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The Story of the Jews
September 30, 2013 9:09 PM   Subscribe

The critically-acclaimed BBC production The Story of the Jews, written and presented by historian (and foodie) Simon Schama, can be viewed online by people with access to BBC iPlayer TV programs. It will be shown in the USA on PBS later this year.

Alternatively and additionally, there is Hola Unblocked, about which I have heard good things, and the entire series is available on YouTube:
Episode 1: In the Beginning (alternatively one, two)
Episode 2: Among Believers (alternatively one, two)
Episode 3: A Leap of Faith (alternatively one, two)
Episode 4: Over the Rainbow (alternatively one, two)
Episode 5: Return (alternatively one)
posted by Joe in Australia (25 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
*cough* The Story of the Jews is on Youtube too *coughcough*
posted by Bwithh at 9:43 PM on September 30, 2013


Shh! Don't say that above the fold!
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:57 PM on September 30, 2013


Hey!! I'm on dial up here.

Have a little respect(sympathy).
posted by wrapper at 11:36 PM on September 30, 2013


.Hey, I'm on dial-up here

Waiting for the promised LAN?
posted by Devonian at 12:17 AM on October 1, 2013 [69 favorites]


In #3, Schama seems somewhat pessimistic about the enlightenment project and the possibility of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Gentiles in a mixed society. I'd like to see a debate between him and Steven Pinker.
posted by acb at 12:52 AM on October 1, 2013


Episode two seemed to jump from the Roman conquest in the 60s AD directly to the Middle Ages. No mention of the Kitos War or the Bar Kokhba Revolt or the resulting diaspora. Really?

I've only made it to episode two so far. Do they go back at some point to cover these?
posted by Avelwood at 1:43 AM on October 1, 2013


Not that 'm aware off; it's a fairly high level overview of Jewish history and it's also somewhat teleological, that is, the sweep from leaving Israel to getting back to Israel is what's important tot he series.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:03 AM on October 1, 2013


That's something I've noticed with a lot of histories. I think part of the reason is that Babylon (what is now Iraq) was the center of Jewish life from a couple of centuries after the Roman conquest until the end of the Gaonic period. Let's say around 300 CE to 900 CE. The problem is that life in Babylon doesn't tie in to the dominant Eurocentric reading of history, so we end to jump from one Europe-related period (the Romans conquering Judea) to the next (the rise of European Jewry).
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:31 AM on October 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Really looking forward to watching this.
posted by griphus at 5:10 AM on October 1, 2013


This looks interesting. Thanks!
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:13 AM on October 1, 2013


This looks incredible. Thank you so much for posting!
posted by vkxmai at 5:39 AM on October 1, 2013


Episode two seemed to jump from the Roman conquest in the 60s AD directly to the Middle Ages. No mention of the Kitos War or the Bar Kokhba Revolt or the resulting diaspora. Really?

That's something I've noticed with a lot of histories. I think part of the reason is that Babylon (what is now Iraq) was the center of Jewish life from a couple of centuries after the Roman conquest until the end of the Gaonic period. Let's say around 300 CE to 900 CE. The problem is that life in Babylon doesn't tie in to the dominant Eurocentric reading of history, so we end to jump from one Europe-related period (the Romans conquering Judea) to the next (the rise of European Jewry).


Man, the late Roman/"Dark Ages" era really gets no respect in documentaries, like at all, but especially when it comes to Judiasm. I assume this means we don't get to hear about the Khazars, or the (relatively, especially to today) genial relationship between Judaism and Islam, or the intense persecution by Christians that partly led to it, or the East African and Arabian peninsula kingdoms. And that's a damn shame, because there's a lot there that informs how both religious and "cultural" (i.e., mostly secular) Jews interact with society today. There's a reason why I distrust the modern American evangelical movement's obsessions with Jews, I hope the later episodes delve into that, even though it may largely be confined to America itself.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:39 AM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


You might also be interested in this 1984 documentary series hosted by the late Abba Eban, longtime foreign minister and UN ambassdor of Israel.
posted by briank at 7:37 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also in the news: Pew Research Center - A Portrait of Jewish Americans
posted by rosswald at 8:12 AM on October 1, 2013


Before I dedicate a good chunk of time to these, does anyone want to give me a quick assessment, say on a scale from 1 - 10, of how propaganda-y this is? Not that I don't care what the other side has to say, I have just run the gauntlet of ultra-Zionist friends and family for 26 years now and...I'm tired.
posted by Mooseli at 10:36 AM on October 1, 2013


zombieflanders: He does go into the Sephardim coexisting with the Moors in el-Andalus, and then the expelled Spanish Jews settling in the Ottoman Empire as dhimmis (with the mixed blessing that this protection conferred). The early history of the Ashkenazim is largely glossed over; we just find out that there were Jews in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages. When and how they made it over—such as whether Jews lived with the Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire before it fell—isn't mentioned. (I seem to remember the suggestion that they may have made it over before these tribes became Christianised.)

Mooseli: I've only seen episodes 1 to 3, but in 3 (the German Enlightenment/emancipation of the Jews through to l'Affaire Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl), Schama describes himself as a Zionist and seems pessimistic about the idea that Jews could have lived as citizens in Europe and also as Jews without anti-Semitism inevitably raising its ugly head and them having to once again reach for the suitcase. (Hence my comment that I'd like to see a panel with him and Steven Pinker, who described the Third Reich as the last gasp of the premodern order.)
posted by acb at 10:50 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have just run the gauntlet of ultra-Zionist friends and family for 26 years now and...I'm tired.

I'm just glad everyone I know aged out of Birthright and I no longer have friends and family bothering me to go on this amazing free trip.
posted by griphus at 11:34 AM on October 1, 2013


I would say about a 5 on the propaganda scale. He is very explicit about his biases of being a (leftist) zionist and his reasons for being so -- which I thought was the right thing to do given his closeness to the material (even as his reasons seemed more personal than truly rational). The story he tells (bag packing, et al) do privilege his view, of course, but his interpretations aren't out of touch with reality. However, I will say it suffers quite a bit when we enter the Israeli era -- he makes an attempt to play both sides, which I don't think is very successful.
posted by smidgen at 12:26 PM on October 1, 2013


I misread this as "The Stody of Jaws"
So I had the scary "Duuun dun duuun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun BOM BOM dun dun dun dun dun dun..." going in my head.
Then read it properly and it switched to the joyous: "y'dun dun dun dun dun dun - dibby dibby dibby dibby dummm! Ya ta ta, dun dun dunny dun dun!"

So now I've got Jaws in my head with a yarmulke on and Roy Scheider in Jackie Mason's voice "What? You're not gonna need a bigger boat?"

Brain misfire aside, I love history. Thanks!
posted by Smedleyman at 1:01 PM on October 1, 2013


However, I will say it suffers quite a bit when we enter the Israeli era

Actually, I though that was handled as well as it could be, given Schama's zionist beliefs and the over familiarity with the recent history of the country we all have. What I think the series suffered the most from was the weight of the Holocaust that hung over the history as told in the series.

Especially as the series got closer to modern times, it was being told as if the Holocaust was the inevitable conclusion of Jewish history in Europe, with every pogrom seen as precursor to it, leading up to it. It's a natural thing to do, but it does compress and distort Jewish history somewhat.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:41 PM on October 1, 2013


Excellent.
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:56 PM on October 1, 2013


Thanks for this. It looks fascinating.
posted by zarq at 7:37 AM on October 3, 2013


I watched the first episode last night. I enjoyed it and Schama -- who I am totally unfamiliar with -- is an enjoyable presenter and I definitely learned quite a bit. Which episode is the Holocaust in? I want to avoid that one.

Also, the thing about British Jews wearing top hats in synagogues: who gets to do that? Anyone? It looked like only the rabbi (cantor?) had one on.
posted by griphus at 7:48 AM on October 3, 2013


The top hats are quite unusual nowadays, but at one time they were common to all congregants. As their use generally diminished they were reserved for foundational members, then congregational officers, then perhaps religious functionaries. You can read about them here and here. The older English synagogues preserve many bits of odd tradition: for example, all synagogue pledges are to be made in guineas, even though that coin ceased to be struck in 1816.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:03 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Interesting new study: Genes Suggest European Women at Root of Ashkenazi Family Tree
Linking to the damn paper: A substantial prehistoric European ancestry amongst Ashkenazi maternal lineages

This isn't the last word on it; the NY Times link mentions a couple of people who disagree. None the less, it's a step closer to explaining the origins of Ashkenazim. Also worth reading is Manuscriptboy's summary and notes.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:21 PM on October 9, 2013


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