Prophets of the Past is the first book to examine in depth how modern Jewish historians have interpreted Jewish history. Michael Brenner reveals that perhaps no other national or religious group has used their shared history for so many different ideological and political purposes as the Jews. He deftly traces the master narratives of Jewish history from the beginnings of the scholarly study of Jews and Judaism in nineteenth-century Germany; to eastern European approaches by Simon Dubnow, the interwar school of Polish-Jewish historians, and the short-lived efforts of Soviet-Jewish historians; to the work of British and American scholars such as Cecil Roth and Salo Baron; and to Zionist and post-Zionist interpretations of Jewish history. He also unravels the distortions of Jewish history writing, including antisemitic Nazi research into the "Jewish question," the Soviet portrayal of Jewish history as class struggle, and Orthodox Jewish interpretations of history as divinely inspired.
History proved to be a uniquely powerful weapon for modern Jewish scholars during a period when they had no nation or army to fight for their ideological and political objectives, whether the goal was Jewish emancipation, diasporic autonomy, or the creation of a Jewish state. As Brenner demonstrates in this illuminating and incisive book, these historians often found legitimacy for these struggles in the Jewish past.
Michael Brenner is professor of Jewish history and culture at the University of Munich. His books include A Short History of the Jews and After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany (both Princeton).
"A well-translated and welcome addition to Jewish history collections."--Choice
"At long last, a definitive volume on modern Jewish historiography in English. Michael Brenner here follows in the wake of his teacher, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, by analyzing with great breadth and depth the diverse byways of Jewish historical writing. An acknowledged master of German-Jewish history, Brenner expertly charts old and new terrain--in Europe, Israel, and North America--in this important and richly illuminating study."--David N. Myers, University of California, Los Angeles
"Sweeping, discerning, meticulous, and empathetic, Brenner's pioneering synthesis convincingly shows the writing of history to be the dominant medium of modern Jewish thought."--Ismar Schorsch, chancellor emeritus, Jewish Theological Seminary
"Prophets of the Past is a panoramic examination of the shifting paradigms in modern Jewish historical writing, ranging over three continents and from the eighteenth century to the present. In its scope it is unprecedented. Brenner has made a stellar contribution to Jewish intellectual history that should be of equal interest to all who would explore the nexus between historiography and ideology."--Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Columbia University
"Michael Brenner has produced a sweeping account of Jewish historiographical traditions, beginning with the first attempts in the early nineteenth century to write the history of the Jewish people, and carrying the story through the most recent developments in the field. Before Brenner, no one dared tackle such a vast project. Lucid and gracefully written, Prophets of the Past introduces readers not only to the historians who have brought to life the various narratives that elucidate the Jewish past, but to the very craft of history itself, its power, its consequence, its appeal."--John M. Efron, University of California, Berkeley
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Michael Brenner: