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Jewish History Advice, Please!

I've got some questions that I'm hoping some of you here will be able to help me answer. The next chapter in Connor's history book ("Story of the World, Part 1," by Susan Bauer) is "The Jewish People," which is not meant to be as inclusive as the title suggests, but just covers the very beginning of Jewish history. Trouble is, I'm not too sure about the information presented, so I wanted to try and find some outside resources.

The chapter tells the story of Abraham (Abram), who leaves Haran and goes to Canaan. In the online research I've done, it does appear to me that this is considered to be the start of Jewish history, as told in the Bible. The story of Joseph (of the coat of many colors) is also told. The "stumbling block" here for me is using the Bible as a sole historical source. I do realize that in some cases, the Bible is the only source for certain things, but, in general, I would prefer to teach history from other, more "secular" sources, if there are any. I know that the author of this text is Christian, and is writing the books from that perspective, so I'm not entirely sure that much of what she chooses to present (out of the vast range of historical options) isn't primarily meant as building blocks for the history of Christianity she intends to focus on further down the road. She does include other civilizations and faiths, but I do feel I need to be on the lookout to make sure Connor will be getting a well-rounded view of history. (Without going into a long discussion about the books themselves, I'll just say that I like what's she's done here well enough to tolerate the small degree of religious bias I've found them to contain). So far, any time that I've had a quibble or question with something she's presented in the text, I've had no trouble locating alternate sources on my own, but Jewish history is something about which I know almost nothing, so I thought it would be a good idea to ask the experts here on my f-list. Also, even if it turns out that the Bible is the only source, I'd love to hear opinions about this period of history from a Jewish, rather than the author's Christian, perspective - not so much that I doubt the content, but perhaps there are different opinions about its importance, if that makes any sense.

So, my questions: Are there any additional sources, or is the Bible really the only way to approach early Jewish history? Also, would you consider these two stories to offer a good introduction to Jewish history, or are there things you would also like to see included (or presented instead of either of these stories)? Is it true that Jewish history is universally considered to begin with Abraham? And finally, do you have any recommendations for good books on the subject for children?

Thanks in advance!



( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 24th, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, your offer is not silly at all, B! Let me see what other people have to say here, and that will probably help me figure out what to ask you to look up in your books, if it's not too much trouble! Or do you think these are books I could find at the library, in which case just the titles would get me moving in the right direction. Thanks! *hugs*
Oct. 24th, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC)
is this post f-locked? my friend ameliajune might be able to suggest something, but I'm not sure if she'd have access to the post. She's jewish, non-practicing, so might have some more secular resources for you.
Oct. 24th, 2006 10:02 pm (UTC)
Was f-locked, but I've just made it public. I don't know ameliajune, but I would love to hear her opinions if she has the time to share them! :)
Oct. 24th, 2006 09:59 pm (UTC)
secular jewish links
I don't know if this will help, but I found this site:


which is the "Agency for Jewish Learning" and there's a section of links titled "Secular Curricular Resources."
Oct. 25th, 2006 05:10 am (UTC)
Re: secular jewish links
Thank you for these! The first on in particular (AJL) led me to what looks like a pretty good site. Of course, now that I've started looking for answers to my original questions, I'm coming up with five new questions for each one I get answered . . . but that's all right. That's called learning, isn't it? :D
Oct. 25th, 2006 02:22 pm (UTC)
Re: secular jewish links
Glad to help!
Oct. 24th, 2006 10:00 pm (UTC)
another jewish link
There's this also: http://www.dinur.org/1.html?rsID=219 but that seems to be based out of Jerusalem and I don't know how secular it would be.
Oct. 24th, 2006 10:04 pm (UTC)
John Bright - A History of Israel


I believe that is from an archaeological/historical perspective,but I believe that it is framed by the biblical traditions, and has been accused of being more than a little soft on the conclusions.

Victor Matthews - A Brief History of Ancient Israel


This one seems VERY early, not even making it to the Common Era. It also seems pretty dedicated to following the biblical tales, but seems to take it from a more historiographical point of view. I am not a historian and so I don't have a good frame of reference for how this or the other book stack up in that realm...but I am almost certain that they have more historical value than a religious text.

Good luck!
Oct. 25th, 2006 03:42 am (UTC)
This one seems VERY early, not even making it to the Common Era.

Dating Abraham at around 1680 BCE, that means it covers the first 1350 years of the total 3690 years of Jewish history. Seems like a large enough chunk, and it covers the period of the Hebrew Bible.

Wendy, I can't think of any good resources (I plan to put a lot of the ones other people have mentioned on my reading list!), but in general the sources we have for early Jewish history are the Bible, other ancient Near Eastern texts like descriptions of . . . Egypt!* . . . and accounts of the loads of archaeology done in the Near East.

*though this Wikipedia article alerts me to the fact that the stuff I learned about "Apiru" equalling "Hebrew" might be outdated scholarship, so maybe all those texts about Apirus aren't as relevant as I was taught
Oct. 25th, 2006 05:23 am (UTC)
Heh - actually, Abraham appears to date even earlier than that. From about 1850 BCE (not too far out of your ballpark, though). It does seem that original source material from back then is very limited (hardly surprising, really, all things considered), so now I guess what I'm mostly hoping to find are additional archeological discoveries that would serve as corroboration of the events described in the Bible. And in many cases it's not so much that I doubt the content in the Bible, but I do want to try and get everything in the right place on the timeline, and in my personal opinion, there are definitely "timeline" issues associated with at least some parts of the Bible.

It is also interesting to see how the scholarship on these subjects changes over time, isn't it? I do really love that - it's fun to go digging, even if it's just through the Internet to find new resources. Maybe I should have been an archaeologist and gone digging for real! :D

Oh - and speaking of books, we got both of the ones that you recommended a couple of weeks ago, and Connor is enjoying the both. I think he's especially loving the encyclopedia of mathematics (I think that's what it's called - he and his dad read a bunch of it over the weekend); we haven't really gotten into the other one yet, but it looks very promising, too! So, thanks again for those, as well. :)
Oct. 25th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC)
Thank you for these! I think I've found the first book through my library (or at least an electronic version of it - I need to check with the librarian tomorrow). I might try and grab the other one from Amazon, since it sounds pretty much like what I'm trying to find.

(Deleted comment)
Oct. 25th, 2006 02:41 am (UTC)
Re: here's another link
That is such a lovely mezuzah - is it glass or enamel?
Oct. 25th, 2006 05:44 am (UTC)
Re: here's another link
Thank you for that link! It's been really intersting so far, and has certainly answered some of my earlier questions. Of course, now a whole bunch of new questions have popped up in their place, but that's the fun of all this studying, isn't it? To learn new things! :)

The thing that I find myself thinking about now (although it doesn't have a lot to do with what I'll teach Connor, probably), is trying to figure out if Jewish history is primarily the history of an ethnic group, or the history of followers of a particular religion. It seems to me that in a very real way, it is both, which seems unusual to me - I don't usually think of these two things as being in tandem like that. Then again, that's probably because I'm used to thinking of it through the filter of a 20th century American woman who grew up in a family where religion didn't seem tied to ancestry in any way that seemed obvious to me, so I think of them as completely separate things. With just a moment of thought about it, though, I can think of plenty of societies where ethnicity and religion do seem to go hand in hand. I think it's just a matter of me considering this whole subject in a new way. Hmmh - thinking out loud there . . . I don't know if any of that made sense, either, but hopefully it did. :D

Anyway, one of the things that got me thinking along these lines was a comment on the website you linked, so thanks again! :)
Oct. 25th, 2006 02:41 am (UTC)
Abraham was definitely considered to be the first Jew - in other words, no Jews existed before him. He and his wife Sarah converted to become Jewish, and converted others as well, but not necessarily everyone around them.

Joseph is... : counts generations... - Abraham's great grandson, and to skip from one to the other ignores the story of Issac, Abraham and Sarah's son, as well as of Jacob - he of the two wives, two handmaidens and thus, twelve sons and one daughter.

I'd recommend a book about Jewish holidays and we've read bits from this one at Shabbat school over the last two years with Harry.

I'm also happy to answer any questions he comes up with - and, btw, so is Harry, which might be good for both of them.
Oct. 25th, 2006 05:03 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for this information. I wonder why my book skips that other generation . . . it makes me glad that I asked. Sometimes she seems to have chosen the things she covers sort of randomly (and obviously a children's history book can't possibly cover everything), but I do want to fill in any major gaps I can find.

I couldn't find either of the books you recommended through our library, but I did find a couple of others by that same author that look promising. And I will definitely forward any questions Connor might have to Harry! (That would be very cool, and if so, I'll send along Connor's e-mail address - I don't want to post it here, though, since this post isn't f-locked).
Oct. 25th, 2006 02:28 pm (UTC)
Abraham's sons
You made me think of the fictionalization of that generation which I read recently, The Red Tent. It was a good book and focused on the one daughter. :)
Oct. 25th, 2006 02:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Abraham's sons
Anita Diamant is an amazing writer, and I love that book. It's not for kids, though - some of the violence and sexual aspects are necessary but not for 8 year olds.
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