An intriguing, though perhaps incomplete, look at two cultures colliding and coexisting.



An exploration of the effects of Roman-era culture on Judaism.

Visotzky (Midrash and Interreligious Studies/Jewish Theological Seminary; Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud, 2011, etc.) convincingly argues that, from C.E. 70 onward, Judaism was greatly influenced by the Roman culture surrounding it. He is less successful in tying that history to Judaism as experienced today. It is widely understood that with the first-century destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Judaism transformed into a Scripture-based, synagogue-centered religion. The author asserts that Roman culture had a far greater bearing on the formation of this renewed Judaism than most experts believe. He couches much of his thesis in the intriguing fact that the Jews of the time saw the Romans as the children of Esau, twin brother to Jacob, the father of the Israelites. Therefore, to the Jews, the Romans were at once siblings and enemies. “It strikes me that in this choice of Esau as the symbol of Rome,” writes Visotzky, “the rabbis gave voice to the complexity of their relationship.” What Judaism borrowed from Rome seems mainly to have been aspects of learned or upper-class lifestyles. For instance, the author notes that the rabbis learned the art and value of rhetoric from the Romans, and they used the teachings of philosophical schools, such as the Stoics and the writings of Plato. They also adopted Roman architecture, as seen in early synagogues, and Roman art. The competition among Latin, Greek, and Hebrew is another important piece of the author’s discussion. Visotzky spends less effort in finding ways in which Roman culture touched working-class Jews or how it still resonates in modern Judaism. However, his personal exploration of Jewish catacombs does provide a touching example of how all Jews in the Roman Empire were touched by Roman culture and language. Plus, his theory that the modern Seder is a product of the Roman Symposium is certainly food for thought.

An intriguing, though perhaps incomplete, look at two cultures colliding and coexisting.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-08576-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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