KINGS OF THE JEWS by Norman Gelb


: Exploring the Origins of the Jewish Nation
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A readable look at the rulers of the Jewish people, spanning more than a millennium.

Gelb presents a compilation of the lives of Jewish rulers from ancient King Saul to the puppet ruler Agrippa, who saw Jerusalem fall to the Romans. The book profiles the dozens of men and two women who ruled over Judah, Israel or some other manifestation of the Jewish nation through a vast period of history. Ancient Jewish history is both well-documented and highly engaging, and Gelb takes advantage of both characteristics in crafting a book based upon these rulers’ lives. Whether the stories are well-known, such as David or Solomon, or more obscure, such as tongue-twister monarchs Jehoahaz or Pekahiah, the material is rich, epic and certain to maintain interest. Gelb’s narrative style is highly readable and holds the reader’s attention. The author also provides worthwhile historical background throughout, especially at crucial junctures such as the move to captivity in Babylon and the Maccabean Revolt. Though an instructive read, this book is not necessarily a fresh addition to the overall body of work in Jewish history. Indeed, most of what Gelb includes is found either in the Hebrew scriptures, i.e., the Old Testament, or the Apocrypha. Gelb’s contribution is not so much providing original research or fresh interpretation, but instead making this history more approachable to the modern reader, regardless of prior knowledge of Jewish history. Though the book is a history of the leaders of God’s chosen people, in Gelb’s chronicle, God has little or no agency. When God communicates or acts, it is only “According to the Bible” or as “The Bible describes.” As such, Gelb’s account is rooted deeply in historical critical methods, and readers of established personal faith may find it off-putting to some degree.

An interesting, approachable retelling of a well-established history.

Pub Date: July 31st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-595-46568-2
Program: Kirkus Indie
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