- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: The History Press Ltd; UK edition edition (February 1, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0752453580
- ISBN-13: 978-0752453583
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,088,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Kings of the Jews: Exploring the Origins of the Jewish Nation Paperback – February 1, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Although Saul, David, and Solomon are the best known kings of Israel, a total of 52 men and two women served as monarchs between the years 1020 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. Their stories are told in this well-researched account by historian Gelb. After Solomon died in 931 B.C.E., his realm was divided into Judah and Israel. For the next 109 years, each kingdom had 19 kings and, in addition, Israel had one queen. They fought with each other and with neighboring states; the rulers often came to a bloody end. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E. and little is known about the fate of its inhabitants. The Jews of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, were exiled into Babylonia in 587 B.C.E., and upon their return became subjects of the Persians, then Greeks and Syrians, until the rebellion of the Maccabees. Maccabean rule was followed by the Hasmoneans, who gave way to Herod, king under the Romans, from 37 to 4 B.C.E.. When the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the Jewish monarchy finally ended. This useful narrative recalls the contributions of Israel's many kings and brings them back to life. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I found each chapter provided a succinct and informative biography and link to biblical information about each king. The author was informative and candid about each of the kings he selected. It was easy reading and most informative. It cleared misconceptions and supported previously acquired knowledge.
I think it is an important book for any one interested in the kings of the Jews.
In his latest work, Gelb turns to an entirely different matter. "Kings of the Jews" tells of a compelling and fascinating saga that lasted almost a thousand years, of the kings of the Jews. After setting the ancient biblical scene, he commences with the distinguished names of Saul, David, and Solomon and marches through century after century of rises and falls, typified by names of monarchs that have, and have not, inspired commemoration. Some figures were truly glorious, others truly despicable.
This thousand-year chronicle encompasses the fusion of the Biblical Twelve Tribes who were led by Moses out of slavery in Egypt into one nation under Saul. That nation rose to singular magnificence and territorial reach under David and Solomon, even though the pressures ttacks of warlike, aggressive neighboring tribes to the north, east, and south were constant. However, it was family rivalry after Solomon's death that divided the kingdom into two territories, Israel and Judah, from which it only fitfully managed to recover.
Gelb shows how, after some 200 years of this divided existence, ruled by a succession of monarchs, few of whose names we remember, the Kingdom of Israel was eradicated by Assyrian conquest and its people dispersed. Some 200 years later, it was the conquest of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians, subsequent exile and return, conquest by the Persians, conquest by the Hellenes, followed by the revolt of the Maccabees.
The final century of the Jewish kingdom, now known as Judaea, puts us in touch with more familiar figures: Jesus, Bar Kochba, Herod the Great, the Roman emperors Hadrian, Agrippa, and Agrippa II. They recount the wars with Rome, the Jewish resistance movements, notably the Zealots and their tragic, internecine struggles with fellow Jewish resisters, culminating in the fall of Jerusalem itself to the Romans and the destruction of Masada.
Gelb uses his sources effectively and strategically. They comprise works ancient and modern: Biblical writings (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, Chronicles, Maccabees, Kings, Isaiah); near-contemporary observers such as Josephus, Tacitus, Herodotus; and an impressive array of more recent historians. He never overwhelms us with bookish scholarship. Rather, his approach and tone are both gripping and measured. To say that his material is compelling would be an understatement.
From the perspective of this Jewish reader, the final third of the book is almost unbearably poignant. It describes the unstoppable, ever-mounting agonies of the kingdoms of Judah, Judaea, and Israel as they face internal dissension, leading to disintegration, destruction, and Diaspora. As we know from our contemporary perspective, those losses and sufferings would not be alleviated until the founding of Israel in 1948.
Gelb has graced us with a work that is both magisterial in scope and inviting in its teaching.
----Henry Grinberg, author of the novel, "Variations on the Beast."
It is difficult if not impossible to write a true non-controversial history of these kings and queens. Saul, reluctantly chosen by the prophet Samuel, although he despised the notion that his people should be ruled by a monarch, is generally considered Israel's first king. Yet, as Gelb makes clear, there was an individual during the earlier period of the judges, the period when the Israelite tribes were usually led by charismatic leaders, who proclaimed himself king and lived as a king for a short time.
Saul's son Ishbosheth was king after him for a couple of years. He was followed by David and Solomon. But then, until the Hasmonean kings and the kings in Herod's family, usually overlooked by people, but described by Gelb, the Land of Israel is divided and monarchs ruled in two kingdoms, Judea in the south and Israel in the north. Should the historian call the northerners Israelites and the southerners Judeans? Gelb simplifies and calls them all Jews, as most people think of them, and as he does in the book's title, even though the name Jews was not invented until several centuries after the last king of the divided kingdoms ruled. But these were not the only problems that Gelb had to face.
The history is difficult to tell because the documents that relate the history differ radically. Many of monarchs' stories are told in the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles, and in some of the biblical books of the Prophets. But each, without exception, tells different tales and gives different slants even when they narrate the same events. The Talmuds also elaborate on much of the history with ideas that are not in the three biblical sources, and the Talmuds use their version of the history to teach lessons the rabbis considered important. For example, many people are familiar with the story of David heroically killing the Philistine giant Goliath, which is in Kings. Yet Chronicles has another person do this deed. Kings describes in detail how David committed adultery with Bat Sheba and how he had her husband killed, but the story is not in Chronicles. And there is an opinion in the Talmud that David never did anything wrong.
But this is not all. A fifth source is the legends about the kings, such as the legend that Solomon could speak to animals. Gelb mentions legends sometimes, but identifies them as such. A sixth scientific source, made up of many strands, sociological and anthropological and excavations among others, has yielded additional information, such as ancient artifacts from the age of the kings. A seventh is documents from contemporary neighbor nations that comment upon the Israelite and Judean kings. For example, Kings records bad behaviors of the Israelite kings Omri and Ahab, but these other documents describe them as very successful rulers. Gelb incorporates this information in his story.
To complicate matters, both the Talmuds and modern scholarship recognize that there are problems with dating and other numbers. We do not know how long Saul ruled or the exact date that David assumed his throne, among other events. Furthermore, the numbers of years that each monarch ruled do not add up, resulting in both of the Talmuds and scholars admitting that there was some overlap, but they differ in how this occurred. Additionally, the Bible frequently rounds off numbers, for example it states in Exodus 1 that seventy members of Jacob's family traveled to Egypt and then names them, but the names are less than seventy. So, too, with the kings. Scripture states that both David and Solomon, for instance, ruled for forty years. Should these numbers be taken literally? As a result of this confusion over numbers we do not know for certain how long the northern nation of Israel lasted. While many scholars say exactly two hundred years, from 922 BCE to 722 BCE, Gelb opts for 931-722 because he allocated only thirty years to Solomon's reign.
But this does not end the difficulty. There are many scholars who question whether David and Solomon ever existed. How does an historian deal with this? And, since each of the seven above-mentioned sources was written to advance the agenda of its writer, which reference should an historian rely on?
Gelb offers his readers a clear sufficiently detailed narration of the history of the ancient monarchs for people who want a general understanding of the history of Judaism and its national leaders without resorting to the problems of scholarship. In a word, he gives them, as written earlier, what they want and what they need to know, and does it well. His primary source is Kings, the book that is better known to the general readership.
Just as he does not delve into the difficulties of scholarship, which his readers are not interested in hearing, Gelb avoids sermonizing about the history. He keeps to the facts as he sees them. However, a reader will see in Gelb's narration that the history of Judaism from its beginnings to the present era have one venomous black mark, a cancerous deadly stain. Virtually every evil that afflicted the Jews, from the days when they murmured and complained against their leader Moses, who was trying to help them, until the present, was the result of internal conflicts, unnecessary and destructive strife among themselves. The nation that Saul, David, and Solomon united would have remained strong if it remained unified and had not divided over a conflict about taxes. This resulted in the destruction of the northern kingdom in 722 BCE and the everlasting loss of ten of the twelve Jewish tribes. Similarly, in 70 CE, the nation and its Temple would not have been destroyed by the Romans and Jews would not have needed to suffer 2,000 years of exile if the several conflicting groups, who not only disagreed, but literally killed one another, would have faced Rome united.
Thus, Gelb's history is interesting, and instructive.