The History of ANCIENT ISRAEL – Michael Grant
This is the story of Jewish civilization from its beginnings to the destruction of Jerusalem & its Temple in AD 70. The book deals with Israel’s relations with the empires which shaped its development & with the changing internal structure of the Jewish state. Part of the tale is told by excavations, which reveal many aspects of the material culture & everyday life of those times. However, the major source is the Hebrew Bible, the Christian scripture, which is an unparalleled, massively varied compendium that includes much of the world’s earliest historical writing & has inspired the literature, art & ethics of half the world.
A superb popular survey: clear, uncluttered, balanced, brisk. Formerly President of Queen’s College, Belfast, Grant is both a distinguished classicist and a reliable guide to the world of the Bible (see his earlier St. Paul and Jesus). Here he covers, roughly, the period from Abraham (perhaps 19th century B.C.) to the fall of Masada (73 A.D.), though he also sketches in the Neolithic and Early and Middle Canaanite Ages of ancient Israel, as well as summarizing events from the Bar Kochba rebellion (132-35) to the foundation of modern Israel in 1948. Grant’s most basic document is, naturally, the Bible, and he handles it with an admirable blend of scholarly scrupulousness and sensitivity to the religious and literary character of the text. He deals with such complex problems as the historicity of the patriarchs, the sources of the Pentateuch, conflicting traditions in 1 Samuel’s treatment of Saul, the chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah, Jesus’ relationship to Judaism, etc. without oversimplifying or getting bogged down in pedantic detail. He is consistently tactful, as in this concluding judgment of Herod the Great, the brilliant, bloodthirsty Idumean: ””If his domestic catastrophes are left to one side, he attained almost as much greatness as was possible for any man of his epoch who was not a Roman.”” Grant provides a good short bibliography, helpful maps, and a table of dates, as well as appendices to handle subjects like Hebrew love poetry, short stories (the Books of Ruth, Esther, Judith, and so forth), or the minor prophets, which would have clotted up his narrative. An outstanding introductory stu