The Source by James A. Michener

This is a large historical novel by James Michener about the land of Israel. Its setting is in a fictitious tell (ancient mound in the Middle East) of Makor. From this vantage point Michener traces, episodically, the history of the land of Israel. That is, he does not deal with continuous history, but he dips in and gives a glimpse of the land at various times. The book was published in 1965, so it only goes through the early 1960s.

Through the chapters, the reader gets a good idea of life in the land thousands of years before Christ; life in the land during the time of King David; life in the land during the 600s B.C.; life during the Hellenistic times, about 170 B.C.; life about the time of Jesus’ birth in 4 B.C.; life during the Roman period, 66 A.D., shortly before Rome was destroyed; life about 335 A.D., during the Byzantine Period; life about 644 A.D., the arrival of Islam; life about 1100 with the Crusaders; life in the 1200s; life about 1291 as the Crusade continues in the land; life during Ottoman rule in the 1400s; life about 1880, when more Jews were beginning to return to the land; and then finally life in 1948, during the battle for independence.

In some ways, this is a collection of novellas rather than a continuous novel. Although most of the characters are fictitious there are some historical characters who populate the work, such as Rabbi Akiva, King David, Herod the Great, Emperor Vespasian, Josephus, Moses, Maimonides. And, as always with Michener’s works, the story is true to life and representative of how life was in the various historical periods.

To tell the story, Michener ranges far away from the fictitious city of Makor and includes life in other cities of Israel, at times branching out to Russia and to Spain. Michener certainly conveys the idea of the persecution and difficulties of the Jews throughout the centuries, including persecution in ancient times, the Spanish Inquisition, persecutions in Europe during the Middle Ages, and some references to the Holocaust of the 20th century

Michener is a great writer. He is continually fascinating and the reader learns a ton about Israel and the Jews.