By: Joseph Jacobs
Method of writing history. In Bible times the Jews showed a strong historical sense, as evidenced by the series of books from Genesis to Kings devoted to the history of the people. Without entering into the vexed question of the sources of the historic statements in the Pentateuch, it is clear from actual references in the books of Kings that even before their compilation a considerable number of annals existed independently, from which the statements in the Bible were compiled. These annals appear to have been called "The Book of the Acts of Solomon" (I Kings xi. 41), "The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel," and "The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah." There seems, indeed, to have been a royal official, known as the "mazkir," appointed to keep the official record of the events of each reign: those of David (II Sam. viii. 16, xx. 24), Solomon (I Kings iv. 3), and Hezekiah (II Kings xviii. 18, 37). Such works appear to have contained statistical details (I Chron. xxvii. 24), or genealogies (Neh. xii. 26). The Book of Chronicles quotes also a "Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel," which may possibly be the canonical book, and a "Midrash of the Book of Kings" (II Chron. xxiv. 27, Hebr.), which is probably a recasting of the Biblical narrative. Another source of the Chronicles was a series of histories of the Seers and Prophets, including Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Iddo, and Shemaiah.Hellenistic Period.
The same interest in the records of the past was shown, in the Hellenistic period, by writers in Greek, who often translated from Hebrew or Aramaic sources. Thus the First Book of the Maccabees is such a version, as is also the "History of John Hyrcanus," of which nothing further is known (comp. I Macc. xvi. 23-24). Other adaptations from the Hebrew of the Bible are found in fragments contained in a work of Alexander Polyhistor from Demetrius, Eupolemus, Artapanus, Aristeas, Cleodemus; but these are scarcely histories, and are of no independent value. Jason of Cyrene wrote a book, in five volumes, on the Maccabean period, of which the Second Book of the Maccabees is an abstract. Philo of Alexandria himself wrote an account of the persecutions under Caligula, in five books, of which only two are extant (Schürer, "Gesch." iii. 345-370).Josephus.
All these are of slight account compared with the contributions to Jewish history made by Joseph, son of Matthias, known as Josephus. Besides his "Jewish Antiquities," which has a certain apologetic tendency, he wrote a "History of the Jewish War," which is the main source of information for the fall and destruction of the Jewish state. A part from the value of the information conveyed, the work has considerable literary grace and power of presentation. A contemporary, Justus of Tiberias, also wrote a history of the Jewish war, which is referred to and sharply criticized by Josephus.
After the fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews, the absence of communication between the scattered communities prevented any systematic account being written of their doings; for a long time, indeed, the only approach to historic composition was connected with ritual observances, as in the Megillat Ta'anit, or list of fast-days, or with the succession of tradition, as in the Pirḳe Abot, continued later on in the Seder Tannaim we-Amoraim (c. 887) and the Epistle of Sherira Gaon (c. 980). The series of sketches giving the relations of various rabbis to their predecessors, and which occur in later works, though often containing historical facts, are mainly useful in throwing light upon literary annals, and do not call for treatment here. The only work of the Talmudic period which can be considered as historic in tendency is the Seder 'Olam Rabba. A smaller work, Seder 'Olam Zuṭa, on the same subject, is devoted to proving that Bostanai was not descended from David. The "Megillat Ebiatar," published in Schecter's "Saadyana," may also be mentioned here."Yosippon."
The revival of independent interest in history appears to be shown, in southern Italy, in the tenth century, by the "Yosippon," a history of the period of the Second Temple, attributed to Joseph b. Gorion and written in fluent Hebrew. Some additions to this were written by one Jerahmeel b. Solomon, about a century later, in the same district. Of the same period is the Ahimaaz Chronicle, describing the invasion of southern Italy by the Saracens, with an account of the Jews of Bari, Otranto, etc. (see Ahimaaz).Records of Persecutions.
The series of historic chronicles was begun in Spain by the "Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah" of Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo (1161). A continuation of this, by Abraham ben Solomon of Torutiel, has been lately discovered and published by Neubauer. The concluding chapter of Joseph b. Ẓaddiḳ of Arevalo's "Zeker Ẓaddiḳ" gives a chronicle of the world from the Creation to 1467. It was followed by Abraham Zacuto's similar but fuller work, "Sefer Yuḥasin," carried down to the year 1505. Items of Jewish interest are contained in general Jewish histories written in Hebrew, like those of Elijah Capsali (1523; on the history of the Ottomans) and Joseph ha-Kohen (1554; on the same subject). David Gans gave a general history of the world up to 1592, while Joseph
Meanwhile, owing to the influence of the Protestant Reformation and to other causes, the attention of the outer world was drawn to the later destinies of the Jews. Schudt, in his "Jüdische Merckwürdigkeiten," gave a short history of the past and a fairly accurate and complete account of the contemporary condition of the Jews. He was followed by Jacob Christian Basnage, who for the first time put in systematic form an account of the history of the Jews during the Christian centuries. His work remained for a long time the chief source of information to the outer world on Jewish history. The more popular sketch of Hannah Adams, and the supplementary portions of Milman's "History of the Jews," add very little to the work of Basnage.
As the attention of Europe became attracted to the constitutional position of the Jews, and as efforts became directed toward their emancipation, recourse was had to the large amount of material contained in the medieval archives of western Europe. The investigation of the sources began in England. There Prynne, in his "Short Demurrer," utilized his unrivaled knowledge of the records to oppose the return of the Jews to England. He was followed later on by Tovey, Webb, and Blunt. On the Continent, in the eighteenth century, similar collections of archival materials were made, by Ulrich for Switzerland, by Aretin for Bavaria, and by Würfel for Nuremberg. Other workers, dealing on the same lines with the general history of a country, often came across material relating to the Jews, which they included in their works, as Madox, in his "History of the Exchequer," and Laurent, in "Ordonnances des Rois de France." With the increased attention paid to the study of sources by Ranke and his school, this source of information for Jewish history proved increasingly fruitful. In England, in particular, a mass of material was collected from the publications of the Record Commission and the Rolls Series; in Germany, from Pertz's "Monumenta Germaniæ Historica."Jost and Grätz.
Before these additional sources of information were completely accessible to the inquirer, the interest of the Jews themselves was once more attracted to their own history, and attempts were made to summarize its various vicissitudes. I. M. Jost attempted, in his "Gesch. der Israeliten," to give the annals of the purely political history of the Jews, combining at times an estimate of their spiritual and literary development, which he ultimately summed up separately and more exhaustively in his "Gesch. des Judenthums." He was followed at even greater length by Heinrich Grätz, who made his "Gesch. der Juden" in large measure a study of the development of the Jewish spirit as influenced by its historic environment. Grätz's attention was accordingly attracted mainly to the literary and religious development of Judaism rather than to the secular lot of the Jews, though his work also contained a fairly full account of their external history so far as it bore upon the general development. He scarcely claimed, however, to deal fully or adequately with the history of the Jews in the stricter constitutional sense of the term. Beside these should be mentioned the remarkable sketch of S. Cassel in the article "Juden" in Ersch and Gruber's "Encyklopädie," still, in some ways, the most satisfactory survey of the whole subject, though later sketches by Isidore Loeb, in Vivien de St. Martin's "Dictionnaire Universel de Géographie," and Théodore Reinach, in "La Grande Encyclopédie," have also great merit.
Meanwhile the establishment of many specialist scientific journals devoted to Jewish topics gave opportunity for the collection, based on the local records, of many monographs on special parts of Jewish history, such as those of Perles on Posen, Wolf on Worms, etc. The attention of specialist historians not of the Jewish race was again drawn to the subject, resulting in such works as those of Depping ("Les Juifs dans le Moyen Age"), Stobbe ("Die Juden in Deutschland"), Amador de los Rios, Bershadski, Saige ("Les Juifs de Languedoc"), and Lagumina ("Gli Giudei in Sicilia"). The number of these monographs has become so great that they are enumerated annually in the "Jahresberichte der Geschichtswissenschaft," at first by Steinschneider, later by Kayserling.Historical Exhibition and Societies.
The year 1887 to a certain extent marks an epoch in the tendency of Jewish historical studies, when Jews themselves turned to the secular archives of their native lands. The Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition of that year was the first attempt to bring together historical records of the Jews; in the same year the first publications of the German Historical Commission were issued, and a society founded in honor of Julius Barasch started a series of historical researches into the history of the Jews of Rumania which have thrown altogether new light on the history of the Jews in eastern Europe. The Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition included a series of works, among which was a whole volume devoted to a bibliography of Anglo-Jewish history by Jacobs and Wolf, and which was itself followed by similar attempts in Russo-Jewish history ("Ukazatel") and Spanish-Jewish history (Jacobs, "Sources").
In 1892 the American Jewish Historical Society was founded, and in 1895 the Jewish Historical Society of England, while the Société des Etudes Juives has throughout given marked attention to the history of the Jews in the French provinces and colonies. These various societies have produced a number of works and transactions during the past decade which have for the first time put the constitutional history of the Jews in various countries on a firm basis. Aid has been given in this direction by the collection of laws relating to the Jews in France (Uhry and Halphen), Prussia (Heinemann), and Russia (Levanda, Minz, and Gradowsky). The first attempt at summing up conclusions with regard to the medieval position of the Jews in Europe has been made by J. Scherer in an introductoryessay to his elaborate work on the legal position of the Jews of the Austro-Hungarian empire (1901). As a result of these various lines of inquiry many monographs have been produced devoted to special sections of Jewish history, and derived in large measure from manuscript and secular sources, which are sometimes reproduced verbatim, as in Stern's "Urkundliche Beiträge"; sometimes translated, as in Jacobs' "Jews of Angevin England"; and sometimes worked into a continuous narrative, as in Kayserling's "Gesch. der Juden in Portugal." Work of a similar kind has also been executed in the form of calendars, or "regesta," such as those made by Aronius for Germany (up to 1273), and as the "Regesti y Nadpisi" for Russia (up to 1670).
Scarcely any country has yet had its Jewish history adequately described. The few monographs that exist—like those of Koenen ("Geschiedenis der Joden in Nederland," 1834), on Holland; A. D. Cohen ("De Mosaiske Troesbekendere," Odense, 1837), on Denmark; Wertheimer ("Gesch. der Juden in Oesterreich"), on Austria; J. Picciotto ("Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History," London, 1875), on England; Daly ("Settlements of the Jews in North America," New York, 1893), on the United States— were mainly written before any serious study of the sources had been undertaken. The Iberian Peninsula has fared somewhat better, the works of Amador de los Rios and Kayserling still remaining the best monographs on the history of the Jews in any one country. Few of the chief communities have been adequately treated, the most thoroughly described being those of Berlin (by L. Geiger), Vienna (by G. Wolf, "Gesch. der Juden in Wien," Vienna, 1876), Paris (in a series of monographs by L. Kahn), and, above all, Rome (two excellent works by A. Berliner, 1893, and Rieger and Vogelstein, 1895).
As a rule, few strictly historical records exist in Hebrew. For the Middle Ages these consist mostly of business documents, such as the "sheṭarot" published by the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition and a Hebrew ledger published by Isidore Loeb in the "Revue des Etudes Juives." Items of historic interest, however, often occur in family papers or juridical responsa; and David Kaufmann produced a considerable number of monographs in which he made use both of the public archives and of private family papers. He also showed great interest in the genealogies of Jewish families, which often throw light on obscure historical points. He contributed to the publication of cemetery inscriptions, and edited Glückel von Hameln's valuable diary, which throws considerable light upon the social history of the Jews in Germany in the seventeenth century."Culturgeschichte."
Attention has also been given to the "Culturgeschichte" of the Jews of the Middle Ages, chiefly by Güdemann, Berliner, and Israel Abrahams ("Jewish Life in the Middle Ages"). Work in this direction has also been undertaken by the various societies for the study of Jewish ecclesiastical art and folk-lore, especially that founded at Hamburg by Grunwald. As far as any general direction can be discerned at the present day in Jewish historiography, it is in the direction of the study of "Culturgeschichte" and constitutional history.
As regards the historical treatment of the Biblical phases of Jewish history, this has become part of general Biblical exegesis, and does not call for treatment in this place, especially as scarcely any Jewish writers have produced works of importance on this subject, Herzfeld being perhaps the only exception. The portion of Grätz's history relating to this subject is generally recognized to be the weakest side of his work. On the other hand, the studies of the development of the Jewish religion and literature, as by Zunz, Geiger, Weiss, Halévy, Karpeles, etc., can scarcely be regarded as history in the strict sense of the word (see Literature, Hebrew;
- Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, pp. 10, 29;
- Neubauer, M. J. C. vol. i., Preface;
- T. Reinach, Histoire des Israélites, 2d ed., 1903, Appendix;
- Jacobs, Jewish Ideals, pp. 234-242;
- M. Kayserling, in Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur, iii. 845-853.