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

Hardcover | 2017 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691174600
408 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 8 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400884933 |
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The first major history of the scholarly quest to answer the question of Jewish origins

The Jews have one of the longest continuously recorded histories of any people in the world, but what do we actually know about their origins? While many think the answer to this question can be found in the Bible, others look to archaeology or genetics. Some skeptics have even sought to debunk the very idea that the Jews have a common origin. In this book, Steven Weitzman takes a learned and lively look at what we know—or think we know—about where the Jews came from, when they arose, and how they came to be.

Scholars have written hundreds of books on the topic and have come up with scores of explanations, theories, and historical reconstructions, but this is the first book to trace the history of the different approaches that have been applied to the question, including genealogy, linguistics, archaeology, psychology, sociology, and genetics. Weitzman shows how this quest has been fraught since its inception with religious and political agendas, how anti-Semitism cast its long shadow over generations of learning, and how recent claims about Jewish origins have been difficult to disentangle from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He does not offer neatly packaged conclusions but invites readers on an intellectual adventure, shedding new light on the assumptions and biases of those seeking answers—and the challenges that have made finding answers so elusive.

Spanning more than two centuries and drawing on the latest findings, The Origin of the Jews brings needed clarity and historical context to this enduring and often divisive topic.

Steven Weitzman is the Abraham M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures and Ella Darivoff Director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His books include Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom and Surviving Sacrilege: Cultural Persistence in Jewish Antiquity.


"Admirably balanced and dispassionate."--Benjamin Balint, Wall Street Journal

[A] multicourse intellectual feast. . . . 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."--Publishers Weekly

"An accomplishment for the academy."--Kirkus

"Weitzman has done his homework; he has read widely and writes well. He has done an excellent job at presenting technical material in an accessible manner. . . . As the subtitle of the book says, we live in a rootless age. People everywhere, not just Jews, seek their roots, their ancestry, their genetic makeup. We yearn to discover who we are; alas, our tools are not always up to the task. But there is pleasure in the pursuit, and we should be grateful to Weitzman for being a reliable guide."--Shaye J.D. Cohen, Moment Magazine

"Weitzman’s courageous and illuminating book is essential reading for anyone who wonders or cares about what it really means to be a Jew."--Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal

"Jews have been around since antiquity, and so their origins are not so easy to lay hold of. As of now, no one can say how and why being a Jew got started. But in his new volume The Origin of the Jews, Steven Weitzman makes a valiant effort to survey some partial answers."--David Mikics, Los Angeles Review of Books

"It is a brilliant book, not only in execution but also in conception. How is it brilliant in conception? As far as I know, it is unique. . . . Among its other virtues, Weitzman’s writing has a humility and softness about it that is rare in academic work, making the book a pleasure to read."--David Hillel Ruben, Jewish Chronicle

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Introduction 1
1 Genealogical Bewilderment: Lost Ancestors and Elusive Lineages 25
2 Roots and Rootlessness: Paleolinguistics and the Prehistory of the Jews 63
3 Histories Natural and Unnatural: The Documentary Hypothesis and Other Developmental Theories 101
4 A Thrice-Told Tel: The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis 139
5 Thought Fossils: Psychoanalytic Approaches 174
6 Hellenism and Hybridity: Did the Jews Learn How to be Jewish from the Greeks? 207
7 Disruptive Innovation: The Jewish People as a Modern Invention 245
8 Source Codes: The Genetic Search for Founders 274
Conclusion 317
Acknowledgments 329
Bibliographical Commentary 333
Index 383

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