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The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews
A History of the Beta Israel (Falasha) to 1920
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The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews is the most thorough, scholarly study of Beta Israel history within Ethiopia yet written. It traces the development of the Ethiopian Jews from their controversial origins to the beginning of the twentieth century. The author places their evolution firmly within the Ethiopian social, ethnic, religious, political, and historical context, using analytical tools such as caste, class, and ethnicity.
Quirin shows how the Ethiopian Jews struggled to maintain their identity in the face of external pressures from the Ethiopian state and the dominant Christian society from the fourteenth through the early seventeenth centuries. He then analyzes their loss of political independence and partial assimilation into the society and state of the Gondar dynasty during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They then faced new challenges and influences from European Protestant missionaries and western Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Quirin employs an exhaustive use of Ethiopian and European written sources, as well as an original and careful use of internal oral traditions obtained in interviews with scores of Beta Israel and other informants.
"A serious investigation into the origins, history, and development of the Beta Israel… [it] should prove of value to scholars in a wide range of disciplines."
– S.D. Benin
Choice Magazine‘ Readers interested in the background of [Beta Israel] will be well-advised to consult James’ Quirin’s The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews. It is a densely documented, thorough investigation of the history and fortunes of this community…a valuable contribution to the study, and the understanding, of this new and most exiting addition to Israel’s cultural tapestry."
– Nissim Rejwan, The Jerusalem Post
"Quirin’s long sojourn in Ethiopia and more than one year of field work in the country are fully reflected in his easy familiarity… particularly rich, detailed and valuable."
– Taddesse Tamrat, Journal of Religion in Africa
"Historical research of the highest quality."
– Christopher Clapham, Times Literary Supplement
"Meticulous historical analysis of the ethnogenesis of the Ethiopian Jews… a definitive work which should be important to several readerships….one of the best case studies of a long-term ethnic development and change which has yet appeared in the literature on Africa."
– Sidney R. Waldron, African Studies Review
"Courageous – for shedding the revealing light of scholarship upon an explosively emotional controversy in European societies…[it adds] to our conceptual understanding of a people’s construction, negotiating, presentation, power relations, and history of interactions with “others” regarding development and maintenance of ethnic boundaries for social identity."
– Frederick C. Gamst, American Anthropologist
"A comprehensive history of the Beta Israel was long overdue… James Quirin is particularly well qualified to produce such a work…his work breaks new round."
– Caroline Orwin, Journal of African History
"I was delighted by Quirin’s valuable insights and handling of known materials, and learned a great deal about how to rethink my own problems of interpreting medieval Ethiopian history while working on new critical editions of the Christian chronicles."
– Manfred Kropp, International Journal of African Historical Studies
"Quirin does a remarkable job synthesizing a wide range of historical and anthropological literature. By meticulously weaving the oral with the written, he has produced a richly detailed and carefully documented portrait of the Jews of Ethiopia. The analysis is tightly constructed and often illuminating…"
– Gebru Tareke, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
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