The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age

Steven Weitzman. Princeton Univ., $35 (432p) ISBN 978-0-691-17460-0
In this multicourse intellectual feast, Weitzman, a professor of Hebrew and Semitic languages and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, tries to explain how the Jewish people began while exploring various approaches to the question. Given that the Bible is no longer regarded as a reliable historical record, Weitzman tries to determine what can be ascertained with any certainty about the first Jews, noting that the issue is complicated by the lack of consensus as to how the Jewish people is defined: “a nation, a race, a religion, an ethnicity.” He then approaches the mystery through genealogy, paleolinguistics, psychoanalysis, and genetics. He concludes that the “history of the Jews has to start somewhere, but it is not clear whether, after many centuries of trying and failing to establish that starting point, scholarship has developed or will ever develop the ability to do so.” Weitzman’s facility with making complex points accessible to the lay reader, and his ease with synthesizing a wide range of research and prior analyses, make this an invaluable resource for both novice and scholar. His rigorous critiques will resonate even for those readers with little or no prior interest in the book’s central questions. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2017
Release date: 06/01/2017
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