Nearly two dozen cultural historians have produced fresh concepts of Jewish identity throughout the ages with the book "Cultures of the Jews: A New History," edited by UC Davis history professor David Biale.
"We consider this 'new history' because it is the culmination of work by this last generation of historians looking at Jewish history," explains Biale, who is the Emanuel Ringelblum Professor of Jewish History at UC Davis. The last time such an extensive collaborative Jewish history was published was in 1969 in Israel.
Unlike past Jewish history books, "Cultures of the Jews" is based on examining history influenced by culture from high-brow to low -- by examining literature, art and popular culture.
The broad question this cultural history seeks to answer is: Who were the Jews in each of the periods of Jewish history?
The authors of the collective history also stress Jews living within larger cultures. "Instead of treating the Jews as a segregated group, the approach is to see them in dynamic interaction with their neighbors," Biale says.
The history begins with the Old Testament Hebrew Bible and continues through chapters on modern Israeli and American Jewish communities. Because Jewish history since biblical times has been shaped by the experience of exile and loss of sovereignty, the issue of diaspora figures prominently in each chapter.
Editor's note: A copy of the book can be obtained for review by contacting Suzanne Williams, publicist for Pantheon/Schocken Books, at (212) 572-2565, firstname.lastname@example.org.