A popular-style history of Herod the Great's successors, by a British author, from the late 1950s. This was kind of fun and well-written, a readable sA popular-style history of Herod the Great's successors, by a British author, from the late 1950s. This was kind of fun and well-written, a readable summary of the main classical sources, but the style is so, so 1950s British. I'll admit, that was part of the fun for me ... Perowne goes around making value judgments right and left, in a way that would never fly for a historian today, and clearly writes from a Judeo-Christian-centric perspective. If you can groove with the dated style and just want a readable overview of the history, it's pretty accessible - you just have to take the opinionated bits with a few grains of salt! May not be the best pick for more advanced history buffs or academic researchers though....more
This was a nice, short 100-page overview of the subject of magic in the Roman Empire among Jews, Christians, and pagans from 0-300 CE. It is written pThis was a nice, short 100-page overview of the subject of magic in the Roman Empire among Jews, Christians, and pagans from 0-300 CE. It is written pretty readably and had good footnotes with lots of interesting additional information. Janowitz seems very up on all the latest hip new research, without yet ever getting really bogged down with horrid postmodernist academic jargon that can make wading through academic books so torturous sometimes. She does cite happily to all kinds of scholarship and theory, from venerable conservative scholars like Gerschom Scholem and Peter Schaefer to more daring thinkers like Daniel Boyarin and theories about performative language.
A major point Janowitz makes is that the term magic has historically always been a very subjective one - one person's religious practice is another person's magical practice.
Some really amazing and fascinating details to be found here, though, like the chapter on a Jewish woman named Maria who may have lived in first-century Alexandria and was kind of a proto-scientific pioneer in experimenting with metals for alchemististic purposes. I envision her as a kind of ancient Marie Curie. Fun!
My one quibble is that I didn't love the system for citing to the references ... for me the easiest system to navigate has always been the old-fashioned one where the notes are on the bottom of the page below the text they refer to, and all the information on the work is right there along with the substance of the note. I guess modern editors see this as too cumbersome and bulky, so instead the social sciences citation system is used, where you have to flip to the back of the book and hunt down the endnote. And then the endnote only gives you the authors last name and the date, so if you want to see what's actually being referred to, you have to flip through more pages to find the bibliography and match up the name and date. I find it incredibly aggravating to have to flip around so much to find references....more
This is essentially a modern retelling of Josephus's biography and his role in the history of the Jewish War that led to the destruction of the SecondThis is essentially a modern retelling of Josephus's biography and his role in the history of the Jewish War that led to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It's a pretty readable account written in a journalistic style and aimed at the general reader. The material it covers is fascinating without a doubt, and since I've never read Josephus straight, it was full of surprises for me.
I'm always searching for history books that are both rigorous from a scholarly standpoint and well-written enough to be accessible and enjoyable to non-scholars. This book succeeded on the latter end, but less so on the former, since it didn't strike me as particularly rigorous. The author made some quite interesting-sounding assertions that weren't footnoted - for example (if I recall correctly) there was a statement to the effect that actual Jewish religious practice in first century Judaea was quite varied and pretty much left up to the individual to decide. Things that seemed kind of significant for the author to just assert without offering further references or support - and the paucity of footnotes was occasionally frustrating to me.
That said, I can certainly recommend it just as an interesting and accessible book on a hugely important historical subject....more
A very scholarly survey of early Jewish texts containing mystical elements. The book begins with the apocalyptic accounts in Ezekiel and Daniel and coA very scholarly survey of early Jewish texts containing mystical elements. The book begins with the apocalyptic accounts in Ezekiel and Daniel and covers apocryphal Second Temple period writings, the Qumran documents, Philo, the Mishna and Talmud, and the Hekhalot ("palaces") and Merkabah ("chariot") literature.
This was a very tough book to get through and I definitely wouldn't recommend it for the casual reader who's just generally interested in mysticism or Judaism. One problem is that Schafer seems to assume a lot of familiarity on the reader's part with the literature in question, despite the fact the most of it with the exception of the Biblical texts is fairly obscure, and only likely to have been read by graduate students and scholars. He throws around highly tehcnical terms like "nomina barbera" and "macroforms" and uses quite a bit of transliterated Hebrew, Aramic, and Greek. There is almost no hand-holding whatsoever for the generalist reader who just wants to learn what "early Jewish mysticism" might entail - no friendly introductions or readable overviews.
Instead, from the very beginning the book reads like a series of scholarly articles written in response to myriad other scholarly articles, which is more or less what it is. One the plus side, this makes it a thorough guide to a lot of secondary literature for anyone who wants to dig deeper.
Schafer's method for surveying the texts is exegetical and philological, which means that he'll start out by quoting a paragraph or two from whichever text he's looking at, and then gives his own summary of what the paragraph means, and then provides a detailed commentary and copious footnotes about various translations of different words and all the different ways other scholars in the past have read the passage. Unless you happen to have recently read the whole text he's discussing and/or have it open on your desk in front of you (which I never did, as I came to the book hoping for a nice readable survey), this can be hard to follow and one's eyes tend to glaze over. Now, this is considered standard and very rigorous scholarly practice, and on that level, Schafer achieves a perfectly fine book and an acadmically important one.
As for the substance of the book, from the get-go Schafer is very concerned about the use of the term mysticism to describe the phenomena in Jewish literature that the book covers. He discusses in a very lengthy introduction the question of whether this term is so loaded with Christian meanings that it is wrong to apply it in the case of Judaism. Specifically, the Christian sense of mysticism as scholars have tried to define it tends to center around an experience of union (unio mystica) between the human spirit and the Divine. Schafer sees the Jewish literature as much more concerned with what he calls "liturgical union." That is, those who make the ascent to a behold the divinity are not going there for the sake of achieving union, but rather for the sake of participating in worship rituals at a higher level. His conclusion to the whole book is that the term mysticism is of only limited use when discussing early Jewish phenomena....more
A very readable biography of Herod the Great (he of infant-massacring fame).
Totally fascinating and written with sufficient narrative skill to read aA very readable biography of Herod the Great (he of infant-massacring fame).
Totally fascinating and written with sufficient narrative skill to read almost like a novel. This book completely changed the picture I had in my head of Herod. Rather than being a vampiric baby-killing villain, he was an extremely competent, talented administrator, one of the most financially responsible heads of state known from the ancient world, and a cosmopolitan man with fascinating connections to Judaea's Arab neighbors as well as Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and other non-Jews. Also, the massacre of the infants? Almost certainly made-up and untrue.
This book is from 1970, so it's not exactly up to date with the up-to-the-moment archeological discoveries, but Grant does incorporate a lot of archeological data and some Qumran material as well. Apart from those, the main sources are Josephus and Herod's tutor/advisor (whose name I forget ... Nichomachus of Syria maybe?) Despite its being an older book, I found the photos and illustrations helpful and interesting as well....more
Very interesting and readable biography of Hans Christian Andersen - long though! Interestingly, the biographer includes a kind of literary vignette aVery interesting and readable biography of Hans Christian Andersen - long though! Interestingly, the biographer includes a kind of literary vignette at the start of each chapter - a kind of imagined short story involving Hans Christian Andersen. I wasn't quite sure what to make of those, and I was honing in on specific aspects of HCA's biography, so I mostly skipped them. HCA is a fascinating figure - very confident and persistent from a young age in his vision of his own destiny as an author, and throughout his life a constant hard worker and prolific producer in his craft. He was famous throughout Europe, though more respected abroad than at home in his native Denmark; an extremely social being for a writer, but also socially strange and awkward, and it seems in later years ever more self-centered....more
Scholarly, but for the persevering reader, excellent for getting a clearer view of the earliest Christian sects, and how and when they gradually grewScholarly, but for the persevering reader, excellent for getting a clearer view of the earliest Christian sects, and how and when they gradually grew apart from their origins in Judaism....more
A fascinating look at how French culture, language, identity, and borders took shape, particularly during the 1700s and 1800s. I read some chapters anA fascinating look at how French culture, language, identity, and borders took shape, particularly during the 1700s and 1800s. I read some chapters and skimmed others, but on the whole I was surprised at how readable, charming, engaging, and well-written this was. Granted, I came to it with low expectations, since anything with the word "geography" in the title I automatically assume will be a slog to get through. But the author knows how to tell a story, and he weaves together a fabric of strikingly detailed anecdotes rather than organizing the material didactically point-by-point. The overall effect for me was feeling myself transported back in time, immersed in the motley patchwork of tiny villages and dialects and myths and religious practices of provincial France of centuries past. I loved this book and strongly recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in French history and culture....more
A beautiful annotated edition of the fairy tales containing twelve of Andersen's most popular stories for children plus twelve more stories for adultsA beautiful annotated edition of the fairy tales containing twelve of Andersen's most popular stories for children plus twelve more stories for adults. Includes "The Little Mermaid," "The Little Match-Girl," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Princess and the Pea," and "The Snow Queen," among others. There are also many classic, wonderful illustrations from past editions (including a lot of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac, two of my favorites). The annotations are very informative and readable, not dry or scholarly. The introduction, biographical section, and the section on others' perceptions of Andersen, likewise make for very easy, interesting reading. This is a good edition either for reading aloud to a child or as a starting point for the general reader wanting to delve a little more deeply into Andersen. It doesn't go into scholarly depth, but offers a wealth of suggestions and ideas for further research. ...more
Translation seems fine (not that I know more than a few words of Danish), but it's just a bit frustrating because the translator picks and chooses whiTranslation seems fine (not that I know more than a few words of Danish), but it's just a bit frustrating because the translator picks and chooses which dates to cover, and you don't know if you're missing good stuff or can just trust her that the missing parts are boring. Interestingly, she includes some stuff that strikes me as TMI (e.g. "loose stools today ...") I really wish there were a complete English translation of the diaries, but haven't been able to find one so far....more
Only got the chance to skim a few chapters, but some fascinating stuff. The chapter on abortion and birth control was very moving. I wish there were mOnly got the chance to skim a few chapters, but some fascinating stuff. The chapter on abortion and birth control was very moving. I wish there were more attention paid here to prostitution, because the question of how prostitutes dealt with those issues is interesting to me. But she explicitly, unfortunately, excludes them from her scope. Which is a bummer, since the other big work I read on French 19th-century prostitution, Corbin's (Women for Hire: Prostitution and Sexuality in France After 1850, barely goes into the issue at all either. And it really seems like it'd be a major concern for your average prostitute!...more
A charming, well-written look at a culturally rich time in France's history, Napoleon III's benevolent dictatorship. Rather than writing a straightforA charming, well-written look at a culturally rich time in France's history, Napoleon III's benevolent dictatorship. Rather than writing a straightforward big-picture political history, Williams chooses instead to illuminate different aspects of the period by giving us a biography of a different pivotal figure in each chapter. There are chapters on political influencers, the composer Halevy, the artist Corbusier, writer and literary critic St. Beuve, an educator, a scientist, a promenient woman, and so on. I thought it was great, really fun and a nice way to delve into the cultural and "daily life" history while still getting a good sense of what was going on politically....more
In this massive doorstop of a book, scholar Ephraim Urbach explores the worldview of the rabbis of the Talmud through the primary texts. Urbach's thorIn this massive doorstop of a book, scholar Ephraim Urbach explores the worldview of the rabbis of the Talmud through the primary texts. Urbach's thoroughness is an amazing achievement, and reading through just a few chapters will leave you much more enlightened about what rabinnic Judaism is all about than when you started. The big limitation of the book, however, derives largely from the nature of the rabbinic sources themselves - namely, that this literature arose out of oral traditions as a compendium of legal rulings, rather than through the systematic effort of a unified author's effort ... as a result, Urbach's careful scholarship, through no fault of his own, often is incapable of conveying a sense of historical context - instead, it often starts to read like a series of paragraphs arranged by topic that sound like: "And then R. Such-and-such said this, and then R. Whosit said that, and then R. Thingamajig said that." That said, this is a fabulous resource if you have the patience to work through individual chapters....more