The Jews: Story of a People Paperback – Nov 1 1992
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About the Author
Howard Fast (1914 2003) was one of the most prolific American writers of the twentieth century. He was a bestselling author of more than eighty works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenplays. The son of immigrants, Fast grew up in New York City and published his first novel upon finishing high school in 1933. In 1950, his refusal to provide the United States Congress with a list of possible Communist associates earned him a three-month prison sentence. During his incarceration, Fast wrote one of his best-known novels, "Spartacus" (1951). Throughout his long career, Fast matched his commitment to championing social justice in his writing with a deft, lively storytelling style.
Top Customer Reviews
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Beginning with Moses, he carries the story through the period of the Judges, the Kingdom of David and Solomon, the divided kingdom, the exile, the Diaspora and the establishment of the state of Israel.
Throughout this history, Fast highlights several turning points in the Jewish story. Moses' role in the establishment of the Jews as a people provides a beginning point. The status of the Davidic Kingdom is placed in perspective among the neighboring realms. The crucial role of the Babylonian Exile in defining the Jewish idea and the Jews' relationship to the Samaritans aids the reader's understanding. The explanation of the Diaspora which occurred during Biblical times and after the destruction of Jerusalem helps the reader appreciate the new status of the Jews as a people living outside of their homeland. The narrative of the role of the Jews in Europe during the centuries of the Christian era makes for fascinating reading. Their role as physicians and in the transmission of knowledge of medicine other professions helps place them in the saga of European civilization. Fast does a good job of explaining the shifting locations and distinctive traits of Jewry in Spain, Germany and Eastern Europe over the centuries.
Much attention is directed to the role of the United States in the history of the Jews. Early American Jews are examined as well as the role of America in molding the Jewish identity. The differing characteristics among the different waves of Jewish immigration, particularly the German, Spanish and, later, Eastern European Jews gives the reader a better appreciation for the Jewish experience in America.
The state of the Jews during World War II is covered in relatively little depth, but little is possible in a book with such a broad scope. Fast makes an attempt to describe the Holocaust from the perspective of the Jews. The post war establishment of the State of Israel provides an appropriate conclusion of the story.
This book is told from a Jewish perspective, but does maintain a balanced view. Fast's suggestion that Jesus probably lead a rebellion will be dismissed by many readers. His frequent characterization of the role of Christians in institutionalizing anti-Semitism probably contains a great deal of truth. While chastising Britain and the U.S. for their refusal to open their doors, and those of Palestine, to Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe, he does give credit to the U.S. for the shelter which it did provide.
Viewed form a Christian perspective, I found the sections dealing with the Biblical era to be fascinating. I find the later sections to be valuable for the overall view they give of the Jewish role in history. While one will often encounter the role of Jews in other histories, this book places the elements of the story in their proper places. I cannot determine how this book would appear in the eyes of a Jewish reader, but for this Christian, it was a very worthwhile read.
The book covers all major events in Jewish history from the age when it was a collection of nomadic tribes traveling back and forth from one pasture to another to the Holocaust, but it concentrates on the highpoints. Whole centuries such as the time between the end of Solomon's reign in 931 BCE and the start of the Babylonian captivity of Judea in 586 BCE are glossed over. And, major figures such as Isaiah seem to get practically no treatment at all. That does not mean this is a `bad' book. It only means that it is good for some purposes and not good for other. Fortunately, it fit my purposes perfectly, as I wanted a good general summary of Old Testament Judaism in order to present a historical introduction to a class of people studying parts of the New Testament.
Most revealing for my purposes is the explanation given of the role of the Jerusalem temple in Judaism before the Babylonian captivity, and how the first destruction of the temple leads to the kind of full-fledged Jewish monotheism we see today. While a careful reading of the Torah hints at the fact that the Hebrew tribes lead by Moses really treated Yahweh as simply `their' god, in a world filled with gods, from the Canaanite Baal to the Egyptian pantheon, the Chaldean pantheon, the Greek pantheon, and the Persian pantheon. The early civilizations of the Middle East were simply awash in deities, and everyone lived with that fact. The small difference which grew into a major `paradigm shift' to true monotheism is that the early Hebrews had just one god for themselves, instead the large families of deities found in Thebes, Ur, and Olympus. And, the single venue where a Hebrew could truly commune with their God was in the temple of Jerusalem. So what happens when that temple is literally swept from the face of the earth (the first time) by the Babylonians? One thing that happens in Babylon is the writing down of the Torah and the rest of the Jewish scriptures after 586 BCE. Another thing is the invention of the synagogue and the origins of the rabbinical movement, leading to the Pharisees known so well by their appearance in the Gospels of the New Testament.
What makes Fast's book so useful is that he gives first place to cultural and theological matters, and deals little with lots of names and dates. What frustrates me about the book is that although I have great faith in Fast's accuracy, at least his being true to his scholarly sources; I miss all those annoying scholarly paraphernalia such as footnotes. I'm annoyed to no end when Fast refers to the `Unknown Prophet', but gives us no references to the scriptures where the Unknown Prophet is quoted or mentioned. This is especially noisome, as when I look up the `Unknown Prophet' in the 6 volume Anchor Dictionary of the Bible, there is no reference to such a person. Even worse is the fact that this label is missing from the `Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion'. I also miss good maps of Palestine at the time of the very early Hebrew tribes. I have a library full of such maps, but none of them refer to the early players in exactly the same terms as Fast uses from his archeological sources.
Note that since I wrote this review, I've read more about pre-Christian Hebrew history in other souces, and I am just a bit less sure of Fast's total accuracy. I still think it's a good place to start, as long as you immediately move on to other sources, once you've gotten your feet wet with Fast.
In the end, I'm still delighted to have found this book and I get much from it for my study of Babylonian, Greek, and Roman influences on Judaism at the time of Christ.
Howard Fast was a most brilliant author. I have read his novels that revolve around the history of Ancient Israel: My Glorious Brothers; Moses, Prince of Egypt and Agrippa's Daughter.
In this work , published in 1968, he puts his pen to the service of documenting the history of the Jewish Nation.
The result is compelling and fascinating, in the incredible style of Howard Fast. The first three chapters deal with his theory as to the origin of the Hebrew people, and cannot be said to be really history. It is simply theory - which largely departs from the Biblical narrative- without any real proof or substance. Yet it is an interesting theory nonetheless. He deals comprehensively with Israel at the time of Herod and Hillel, and the life of Yehoshuah Ben Yosef (Jesus) and the birth of Christianity, under the ideas of Saul of Tarsus (Paul). Fast writes at length about how the Church planted the seeds of hatred that lead to the centuries of anti-Semitic terror and bloodshed against the Jewish people in Europe. He documents the Diaspora of the Jews when most of them where forced out of their homeland of Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel), by the Roman Empire, into the Mediterranean Lands the Balkans, Spain, Greece and Italy, and from there into Germany, France and England and then into Poland, Russia, the Baltic Lands, Belarus and the Ukraine.
The story of the Jews is a long and tragic tale of suffering and bloodshed of a people separated from their homeland for so many centuries and unable to determine their own future... Take this passage about the genocide visited upon the Jews in Mediaeval Germany by the Crusaders: " In Neuss, the Crusaders where drunk, and in the spirit of good fun they flung more than twenty women and a hundred children into the river, seeing how far two men could fling a screaming child. At Mors almost a thousand Jewish bodies where observed floating in the Rhine. At Alternah, the humane Archbishop Egbert attempted to defend the Jews and was beaten half to death. In Regensburg, the Jews where cut down in the streets. A Count Agthar likened it to rabbit hunting. A great pile of Jewish bodies was dragged into the main square, and crusaders amused themselves by beheading the dead. Over four thousand Jews where killed in the Rhine district alone."
But it also the story of their great contribution to all the lands in which they where dispersed, how they gave so much to the advancement of finance, commerce, medicine, navigation, astronomy, science, medicine and ideas.
And we also read in this volume the intriguing story of the Jews in other lands, like China and India, where thriving Jewish communities existed, as well as the large Jewish communities of the Middle East, which lived under the ebb and flow of alternating prosperity and persecution by their Muslim overlords.
There is a chapter of the Jews in America, and their remarkable contribution to that remarkable land.
Fast gives a fascinating account of the journey of Jewish history until the horrors of the most devastating blow of all, Hitler's holocaust.
There are troubling parallels between the systematic vilification of Jews before the Holocaust and the current vilification of the Jewish people and Israel. Suffice it to note the annual flood of anti-Israel resolutions at the UN; or the public opinion polls taken in Europe, which single out Israel as a danger to world peace; or the divestment campaigns being waged in the US against Israel; or the attempts to delegitimize Israel's very existence. The complicity of the Allies in WW II is mirrored by the support the PLO has been receiving from Europe, China and Russia to this very day.
If remembering Auschwitz should teach us anything, it is that we must all support Israel and the Jewish people against the vilification and the complicity we are witnessing, knowing where it inevitably leads.
As with the holocaust, the same kind of Jew-haters will again attempt to appease Arab rage with Jewish blood and land. We must stand up against it. Jews are still dying for only one reason; being a Jew.
Like a Phoenix out of the ashes of the Shoah (as the holocaust is known in Hebrew) the reborn Jewish State of Israel arose. The great hope of the Jewish Nation - the national anthem of Israel is Hatikvah - the Hope.
Fast points out that there was NEVER a time when there where not Jewish communities living in the Land of Israel, from the time of Moses until today: " In 1495 there where over two hundred Jewish families in Jerusalem, and there where functioning synagogues in half a hundred other spots in Palestine. In 1520, in Safed alone, there where two thousand Jewish families...By 1600, we must conclude that somewhere between 100 000 and 200 000 Jews where resident in Palestine."
The State of Israel embodies the hopes and lives on the Jewish Nation, with 5 million Jews today living in Israel. The destruction of Israel would mean another holocaust of Jews.
Hope writes in this book, what should ring out as an answer to Israel's loathsome critics: "The meaning of Israel is clear. The Jew has experienced too much death, and a portion of the Jewish people decided that they would die quietly no more. So it is: and no argument, no clever political talk, no logic and no parading of right and wrong can change this fact. The Jews returned to Israel because it was their ancient land. From 1810 onwards Jews in Palestine have been murdered by Arabs. The pious Jews of Safed , who would raise no hand in their defense , had been robbed and murdered and burned out again and again by Arabs-as the Jews in Jerusalem and Tiberias had been robbed and slain and burned out. Bedouin Arabs passed through Palestine at will-and robbed and killed Jews as a profitable thing. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries , Arab feudal lords in Palestine organized pogroms precisely as the Czar had organized pogroms. Palestine was a blighted and empty land until the Zionist Movement returned it to life..."