History and Jewish Historians: Essays and Addresses

History and Jewish Historians: Essays and Addresses

History and Jewish Historians: Essays and Addresses

History and Jewish Historians: Essays and Addresses

Excerpt

A history of history is an excellent mirror of the changing attitudes of human societies. Even if dealing with the same events and historical trends, successive historians have differed in their evaluation not only because of their different personal philosophies and attitudes, but also because they shared the dominant values and approaches of their respective generations. Most fascinating has been especially the transition from the full or partial acceptance of old legends by the medieval writers to the critical, sometimes overcritical, separation of fact from folklore by the nineteenth-century historians and to the ultimate, more tempered acceptance of both as significant phenomena of human experience, characteristic of our own time. One need not share Goethe's extreme criticism of the new critical approaches which, in his opinion, "through some pedantic truth had displaced something great and of superior value for us," and yet embrace ancient legends as an independent source of understanding of the human or Jewish appreciation of the past. That is why the mixture of history and legend characteristic of "The Historical Outlook of Maimonides" is as much part of the Jewish views of history as are the interpretations of the more critical schools of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

It has long been felt, therefore, that a comprehensive history of Jewish historiography would fill an important lacuna in Jewish learning. Thus far Moritz Steinschneider's Geschichtsliteratur der Juden is the only available full-length study. But as mentioned below (Essay 12) this volume offers in the main a bibliographical survey rather than a comprehensive historical analysis. Otherwise we are still limited to a few critical studies of individual historians, such as are included in the present collection which, it is hoped, may furnish . . .

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