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.
[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
"Positioning himself between those who seek origins and those who regard such quests with postmodern skepticism, Weitzman sheds light on variegated accounts of Jewish origins in different realms--from genealogical research and biblical scholarship to archaeology, psychoanalysis, and genetic research. A brilliant book--profoundly original and engaging, exhibiting a rare spirit of exploration. We will all be learning from it for a long time."--Ilana Pardes, author of Agnon’s Moonstruck Lovers
"Weitzman is a spirited and empathetic guide on an expedition through the quest to understand Jewish origins, from biblical studies to the latest investigations in population genetics. He unfailingly confronts the challenges of his inquiry with candor and erudition. The book gathers a remarkable exchange among diverse lines of scholarship in a single captivating conversation."--Noah Rosenberg, professor of biology, Stanford University
"The long duration of the history of the Jews is paralleled by an almost equally long tradition of searching after their roots. This quest is masterfully narrated and keenly analyzed by Weitzman, who enlists a rich array of disciplines ranging from biblical philology and archeology to psychoanalysis and genetic science. His elegantly accessible prose and imaginative scholarly thinking combine to make this immensely informative book a pleasure to read."--Galit Hasan-Rokem, professor emerita, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations ix
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
Bibliographical Commentary 333