Miri Rubin

Book of Exile

The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BCE–1492 CE


The Bodley Head 496pp £25 order from our bookshop

In a highly influential little book, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (1982), the American historian Yosef Yerushalmi argued that history writing had all but disappeared from Jewish culture for well over a millennium following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. This was a dramatic rupture within a culture steeped in historical consciousness and injunctions to remember. While the feats of kings and their conquests were recorded in the biblical books of Chronicles, these were not the subject of ethical reflection. The 169 instances when the Israelites are commanded to remember concern not what happened – what the Romans would call res gestae – but how it happened: ‘Beware lest you forget the Lord, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt’ (Deut 6:12). Memory was the unfolding of a relationship between a people, its God and the providential patterns of time. The loss of sovereignty and communal worship following the Roman conquest and the exile from Judaea inspired the last act of historical writing: Flavius Josephus’s The Jewish War and The Antiquities of the Jews (AD 75–9 and AD 93–4 respectively)

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,