Peer-reviewed The Jewish People: A History now online
With gratitude to the hundreds of students of Jewish history who contributed suggestions and edits to the first volume of The Jewish People: A History, and the constructive edits provided by the peer reviewers and the amazing editorial team at Koren Publishers (Jerusalem) I’m pleased to let you know that I will shortly be sending the manuscript to Jerusalem for the final editing and cartographic work. Students of the Jewish History Lab series have been with me since October 2020 as I worked through the challenges of the material (Volume 1 deals with the origins of the Jewish people through the Bar Kochba Revolt in the 2nd century CE), and I have benefitted from so many valuable comments and fair criticism.
The published volume should appear sometime in late 2024, perhaps early 2025. In the meantime, I’m pleased to offer students enrolled in the Biblical Jewish History course early access to the post-peer-reviewed chapters. I intend to take the draft texts down as we near the publication date, so if you are not registered for the course and would like to read the chapters, you are welcome to visit the link below and join the 200 students who are currently working their way through the videos, readings and quizzes.
If you have been hanging on to some hard questions, this is your opportunity to make yourself heard. Since we are approaching the last moment I will be able to make changes to the text before publication, I’m prioritizing emails from registered students. Every chapter has a link to reach me directly with your comments and questions.
Many of you followed the Jewish History Lab series of videos, which was the testing ground for research for my next book, The Jewish People: A History (Volume I: Biblical Jewish History), forthcoming from Koren Publishers. The text has recently completed peer review, and as I edit and update the draft, I’m uploading chapters to the Biblical History Course. I plan to remove these chapters from the course once the book is published, probably late 2024. Please consider this a last opportunity to have an advance look at the text and offer your comments! Table of Contents and Front Matter pasted below. Please click here or on the image below to register.
The Jewish People
Volume One: Biblical Israel
Fourth Draft November, 2023
Forthcoming from Koren Publishers, Jerusalem
DRAFT: Please do not reproduce or circulate.
Copyright Henry Abramson 2023
Volume One: Biblical Israel
1760 BCE to 200 CE
Table of Contents
Approbation from Rabbi Ya’akov Trump
The Biblical Narrative
The Archaeological Record
Daily Life in Biblical Israel
Exile and Return
From the Maccabees to the Romans
The World of the Sages
Judea under Roman Rule
The Birth of Christianity
The Roman-Jewish War
Women in Ancient Israel
The Jewish People Survive Antiquity
Bibliographic Essay: On Covenantal History
Imagine that, while browsing in the library, you come across one book unlike the rest, which catches your eye because on its spine is written the name of your family. Intrigued, you open it and see many pages written by different hands in many languages. You start reading it, and gradually you begin to understand what it is. It is the story each generation of your ancestors has told for the sake of the next, so that everyone born into this family can learn where they came from, what happened to them, what they lived for, and why. As you turn the pages, you reach the last, which carries no entry but a heading. It bears your name.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Leaping into the open sky with a British radio and a heavy canvas parachute strapped to her back, young Hannah Szenes (pronounced SEH-nesh) hurtled downward into Nazi-occupied Europe, determined to dislodge the German invaders from her native Hungary. Although she had already secured her own personal safety by immigrating to the Land of Israel in 1939, she could not resist the call to help her endangered people. Hannah joined thirty-one brave volunteers to undertake the dangerous clandestine mission operating behind enemy lines. She was twenty-three years old.
She was captured shortly after infiltrating Hungarian territory. Tortured and brutalized, teeth knocked from her jaw, she stubbornly refused to reveal the radio transmitter codes, heroically protecting her comrades. After months of brutal interrogation, her frustrated and cowardly captors finally executed her by firing squad on November 7, 1944. She refused to wear a blindfold.
Hannah Szenes is remembered not only for her courage, but also for her poetry. Her moving “Blessed Is the Match,” penned while on she was on her mission, is a youth anthem in modern Israel. Among her poems is the characteristically brief “There Are Stars.”
when they themselves are gone and no longer among us.
These lights, brilliant in the dark of night –
they are the ones that illuminate one’s path.
Her metaphor is at once both cosmic and historical. Just as there are stars in the night sky whose radiance is reflective of the brilliance they exuded many light-years ago, only reaching and illuminating the earth eons later, so too are there people who lived centuries ago, yet their influence is still felt as immediately as one perceives the stars in the night sky.
The goal of The Jewish People is to provide a constellation map to Jewish history, the broad swath of stars that provide light and inspiration for the Jewish people even today. This book is introductory in tone and the scope is broad, from the distant origins of the people to the present generation. Depth and complexity are unfortunately sacrificed in a compressed work of this nature, and I have frequently employed the Rabbinic dictum of “revealing a handbreadth while concealing two” for the sake of providing readers with a coherent narrative arc. This history seeks to present the ancestral traditions that the Jewish people have revered for millennia on the one hand, while recognizing the persuasive arguments raised against elements of that narrative over the last two hundred years of archaeological and literary research, on the other. For some readers, this book will be insufficiently divorced from Rabbinic teachings; for others, it will be positively heretical, and I do not expect I will satisfy all readers with this historiographic approach. My limited goal is to achieve the qualified praise awarded a certain historian in an Encyclopaedia Judaica article: “not an original or profound scholar, but he did much to popularize Jewish history.”[i] It is hoped that motivated students will consult the references for more nuance, detail, and differing perspectives. For those who are so inclined, I discussed in greater detail in the essay “On Covenantal History” at the conclusion of this work.
Translations are generally my own unless otherwise indicated, using Koren publications such as the Tanakh Magerman Edition and the Noé Edition of the Koren Talmud Bavli as references. Dates are provided in the standard Gregorian calendar, using BCE (before Common Era) and CE (Common Era). The names of geographic locations, a source of perennial dispute, are generally provided using terms familiar to contemporary readers, even if anachronistic: Jerusalem rather than Aelia Capitolina or Al-Quds, for example. The Middle Eastern home of the Jewish people is rendered as the Land of Israel, distinguished from the post-1948 State of Israel, or simply Israel.
My research and writing benefited from corrections, observations, and insights from colleagues and students, many of whom are mentioned in the acknowledgments section at the end of this book. All errors of fact or interpretation, sadly, are my own.
I begin this work with humility and gratitude to the Source of all blessing, who has provided me with the opportunity to spend my life studying Torah and the history of the Jewish people. Of all the gifts I have received, the most precious is my beloved wife Ilana, who has guided me with wisdom from the very beginning.