by James A. Michener
The format of this book is that of fifteen short stories
, each taking place in a different period of history
in Makor, a fictional site in Israel
. There are two common threads that link the stories together. One is the frame story, which is contained mostly in the initial and ultimate chapters, but is also interspersed with the stories. The other common thread is the family
of Ur, which has a direct male-line descendent
as a main character in every chapter, including the frame story. Each chapter is accompanied by a map of Makor at that time, and each describes a development in Judaism
or religion in general.
- The Tell (1964 CE): This chapter sets up the frame story of the archeological dig at Tell Makor in the Galilee.
- The Bee Eater (9831 BCE): Farming and domestication appear; a primitive religion begins in the idol-worship of a phallic monolith, El.
- Of Death and Life (2202 BCE)): A complex polytheistic religion is well established; Joktan the Habiru arrives, bringing with him the idea of a formless deity (rather than an idol).
- An Old Man and His God (1419 BCE): Zadok the Hebrew--a man similar to the Biblical figures Isaac, Jacob, and Moses--leads his people into Canaan, effectively beginning Jewish occupation of Makor.
- Psalm of the Hoopoe Bird (963 BCE): An engineer named Jabaal "the Hoopoe" contrives an ingenious defense for Makor's well. Jabaal worships both Yahweh, the Hebrew god, and Baal, the old pagan god. Gershom, fictional writer of the psalms, appears in Makor; later, King David also makes an appearance. This is easily my favorite chapter in the book--Jabaal's story could be a book on its own.
- The Voice of Gomer (606-604 BCE): Yahweh speaks directly to Gomer the old widow, ordering her to oppose the defense of Makor and tell the Hebrews to submit to His punishment, sent in the form of (d'oh) Nebuchadnezzar.
- In the Gymnasium (167 BCE): This chapter outlines the actual events that led up to the Jewish revolt against Antiochus IV: escalating persecution, attempts at integration, Jewish defiance, and, finally, open warfare.
- King of the Jews (4 BCE): This story is the (more or less) true tragedy of King Herod--his brutality and later insanity--from the point of view of an old and trusted friend of the King.
- Yigal and His Three Generals (40-67 CE): A Jew named Yigal stands up to the might of the Roman Empire--first with peace, and later with war. This chapter also deals with another insane ruler, Caligula.
- The Law (326-351 CE): A particularly good chapter during which Christianity rises in Makor, the Talmud is written, and the Jews of Makor come in conflict with the Byzantine authorities.
- A Day in the Life of a Desert Rider (635 CE): Islam rises. There is a very involved, soap-opera like story to this chapter, but the point of it is that Islam spreads into Makor.
- Volkmar (1096-1105 CE): The bloody and unsuccessful first years of the Crusades are described from the point of view of a skeptical German count.
- The Fires of Ma Coeur (1289-1291 CE): Count Volkmar's descendants now live at peace with their Arab neighbors and Mameluke rivals, but later Crusades destroy the new society.
- The Saintly Men of Safed (1525-1559 CE): This chapter deals with the systematic persecution of Jews in Medieval Spain and Italy.
- Twilight of an Empire (1876-1880 CE): Jews (among others) struggle under the horribly corrupt rule of the Turks, at the lowest point of their empire.
- Rebbe Itzik and the Sabra (1948 CE): The Israeli Independence War is occurring; many of the characters in this story are also characters in the "The Tell".
- The Tell (1964 CE): Basically the epilogue.
This is an excellent book (though not great literature)
that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about Jewish history. There are also chapters significant to the development of Islam and Chrisitanity, but the book is primarily about the Jews.