The Source by James Michener

Summary
  1. A historical novel by Michener is a survey of the Jewish people and the land of Israel from pre-history to the birth of Israel
Key Takeaways
  1. that work, productive work, is the salvation of man, and especially of the Jew.
  2. Symphonies and cathedrals are not built by the children of upper-middle-class families. They’re built by the units we saw tonight. You need these people very much, Cullinane, but we can’t spare them and you’re too frightened to take them.”
  3. But the fear which the family was now discovering was of another kind: it sprang from the slow-maturing apprehension regarding the relationship of man to his world, the gnawing suspicion that perhaps things were not so simple as they seemed on this average autumn day when ripening grain hid in the stalks and a rumor of deer echoed in the forest.
  4. it was a rule of life that the Family of Ur was discovering: the more committed a family becomes to a given project, the more vulnerable it also becomes. Having partially conquered nature, they were now a prey to it.
  5. It was instructive and accurate to imagine earliest man as living for most of his first two million years within an insulation of stupidity, not fully differentiating himself from the physical world, the spiritual world, or the world of the other sentient animals.
  6. A woman requires jewelry as a man requires food. Still, he thought, it was remarkable and a mystery not yet explained why contemporary men, who could watch the birds and animals and see that it was the male who was gaudy in decoration, had decided that among human beings this fundamental law should be reversed.
  7. The beauty of this new device was that its curved tip sought out the stalks of wheat and brought them to the cutting edge, as if a man’s arm had been extended enormously. Entire families from the cave came to stand and watch enviously as the boy’s mother swung her arm in extensive circles, gathering the wheat to her and cutting it with an unbroken motion. It was miraculous.
    1. NOTE: the raw power of technology. man is a tool building creature
  1. And the anguish that Ur knew that night—the mystery of death, the triumph of evil, the terrible loneliness of being alone, the discovery that self of itself is insufficient—is the anxiety that torments the world to this day.
  2. She was reluctant to think that the moral structure of a town could determine the kind of people who lived therein, but that appeared to be the case.
  3. “El has no home, for he is everywhere.” This simple idea reached Timna’s inquisitive mind like sunshine after storm, like a rainbow after a fall of cold rain. She recognized Joktan’s explanation as the concept she had been groping for: a solitary god of no form, residing in no monolith, with no specific voice.
  4. For the past three thousand years copper tools had been known in these regions, and at least two thousand years ago smithies in the towns had discovered that if they mixed one part of tin to nine parts of copper they could produce bronze, which was harder than either of the original component metals used alone.
  5. He was a most difficult god to understand. He was incorporeal, yet he spoke. He was invisible, yet he could move as a pillar of fire. He was all-powerful, yet he tolerated the lesser gods of the Canaanites. He controlled the lives of men, yet he encouraged them to exercise their own judgment. He was benevolent, yet he could command the extinction of an entire town—as he had done with the town of Timri when Zadok had been a child of seven. He lived in all places, yet he was peculiarly the god of this one group of Hebrews. He was a jealous god, yet he allowed non-Hebrews to worship whatever lesser gods they pleased.
  6. Reliance upon El-Shaddai, the unseen, the unknown, was a religion requiring the most exquisite faith, for at no point in their lives could these lonely travelers be sure;
  7. The Hebrews insisted upon the circumcision of their men for a logical reason: it not only formed a covenant between the man and El-Shaddai, an unbreakable allegiance whose mark remained forever, but it also had the practical value of indicating without question or quibble the fact that the man so marked was a Hebrew. In war against the uncircumcised the coward might want to run away and later on deny that he had been a Hebrew. His captors had only to inspect him to prove he was a liar, so the circumcised man had better fight to the death because for him there was no masking his identity.
  8. Deuteronomy was a living book and to the living Jew it had contemporary force.
  9. Makor now contained more than one hundred and eighty houses and the greatest internal population it would know—nearly fourteen hundred persons. Another five hundred farmers lived outside the walls, which were broken by two large gates built of oak imported from Tyre.
    1. NOTE: reminds me of my recent trip to fort city Jaisalmer
  1. The Hebrews, on the other hand, beginning with the same god having the same attributes, had freed him of limiting characteristics, launching a process that would ultimately transform him into an infinite god of infinite power. Each modification the Hebrews introduced in the desert years intensified the abstract powers of El. They called him Elohim, all the gods; or Elyon, the most high; or El-Shaddai, the god almighty. And soon they would end by dropping the El altogether and calling him by no name at all, representing him only by the mysterious, unpronounceable letters YHWH, whereupon his transformation would be complete. But later generations would back away from the austere Hebrew apotheosis and would once more give him a name: God.
  2. The complaisant town of Makor with its amiable gods could never have produced Yahweh; that transformation required the captivity in Egypt, the conflict with the Pharaohs, the exodus, the years of hunger and thirst in the desert, the longing for a settled home and the spiritual yearning for a known god … these were the things required for the forging of Yahweh.
  3. Most of all, he could see that Greek life centered on the temple of Zeus, which no one took seriously, and on the gymnasium, which everyone did, whereas the Jews clung to their plain old synagogue; but he did not appreciate the fact that these differences were fundamental.
  4. “Wisdom is still the only thing, if with wisdom you also get understanding.”
  5. Thus the greatest of gods was called YHWH, which had no pronunciation; he was known to ordinary Jews as Adonai, which was purely arbitrary; and he would conquer the world as Jehovah, a name which had never belonged to him or to anything else.
  6. Men who had never played games would not have recognized this smile, but anyone who, like the gymnasiarch, had engaged in athletic contests most of his life would observe it with respect, because it was from such self-confidence that victory was built.
  7. When I was your age I fought like a warrior, but I also studied and the time came when the empire needed a governor, and I was chosen. But I had won the office long before.
  8. “We must be prudent, for he that is slow to anger is stronger than the mighty, and he who controls his temper is more powerful than he who rules a city.”
  9. It is ironic that I should now be imprisoned in this temple, but if it is true that each man in this life builds his own prison, and inhabits it the way crawling fish inhabit shells along the beach at Caesarea, then I have built for myself an exquisite jail, exactly suited to the kind of man I have always wanted to be.
  10. “A man is never old if he can still be moved emotionally by a woman of his own age.”
  11. “Where do these Jews find their arrogance?” “They’ve always been stubborn,” Trajan said. “They want few things, but those few they insist upon.”
  12. began a sequence of events which, involving
  13. “You children may live your lives as slaves in some far country,” he said with little outward emotion, “and it may be difficult for you to remain Jews. But if you remember only two things it will be easy to be faithful. There is but one God. He has no assistants, no separations, no form, no personality. He is God, one and alone. The second thing never to forget is that God has chosen Israel for special duties and responsibilities. Perform them well.”
  14. “Deal leniently with others but strictly with yourself.”
  15. For what the rabbis were doing, in part consciously and in part unconsciously, was to create a body of law that would bind the Jews together as they went into exile to the Diaspora.
  16. Without a homeland the Jews would live within their law and become a nation mightier than those which had oppressed them.
  17. Gentiles, observing their homelessness, would construct the myth of the Wandering Jew, but in reality this phrase was meaningless, for no matter where the Jew wandered, if he took with him the Talmud he was home.
  18. A man who laughs is more to be cherished than one who weeps; a woman who sings, than one who wails. And God is very close to the child who dances for reasons which he cannot explain.”
  19. Humbly the Roman asked, ‘Then what is the law?’ And Gimzo said quietly, ‘It’s doing the best we can to ascertain God’s intention, for there were indeed two men on a roof, and they did climb down the same chimney. The first man emerged completely clean while it was the second who was covered with soot, and neither man washed his face, because you forgot to ask me whether there was any water in the basin. There was none.’
  20. And Menahem, who at twenty-five had been driven to consider truth for himself, threw back what would become the timeless answer of the Christian: “God intended salvation to be within the reach of anyone: even me.
  21. “The money we’ll find somehow,” he promised, and John experienced what he had not known before: men who loved beauty as an enhancement of life.
  22. He stopped and buried his face in his hands, like an animal that has been wounded from an unknown quarter, and he knew then that he would never be free to leave Makor, since he was now as firmly bound to the basilica as he had been to the synagogue, for when a man builds a place of worship he walls himself inside.
  23. The difference between Christian law and Jewish would be this: to enforce their law the Jews, who would never be in supreme political control, would be limited to public opinion including such punishments as ostracism, as great minds like Baruch Spinoza would discover; but the Christians, to enforce theirs, would be free, since they would enjoy supreme power, to use strangulation, burning and the extirpation of entire provinces.
  24. The destruction could not be halted, for the hatred of the imperial troops was directed against abstract ideas: not Jews but the places where they worshiped, the homes where they lived.
  25. For the Prophet had said that when God created men he lifted dust from all parts of the earth, and some was black and some red and some white, but all men were made of that dust and all were therefore brothers.
  26. And so as Muslim troops approached from the east on that mighty conquest which would terminate the power of Byzantium in the Galilee, the citizens of that contentious area continued their bitter arguments over the nature of Christ, not realizing that they were engaged in an extension of the same argument that had agitated Makor in the days when the young Jew Menahem ben Yohanan joined the new church as Mark, and the debate was no more trivial now than it had been then: it was an effort to build a base from which Christianity could conquer the world. If one considered Jesus to be all man, His divinity was rendered meaningless, while the miracle of Mary as the Mother of God vanished; on the other hand, if one argued that He was all God, the significance of human redemption was diminished and the crucifixion could be interpreted merely as a device adopted by God to prove a point: no human suffering or agony need be involved. However, if a concept of Jesus could be evolved whereby His substance, His nature and His will could all be accepted as both divine and human, then Christianity would have acquired a subtle unifying principle upon which enormous structures of faith and philosophies of life could be built.
  1. “If a man asks for fifteen pieces, give him sixteen … if you expect to do business with him again.”
What I got out of it
  1. A pretty good book which gives a lot of great historical context in a fictional setting in a way only Michener can do