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The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words (1000 BCE - 1492) (Story of the Jews Vol 1)
The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words (1000 BCE - 1492) (Story of the Jews Vol 1)
by Simon Schama
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Partial History of the Jews, 16 Oct. 2013
My first thoughts on hearing about Simon Sharma's proposed project were: Oh no, why do we need yet another gargantuan view of Jewish history? Nevertheless within the confines of five 1-hour television programmes and a 473 page book it is a brave attempt. My real criticisms are that, perhaps because of these limitations of time and space, Sharma rarely follows through on the extremely interesting topics he embraces. This made the series compulsive but very frustrating.

For, instance, he starts off by viewing Sigmund Freud's work on Moses, but completely fails to explain that the central theme and conclusion of Freud's work, which he laboured on from the 1930 to the 1950s was his conviction that Moses was associated with an 18th Dynasty Pharaoh and that the Hebrew story was intimately connected to this period of Egyptian history. Pharaoh Akhenaton is completely absent from the TV documentaries and hardly gets a mention in Sharma's book, The Story of the Jews, and even there he is mislabelled as `the leader of an exclusive cult of a single sun-god...' It is quite wrong to dismiss this period as one of sun worship. From what we know of Akhenaton's true beliefs he thought of an abstract invisible all- powerful God he knew as the Aton; which when you consider the letters T and D in Egyptian pronunciation are interchangeable, gives God's name as Adon - the same as the Hebrew rendering. Freud recognised this critically important fact.

When it comes to the Exodus, we find Moses looking out over the wonderful vista of Canaan, apparently some 3,500 years ago. Some of the photography and scenery and sites in the documentary are almost worth viewing in their own right. However, in the light of modern scholarship we know that the Exodus took place in the 12th century BCE, much later than Sharma posits. He also thinks:"No evidence outside the Hebrew Bible exists to make the exodus and the law giving dependably historical..." As `Where Moses Stood' reveals this assumption is quite wrong. There is hard inscriptional evidence for the Exodus and the location of the law giving.

Sharma next moves on to look at the aberrational community he refers to as a military Jewish colony in southern most Egypt, that he says came there in the 7th century BCE. Whilst some other scholars use the same terms and dating, Professor Bezalel Porten, who is a pioneering expert on Elephantine settlement, refrains from calling the people on the island Jews and now maintains they were essentially Aramaen and we "just don't know where they came from or when they arrived." Sharma skims through this extraordinary story but fails to ask the questions, why did they go there, why did they have such different versions of belief from those in Judaea. He is also quite wrong when he says: "The only literature found in the archive (of aramaic letters form Elephantine, some of which are now in the Brooklyn Museum, New York) was the `Book of Wisdom', the words of Ahiqar." There was another entitled the words of `Bisutun', found in 1906, which is also a story of wisdom instructions. There is nothing in the Aramaic Letters from Elephantine about military activity and no evidence of soldiers or mercenaries has been found at the site of the Aramaic Settlement.

The acid test as to the origins of this Settlement is that they followed an Egyptian law system, and worshipped Jahu and at least two other gods. It is self-evident that they did not know the Ten Commandments (or the Torah) which forbids worship of more than one God, because they had never left Egypt.

Apart form the inaccuracies in this early chronicle of Israel those on more modern times are far from complete. One hopes the second book in the series will make amends in these deficiencies.

This is only a partial review as to do justice to the entire work would take a book in itself.

Jerusalem: The Biography
Jerusalem: The Biography
Price: £6.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Hugely ambitious- by far, 7 Aug. 2013
The sheer breadth of Montefiore's writings is quite astounding. For the research he must have read voraciously.
If there is one common denominator to his interests, it must lie in the love of complex machiavellian internecine family relationships for which Jewish history around Jerusalem and Rome offers fertile ground for his analytical techniques, as he has amply demonstrated in his tsarist Russian works. The intricacies of detail needed to do historical justice to the subject in a near 600 page work makes tough reading and at times Montefiore seems to be merely regurgitating chunks of Josephus, Suetonius and other Greek and Roman writers. On other occasions he adds his own magical flair for bringing historical episodes to life.
However, in numerous passages the author's assumptions become presumptive and sometimes simply inaccurate. For instance he lists King Solomon's assets of palaces, stables, and thousands of chariots, his fleet at Ezion Geber (near Eilat), whereas there is absolutely no archaeological remains of Solomon's supposed vast empire. These biblical descriptions he uses are almost certainly based on Egyptian experience and memory. Annoyingly Montefiore persists in referring to Palestine, at times when no such place existed. He very briefly refers to the `Essenes' and then rather glibly, says `they feature in many crackpot theories about the origins of Christianity,....'and `that Jesus may have been inspired by their hostility to the Temple and by their apocalyptic scenarios.' This view completely underrates modern scholarship that ascribes many passages in the New Testament to Essene writings, as well as rituals, and beliefs. In fact the previous Pope has written and spoken about his belief that `Jesus partook of the Last Supper according to Essene rites.' The Secret Initiation of Jesus at Qumran has a great deal of evidence that both John the Baptist and Jesus were members of the Essene movement and therefore that it had a huge ongoing impact on Christianity.
Such is the nature of the trawl through the centuries that detailed discussion of the book's contents would take a book in itself. This vast historical compilation may well satisfy academic interest, but for the lay reader it is a fierce challenge. In many ways I found the generous number of illustrations and fascinating photographs more interesting than the text.

Jewish Gospels, The
Jewish Gospels, The
by Daniel Boyarin
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Old conceptions, 25 April 2013
This review is from: Jewish Gospels, The (Hardcover)
Daniel Boyarin's 'The Jewish Gospels', is far from a new exposé. The apparently explosive contention that the concept of a divine messiah was not an alien import but part of classical Judaism is well known. The key phrase 'Son of God', which was previously thought to be indicative of Jesus in the New Testament, was, as has been pointed out in 'The Secret Initiation of Jesus at Qumran', already in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q246). These texts, that pre-date Jesus, are much more demonstrative than the Book of Daniel (who Boyarin cites) for pre-existent Jewish ideas on messianism that find their way into Christianity.

In fact the `Yahad' at Qumran were waiting for two messiahs - one kingly and one priestly and close analysis of their attributes shows that these were incorporated into the character and teachings of Jesus.

This latter finding is not surprising as there is now strong evidence that Jesus was a member of the Jewish Qumran 'Yahad' from the age of about 12 to 30. Even the previous Pope has written about Jesus' membership of this so-called Essene community. The idea that Christianity came out of Judaism is nothing new and has been written about by many previous authors.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 23, 2014 8:40 AM GMT

The Birth of Monotheism: The Rise and Disappearance of Yahwism
The Birth of Monotheism: The Rise and Disappearance of Yahwism
by Andre Lemaire
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The True Origins of Monotheism, 15 April 2013
Much as I respect André Lemaire as one of the world's leading interpreters of ancient inscriptions, the origins of Monotheism go back to the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Akhenaton. Freud, recognised this as do numerous experts on Egypt like, Professors Jan Assmann and Eric Horning, the Sabbahs etc etc. I have written extensively on the subject and cited many examples of hard inscriptional evidence, as well as crystal clear practices from the 14th century BCE which are copied into Judaism and Christianity, as well as Islam. To give one example; how could the Great Hymn to the Aton, inscribed on a tomb wall around 1350 BCE, get paraphrased in Psalm 104 unless there was a Hebrew presence at Amarna? That presence was led by Jacob and Joseph who were part of the revolutionary move to monotheism?

Israel's Tabernacle as Social Space (Society of Biblical Literature Ancient Israel and Its Litera)
Israel's Tabernacle as Social Space (Society of Biblical Literature Ancient Israel and Its Litera)
by Mark K. George
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A Worshipful Tabernacle, 5 Nov. 2012
Quite fascinating that the author fashions his discussions of the Tabernacle around the concept of space. Space in the sense of a volume set within physical boundaries, or space set within abstract boundaries of spiritual, religious, conceptual parameters. This approach generates a beautifully conceived method of analysing the constructional materials, fabrication, layout, functioning and rituals of the Tabernacle as well as its psychological significance.

Mark George bases his Tabernacle descriptions on the Masoretic text of the Bible, and concedes he has not included the variants that appear in the LXX. Although it would probably triple the size of this 233 page paperback, it would be nice if he does eventually tackle this additional source, as well as rabbinic/ Talmudic and a greater depth of texts from non-Hebraic related material.

From my metallurgical knowledge there is one suggestion, amongst many I could make, about the author's comment on page 3, where he talks about `the enigmatic detail that the bronze basin is made from the bronze mirrors of the women serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting...' The footnote states that `The significance of this detail has puzzled interpreters for centuries.' I offer this possible explanation. In collecting copper implements from the people the items would have contained varying amounts of impurities, mainly high tin and lead content. The basin would need to have been cast from high quality copper in order to allow a shiny corrosion resistant product. Mirrors would have had a tin composition of about 8-11% so that the alloy could be easily polished to high finish and easily be cast into a large laver.

As I am currently embarked on a book about the Exodus and what I believe is the exact location of the giving of the Ten Commandments, Mark George's work makes welcome reading. His approach evokes thought provoking perspectives of what becomes a compelling read, which had me finishing the book in one sitting. I will certainly be returning to it as a source of reference.

The "Dead Sea Scrolls": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books)
The "Dead Sea Scrolls": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books)
by John J. Collins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.95

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nihil sub sole novum, 4 Nov. 2012
The chapter list of The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography immediately alerts the reader that there is not going to be much new under the sun in this book, and unfortunately that proves to be the case. We are trundled through The Discovery of the Scrolls, The Essenes, The Site of Qumran, The Scrolls and Christianity, The Scrolls and Judaism, The Scrolls and the Bible, The Battle for the Scrolls, Personalities in the Discovery and Subsequent Controversies, but there is little new information. Apart from some minor spelling mistakes, some details are in fact rather misleading. In chapter 1 we are told a certain Sydney Esteridge (sic) was instrumental in the acquisition of the four scrolls that were advertised in the Wall Street Journal. (The name of Professor Norman Golb's son is also wrongly spelt as Rafael.) A Mr. Sydney M. Estridge was apparently called in by Yadin to authenticate the scrolls, but in fact the funding was provided largely by a New Yorker, D. Samuel Gottesman.

In mentioning the replacement of Strugnell in 1990, he omits to say that the main reason was because of his anti-Semitic views and statements- merely mentioning the event as `an upheaval'. Nor does the author address any of the huge blanks in current understanding of the Scrolls, as dealt with in a new book on Black Holes in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

There is an interesting historical discussion on the origins of the Essenes and the role religious ideologies played in the assessment - something that is still very evident in modern discussions on Dead Sea Scrolls definitions and it would have been interesting if Collins had progressed that issue.

The aim of the book is, according to the author, `to study what difference the Scrolls have made to ancient Judaism and early Christianity'. He then answers his own question by saying `for most of us who work in the field of biblical studies or ancient Judaism, this question often seems unnecessary'.

One has to question the justification for publishing a book which purports to be an up-to-date introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls, when there are dozens of such books on the market, and some, such as The Complete World of The Dead Sea Scrolls, by Philip Davies, George Brooke, and Phillip Callaway is fully illustrated and in my view does a far better job.

by Immanuel Velikovsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Minds in Chaos, 11 Oct. 2012
Most of Velikovsy's work sounds plausible until you start checking up on his claims and find that very little actually ties together. In fact Velikovsky is a lot to blame for so many mistaken ideas about the Exodus, the Hyksos etc. His three central claims are: 1) The Exodus took place shortly before the Hyksos arrived in Egypt, around 1640 BCE. 2) 600 years have 'disappeared' from the history of the Israelites - Queen Hatshepsut (1476 BCE) was a contemporary of King Solomon! 3) The history of external powers around Canaan and Egypt confirm the new chronology.

1) Mainly because of Velikovsky's out of date theories, you still hear people talking about the Exodus taking place in the time of the Hyksos, but modern archaeology demonstrates it took place some time around 1200 BCE.
2) People like David Rohl (A Test of Time) have taken up Velikovsky's ideas of time anomalies in early history, but have been shown to be completely undermined by Carbon-dating and external comparisons.
3) Archaeological and recorded texts from surrounding empires confirm the impossibility of losing 200 years, let alone 600 years from history - the Egyptian Kings' Lists, Mesha Stele, Ras Shamra tablets, etc. A few stories appear to be confirmed by a revised chronology but a huge number fall out of synch.

These criticism are not to say that there is nothing of value in the Velikovsky book, and David Rohl is a very competent Egyptologist in other areas of his deliverances. Some of the connections Velikovsky has made for the Karnak Temple and descriptions of Solomon's Temple in the bible are undoubtedly valid, but in my view merely reflect copying of Egyptian experience into religious material, for which there are many other examples.

In mitigation, the book was written some 60 years ago, and we have much more and better information available to us today.

The last section of the book is taken up with a detailed analysis of the Tel-Amarna Letters, trying to identify names mentioned in the tablets with names and events known from biblical sources. None of the 'stretches' that are made can be sustained by hard evidence, only conjecture. Consequently even the author has to admit that he makes a lot of assumptions and frequently finds himself up a dead-end.

At the end of the book he suddenly realises that if you lose 600 years, at some later stage verifiable history catches up with the anomalies. He gives no explanation as to how that conundrum can be resolved, because it can't be.

Secret Society of Moses: The Mosaic Bloodline and a Conspiracy Spanning Three Millennia
Secret Society of Moses: The Mosaic Bloodline and a Conspiracy Spanning Three Millennia
by Flavio Barbiero
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Moses' dotted line, 12 May 2012
Inherent in the title and strap lines of Barbiero's book is a precis of the case he seeks to verify. We are led to believe that there was a continuity from the time of Moses (he puts at c1250 BC) to a select group of Jewish families around the world of today. Somehow throughout history these `priestly' families have been able to orchestrate events across the world and plan a restoration of the Temple at Jerusalem.

To justify this quite preposterous claim he postulates that certain priestly groups, originally centred around the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in the 1st century CE, infiltrated for their purposes, firstly Christianity and used it as a `creature' for the their ambitions and also the cult of Mithraism, and then exploited the Templar movement in the middle ages, and on into the Freemasonry movement.

As a journey through the evolution of how Judeo-Christian biblical values spread across emerging civilisations the book is quite effective in retelling the story, although there is much repetition and temporal inconsistency. There are also many inaccurate statements and strident speculations which tend to undermine the credibility of the thesis. For instance on page 15 he says at the time of Israel's entry into the promise land: `...Palestine, which was still an Egyptian province, it is implicit that the Israelites must recognize Egyptian authority.' Archaeological evidence and the latest consensus places the entry at around 1180-90 BC, when there was no longer an Egyptian presence in what Barbiero calls Palestine. It was, of course, known as Canaan at the time.

When he comes to talking about the Copper Scroll, an area I have studied intensely and written about, he maintains that the treasures it lists were under the control of the priestly families at the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and that they simply handed them over to the Romans. Barbiero talks about 74 hidden locations, whereas the Copper Scroll only refers to 64, and he gets other facts wrong.

One episode in history, pertinent to his priestly transmission scenarios (on page 339) is the massacre of the Templars. `It was a decision taken unanimously by the leading exponents of the priestly family under the control of the Pope and the king of France.' The author's explanation for this tragic series of events makes little sense. Why would one strand of the 'Mosaic line' sanction the destruction of their own kind? Barbiero says the Templars were `small fry' and were expendable, whereas they were enormously wealthy with interests all over the western and eastern world, had a fleet of ships, and huge power and influence.

Most of Barbiero's claims he concedes are speculative and fraught with ifs and buts. His `ace in the hole' however, is a complicated analysis of DNA profiles for modern Jewish families which he says proves they all originated from 24 priestly families in Jerusalem of the 5th century BC. He says that a paper in Nature of January 1997 gives a common ancestry date for the priests as originating between 2,100 and 3,250 years ago. This he claims fits in with his historical reconstructions. He quotes one source of the DNA studies, but he ignores the significance of the data which conflicts with the figures he quotes. A later revision of these figure, given in the American Journal of Human Genetics, in 2003, has the Common Modal Hapolyte for a common ancestor to be between 2,100 and 3,900 years ago ie around 100 BC and 1,900 BC with an origination of the Y chromosome defining Cohanim (priestly) group as dating to a unique evolutionary event dated to between 29,000 and 34,000 years ago.

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