Weitzman, Steven. “The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age”, Princeton University Press, 2017.
The Question of Jewish Origins
The Jews have one of the longest continuously recorded histories of people in the world today but we know very little about where they came from. Many think the answer to this question can be found in the Bible while others look to archaeology or genetics for clues. Some have even considered debunking the idea that the Jews have a common origin. Steven Weitzman looks at what we know about where the Jews came from, when they arose, and how they came to be.
There have been hundreds of books written on the topic and as many if not more explanations, theories, and historical reconstructions. This, however, I understand, is the first book to trace the history of the different approaches that have been applied to the question including theories in the following disciplines genealogy, linguistics, archaeology, psychology, sociology, and genetics. Weitzman shows us how the search for answers has had to deal with religious and political agendas, how anti-Semitism has affected generations of learning, and how recent claims about Jewish origins have been difficult to decipher and pull out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He doesn’t give us conclusions and instead he challenges his readers to join him on the quest. He does give us some new information about the assumptions and biases of those seeking answers and explains the challenges that have made finding answers so difficult.
Weitzman makes points that are complex more understandable and synthesizes a wide range of research and prior analyses. make this an invaluable resource for both novice and scholar. We look at the different accounts of Jewish origins in different disciplines thus giving us, the readers, and a chance to reach our own conclusions. It seems that for as long as the Jews have been on the earth, they have looked for their roots and now we join them in the search. Here is a book that is a history of a history, a bit of a rarity these days. We learn how the Jews and others have thought about the origins of the Jews.
I found the summaries of the theories of Wellhausen and his Documentary Hypothesis; of the crucial importance of the Babylonian Exile, of Persia and Ezra and Nehemiah; of the Hellenistic age, as well as Shlomo Sand’s modern theories to be fascinating reads.
As a teen and college student and a young Zionist, I was exposed also to the theories of Mordecai Kaplan and Jacob Neusner but for whatever reason they did not make it into the book here while the ideas of postmodern philosophers did. I was very glad to see that my mentor, Michel Foucault is included as is Gilles Deleuze.