Historian Simon Schama’s new five-part PBS documentary “The Story of the Jews” explores the history of Jewish culture from ancient times to the present day. He joins us in the studio to talk about the series, and the two-volume illustrated companion book of the same title.

"The Story of the Jews" trailer

Simon Schama, professor of art history and history at Columbia University, author of 15 books and contributing editor of the Financial Times

  • menloman

    Forum has turned into Israeli radio. Those contributions sure buy coverage.

    • menloman

      Krasny disparages TS Eliot for being anti-Semitic. How so? According to Eliot, “The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate. What is still more important is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.”

      But Simon Schama worries that large numbers of Palastinians would also be undesirable. Why? “That’s not what Zionism was created for.”

      Despite the thin reasoning, it would appear that TS Eliot and Simon Schama are in agreement.

  • thucy

    Looking forward to the segment and Schama’s series. Just wondering: how did someone as mild-mannered as Schama inspire so many brilliant youtube parodies? The Schama spoofs by one of his supposed former students are some of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Is it true that Schama enjoys the spoofs? And what is that kid impersonating him doing these days? The kid is like a cross between Mick Jagger and a spastic muppet. The more professional “Dead Ringers” spoofs of schama are funny, too.

    Kind of wonder whether Schama’s historical “transgression” in penning the novelistic “Dead Certainties” was unconsciously linked to Mailer’s novelistic transgression in writing a history in “The Armies of the Night”? Did they ever meet? weren’t they both hanging around Harvard and Boston in the 1980s?

  • Guest

    I’ve been watching Schama’s many-part history of Britain, but have to say that his retelling of history seems to leave out as many details as it provides. It is a riveting but odd experience.
    Thus while I have hope that Schama will offer something interesting in the history of the Jews, I suspect he will do what all Jewish historians seem to do, except for a minority of Jews who are branded anti-Semites by Zionists, and leave out the entire period of the conversion of the nation of Khazaria to Judaism, or pretend that only a tiny part of the population was converted. The only way to explain why Eastern Europe had so many Jews before WWII is by pointing to Khazaria. Alas, that history does not fit into the fictional narratives provided by the Zionists.

    Shlomo Sand: Challenging notions of a Jewish People

  • Peter

    There is a widespread idea among the general public that the majority of Jews today are, for the most part, biological descendants of people who lived in the region of Palestine/Israel 3000 years ago. Can your guest tell us to what degree this is true?

    • Peter

      And then the guest just made a reference to “DNA swabs” of Spaniards to test Jewish ancestry. How does that work? Or does it tell anything at all?

    • Peter

      Thank you for reading this question on the air (starting at 35:09). After a lot of urgings to check the references in his book, the guest answers,
      “It’s essentially the male Y chromosome of the priestly subgroup of Jews which passes down intact from generation to generation, and that’s how that genetic map has been produced all the way down to tropical Africa, famously.”
      The priestly subgroup is a small minority of Jews today. I was asking about the majority. If their genetic descent is roughly some fraction from Palestine, some from Arabia, some from Crimea, some from North Africa, or whatever it is, or if there are significant genetic differences between Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Mizrahi Jews, he could have said that. Or he could have said we really don’t know. I’m not saying what the correct answer is, just saying that his answer was evasive and could have been more helpful.

  • Ben Rawner

    The Ethiopian Jews are always so fascinating to me. How did they come to be? And what kind of differences are there between them and the European Jews.

  • David AG

    will Simon ever make another documentary based on Art History like his Power of Art series?

    • MattCA12

      Yeah I loved that series. I’ve watched it with my children, too, and have seen their interest in art really take flight as a result of Schama’s captivating narrative ability.

  • Guest

    What does Simon think about David Cole’s presenting evidence of widespread deaths from typhus in the Názi concentration camps, rather than mass killings, and Soviet cover-ups about that for political purposes?

    • thucy

      Most of the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust were simply shot and put in mass graves. The horrific camps were the least of it. But it’s absurd to argue whether Jews killed by being forced into inhumane camp conditions that created lethal typhus cases rather than being gassed – in the end, it’s still genocide.

      • Guest

        I’ve said before that disease is not genocide, by definition. The Názis were clearly anti-Jewish despite Hitler’s trying to ship some of them to Palestine early on, and despite Hitler being descended from the Rothschilds, so yes there was much killing. But typhus did not have an opinion about whether a camp internee was gay, Gypsy, Communist or Jewish. The issue is whether the Germans let it (the deaths) happen on purpose.

  • trite

    To dismiss with a snigger the New Testament as a milky porridge is hardly an appropriate comment for a historian.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      And even more inappropriate for a Jewish academic. Never mind this milk porridge religion has more followers than Judaism and has altered the course of history in more ways than Judaism.

  • Guest

    What can Dr Schama tell us about the polytheism of the pre-Jewish Palestinian people before Hezekiah decreed that there would be only one god observed, making them what we today call Jewish?

  • bill

    I was born in Yemen from a mother whose background is Jewish and Arabs father
    I was taught when I was in high school in Yemen that Yemen was Jewish kingdom

  • Peter

    At 40:30, as part of his response to a question about boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, the guest says,
    “The more profound issue is, can Israel survive as a Jewish democracy with this enormous Palestinian population? The answer is, that was not how Zionism was created, nor was it done for that.”
    Well, that’s interesting, because it suggests the question: What were the founders of Zionism thinking? That Jews would move into a territory where nobody else lived? Or that they would bribe, trick, or force all the non-Jews in that territory to leave? The guest doesn’t take up this question, even though we’re listening to this program in order to learn about history from the distinguished professor.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor