter into Jewishness-- and that the decision rests entirely in the hands of the individual."
Myers contrasts the "sovereign self" view, which tends to be rooted in the United States with a communal view of Jewish identity, which tends to be rooted in Israel. He points to both the tension and the interrelationship in these two competing views of Jewish identity I found the discussion valuable.
For all its brevity, Myers' book is well-documented and includes a good bibliography for readers wishing to explore the subject or aspects of the subject further. The book is a readable introduction and a work of creative scholarship in its own right.
With this as background, I’d say that David N. Myers, also a distinguished professor, attempted the impossible as he wrote “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction”. You see, books in the “Very Short Introductions” series are limited to roughly 150 pages. And this is simply not enough space to do justice to this enormous subject.
In his attempt, Myers writes a book with five chapters and an introduction. For me, the best of these was the introduction, where Myers raises two basic questions. These are: “Why have the Jews survived through the ages while other civilizations and religions have come and gone?” And what role has hatred played in the preservation of Jewish religion, culture, and identity? The short answers to these questions are:
o Survival. In contrast to other ethnic groups, Jews moved. And when they did so, they acculturated to their new societies, adopting the language, dress, and some of the customs of their new lands. The effect was that the Jews constantly renewed themselves and enriched their culture through selective assimilation.
o Hatred. This often forced the Jews to move. And it prevented the full assimilation and absorption of the Jews in other cultures.
Meanwhile, the five chapters of this short book follow particular themes through the course of Jewish history. Sometimes, this works well. For example, the chapter “Numbers” follows the ups and downs in the worldwide Jewish population, which has fluctuated over the centuries due to pogroms, forced migrations, and epidemics. Likewise, the chapters “Politics” and “Perceptions” were illuminating. In “Politics”, Myers discusses the risky but unavoidable medieval strategy of Jews aligning with the interests of monarchs. Likewise, “Perceptions” examines the qualities gentiles ascribed to Jews and the purposes these ascriptions served. I must say, however, that this approach does generate some overlap.
At the same time, this “Very Short Introduction” brims with qualifications. This, of course, is inevitable since the Jews are amazingly diverse and strongly advocate for different principles and cultural styles. There are, for example, Court Jews and Marxists, urbanites and kibbutzniks, Reform Jews and Haredi, and so on, and so on. This generates many paragraphs of “but-on-the-other-hand” observation.
Anyway, a good try; but the subject overwhelms the limits of the VSI form.