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Who are "The Jews"? Scattered over much of the world throughout most of their three-thousand-year history, are they one people or many? How do they resemble and how do they differ from Jews in other places and times? What have their relationships been to other cultures of their neighbors?
To address these and similar questions, twenty-three of the finest scholars of our day–archaeologists, cultural historians, literary critics, art historians, folklorists, and historians of religion, all affiliated with major academic institutions in the United States, Israel, and France–have contributed their insights to Cultures of the Jews. The premise of their endeavor is that although Jews have always had their own autonomous traditions, Jewish identity cannot be considered immutable, the fixed product of either ancient ethnic or religious origins. Rather, is has shifted and assumed new forms in response to the cultural environment in which the Jews lived.
Building their essays on specific cultural artifacts–a poem, a letter, a traveler's account, a physical object of everyday or ritual use–that were made in the period and locale they study, the contributors describe the cultural interactions among different Jews–from rabbis and scholars to non-elite groups, including women–as well as between the Jews and the surrounding non-Jewish world.
Volume One, "Mediterranean Origins," describes the concept of "People" or "Nation" of Israel that emerges in the Hebrew Bible and the culture of the Israelites in relation to that of the Canaanite groups. It goes on to discuss Jewish cultures in the Greco-Roman world, Palestine during the Byzantine period, Babylonia, and Arabia during the formative years of Islam.
Cultures of the Jews is a landmark, representing the fruits of the present generation of scholars in Jewish studies and offering a new foundation upon which all future research into Jewish history will be based. Its unprecedented interdisciplinary approach will resonate widely among general readers and the scholarly community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and it will change the terms of the never-ending debate over what constitutes Jewish identity.
“Lay readers already hooked on Jewish history will be endlessly fascinated, and those seeking a solid state-of-the art introduction to the field will find it here, with ample reference to other, more specialized or canonical works. . . One of the most nourishing Jewish books we've encountered in some time. . . . Wonderful.” —The Jerusalem Report
“The writers revel in the new vistas opened by a cultural approach, lavishly providing us, in generous detail, with descriptions of a Jewish world more various than historians have allowed us to glimpse.” —Tikkun
“Biale has gathered a stellar international group of scholars around the grand theme of Jewish cultural history. The tastes of many different intellectual palates will find various satisfactions here.” —Jewish Quarterly Review