The George Washington Universiy
History 161: Jewish Historical Writing
Fall 2003

Professor Marc Saperstein

This course is being offered in conjunction with Prometheus. Every student registered for the course will receive a password to access the course on the web. More detailed information about individual sessions, links for additional resources, and a chat room for discussing issues pertaining to the course, will be available.

A survey of Jewish attitudes toward history and examples of Jewish historiography beginning with the Hebrew Bible. Emphasis will be placed on medieval and Renaissance historians, and on the flourishing of historical writing in the past 150 years in Europe, in Israel, and in the United States.

Required Texts:

Michael Meyer, Ideas of Jewish History

Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

David N. Myers and David B. Ruderman, editors, The Jewish Past Revisited: Reflections on Modern Jewish Historians

The Holy Scriptures (this has not been ordered in the Book Store. If you do not have a copy of your own, take one out of Gelman. Any translation will do. You will need it for the first two weeks of class.)

Readings marked "(Collection of Sources)" will be available in the Judaic Studies Building (2142 G Street) for students to borrow and photo-reproduce.

Course Outline

1. Tu, Sept 2: Introduction to the Course: Historical Consciousness, Historical Memory, Historical Writing

2. Th, Sept 4: Biblical Tellings and Re-Tellings


Numbers 21:21-32, Deuteronomy 2:16-37, Judges chapter 11

Yerushalmi, pp. 5- 15 top

3. Tu, Sept 9: Narratives of Triumph and Defeat


Judges chapters 1- 3, 2 Kings chapters 22- 25

Meyer, pp. 1- 8 top

4. Th, Sept 11: Overviews of Biblical History


Deuteronomy 31:14-32:47, Ps. 78.

Sara Japhet, in The Jewish Past Revisited, pp. 212- 33

5. Tu, Sept 16: Hellenistic Jewish Historiography


Meyer, pp. 8-11, 45- 63

Josephus on Masada (The Jewish War, Book 7, chaps. 8- 9): link on Prometheus

Yerushalmi, p. 16

Martha Himmelfarb on Bickerman in The Jewish Past Revisited, pp. 199-211

6. Th, Sept 18: Rabbinic Attitudes and Historical Writing


Meyer, 71- 77

Yerushalmi, 16- 26

Rabbinic Texts and Other Texts on the Bar Kokhba Revolt (from Yigal Yadin, Bar Kokhba, pp. 255- 59 (Collection of Sources)

Due in class: a 3-4 page comparison of the rabbinic sources on Bar Kokhba with the passages from the Roman and the Christian historian. This will not be accepted late, as the material will be discussed in class.

7. Tu, Sept 23: Karaites and Rabbanites on Jewish Tradition


Meyer, 78-82 (David ibn Daud)

Ibn Daud on Samuel ibn Nagrela (link on Prometheus)

Jacob Kirkisani: Karaite Historical Writing (Collection of Sources).

8. Th, Sept 25: Medieval Jewish Historical Writing


Meyer, 83- 102 (Scroll of Ahimaaz, Crusade Chronicles)

Yerushalmi, 31- 52

9. Tu, Sept 30: 16th-Century Sephardic Historians


Meyer, 105- 14 (Usque, Ibn Verga)

Yerushalmi, 55-69 middle

10. Th, Oct 2 - 16th and 17th century Italian and Ashkenazic Historians


Meyer, 115-37 (Azariah de’ Rossi , David Gans, Nathan Hanover)

Yerushalmi, 69-75

Due in class: a 3-4 page analysis of the material from David Gans (Meyer, pp. 128-32) and what it reveals about him as a historian. This will not be accepted late, as the material will be discussed in class.

11. Tu, Oct 7: New Beginnings in the Nineteenth Century


Meyer, pp. 141- 72 (Wolf, Zunz, Geiger)

Yerushalmi, 81-89 middle

12. Th, Oct 9: The "Science of Judaism" continued


Meyer, 175- 214 (Jost, Krochmal)

13. Tu, Oct 14: Heinrich Graetz


Meyer, pp. 217- 44

Graetz on Pope Innocent III, Martin Luther, and the Need for Reform in Judaism (Collection of Sources)

Due in class: a 3-4 page exercise on Graetz's description of Innocent III or Martin Luther (compare with an article in a general Encyclopedia). This will not be accepted late, as the material will be discussed in class

14. Th, Oct 16: Zionist Historians: Gershom Scholem


Scholem: "Reflections on Modern Jewish Studies," "The Science of Judaism, Then and Now," Selections from Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah - Collection

Moshe Idel on Scholem in The Jewish Past Revisited, pp. 39- 76

15. Tu, Oct 21: Zionist Historians: Ben Zion Dinur


Meyer, pp. 284- 98.

Dinur, "Jewish History--Its Uniqueness and Continuity," and "The Beginning of the Modern Period in Jewish History" -- Collection of Sources [consider eliminating first of these, duplicates Meyer reading]

David Myers on Dinur in The Jewish Past Revisited, pp. 88- 103

Yerushalmi, pp. 89- 103

16. Th, Oct 23: Zionist Historians: Baer


Yitzhak Baer, Galut, pp. 16-21, 109-23; History of the Jews in Christian Spain, 2:437- 43 (Collection of Sources)

Yisrael Yuval on Baer in The Jewish Past Revisited, pp. 77- 87

17. Tu, Oct 28: Diaspora Historians: Israel Abrahams


Abrahams, Introd. to Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, pp. 1-11; "The Sorrow of Tatnu" in By-Paths in Jewish Bookland, pp. 67- 73 (Collection of Sources)

Elliot Horowitz on Abrahams in The Jewish Past Revisited, pp. 143- 62

18. Th, Oct 30: Diaspora Historians: Cecil Roth


Cecil Roth, "The Unassimilable Jew" and "The Medieval Conception of the Jew" in Personalities and Events in Jewish History, pp. 37-68 (Collection of Sources).

David Ruderman on Cecil Roth in The Jewish Past Revisited, pp. 128- 42

Statement of Final Paper Topic Should Be Submitted to Instructor

19. Tu, Nov 4: S. W. Baron: The Last to Cover It All?


Meyer, pp. 319- 35

S. W. Baron, "Ghetto and Emancipation," from The Menorah Journal, pp. 50-63 (Collection of Sources).

Ellis Rivkin, "The Writing of Jewish History," Review of Baron’s Social and Religious History of the Jews, vols. 3- 8 (June, 1962) (Collection of Sources)

20. Th, Nov 6: Jacob Rader Marcus and American Jewish History


Jacob Rader Marcus, "The Periodization of American Jewish History," and "The Theme in American Jewish History," in Studies in American Jewish History, pp. 3- 22 (Collection of Sources).

Recommended: Marc Saperstein, Introduction to Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World, revised edition (1999)

21. Tu, Nov 11: Socio-Economic Dimensions: Dubnow, Mahler


Meyer, pp. 247- 69, 299- 316

Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, 1:66- 70, 139- 44 (Collection)

22. Th, Nov 13: S. D. Goitein: Social History in the Islamic Context


Goitein, A Mediterranean Society 3:160- 79, 5:307- 23 (Collection of Sources)

Gideon Libson on Goitein in The Jewish Past Revisited, pp. 163- 98

23. Tu, Nov 18: Jacob Katz: Social History in the East European Context


Katz, Tradition and Crisis, pp. 3- 9, 113- 24 (The Family) (Collection of Sources)

Katz, Out of the Ghetto pp. 176- 90 (Jewish Occupations) (Collection)

24. Th, Nov 20: Jewish Feminist Historiography


Judith Plaskow, Standing Again At Sinai, pp. 25- 53 (Collection)

Paula Hyman, "Feminist Studies and Modern Jewish History" (Collection)

25. Tu, Nov. 25: Israeli "New Historians"


Simha Flappan, The Birth of Israel: Myth and Realities, "Introduction" and "Conclusion"

Derek Penslar on Zionist Narratives in The Jewish Past Revisited, pp. 104- 27.

26. Happy Thanksgiving

27. Tu, Dec 2: Student Presentations

28. Th, Dec 4: Student Presentations

29. Tu, Dec. 9: Student Presentations if necessary

30. Th, Dec 11: Final papers due by 5:00 at 2142 G Street


Requirements for the Course

1. Regular attendance, careful and timely preparation of readings in accordance with the above schedule, participation in class discussion. (10% of final grade)

2. Three short written exercises (each 3-4 pages), as assigned above, one on rabbinic texts, one on a passage by a sixteenth-century Jewish written, one on Graetz. (each one: 10% of final grade)

3. A presentation to be made during the last weeks of class, based on the final paper (see below). This should be no more than 15 minutes long, including discussion. An annotated bibliography and an illustrative passage of text should be distributed. (10 of final grade)

4. A final paper on the work of one modern Jewish historian (19th or 20th century), the choice to be approved by the instructor. (50% of final grade) Approximate length: 15- 20 pages. The paper should review the major works, discuss the dominant interests, recurrent themes, ideological biases, distinctive methodologies, influence by and relationship to other historians (Jewish and non-Jewish), and other issues discussed in the course. It should be based primarily on the work written by the historian, not on studies by other scholars; the student must read widely beyond the passages assigned for class. Any of the historians listed above may be chosen; other possibilities include:

Robert Chazan, Gerson Cohen, Lucy Dawidowicz, Paula Hyman, Bernard Lewis, Michael Meyer, Jacob Neusner, Raphael Patai, Ellis Rivkin, David Ruderman, Howard Sachar, Selma Stern (German desirable), Joseph Shatzmiller (French desirable), Yosef Yerushalmi, Solomon Zeitlin

A statement of the paper topic, with preliminary bibliography, should be submitted to the instructor by October 30.

Instructor's Office Hours are Wednesdays from 2:00-3:30, in Phillips 313 (History Department), and Thursdays from 3:30-5:00 in 2142 G Street, second floor (Judaic Studies Building). Students are welcome and encouraged to come and discuss any issues arising from the material of the course.

In order to receive accommodations on the basis of disability, students with special needs must give notice and provide proper documentation to the Office of Disability Support Services, Marvin Center 436, 994-8250.

Additional bibliography for most sessions will be listed on Prometheus for further exploration.

Additional Bibliography (see also Meyer, pp. 353-57). For use in reports or paper, or for further explorations).

Week 1 and 2: Bible

E. C. Dentan, ed., The Idea of History in the Ancient Near East (New Haven: 1955).

Michael Grant, "The Near Eastern Background," in The Ancient Historians, pp. 3-14

E. A. Speiser, "The Biblical Idea of History in its Common Near Eastern Setting," in The Jewish Expression, ed. Judah Goldin, pp. 1-17.

Week 3: Hellenistic

Tessa Rajak, Josephus: The Historian and His Society (1983), esp. chap 4, "Josephus’ Interpretation of the Jewish Revolt."

S. J. D. Cohen, "Josephus, Jeremiah and Polybius," in History and Theory 21 (1982): 366-81.

S. J. D. Cohen, "History and Historiography in the Against Apion of Josephus, in Essays in Jewish Historiography, ed. Ada Rapoport-Albert, pp. 1-11.

Week 5: Karaites and Rabbanites

Bruno Chiesa, "A Note on Early Karaite Historiography," in Essays in Jewish Historiography, ed. Ada Rapoport-Albert, pp. 56-65.

Fred Astren, "History or Philosophy? The Construction of the Past in Medieval Karaite Judaism," in Medieval Encounters 1 (1995): 114-43.

Gerson Cohen, introduction to his edition of ibn Daud’s The Book of Tradition.

Week 6: Crusade chronicles

Ivan Marcus, "History, Story and Collective Memory: Narrativity in Early Ashkenazic Culture," Prooftexts 10 (1990): 365-88.

Robert Chazan, "The Facticity of Medieval Hebrew Narrative: A Case Study of the Hebrew First Crusade Narratives," AJS Review 16 (1991): 31-56.

Week 7: 16th Century Sephardic

Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, The Lisbon Massacre of 1506 and the Royal Image in Shevet Yehudah (Cincinnati: 1976).

Martin Cohen’s introduction to his edition of Usque’s Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel (Philadelphia: 1964).

Primary Text: Joseph Ha-Kohen, The Vale of Tears (The Hague: 1971).

Week 8: 16th-17th Century Italian and Ashkenazic

Lester A. Segal, Historical Consciousness and Religious Tradition in Azariah de’ Rossi’s Me’or ‘Einayim (Philadelphia: 1989).

Mordecai Breuer, "Modernism and Traditionalism in Sixteenth-Century Jewish Historiography: A Study of David Gans’ Tzemah David in Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, ed. B. Cooperman (Cambridge, MA, 1983), pp. 49-88.

Raba, Joel, Between Remembrance and Denial: The Fate of Jews in the Wars of the Polish Commonwealth During the Mid 17th Century as Shown in Contemporary Writings and Historical Research, East European Monographs, 1995.

Weeks 9 and 10: (Wissenschaft, including Graetz)

Ismar Schorsch, From Text to Context: The Turn to History in Modern Judaism (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1994). Essays on 19th-century historical writing.

Jonathan Frankel, ed. Reshaping the Past: Jewish History and the Historians, vol. 10 of Studies in Contemporary Jewry (Oxford, OUP, 1994). On 19th and 20th century material, including Wissenschaft, Zionist, Holocaust, Orthodox Historiography.

Susannah Heschel, Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus. Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. xii, 317 pp.

Week 11: Dubnow

Sophie Dubnow-Erlich, The Life and Work of S. N. Dubnow: Diaspora Nationalism and Jewish History (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1991 [1950]).

David Weinberg, Between Tradition and Modernity (New York: 1996), chap. 3 on Dubnow.

Week 12: Zionist Historians

David N. Myers, Re-Inventing the Jewish Past: European Jewish Intellectuals and the Zionist Return to History (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). On Institute for Jewish Studies: origins (1882-1924) and early years (1924-1948). Chapters on Baer, Dinur, Scholem.

History and Memory 7 (1995): "Israeli Historiography Revisited"

Weeks 13-14: Diaspora Historians

Robert Liberles, Salo Whittmayer Baron: Architect of Jewish History (New York: NYU Press, 1995).

Three articles on Baron as historian in AJS Review 18 (1993): 1-50.

Randall Falk, Bright Eminence: The Life and Thought of Jacob Rader Marcus (Malibu, CA: Pangloss, 1994).

Irene Roth, Cecil Roth, Historian Without Tears (New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, Inc.), 1982). (a memoir, not academic analysis of his work)