The Story of the Jews

We caught 1 1/2 of the first 2 hours of the Simon Schama “Story of the Jews” on PBS last night.

In its typical “f*ck the viewers” fashion, PBS ran 2 hours last night and will run the final 3 hours back-to-back-to-back next Tuesday night, with re-broadcasts running in the middle of the night.

Complaints about the broadcast schedule aside, it’s a worthwhile program.  Schama, a British Jew and noted historian, takes a very personal, eclectic approach to the history of the Jewish people.  Even if you think you’re well informed, there’s a lot here you probably didn’t know.  I’d never heard about the Egyptian Jewish community of Elephantine, for example.   Some of Schama’s assertions are contentious (the Romans might be politically gone, but their influence on our culture prevails), but he is unfailingly interesting.

In one segment, Schama refers to the Talmud as “hypertext,” which I think is exactly right.  Unlike Christian and Muslim sacred texts, which are considered inerrant and unvarying, the Talmud incorporates scholarly commentary and disputation as part of the text — a distinction not always understood by those outside the Jewish community.

So give it a try.  Think of it as Cosmos for history geeks.

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