Book Review: Encyclopedia of Jewish History

review Encyclopedia of Jewish history edited by Ilanit Shamir and Shlomo Shavit provides a wealth of information about the Jewish people throughout the ages. It starts with Israel in prehistoric times and ends with the present (80s of the last century). The book dates from 1987 and was published by Kok in Kampen. Different eras, events and key figures in the history of the Jewish people are discussed: the Biblical time; the period of the Second Temple; the time of Mishnah and Talmud in Israel and the diaspora (Europe and the East); the rise of Zionism, the Holocaust, the founding of the state of Israel, and the contemporary Jewish people.


  • title: Encyclopedia of Jewish history - The Jewish people through the ages
  • editor: Ilanit Shamir and Shlomo Shavit
  • year: 1987
  • publisher: Kok-Kampen
  • ISBN: 90-242-3251-1

Content of 'Encyclopedia of Jewish history'

This book has been compiled by prominent scholars, authors, and pedagogues. A certain period of history is always covered in hundreds of sections. The section consists of a basic text of approximately eight hundred words supplemented with explanations, drawings, photos, maps and diagrams. The treatment is chronologically structured and can easily serve as a reference work in which a register is helpful. There is also an explanatory list of Hebrew and other terms.
The book starts with an explanation of the theme of the history of the Jewish people by Shmuel Ettinger of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Jewish people are special, Ettinger writes, because it occupies a separate place among European, Asian and African peoples and it was able to survive despite the difficult circumstances in which the Jewish people found themselves. Despite the many contacts with other peoples, including many world powers, the Jewish people managed to retain their own identity. The Jews accepted the challenge that came from all those civilizations. The civilizations have even taken over certain elements of the Jewish heritage. There are many assumptions about the special place of the Jews in history. These have in common that they are a careful analysis of historical processes: theological or ideological assumptions, psychological stereotypes, etc. But scholars and historians also did not come to common conclusions. How has the history of the Jewish people been influenced? Ettinger mentions the following themes:
  • The chosen people;
  • The promised land;
  • The municipalities: source of power;
  • Towards a modern society;
  • Negative stereotypes and the development of national self-awareness;
  • Zionism, the Holocaust and the state of Israel

View from Etsel

Why is the Jewish people so special? Because God has a plan with it. That is clearly stated in the Torah. The entire history including the persecutions and redemption of the Jewish people is already predicted in the Torah. It is also indicated that the Jewish people will last forever. Since the Torah is God's truth, people do not actually have to look for another explanation of the peculiarity of the Jewish people. The only correct answer can be found in the Torah and is certain. The Jewish people are not special because of themselves but because of God.
This encyclopedia gives a short and concise overview of Jewish history. Contributions have been made by dozens of specialists from Israel. The texts are not too long and easy to read. Further explanations are provided in boxes. The many drawings, photos, maps, graphs and diagrams make the encyclopedia even more accessible and readable. There is a nice timetable at the back of the book. The index and the glossaries are also useful. What is missing in every chapter and at the back of the book is a reading list for further study to delve deeper into the material. But that lack is nicely compensated by the quality of the texts, which clearly shows that the subject matter has been written with great expertise.

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