The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BCE – 1492 CE (The Story of the Jews #1) by Simon Schama

‘In the beginning…’

A chance conversation led me to borrow this book from the library. I wanted to get behind the vague knowledge drifting within my memory to a more factual appreciation of Jewish history.

In this book Mr Schama starts with Elephantine, a Jewish garrison town dating from the 5th century BCE. Elephantine, which I had never heard of, is an island in the Nile River. I kept reading, some of the details reinforced my existing knowledge, others contradicted it. Why, I wondered, did the Jews return to Egypt? The more I read, the more I stepped away from the mythology (part of my Christian upbringing) and into Jewish participation in the world. I met scholars and poets, physicians, and philosophers. I became immersed in a world that I can appreciate without fully understanding. I admire the endurance and creativity displayed by Jewish people despite centuries of bigotry and persecution.

This book finishes in 1492, with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. I intend to read the second book (‘When Words Fail’) as well.

I finished this book with a greater appreciation of aspects of Jewish history albeit overwhelmed (at times) by the detail.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith