This mishmash of history and biblical scholarship attempts to counter current prevalent stereotypes of Jews and assumptions about Judaism.
In the face of the dogged stereotype of the “pious and prayerful” Jew, Kirsch (King David, 2000, etc.) contends that there never has been a single “correct” Jewish faith, practice, or race. Although he frames the whole argument using the example of Sarah, a woman who dared to laugh at a vengeful God, the enormity of the topic keeps overflowing this frame, and the chapters jerk along from topic to topic and century to century with either too much or too little explication. Kirsch’s enthusiasm never flags. From the discovery of abundant ancient fertility figurines (“teraphim”) in sites all over Israel, Kirsch extrapolates the existence of a people who were “bold, curious, and daring.” When it comes to toughness, too, the Jews got there first; according to Kirsch, the Sicarii, Jewish assassins who operated during the Roman rule of Judea, “literally invented the art of political terrorism.” More frustrating than this boosterism is the fact that Kirsch’s “untold history” has in fact been told countless times and will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in Jewish culture. Some of the author’s revelations include the fact that the Bible had many authors over a long period of time; that those authors may have included one or more women; that some of the patriarchs married non-Jews; and that false messiahs appearing through the ages have often enjoyed great success. Kirsch’s breathless tone as he whips aside curtain after curtain to reveal the obvious is grating, and the labor needed to follow his logic exhausting.
Good for entirely ignorant souls seeking a shallow survey of piquant Jewish historical moments and characters. Serious readers should look elsewhere.