Essentials of Jewish History: Jewish Leadership Across 4,000 years, Brandon Marlon, Vallentine Mitchell, London © 2020, ISBN 978-1-912676-18-7, p. 514 plus bibliography and index, $89.95.
Jewish presence across the last four thousand years of recorded history suggests writing a history of the Jews is a monumental task: What to include? What to explain? From whose point of view? Almost two thousand years ago, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote Antiquities of the Jews, a twenty-volume history of the Jewish people, how much larger might an equivalent book be today?
Canadian-Israeli author Brandon Marlon makes a significant attempt in his book Essentials of Jewish History, opening with a selected timeline of Jewish History from 2000 BCE to 2018 CE, showing years, important events and personages, and the time period in which those events occurred: United Monarchy, Second Temple, Roman, and so forth.
Marlon classifies more than eight hundred Jewish luminaries into one or more of fifteen categories, each its own chapter, including the High Priests of the Jews, Exilarchs of the Jews, and Generals of the Jews. He separates Jewish kings into five separate chapters: Kings of the United Monarchy, Kings of Israel, Kings of Judea, Hasmonean and Herodian Kings, and Jewish Kings of Himyar, Khazaria, and Ethiopia. A distinct chapter holds Queens of the Jews, starting with Mikhal (c. 900 BCE), youngest daughter of King Saul and ending with Gudit (c. 960 CE), who fought against Aksum, the capital of Christian Ethiopia.
A courtier is an advisor to someone in ruling power. Jewish courtiers are known from at least the time of the Egyptian pharaohs. Jews counseled Babylonian kings, Roman Caesars, European kings and queens, and even U.S. presidents. Marlon chronicles thirty-three Jewish courtiers beginning with Joseph in Egypt and ending with Jared Kushner.
There are seventy-one people in the chapter on Zionists of the Jews, and the chapter Sages of the Jews contains more than four hundred listings, divided chronologically from the Soferim of the Persian and Hellenic Periods (c. 485 – 200 BCE) to the Aharonim (c. 1500 CE – present). Each chapter begins with background information and ends with a summary.
No book of Jewish history will ever be complete, and certainly portraits of the life and times of eight hundred prominent Jewish leaders is not a comprehensive survey of the field. Yet, Essentials of Jewish History can proudly lay claim to the veracity of its title.
Essentials of Jewish History is not a year by year narrative of the vagaries and vicissitudes faced by Jews throughout history, but a thoroughly researched profile of Jewish generational standouts, containing essential facts describing the times in which they lived, characterizing their important works, and detailing their struggles and achievements. Essentials of Jewish History is a useful and outstanding reference book, a unique resource for every Jewish library.
Republished from San Diego Jewish World