The book ‘Jews, G*D & History’ by Max I. Dimont ~ my review for

by faithgibson on October 19, 2013

I have an original 1962 hardcopy of this book, with my mother’s name neatly penned on the inside cover. She gave it to me when I was a young adult. Reading it turn out to be a seminal event in my life, similar to my experience of Will Durant’s book “The Story of Philosophy“.

I love both of these books for each author’s ability to put Western culture in its religious and historically-accurate perspective. I was very proud to write my name in below my mother’s, and for “Jews, G*D and History” to become one of the timeless treasures on my bookshelf.

However, I recently re-discovered it as a Kindle 50th anniversary edition. What a wonderful pleasure to be able to highlight passages without defacing the hard-copy book AND to search the entire book for specific references.

I didn’t just re-read “Jews, G*D and History“, I studied it. With my Kindle iPad app, I carefully highlighted the most impactful or important information. While driving or working around the house, I listened to it as a MP3 file. Sometimes while listening in the evening, I read along with the written text, giving me a ‘multi-media’ immersion experience. When I finished, I longed for more, and so I began listening again to the version.

What it has to say that is so important….

The 4,000 year-old history of Judaism is the story of ideas, the intellect and the quality we now refer to as ‘ethics’ as the foundation for human culture in the West. This contrasts sharply with other historical accounts that attribute the shaping of human culture to the happenstance of geography, climate, kings (the ‘big man’ theory), or the exploits of war, where “might makes right”.

Judaism is the origin of Western ‘religion‘ in its original Latin meaning, re-ligio — to tie [ligate or ligature] back [re] together.


This word is meant to describe the ‘tie that binds‘ us together as a human species, as differentiated from the world of animals.

The core of this ethically-based sentiment forbids as immoral both cannibalism and human sacrifice, identifying such actions as ‘uncivilized’ and replacing them with individual and group consciousness that promote the goad of a civil society to include social justice, individual acts of mercy and and stewardship of resources.

True “re-ligio” has nothing to do with individual sectarian groups, or the propensity of misguided people in the name of ‘re-ligio’ to generate dogmas that splits individual people or groups into insiders and outsiders and then declares a ‘holy’ war on the ‘outside’ group.

Putting the word ‘re-ligio/ religion’ back into polite society 

Personally, I am taking the word “religion” back from those who have abused it. Historically, the word “religion’ has been mis-used to camouflage or sanctify discrimination, injustice, brutality, rape and murder.

In modern societies, the term is currently abused linguistically by making the idea of religion into something demeaning, offensive or (G*D forbid) the unforgivable social crime of anti-intellectualism.

Historical Judaism the headwaters of our system of ethics, jurisprudence and democratic governance

For all Western cultures, our system of ethics, jurisprudence and democratic governance came directly out of historic Judaism. For intelligent people not to know this fundamental fact of history is like not knowing anything about American history before 1950 —  a debilitating state of ignorance to be intellectually crippling.

In addition to the wealth of information about our cultural origins, “Jews, GOD and History” is also a beautifully written book. It provides a balanced view of the Jewish experience that praises when praiseworthy, and fearlessly points out the failings on those occasions when bad decisions resulted in harmful actions or historically bad outcomes. For the most part, this frequently involved a badly thought-out revolt against occupying forces (such as the overwhelming force of the entire Roman army)  that failed and triggered reprisals resulting in the whole sale slaughter of their own population.

About the Author

Its author Max I. Dimont is himself Jewish, born in Lithuania in 1912, which was at the time part of the Russian Empire. He was raised in Finland, but immigrated to the US with his parents and siblings at the age of 17. He taught himself English by reading the King James version of the Old and New Testament. This no doubt contributed to his deep understanding of Christianity in the context of the biblical record, and contributed to his ability to write about both religions in an affectionate and non-judgmental tones.

Jesus and early Christianity originally part of the Essene sect of Judaism

There is a popular (but completely false) notion that Judaism and Christianity each organized their beliefs around their mutual antiphony to one another. According to this inaccurate perspective,  the Judaism and Christianity identity of  both Judaism and Christianity was organized around their mutual antiphony to one another. In fact, the original parent religion (Judaism) and it’s daughter religion (Christianity) were, at their most fundamental level, a repudiation of polytheism, paganism, magical thinking, superstition and the institutionalizing of social injustice by freely exploiting its own species as a mechanism for promoting and protecting the well-being of the group (or its elite leaders) at the expense of its individual members.

Max Dimont’s information about Jesus as a historical figure, and the formation of early Christianity is particularly helpful, as what became a new world religion was originally an accepted sect of Judaism. To explain this, a bit of background information will be helpful.

At the inception of Christianity, there were three dominant Jewish sects — the Sadduces, the Pharisees, and the Essenes. However, the heritage of  modern Christians traces back to the Pharisees and the Essenes.

The Sadduces were the wealthier and politically more influential members of Jewish society — aristocratic leaders who were religiously ‘conservative’ or ‘literalists’. They were (no surprise!) the politically most powerful sect responsible for running of the Temple and heavily invested in maintaining the status quo, which was quite favorable to them.

Sadduce priests interpreted the Pentateuch (five books of the Law) and the Prophets (i.e. “Old Testament”) as a fixed document that was not to be seen as metaphoric or to be individually re-interpreted. As literalists, Sadduces did NOT believe in an afterlife. Politically, they generally ‘cooperated’ with the officials of the Roman occupation and were often resented by the Pharisiees and Essences.

The Pharisees represented what historians often call ‘commoners’ — the ordinary, non-wealthy, not-politically influential Jewish population. Pharisees related to the Law and the Prophets as metaphor, so its meaning could change with changing times. This allowed Pharisees to form their own opinions and one of those creative inferences was a belief in an afterlife.

In contemporary times, the word of “Pharisee” is often used as a derogatory slur meant to indicate someone who was crass, conniving or hypocritical. For example, tax-collecting was an exploitive occupation that paid itself out of tax monies extorted from its the people. No elite members of the Sadduces would ever take on such a job, so all tax-collectors came from the Pharisee sect. However the bad reputation was due to their reprehensible behavior as tax-collectors, and not because they were Pharisees.

In its historic time, Pharisees in general were the liberal democrats as seen from today’s perspective. and the sect and category of “Pharisee’ was a respectable part of mainstream culture.

Based on the teachings of Jesus as presented in the New Testament, Jesus’s family as commoners would have been members of the sect of Pharisees and had a metaphoric (i.e., not literalist) relationship with the Bible and believed in an after-life. Raised as a good Jew, Jesus would have been literate and a student of the Torah

The Essences were by far the smallest sect, and as separatists, were least politically influential of the three groups. However, the Essences  were the most liberal in interpretation of religious texts and most politically radical in putting these new ideas into action. This included a belief in an after-life as taught by the Pharisees, but one they took this idea a step farther by introducing a belief in hell and eternal damnation for the unrepentant.

At this time, the Jewish Bible (the Pentateuch and the Prophets) did NOT contain any reference to either Heaven or Hell as a destination for the soul after death. The Essences also believed in a divinely-sent messiah that they called the “Teacher of Righteousness”. This tradition included a prophecy that the Teacher of Righteousness would die a violent death at the hands of the “Sons of Darkness” (another non-biblical belief).

Followers of the Essences called themselves the “Elect of GOD” and believed their religious community represented a “New Covenant” (Moses having given the first covenant when he received the Ten Commandments). Those who wanted to join the Essenes were initiated through a new Jewish ritual — baptism — as a symbolic washing away of the older or ‘ungodly’ ways and beliefs, and signaled the initiate’s re-birth into the New Covenant.

John the Baptist was an Essene and it is likely that he, and perhaps Jesus, were somehow associated with an ancient Essene monastery later found in that area of Galilee.

However, almost everything known in modern times about Essene Judaism has come to light since 1947, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and eventually transcribed into modern languages. Understanding of this ancient sect places the life of John the Baptist and Jesus in a new frame of reference. From these manuscripts, it is clear that Christianity as we know it today is functionally a mirror image of Essene Judaism.

Anyone who identifies him or herself as a Christian (as a Mennonite, that includes me) traces the structure of their beliefs to a sect of Judaism, and thus is factually a Judeo-Christian. This is a very good reason to root out any lingering anti-Semitism that might besmirch the Christian branch of our shared faith.

Reading “Jews, G*D, and History” is like finding out for the first time that the US was originally an English colony and realizing that the reason we all speak English is because we are, culturally-speaking, English. In this case, Christianity is not “other” but was woven out of the historically rich fabric of Judaism.  Just as a child is forever the product and reflection of its parentage, Christianity will continue to be far more alike than different from its parent-religion.

As a Judeo-Christian society that wisely keeps it religion and government separate, it behooves us to be aware of our mutual beginnings and honor the many blessings that Judaism has bestowed on the Western world via its intellectual contributions of ethics, jurisprudence and democratic governance.

So don’t waste any more time reading this boring book review –> just download “Jews, GOD, and History”.

It’s what inquiring minds want to know!

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