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Jews, God, and History

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How have the Jews survived through so many millenia while other civilizations have declined and perished? What qualities mark the culture that produced Moses, Christ, Spinoza, Marx, Freud, and Einstein? From ancient Palestine through Europe and Asia, to America and modern Israel, Max I. Dimont shows how the saga of the Jews is interwoven with the story of virtually every nation on earth. This is a tale of a people escaping annihilation, fighting, falling back, advancing - a lively and fascinating look at how the Jews have contributed to humankind's spiritual and intellectual heritage in remarkable ways, and across a remarkable span of history.

572 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1962

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Max I. Dimont

16 books20 followers
Max Isaac Dimont (1912-1992)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 107 reviews
10 reviews
October 18, 2008
I strongly preferred Paul Johnson's History of the Jews to Max Dimont's The Jews, G'd, and History.

Dimont is well-informed, but he has some totally bizarre opinions. Edmund Burke is an intellectual father of the American Revolution? The Renaissance wasn't real in Poland? Jews and Greeks shared the same 'caberets' in 2nd cent BCE Israel? Ancient Israel was the world's first democracy?

The bizarre claims came so rapidly that it was impossible to keep up with them.
21 reviews
August 6, 2010
[This review also appears on FingerFlow.com, a site for review and discussion of creative works.]

Jews, God and History is a phenomenal work which undertakes the difficult and tedious task of presenting the 4,000 year history of the Jewish people. Instead of presenting this history from an insulated point of view, author Max I. Dimont shows the history of the Jews in the context of the entire world; in the vast tapestry of human history on this planet, the Jewish people are shown to be a strand that makes its way through every corner of the fabric.

Dimont immediately draws the attention of the reader in his introduction, musing about how such a small population of people have had such influence on the greater world. Some of the most influential people in history were Jews: Moses, Jesus, Paul, Baruch Spinoza, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein. Two of the largest world religions, Christianity and Islam, grew out of Judaism. The Jews introduced to the world the concepts of monotheism, prayer, church, redemption, universal education and charity. Perhaps the most interesting idea that Dimont brings up in his introduction is the age of the Jewish civilization; whereas all the other pagan civilizations that existed at the time have long since disappeared, the Jews are still around today. Dimont goes on to say,

"The Chinese, Hindu, and Egyptian peoples are the only ones living today who are as old as the Jewish people. But these three civilizations had only one main cultural period, and their impact on succeeding civilizations has not been great. They contained neither the seeds for their own rebirth nor the seeds for the birth of other civilizations. Unlike the Jews, they were not driven out of their countries, nor did they face the problem of survival in alien lands. The Greeks and the Romans are the only other nations which have influenced the history of Western man as profoundly as the Jews. But the people who now dwell in Greece and Italy are not the same as those who dwelt in ancient Hellas and Rome."

Needless to say, these facts makes the reader wonder "what is so special about the Jews?" and Dimont makes his best effort to answer this question in the most scholarly way possible, even explaining eight different theories on interpreting history and how they apply to the Jewish people.

Although Dimont uses the Bible as a source for his telling of early Jewish history, he makes it clear that he is approaching the material from a secular standpoint. On the subject of Abraham having a vision from God, Dimont states that the most important part of the encounter is not if God actually appeared to Abraham or if Abraham dreamed up the whole thing; what matters is that Abraham decided that he had a covenant with God, and his descendants continued to have that covenant. Dimont stresses that this point so important that Jewish history is built on it: the covenant that the Jews believed they had with God gave them the will to survive as Jews, which is a main reason why the Jewish people didn't simply disappear into the many civilizations they lived in throughout history.

In the chapters where he describes the Jewish religion, Dimont really shines. He explains the beliefs, rituals and scholarship in a way that is both accurate and accessible to people completely new to the material. It is in these chapters that he describes a crucial moment in Jewish history: the shifting of the religion from sacrificial rituals in the temple to prayer, scholarship and the expansion of morality and justice. These changes were instrumental in the preservation of the Jewish people; without being near their temple and their High Priests, the Jews might have simply given up on their religion while in foreign lands (a fate that occurred to most of the pagan civilizations of the time).

I've learned so many fascinating things from this book that I want to go on and on about: the exchange of ideas between the Jews and the Greeks, the Jewish Reformation Movement, the vital role of Jewish people in medieval society, the Jewish influence on both capitalism and communism, etc. This book is crammed with information, but Dimont's lucid writing style and occasional injection of dry humor and wit definitely made this book much easier to read than your typical history tome. For both Jews and non-Jews alike, I think this book is a must-read if you have any interest in world history.
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741 reviews46 followers
March 1, 2012
Well written, interesting, not dry or academic non-fiction. This book starts with history so old it is barely described in the Bible. I suppose the author is Jewish but this is not a religious book and it covers the birth of Christianity, its ups and downs and the same for Islamic history objectively. In the early days the three seem like fluid sloshing back and forth in a bucket - then the barbarians attack.

As an example of his non-religious take on things: "We shall ask the same question at this point as we asked at the time Abraham encountered God: "Did this really happen?" We shall answer it the same way. From a historical viewpoint it makes no difference whether Christ actually appeared to Paul or whether Paul had a hallucination experience. The fact remains that for two thousand years this account of Paul's conversion has played a dominant role in the Christian religion. This is the reality we must deal with for this is the reality which creates history."

The author assumes you are familiar with a wide range of other history and draws parallels to help you see his point. On a book of biblical commentary called the Mishna, "The Shamai interpretations tended to be more conservative and sectarian; Hillel's more liberal and universal. This dual struggle in Jewish life during the first century BC resembles the American Hamiltonian - Jeffersonian struggle in the nineteenth century AD, with Shamai representing the Hamiltonian and Hillel the Jeffersonian ideals." Very good analogies if you accept his premises.

I thought he did a good job differentiating violence against Jews and antisemitism. I was sorry that the book was written so long ago (1962). I wish there was a sequel.
Profile Image for L.
1 review9 followers
April 13, 2014
VERY interesting, not only due to its (at times questionably) factual content but for its datedness and bizarre editorial quality as well. This is great for learning a vast amount of the Jewish timeline in a relatively condensed format, but it definitely needs to be supplemented by more reliable and up-to-date sources.
Profile Image for Kristi.
19 reviews17 followers
October 10, 2016
If you're looking for a non-biased, objective work on the Jewish history, then steer away from this book. Here you will find that everything/everyone worth mentioning in this world was Jewish, or was somehow influenced by Jews.
Otherwise, it was easy to read, full of humor and historical facts.
Profile Image for Adam Glantz.
105 reviews13 followers
March 17, 2016
This wasn't one of my favorite treatments of Jewish history, but to be fair, I don't think I'm Dimont's target audience. The book was originally written in the mid-twentieth century as a popular history by an author who came late to scholarship. Dimont therefore had to catch the attention of people who, by contrast with American readers of popular histories today, were less automatically convinced of the value of multiculturalism, were likely less personally familiar with Jews, and were more likely to view Jewish history through the prism of church-going Christianity. Hence Dimont's long chronological reference tables, his use of anachronistic geographical terms for the ancient Land of Israel, his tendency to focus upon the picturesque and exotic, and his cautious treatment of antisemitism.

It was wise of Dimont to bookend his account with theoretical paradigms for the historical survival of the Jews. And his conclusion, that the outsider status of the Jews, their abstract culture, and their dispersion among many lands left them less vulnerable to the forces that destroy more staid civilizations, is reasonably prescient. But this book must remain a first dip in the pool for Jewish history, rather than a freestanding resource.
Profile Image for booklady.
2,325 reviews65 followers
August 7, 2021
An excellent history of the Jewish people told from the Jewish perspective. Have read twice. The first time I picked it up in Waldens when looking for bible history books. Could not put it down when I started to read it. It led me to many other books.

I seem to recall having seen a mini-series as well.
Profile Image for Shane.
448 reviews8 followers
December 10, 2021
I had to read this for a class and in a word: yikes! This book starts off racist (the preface includes a line something along the lines of the Chinese people had only one cultural period and it never really affected the world) and doesn't get a lot better. Also, obviously ever writer of history is biased but this writer goes to great lengths to distinguish Jewish people as somehow above pretty much any wrong doings, from his repeated assertions that Jewish people were less likely to be involved in violence or 'forcible rape' to the bit where he assured readers that any Jewish person who fought for the South in the American Civil War was not doing it because of slavery! but because he loved the south! Gee, where have I heard that one before? By the time it got to the creation of Israel it was just like, god damn, how many objectionable things can one man put on one page? A lot! He even compares the creation and expansion of Israel to how Christians 'civilized' the US. As I said: yikes!!
Profile Image for Jessica McKendry.
Author 2 books25 followers
October 5, 2022
"Jews, God, and History" is an amazing chronicle of the history of the Jewish people. I will say there were some sections that were a little dry, but overall the author does an amazing job of capturing the attention of the reader who is interested in the subject.

Since it was originally published in the 60s then republished in 2004, I went into it understanding that we may have made new discoveries or think differently about history. Sometimes the author would make a statement that seemed a little outdated, or maybe a bit under-researched, however these were few and far between and often had little to do with the main topic of the book so they didn't take away from the main points.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this! Definitely going into my personal collection.
309 reviews11 followers
April 5, 2013
This made for a good read - at least the first half.
The first half gives a secular overview of Jewish history from Abraham to the Enlightenment. (The word "God" in the title is misleading. He does not appear in the book.)
Dimont seems to have two agendas for this part of the book:
1 - Prove that Jews did not get kills more often then Christians before the Renaissance.
2 - Prove that Jews kept the world spinning while incompetent Muslims and reactionary Christians let civilization fall into decay.
Even taking this part of the book with a shaker of salt, it still makes for a fascinating perspective on history that you never got in school.

The second part of the book got heavier on the agenda. While the first half covered about 3500 years, the second half covers barely 300 in the same amount of pages. This is so that Dimont can
1 - Sing praise to Reform Judaism, the true heir to the crown of Talmud. (He wrinkles his nose at Orthodox and gives a paragraph to Conservative as well.)
2 - Lament the Holocaust, and point fingers to tell us which nations to excoriate and which to laud.
3 - Trumpet the Warsaw ghetto uprising and hold it forth as proof that, indeed, Jews still have that fighting spirit.
4 - Raise voice in song for the state of Israel, the Jewish homeland and birthright.

For all that, I found this a fascinating read on the glorious history of the Jewish people.

Yep, I said that. Glorious history of the Jews. Whodathunk?
Profile Image for Heather.
73 reviews
May 23, 2010
This book is what I would call a "popularized" history. It's a fairly light and quick read and a good introduction to Jewish history. I take issue with the fact that Mr. Dimont treats certain characters in Jewish literature as historical (e.g. Abraham, Isaac, etc). Also I'm sure he's wrong about certain things. He states that the Zealots gained members from both the Pharisees and Sadducees. By what I know of those two groups, that would have been impossible as the Sadducees were nothing but Roman quislings and the two groups hated each other. This leads me, naturally, to question what else he's got wrong. Overall, it's interesting and I did learn from it, but it left me wanting to read something more academic.
Profile Image for Nancy.
12 reviews
January 29, 2009
Not a new book, but related to a PBS special about the history of the Jews. It relates well to another book I am reading, as part of a Bible Study/book club. I've learned, among other things, that the people of Galilee were converted to Judaism only about a century or so BEFORE Jesus. Galilee was once part of the kingdom of Israel, but all the people (the ten tribes!) were scattered and the land left to what the Jews of the time would have called pagans or idolators, and the kingdom of Judea survived while Israel was lost.

The author has his own idiosyncratic style, which makes the book fun to read.

Profile Image for Sylvia McIvers.
739 reviews41 followers
November 1, 2013
What if everyone in the world were still pagans today? Where did monotheism come from, and how did the pagan world - and later, various monotheisms - react to the original monotheist nation?

Overviews of history are interesting, because they can look at larger trends than one politicians lifespan, or one specific war. This book is tremendously ambitious, as it goes back to pagan days and looks at the changes monotheism made, then continues through various empires, social systems, and political trends.

It was written in 1962, only 14 years after the State of Israel was created, so the last chapter covers the politics of the British Empire and the decisions that were made in 1940-41, and how they affected the first years of the new states – yes, states, plural. The map looked a lot different when the Turkish Empire ruled the Middle East.

In the introduction, Dimont lists eight ways of viewing history, including political interpretation, which follows dynasties, battles, and laws. Another is geographic, and Dimot points out that Jews have lived in nearly land and every climate while retaining common identity and culture. Another is economic, or Marxian.

The book is divided into seven chunks of time, bringing us from paganism to modern days. It is well worth reading, but too dense to summarize. Instead, here are some interesting tidbits from the first two sections.

Monotheism vs. Paganism:

If you don’t have multiple gods, you can’t have war between the gods.

If your god is immortal, you don’t need death and resurrection, which was a very common pagan theme – Mithros the bull god died every year, the Oak King and Holly King died in their seasons and were reborn the next year, and in modern days, Easter celebrates the resurrection as well.

Multiple gods and goddess all sleep with all other gods and goddesses, so faithfulness is not modeled by gods. The Greeks needed a word hetaera for the temple prostitutes. A single god does not demonstrate the same licentious impulses.

Egypt rose to be a great power, then the Hyksos invaded. A Hyksos Pharaoh invited Joseph to Egypt.

Some centuries later, the Egyptians threw the Hyksos out and Ramses II started rebuilding. There was a legitimate fear that the Hebrews might help the Hyksos back into power, so they were enslaved.

Another war might trigger a slave revolt, so the new Pharaoh ‘who knew not Joseph’ treated the slaves with excessive harshness.

King Solomon tried to shift from agricultural economy to industrial. To that effect, he needed to stem tribal power and enforce a centralized government – much like the break between state and federal governments.

Greeks and Romans worked seven days a week and looked with scorn at people who stopped work every seventh day – freemen, slaves, and animals. How non-industrious of them.

The Roman philosopher Seneca remarked that Jewish customs were everywhere so prevalent that the Romans were in danger of being swallowed up by them.

Thousands of Sabbath candles flicked and Greek and Roman homes.

A surprising number of Greeks and Romans liked the idea of a couple remaining faithful night after night, as the Jews did, but as the Roman gods and goddesses did not.

“The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful. And thus toleration not only produced mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.” – historian Edward Gibbon

People in the province of Judea were good taxpayers under Greek and Roman rule until the provincial governor insisted on erecting statues of various gods in the Holy Temple. Then they started rebellion after rebellion.

There were three rebellions against Rome, which the Jews ultimately lost.

In 66 C.E., the Jews rebelled against Rome.
Alexander the Great used 32,000 men to build his empire.

Ceaser needed less than 25,000 legionaries to conquer Gaul and Britain.

Hannibal and 50,000 soldiers crossed the Alps and defeated Rome.

General Titus needed 80,000 soldiers to conquer Jerusalem, which had been besieged for three years, where people were starving, and which was defended by approximately 23,400 soldiers.

From 132 C.E. to 135 C.E., Judeans waged a third war against Rome, lost, and were dispersed so that they couldn’t rebel again. That was the last battle of Jews as Jews.

Other provinces were astonished that a small group could stand up to Rome, and took courage. In modern times, Hungary rebelled against Russia in 1956. It lasted only a few months, but left the satellite nations poised for rebellion. What if the Hungarian rebellion had lasted two years, as did the Judean rebellion against Rome?

Jesus was killed by the Romans for being a Jew raising up a rebellion.

“King of the Jews” was not a label given to him by Jews.

Jewish law does not include crucifixion.

Romans lined the road with crucified rebels.

The Dark Ages are sprinkled with nations welcoming or expelling Jews. Read the social and monetary reasons for the upheaval...

How good was this book? I started reading, and forgot to stop for lunch. Good thing I had nothing urgent to do this weekend.
1 review
November 18, 2021

The title of Max and Ethel Dimont’s book, Jews, God, and History (2004 Signet Classics edition), might be more appropriately re-titled, Jews and God. I will leave it to Jewish scholars of the Torah and Talmud to evaluate this book on its merits as they pertain to Jewish thought. However, at the emergence of Jews into European history, as the Dimonts tell it, this book misses the mark in so many ways that it is an affront to those who have studied the full breadth of European history. The book is a fascinating read but historically flawed by authors who are not historians but rather storytellers of a rich and textured Jewish history and myth.

The principal thesis of the book is a prodigious celebration of the Jews as God’s “chosen people”; nothing wrong with pride in one’s culture I suppose. But a troublesome subtext pervading the book is the message that it is the Jews who deserve most of the credit for Europe’s crowning achievements; a sort of “culture kleptomania.” Wrapped within this mantra of Jewish “ownership” are elitist comments not only depreciating European cultural traditions, but also mocking them. This book may find favor within the Jewish community but not outside of it among people such as myself. I quit reading at the end of chapter twenty-two.

The above comments are my summary of this book. For those readers who care to read details of my critique, please read on.

My one star applauds the authors’ exegesis on the origins of the Jews and why they profoundly matter in the rich tapestry of history. Most of all, their book tells the story of four thousand years of persecution, expulsion, and migration while preserving family values and traditions, cultural and religious beliefs, and the inestimable value of education. They explain the origins of Christianity by noting a heterodox Jewish faction of Essenes in a liminal space-time who emerge as Christians. Underpinning it all is respect for law and the sanctity of the Torah and Talmud. The authors remind us on many occasions of the relatively few Jews in the world’s population yet a disproportionately large number of learned and accomplished individuals. In this regard, the book is an inspiring read worthy of reflection. My one star is also for my newly acquired understanding of, and appreciation for, my many Jewish friends.

Yet, I subtract four stars because the book, as it encompasses European history, is plagued with problems as the Dimonts slash and burn their way across the continent trampling underfoot well-established academic canon. These historical false-steps will be evident to students of European history but not to others. I focus on two categories of many. The first will be examples of factual inaccuracies, arrogant dismissals of other peoples’ triumphs, and Jewish imperiousness as the ancient Israelites departed the Levant and cross the Aegean into Europe. The second, and in my opinion most objectionable, is the authors’ penchant for expropriating cultural accomplishments and historical movements rightfully belong to European inspired thinkers, claiming instead that the rightful credit belongs to Jews and Jewish traditions. In this regard, the authors are revisionists.

I begin with factual errors such as the Dimonts’ identifying Alexander the Great as being Greek on pages 16 & 73 yet Macedonian on pages 65 & 73. Alexander was Macedonian, not Greek. They also erroneously credit the conquest of Greece to Alexander on page 199. Alexander did not conquer Greece; that was his father, King Philip of Macedonia.

On page 5, we are told that the Jews are the only people who have produce ideas; all others have merely produced material things:
“All civilizations we know about have left a record of their history in material things. But we know of the Jews in ancient times mostly from the ideas they taught and the impact which these ideas had upon other people and other civilizations.”
Academic books tell of the panoply of exceptional non-Jewish intellectuals from the Golden Age of Greece to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and in the histories of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, art, jurisprudence, classical music, literature, philosophy, drama, and monumental architecture. Please look them up.

On page 239
“ The Gothic cathedrals stretching their lofty spires to the sky were not testaments to any one faith, but tributes to the spirit of man and to God.”
Gothic cathedrals are testaments to one faith and only one - Christian. They tell the Christian story in stone architecture, illuminated glass, sculptures, mosaics, frescoes, necropolises, and Bach’s organ music.

On page 222 the Dimonts pompously and contemptuously assert:
“During its eleven hundred years, the Byzantine civilization produced only three art forms – Byzantine churches, Byzantine painting, and castrated Byzantine choirboys; it did not produce a single new idea, philosopher, writer, or scientist of note.”
This wholesale dismissal and derisive depreciation of Byzantine intellectual history lacks merit. I recommend to the reader The Cambridge Intellectual History of Byzantium for edification.

On page 87 the Dimonts claim that Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire was of little significance:
“She [Rome] was about to scrap her republican form of government for an emperor and dictatorship. Yet the change was not as great as many historians generally make it out to be. Rome had always been a contradiction in terms. She began life as a republic, but never was a democracy.”
This blunder is the sort of grating error that ought to make even high school students howl. The authors are wrong on both assertions. First, the Roman Republic was a democracy as evidenced by the annual elections of officials by citizens and by voting assemblies. Second, the convulsive lurch from the Republic to the Empire in 27 BCE was in fact of epic significance. It meant the replacement of an orderly democracy with a more chaotic autocracy.

I now address what I considerable to be the most objectionable theme that the impressive achievements of European history are more correctly to be credited to Jews. This incantation unabashedly bookends Jews, God, and History, first on page xii, and again on page 460. The first alleges that ancient Greek “…spiritual, moral, ethical, and ideological roots . . . “ are a gift of the Jews, not originating within the wellspring of fifth century BCE Greek thinkers. The Dimonts then belittle the Greeks by metaphorically depicting the Jews as the house of Western culture with the Greeks being merely the interior decorations:
“To put it differently – the furniture in the Western world is Grecian, but the house in which Western man dwells is Jewish.”
And at the conclusion of the book, on page 460, equally pretentious:
“ . . . two thirds of the civilized world is already governed by the ideas of Jews.”

I propose to peel back this thick sedimentary layer of elitism to reveal that the origins of European institutions and cultural triumphs lay within the ken of European intellectual and culture traditions. I charge the Dimonts with failing to provide an intellectually honest account.

I begin with the authors’ claim that the rightful attribution of democracy belongs to the ancient Israelites, not to the Ancient Greeks. Their citation is on pages 39 and 40.
“With the settlement of Canaan, the Jews ceased being a nomadic people, and a peculiar political institution, which has no counterpart in history, was born.” “They established the first democracy in the world, four hundred years before the Greeks.”
And again,
“It is not by accident that American democracy so closely resembles the first government by the Jews. Many scholars now hold that the Palestine government under the Judges served as the blueprint for the American Constitution, not the democracy of Greece.”

Attempts to claim the incipient origins of democracy are a fool’s errand for the reason that most ancient cultures have made similarly vague claims lacking definition. So ubiquitous are these claims that anthropologists studying more primitive hunter-gather neo-societies have reached similar conclusions as have primatologists studying primate behavior. A central weakness on this point, from the standpoint of academic rigor and credibility, is the Dimonts’ failure to define, describe, or reference what that democracy looked like “four hundred years before the Greeks.”

The Greeks receive near unanimous credit for democracy because they were first to conceive, define, and implement the structures and laws needed for a functioning democracy, not merely an abstraction. Tangible evidence begins with Cleisthenes in 508-7 BCE when the concept of isonomia, (equal rights for all citizens) was set in motion as the basis for law and voting. They instituted a council of 500 (Boule), an assembly (ekklesia), and a system of law courts (dikasteria). Only citizens sat as jurors, who were paid, and laws were inscribed in marble in the Athenian Agora. Embryonic ideas about democracy predate Cleisthenes by an additional two centuries in the writings of Homer and Hesiod who described citizens sitting in judgment of proposals by civic leaders. Homer wrote the Iliad and Odyssey in the eighth century BCE but much reflects times dating further back to the 13th century BCE. Fifth and fourth century Greek thinkers wrote treatises debating handing supreme power to the citizenry. Plato thought it a bad idea. Aristotle wrote a book detailing Athenian democracy titled The Athenian Constitution, which remains in print to this day.

I welcome readers to “Google” Moment Magazine, Symposium, Is Democracy a Jewish Idea, in which, twelve contemporary Jewish scholars responded to this question. I cite six because of their brevity but encourage readers to read all twelve:

1. Michael Walzer, professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study.
“Did we invent democracy? No. It’s a Greek invention. I don’t think there’s anything in the Hebrew Bible from which you could derive an argument about democratic politics.”
2. Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish literature and comparative literature at Harvard University.
“Democracy is less a Jewish idea than a by-product of the Jewish way of life. The Greeks developed the idea of democracy in thinking about how one governs a polity.”
3. Adam Sutcliffe History at Kings College in London.
“As for democracy, this is clearly a Greek idea.”

4. Noah Feldman Harvard Law School.
“Although the origins of democracy as a political practice are Greek, democracy is a very flexible idea, and it’s compatible with Jewish values and ideals. The Bible certainly doesn’t imagine democracy, nor does the Talmud. “

5. Norman Ornstein American Enterprise Institute
“Does the concept of democracy stem from Judaism? No. You can go back to the Greeks and even before.”

6. Gidi Grinstein President of the Reut Institute
“Judaism did not invent democracy in the way that we understand and practice it today.”

A second example of cultural thievery is the telling of the origins of the Renaissance and Reformation, two seminal awakenings of European intellectual, artistic, and religious expression. Here the authors tells us on page 223,
“A spirit of restlessness pervaded Europe [post Crusades]. This spirit found its expression in two ways: through the creative outlet of the Renaissance, and in the religious protest of the Reformation. In the former the Jews participated fully, and succeeded brilliantly. In the latter they tried hard to stay out of the family quarrel and failed miserably.”
How could any one claim so sophomorically and grandiosely that both movements had meaningful participation by Jews? Evidence please! On pages 223 and 224, they twice opine on the influence of a minor German Catholic scholar Johann Reuchlin:
“Reuchlin (1455-1522) had a profound influence on the history of Europe, because, more than any other, he helped to lay the foundations for Protestantism through the influence of his writings on the development of Luther's theological thinking. Reuchlin 's humanistic philosophy was undisguisedly Hebraic.”
And again,
“Because of Reuchlin's work, the part which Hebraism played in the spread of humanistic learning in Germany is readily obvious. Not quite so obvious in the creation of the Renaissance is the supporting role played by the Jews.”

My summary is that the Dimonts ought to have sidestepped this striking deceit altogether. How did the Jews “succeed brilliantly” and who are these brilliant Jews? Not one is referenced. And who is Reuchlin? Reuchlin was a little known teacher, not a Jew but a Catholic who published a Hebrew grammar and provided a spirited defense for the study of the Talmud. Luther’s mentors were Desiderius Erasmus, Jan Hus, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Wycliffe. Luther himself acknowledges Aristotle, Cicero, William of Ockham, and other Latin writers as his greatest influences. Evidence that Reuchlin provided fertile ground for the nascent Protestant revolution or Renaissance is non-existent. Academic histories portray both splendid upwellings as products of the failures of Catholicism, the Crusades, the end of feudal society, and the revival of the study of classical literature, not Jewish writings. Reuchlin is not deserving of the accolade that he provided the inchoate intellectual thrust for the Renaissance and Reformation.

A third and last example of the Dimonts’ attempts to undercut the origins of European traditions is found in their telling of the genesis of European and American higher education. They cite the significance of the first yeshivas between the 4th and 12th centuries CE calling them on page 163, “The Ivy League Yeshivas”. But when the authors then try to co-opt them as the “prototypes” of Europe and America’s universities, they venture into the abyss. These yeshivas, they tell us,
“. . . played the same intellectual role in Jewish life then as Harvard, Oxford, and the Sorbonne play in Western life today, and served as a prototype for the first European universities.”
But did they? The first distinction to be made is that yeshivas, both then and now, focus exclusively on religious texts, primarily the Talmud, Torah and halacha. Harvard, Oxford, and the Sorbonne are different in that each offers hundreds of subjects both secular and religious as well as both practical and theoretical. For the most part our modern universities have some but not much in common with yeshivas.

This claim by the Dimonts’ has yet bigger problems. Most significant being their silence on established learning centers predating yeshivas by more than eight centuries in Greece. Ancient Greek schools demonstrated an equally solemn commitment to learning in multiple city-states with multiple schools; most famous being the Academy, the Peripatos, and the Garden of Epicurus in Athens, the Stoic school of Zeno, the medical school of Hippocrates (460 – 375 BCE) on the Greek island of Cos, and the Greek poet Sappho (630 – 570 BCE) who taught girls on the Greek island of Lesbos. It was in the Athenian Agoras that scores of students followed Socrates as they honed their skills for learning by first questing rather than attacking; this strategy of resolving philosophical and moral differences is now known as the “Socratic Method”. Most Roman emperors, recognizing the need for legal minds, supported Roman law schools such as the law school of Berytus (Beirut). During the early Middle Ages, as Rome declined in influence, the Catholic Church established schools for boys in monasteries and eventually founded more than a dozen teaching orders of which the most well know today are the Jesuits, Benedictines, and Dominicans. Outside of the Church, secular leaders the likes of Charlemagne (747 – 814 CE) recognized the importance of education in his French domain by establishing schools and importing scholars such as Alcuin from England and Paul the Deacon from Italy.

Given this exceptionally rich tradition of learning within Europe’s sweep of time and compass, the origins of Western higher education need not be sought where they will not be found.

The following are a few egregious examples of imperiousness. For the sake of brevity I leave it to the reader to investigate, evaluate, and make judge on the following claims:

On page 108:
“The works of the Greeks and Romans are studied today as intellectual exercises in special university courses, but the literary works of the Jews are the living principles of mankind. The Jewish achievement in literature stands alone and incomparable . . . “

Page 71
“Though Greek thought dominated the Near East for six hundred years, no original native contribution to art, letters, or philosophy ever grew out of this fusion between Occident and Orient.
There was one exception – the Jews.”

Page 230
“When feudal man realized the superiority of the Jewish way of doing things, he absorbed Jewish knowhow, kicked the Jews out to eliminate competition, and went into business for himself.”

Page 211
“How the Jews with only a gesture – conversion – could have saved themselves from banishment to the ghetto, but instead chose the yellow star of ignominy, yet became indispensable to the medieval prince because they were the only ones who carried the torch of learning and the spirit of enterprise in an age of darkness.”

Page 255
“At first, [1500s CE] the Jews lived dispersed among their Christian neighbors, in towns and villages. As life became more urbanized, the Jews began to congregate in the larger cities of Europe. Here they voluntarily settled in their own Jewish neighborhoods.” “Nor were these Jewish quarters exclusively Jewish. On the contrary, many nobles preferred to live in the Jewish quarters in the same way that many Christians today prefer to live in Jewish sections because they like the air of intellectual ferment which they think Jews generate.”

Page 194
“The Christians, though they far outnumbered the Jews, produced neither great men nor a distinct culture of their own. The Jews, on the other hand, produced a Golden Age during this period, generating great names in philosophy, medicine, science, mathematics, linguistics – in every area of human endeavor except art, which the Jews did not enter until the Modern Age. “

My review of Jews, God, and History brings me to one overarching question only the Dimonts as authors can answer yet I pose it to all who have read their book; Why does the telling of the story of Jews in Europe require historical expropriation, arrogance, and devaluation of the accomplishments of others? Why not just tell the story of the Jews?

Profile Image for Gemma.
268 reviews21 followers
July 9, 2023
How can I give a good review to a book that describes Jezebel as the "arch-bitch of history."

Still, I finished it.
Profile Image for Joel.
Author 10 books24 followers
January 29, 2019
“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’.” Genesis 12: 1-3

Civilizations are funny things, following mostly as they do the Spenglerian progression of “a spring phase, giving birth to a new religion and world outlook; a summer phase, culminating in philosophical and mathematical conceptualizations; an autumn phase, maturing into enlightenment and rationalism; and a winter phase, declining into materialism, a cult of science, and degradation of abstract thinking, leading to senility and death.” Whether the Aztecs or the Romans or the Aymara or the Persians or the Muslims or the British, all civilizations wax and wane. It is the natural order of things. And when they are gone, it is to never return. Oh sure the old buildings still stand along the dusty alleys in front of which beggars squat, but what made those places resonate with grandeur as long since departed. Which is what makes the Jewish story so unique. Over the course of 4000 years the Jewish civilization has been able to re-define itself and re-emerge, not once or twice but producing six distinct but all fully Jewish civilizational periods.

“Jews, God and History” by Max I. Dimont is the story of this. An extraordinarily well researched book which takes us through Jewish ancient history, a subset of human history, from the very beginning; from Abraham through Moses and the Prophets and the Kings and the Maccabees. I say a subset, because the Jews were present in most ancient civilizations and in which “all peoples of the world will be blessed through you.” The book then takes us into the roots of modern history through the Diaspora period of Jewish history as a stateless people interacts and engages with the Greeks and the Romans and the Islamic Caliphates and Medieval Europe, wherein all these civilizations were also blessed through the leavening and preserving presence of Jewish ideas and institutions. Then on into modern history, concluding with the rise as-yet-unwritten of the new chapter in Jewish history, the return to the land promised to Abraham so long ago by a God who does not forget His promises. It is a story also about individual people, names that roll off the tongue like Einstein and Brandeis and Spinoza. For history is not made by collectives but by extraordinary individuals.

This book tries to tackle that one controversial and complex truth of human history; that there is something special about the Jewish people – God’s chosen people – in their ability to not only survive in the most trying of circumstances, not only preserve their culture and institutions and ideas, but their ability to thrive. Dimont I believe was an atheist (or at least agnostic) so his attempts were particularly interesting for me, as somebody who believes our great God when he says, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”. Dimont, however, spends his magnum opus searching for non-metaphysical reasons for this.

For Dimont Jewish exceptionalism emerged from the amazing ability of Jewish culture to be ahead of its time. Mono-theistic when everybody else was a pagan, and the natural ability of monotheism to focus people’s capacity for learning and understanding. Social programs like universal compulsory education which prepared the Jewish people naturally for bureaucratic roles in increasingly complex society and government while others forced their children onto the potato patches. A system of stateless social security programs which assured that as a civilization the Jews were not reliant upon the state with its often-malevolent coercive power. Their ability as a Diaspora to separate their identity from that of the state, and how this protected them (until it didn’t, see more below) allowing them to carry out functions unallowed by host civilizations (best example is profitable banking in Islamic societies – the less well known was the ability to escape from the noble-serf dynamic in feudal Russia and thereby become wealthy).

It is impossible to summarize this whole 4000 year old saga well, so please just read the book.

Now any review of Jewish history would be incomplete without a discussion of the holocaust. While this event was brief (in relation to the Jews’ 4000 year history) it was also perhaps the single most defining event for modern Jews (as it should be) and the greatest act of evil in world history; followed only by global communism’s orgy of blood. Socialism is the ideology of failure advanced by greed and envy unto violence. National Socialism is a variation of this that is not rooted in bad economics and does not consider classes or casts but instead blood and pigment. The rise of the Nazis was the bizarre story of a group of perverts and drug addicts and losers who captured the popular imagination of a disgruntled society through bitterness, pity and weaponized envy; turning itself into a colossal killing machine aimed against the prosperous members of that society, the Jews, for the purpose of pillage. To be sure, there were more Christians killed than Jews (7.5m to 6m); and the Nazis knew no quarter when it came to wickedness, but their particular animus, stemming from anti-Semitic ideas propagated first by Nietzsche (among others, though he was the worst) was against those who were ‘different’ than they and oh so much more prosperous. Murder those who you blame for your poverty and steal their wealth – that is what socialism, in all its varieties, comes down to. Incidentally, when the Russians overran the camps in Poland alone they found enough Zyklon B (for use in gas chambers) to murder 20 million people; evidence that the carnage was foreseen to continue. And only this year a little book went on sale in Canada, from Hitler’s personal library, outlining the locations and structures of Jewish communities in America down to the last village – in case anybody believes we would have survived the carnage had we lost the war. The holocaust is a story of collective failure to prevent a great evil; a stain on the 20th century, our supposed “Pax Americana”.

Finally, it is essential to discuss Israel. For 2000 the Diaspora waited for the Messiah to return and lead them all back to the re-establishment of Israel. Following the holocaust (and leading up to it, through things like the Balfour declaration, etc.) a group of intrepid leaders decided that the time had come to give faith a little nudge. In 1948 they re-established their homeland on a tiny desert patch of earth which 4000 years ago was given to Abraham, 2000 years ago was lost to the Romans, and has now been reclaimed. It only makes sense, for when racism turned into anti-Semitism and the Jewish leadership decided they could no longer trust the world to protect them if they kept their heads down and did not challenge their states – the Diaspora’s 2000 year-old recipe for existence – it was time to go home. This has caused significant stress in the Middle East and led to conflict and frustration the world over, and nobody (especially most people in the Jewish community I know – I am a graduate of Brandeis University) has a cold heart for the Palestinians; however it must be clear that as for America and her Christians, we will always stand with Israel.

“Jews, God and History” is the important story of the Jewish people, a book that should be mandatory at all American high schools – for the best way to combat bigotry is through knowledge and understanding. This book is tinged with a prideful tone, and we will excuse that given that there is so much to boast about over the course of 4000 years. It is nevertheless a fair accounting of a tiny group of people and how they made their way in the world against all odds. And that is a great story!!!!
Profile Image for Dave.
89 reviews5 followers
October 17, 2009
Very readable book. I just read the 1st edition, so there might be some good updates in the 2nd. There were some things I saw early on that I felt were historical inaccuracies. These unfortunately made me wonder at some other things I read, but overall it was great and moved along pretty well. It bogged down a bit when it got to the modern era but then picked up again in WWI. I learned a lot and it covered such a vast amount of time that you notice lots of other things you'd like to learn about.

While I felt it was a book with a very positive light put on the Jews, the author would often point out things done to Jews and then immediately say that other groups went through the same thing. I think we sometimes hear about Jewish suffering because few if any groups have existed continuously through such a long stretch.

As a religious person I didn't like how in the biblical period events were discussed from an assumption that God doesn't exist. But at one point the author seemed to apologize and say that while for this book he takes it from that perspective, whether you believe in God or not, the events happened and history rolled onward.

You really come away with a deep respect for the Jewish people. Good discussion on anti-Semitism, etc., too.

Spoiler: The Jews survive.
Profile Image for Jason.
338 reviews12 followers
September 25, 2021
Really great book about the history of the Jewish people. I learned a lot, but I was disappointed with the discussion of Palestine and Israel. It was very patronizing of the situation, acting like Palestinians weren’t using their own lands properly before Israel, that Palestinians have greatly benefited from Israel (despite what Palestinians are saying about their own experience), and always positioning Israel as the victims and everyone else as the aggressors. Even with his discussion of America and Native Americans has a strong colonial-bias, which is disappointing.
791 reviews28 followers
December 19, 2015
This is a second edition of a classic on the history of the Jews. I can see why it’s a classic as it covers a tremendous amount of territory, is very well-written, and the author clearly knows a lot, as he can compare different ideas and historical concepts as they apply to the history of Jews. This in many ways marks some of the best in pop history.

Yeah, but sometimes it also marks the worst in pop history. He does know a lot about many things, but a lot of times the limits of his knowledge shines through. He isn’t an expert on any particular historical field, and a lot of things he says here are either decades out of date or were never that good. He’ll talk about feudalism in the context of 18th century Europe, or say that Marat was killed for betraying the French Revolution (?), or that the Greek gods set standards for total lust that ruined the moral fiber of ancient Greece (?), or claim that Vespasian was an unlettered dope in awe of a rabbi’s prediction, or just engage in a series of “oh, brother” oversimplifications (like when he says the Romans depended on the Greeks for all their ideas, or making the entire Middle Ages sound like one continual steam of ignorance with minimal variation from time or place over 1,000 years). Now, most of these problems deal with him talking not about Jews, but their neighbors or their era. So that’s nice – it’s not his subject he’s messing up. But it happens so often that you can’t help but wonder how much oversimplification occurs in his subject as well. (I mean, were almost all Jews really literate by the first century BC like he says? I find that very doubtful. Bart Ehrman’s books on the era seem to have more knowledge and he says the opposite).

For me, I got far more out of the first half of the book. By the back half, I was more skimming that reading.

He notes there are six eras in history the Jews lived in, and they had to survive in each of them: 1) pagan world of ancient times, 2) Greco-Roman times (separate from pagan, apparently), 3) Christian times, 4) Islamic times, 5) Medieval times, and 6) modern times.

As noted, I got far more out of the earlier sections. Early on, he ponders if two groups became one with Moses and that his laws were based on equality before the law. The difference between Israel’s conquest and the conquest of Judah was the will to survive by the latter. They survived by creating a holy canon. They made a portabl religion. Prophets had noted that ritual by itself was meaningless. They shifted the focus from the priest (who focused on ritual) to the rabbi (who was about faith). It was the synagogue and prayer over the temple and ritual. 150,000 Jews were in Babylon. Ezra would be a second Moses.

He makes a nifty comparison of Greek culture to a hoop skirt – covers all, but touches none. Jews absorbed the Greek intellectual world. They spread across the land. There was an internal struggle among Jews over how much they should adapt and an external one versus the Selecuid dynasty. Prophets won the former struggle over Hellenizers. But Greek clothes, names, and language were all used more. Attempts to forcibly Hellenize the Jews led to a massive backlash and the Maccabees. After a 25 year war, they were independent again by 143 BC.

They then signed a defensive treaty with Rome. Smart move. They have a few groups by this time: Essenes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. Essenes withdrew from politics. Pharisees were separatists and anti-Helenizers. Sadducees were pro-Helenizer. But the latter two had other elements. Pharisees might’ve been conservative in cultural matters, but they were progressive in religion – they were the ones of the synagogue, rabbi, and prayer. (They are FAR more tolerant that their New Testament depiction). While the Hellenizer Sadducees were the ones of the temple and sacrifice and ritual. Pharisees were also the ones into oral law. Pompey conquered them by 63 BC.

Rome renamed Judah Judea. Herod the Great committed many crimes. Augustus appointed a governor. Zealot and peace parties were in Galilee. The Zealots had their big uprising in 66 AD. Jochanon ben Zakkai was the savior of the religion. He snuck out of the city during the siege and got permission to found a school. In 113, a second revolt took place that lasted three years. Jerusalem became Aelia Capitolina. A rebellion from 132-135 saw Simon bar Kochba as the new messiah. Jews had ultimately rejected Roman culture. When the Jews were kicked out of Jerusalem, it ruined the Sadducees. Over 10% of the empire was Jewish, and they got good jobs in the empire. The Old Testament was translated into Greek: the Septuagint. This influenced the pagans. They were dispersed after the 2nd century rebellions, though.

The big Jewish centers had been Alexandria, Babylon, and Jerusalem. Alexandria’s Jewish community was in declined after the 1st century AD. Jabreh was a small town where Rabbi Jochanan had his school. It tried to solve the problems of keeping the Jews together as a people, a religion, and a culture in an age of dispersal. They create the idea of a Jewish brotherhood. They write a Jewish dictionary and Jewish grammar. They standardized the liturgy. They established an organization of schools and charities. They banned intermarriage. They create four key laws: 1) no Jew should have to obey a Jewish law that was beyond his ability to observe. If it’s unworkable now, forget it. 2) Jews must recognize the validity of a non-Jewish document in a court (Jewish court or otherwise), 3) They should obey all laws in the country they lived in (unless it was an arbitrary law that clearly went against core rules from Moses), and 4) Jews must fight for the defense of their country, whatever country that might be. They gave up the idea of returning to Palestine and ended converting others (which he claims had been a thing up until now --- really?)

He argues the Essenes were proto-Christians. He argues that the Jews arrested Christ to protect him from Rome. The first New Testament came out by 395 AD.

The Talmud became crystallized. Talmud means learning and it was the instrument of Jewish survival. It changed the nature of Jews, Jehovah, and Jewish government. The seeds of it went back to Babylon all those centuries ago. Canonizing the five books of Moses began to closer the door on revelation. They reinterept Moses with Midrash – “exposition.” The Pharisees were pro-Mishna and Sadducees had opposed it. The Pharisees won and the Torah belonged to the layman. Mishna became oral law. It was canonized eventually. From 300-600, academies in Babylon were key. They finally wrote down the Mishna and Gemara. It cements the Jews into a civic community. Jew self-government is behind it. Antonius Pius allowed them to return, but Persia gave them more freedom. They’d later flee west when the Arabic empires crumbled, and flee to east Europe when they were banned in the west. An 11th century codification occurred, and was frozen by the 16th century.

It’s around this part (or really a little before) that I wasn’t getting as much out of the book as before.
32 reviews
January 29, 2023
Certainly a book well written, with sufficient literary talent in order to engage the reader up to the end. It is not my first book about Jewish history, but I can say it's among the best I've read so far: concise, encompassing and engaging. Contemporary books tend to give too much space to recent events, while overpassing too lightly the past. I believe that this book is much more balanced.
On the other hand, I subtracted a star because, here and there, the book becomes apologetic. Especially in the end chapters, one can easily deduce that the book is not written by a "gentile". Also, it seems that the Jews stirred and started some of the most important events in modern history (like the Enlightenment and the Industrial revolution).

The author entertains the opinions of authors like Freud and Weber, and puts them in application.
There's one thing I didn't like though, which shows that Dimont was still caught in prejudices of his time: he disregarded Byzantine history and culture as marginal, overlooking the Byzantine contribution in spreading knowledge to Western Europe. Furthermore, he claims that in the middle ages only Islam produced culture, while Christians vegetated. This was certainly not the case.
An interesting distinction he makes is between antisemitism and antijudaism. The former only arose in the late 19th century he claims, with the fictional writing of certain individuals (some of whom converted Jews).

Finally, it is expected for prejudices and superficiality to be infused in writing so short a book for such great a history. As long as they are not too spiky, one can easily accept them as such. The Jews remain one of the miracles of history and a remarkable people. Undoubtedly a recommended book for anyone who wants to get acquainted to Jewish history.
Profile Image for Heather.
83 reviews
August 19, 2021
Reading this was definitely an undertaking. It was dense and jam packed with information covering over 4000 years of history, starting with the Jews as bands of tribes predating Judaism all the way through an appendix addressing the current (as of the publication date) state of Israel and the diaspora. And this was just an overview. It was also drawn out by the fact that my goddamn library hold kept expiring and other people had holds and so I didn’t finish this as quickly as I’d liked. Anyway this was full of so much info about how the Jews have survived against the odds. The author makes a compelling case that they’ve survived because of Judaism and the nature of the beliefs they hold as a people. It really does seem remarkable and impossible when broken down by the author. It’s devastating but empowering to know the history of one’s people. There was a lot I did know that was covered in this book but also a lot that I didn’t. Religion and religious history were covered with sensitivity and understanding, though you might need some knowledge of Judaism and Jews to have all the gaps covered. Which brings me to the negative: because the goal of the author was to cover the entire existence of Jews and that is vast, MANY periods of history are glossed over or simplified. I think there were times where just a sentence or two covered an era or event. I will say that if you keep that in mind, this is a great book to start with when wanting to dig deeper into Jewish history. Just know there’s a lot more to all of it and this book is just the outline. Overall I’m glad I read this to get a better “big picture” idea.
Profile Image for Michael Sypes.
196 reviews
February 11, 2023
Nice overview of ~4000 years of Jewish history, albeit heavily opinionated. Lots of "hurray, we're a fantastically accomplished and capable people." I really can't argue with that, but it was a bit uncomfortable reading such self-aggrandizement repeatedly. There's some utter fantasy in there, like claiming Moses was an actual historical figure with archeological evidence to back that up, when to my knowledge, there is absolutely no such evidence of Moses, or a large foreign slave population in ancient Egypt. "Mitzraim," I am sure, is a but a mythological place in my peoples' collective consciousness, although that does not in any way diminish its impact on our psyche, nor should it.
I was a bit put off by the author's splitting of "anti-Jewish" versus "anti-Semitic" motives and actions. I somewhere between viewing him as splitting hairs, and thinking him outright wrong, that the latter is a modern invention, and Medieval Christian attitudes towards Jews were somehow more "civilized." E.g., Marranos were a despised & distrusted group in Spain, despite having been baptized. Hell, even the word "Marrano" is derogatory. Christianity has a built-in anti-Semitic, or, if you must insist, anti-Jewish, component. He's making a distinction without a difference.
I do wish there had been more details presented on various subsects of Judaism that have evolved and blended over the centuries - Karaism, Haskala, Hasidism, Kabbala, but there is an extensive bibliography, so if I ever get serious enough to learn more, I have a good place to start.
Profile Image for Charlie Easterson.
362 reviews2 followers
September 20, 2021
I’ve only waded through the first couple of chapters and I’m struggling not to DNF this one. Theoretically very interesting but loaded with wild suppositions and inaccuracies.
Example: No other culture or civilization has survived stateless into the modern age. What about pretty much every indigenous culture in existence?
Example: China has only had one age and it’s had little influence on the world. What a wonderfully western-centric view of the world. China has had many ages and it’s definitely played a huge role on the world stage throughout history.
Example: the dark ages lasted 1200 years. I mean…no? It lasted about 500-600 years and ended in roughly 1000.

It also paints the Jews as these beatific thought leaders that have risen against the rest of the world, so driven by petty war mongering, to produce the only culture of, well, culture. It even abjectly states that the ancient Hebrew “had no weapons and fought no wars” which…is wrong. Of course they did. Hell, the Torah talks about quite a few wars they fought, with weapons, mind.

Jewish history is extremely fascinating and unique in many ways but it’s also not a culture set completely apart either. Let’s be realistic. And I’m being realistic you paint a much more interesting and complete picture of who the Jews are, how they’ve survived and what they’ve overcome.
Profile Image for Appu.
195 reviews7 followers
October 30, 2018
I have always been curious about the jewish experience. How did a people spread across the world survive as a coherent civilisation for virtually the whole known human history? How could a small nation produce such brilliant men consistently throughout history? How did the jews spread to virtually all parts of the world before global travel became commonplace? Most of these questions are answered by Max I. Dimont in this very readable history.
This book is qualified as a popular history. This does not mean that this book lacks historical or academic rigour. I guess, the tag popular is given because the author is opinionated and is not afraid to draw conclusions.
While reading this book you get the impression that the author is a wise old sage sitting comfortably by the fireside giving his wisdom to all who care to be around.
Given the vastness of the subject, at times the reader may feel that the treatment is to cryptic. Also, the book is very Europe and West Asia centric. Jewish experience in India or Africa is not discussed at all.
88 reviews7 followers
February 9, 2021
The book is a History of the Jewish people that goes back 4000 years. Written in 1962, it is still a reliable narrative of a civilization that has refused to disappear despite the efforts by many other nations and civilizations to eradicate it. The number of scholars, scientists, entertainers and artist that have been produced by the Jewish community defies the imagination. I first read this book in high school. The amount of western history between the covers was almost like taking a world history class. The writing is so filled with historic detail, that I find myself going through its pages from time to time just to refresh a trend of thought or discover something I can understand better with more years experience, or something a had missed before. I have just read it again from cover to cover and find it relevant to a lot that is occurring in western civilization today. For instance the phrase “Let’s make Germany great again” uttered by the infamous Adolph Hitler, resonates with a slogan by a defunct inept politician Donald Trump. Chilling how history repeats it’s self.
Profile Image for Carlos.
2,114 reviews67 followers
February 19, 2023
While not free of some overgeneralizations and occasional factual mistakes, Dimont does manage to give the reader a thorough but readable overview of the long history of the Jewish people. He masterfully illustrates the ability of Jewish communities to maintain separate but vibrant cultures within the larger civilizations under which they lived. He also shows the links in the spiritual and political developments between these dispersed communities and the role they played in maintaining Jewish culture alive. Lastly, he gives the reader a good framework from which to differentiate the violence suffered by Jewish communities, like many other minority communities, from time immemorial from the particular pernicious anti-Semitic violence of the long 19th century that reached its apogee with the horrors of WWII. Definitely worth the read, even if the book could benefit from some updates in its style and tone.
117 reviews
April 21, 2021
The Jews are a resilient, maybe the most resilient, culture through the ages. Through all the different dynasties that have come and gone, the Jews remain.

They have their God and the Bible. They are accountable to God and draw their morality from his Word.

They have pride in their history and tenacity built into their DNA. They stand with each other...always.

They are hard-working, great intellects, and leaders who are commercially focused no matter what civilization they find themselves in. They are survivors who consistently add more value than they take.

They are all about family as their foundation.

Our laws, work ethic, and ideals, are fundamentally based in Jewish culture and history.

This book was enlightening for me.

I recommend it. I gave it four stars versus five as there was some tedium in some of the writing I had to get past.

22 reviews2 followers
September 7, 2017
incredible history of jews in just 400 pages. Chapter on Roman wars and Josephus is fantastic and so is the history of development of Talmud and other important texts,

Author writes with eloquence with gems like this,

"Historical events do not take place in a vacuum. The unfolding of history resembles the unfolding of a dream. The dreamer at first is aware only of the manifest content, that part which he remembers upon awakening, vivid, real and absurd. But behind it lies the latent content, the hidden meaning of the dream, which he does not remember. We tend to view history by its manifest content only, instead of interpreting the surface events by the latent forces shaping them."
89 reviews
September 5, 2018
I love it when I read a book and think to myself: I can't wait to read this again.

That's Dimont and "Jews, God and History," which I loved. I see some here raising concerns about certain aspects of his history. I'm going to respectfully suggest that some of you might be missing the point. A book like this isn't so much a definitive compendium of fact as it is an epic of interpretation. We might quibble with some of the interpretation. But the sweep of the epic is nothing if not profound.

This book informed and challenged me. Each time I left it, my mind was teeming with new notions. He gives us so much to think about. And he does it in an eminently readable, enjoyable way.

Profile Image for Stanley Harder.
Author 3 books2 followers
March 3, 2019
I read a portion of the first chapter and returned the book. The author, who is now deceased, begins with such a jaundiced view of the Bible, God's chosen people, and of faith in general that I couldn't stand to imbibe his personal views on history, especially the history of the Jews. He makes a mockery out of the O.T. accounts, distorting the facts, almost as if he had never read the OT account. For a person claiming to give an honest examination of the historical facts, it seems to me that his bias is so strong that he cannot see the facts.

If the first chapter is his thesis, then I have no time for spending valuable hours reading the rest. You be the judge.
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