In A History of Judaism, the scholar Martin Goodman attempts to compress his vast subject into a single volume. He does so with no small degree of success, writes Rivkah Fishman-Duker, who sees the book as a bold deviation from academics’ current allergy to writing broad, useful surveys of the subjects they study:
[U]niversity professors increasingly focus [in their teaching and writing] on specific issues, even minutiae, rather than dealing with more general questions; thus we seem to know more and more about less and less. [Therefore] Martin Goodman’s A History of Judaism has appeared not a moment too soon and represents a welcome antidote to trends dating back several decades. In this age of ultra-specialization and deconstruction, . . . it is an act of extraordinary intellectual courage that Goodman . . . has written A History of Judaism from its origins to the present.
The volume offers a comprehensive overview of the development of Jewish religion and thought without imposing either a tenuous uniformity or a disorientating fragmentation. This balanced approach avoids the pitfalls of . . . recent studies [presenting] a random collection of disparate movements, ideas, and events.
Goodman’s definition of his subject as a history of Judaism rather than a history of the Jews facilitates his approach. Since Judaism was and is created by Jews, the author includes historical events and trends that are essential as background for the development of the variety of Jewish movements, ideas, principles, and practices. Therefore, the reader benefits from a chronological and geographical framework that accompanies the presentation and analysis of the texts and their authors during a given time period.
The significance of integrating dates and facts, while interpreting and evaluating the content of the sources cannot be overemphasized. . . . Goodman’s solid treatment dispels fuzzy thinking and misleading ideas, and he deserves accolades for honest scholarship and cogent arguments based on a wide selection of sources.