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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Partial History of the Jews, 16 Oct 2013
This review is from: The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words (1000 BCE - 1492) (Story of the Jews Vol 1) (Hardcover)
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.
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