Jerusalem Imperiled

Jerusalem Imperiled

The year is 66 AD. Jerusalem is in the grip of the corrupt, venal Procurator, Gessius Florus. The city is torn between political, religious and revolutionary groups struggling for dominance. The Procurator’s iron grip overshadows all.
Tensions in the city are inflamed by Meir ben-Batiach, a giant of a young man who dreams of freeing his country from the occupiers’ rule. His uncle, Yohanan Ben Zakkai, a highly respected rabbi seeks a negotiated peace. Uncle and nephew, statesman and revolutionary are thrown together in an unlikely alliance.
A wealthy merchant marries his daughter, Nechama, to Levi, the son of a priest. At the wedding party the merchant humiliates a long standing enemy who takes his revenge by laying trumped up charges with the Procurator. The newlyweds are taken captive, separated from each other, sold into slavery and shipped to Rome.
From his vantage point as a trusted slave in the port of Ostia, where the boats from Judea dock, Levi chronicles the conflicts, conspiracies and intrigues that threaten to overwhelm his homeland. All the while seeking to find his lost wife and his way home.

The Gospels’ Veiled Agenda

The Gospels’ Veiled Agenda

The legend of the Holy Grail has captured the imagination of millions of people for hundreds of years. It has been sought in the most unlikely places. But like all good mysteries, we only solve it when we look in the most obvious hiding place. The only thing we know for sure is that the grail is something to do with Jesus. So why not look for it it the books that tell us about Jesus- in the Gospels?

We miss a lot when we read the Gospels today. We don’t live in 1st Century Judea, we don’t speak their language and we don’t share their culture.

The Gospels are radical, political works, containing many coded messages. The code is based on an ancient literary technique known as Midrash. When we decode the Gospels we begin to understand Jesus’s true revolutionary agenda. It was the Holy Grail which gives us the key to his aspirations.

The failure of Jesus’s revolution came about, not with his crucifixion, but long before with the imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist. From this time forward Jesus and his disciples faced an uphill struggle. Their ultimate demise was inevitable, and Jesus knew this, as the narrative bears out.

Understanding the true nature of the Gospels does not diminish Christianity in any way. Indeed, it supports it. If you really want to know what Jesus was hoping to achieve, and if you would like to discover the true identity of the Holy Grail, read this book!

Reviews for the print edition of The Gospel’s Veiled Agenda:

While his speculations rest on scholarship, he wears it lightly, leading the reader in an easy style to his conclusions about the Grail. Jewish Chronicle

Excellent and convincing…Eternal Spirit

If you’re interested in another view on why you think Jesus wasn’t the Messiah with some interesting perspectives both religious and historic it is well worth a read….. Fascinating……engaging and exciting A very readable book which assumes no previous knowledge. Looks at the gospels through the eyes of Jews at the time to give some original insights including a plausible approach to the holy grail. Amazon Reader Reviews

The Murderous History of Bible Translations

The Murderous History of Bible Translations

The history of the translated Bible is one of passion, conflict and even violence. Time and again the seemingly innocent act of transposing the sacred text into another language has been seized upon to advance a cause, instigate upheaval, incite rebellion or maintain a grip on power. At other times the translated bible has been marshalled as a bulwark against such designs.

For ordinary people the bible itself is a guide to belief and life. But for its translators, and their opponents, it could just as easily become a weapon in whatever struggle they were waging. Regulating the bible’s accessibility, giving people greater or lesser insights into what it teaches, has proved to be a powerful way of exerting control or promoting new thinking.

Books 1

Gutenberg Bible, 1450s

The Murderous History of Bible Translations begins with the story of the Septuagint, the first known Bible translation. It moves on to discuss the tales of three people who translated the bible to advance their political or religious beliefs. William Tyndale did so from a Reformer’s perspective, battling obscurantism, corruption and papal tyranny. He paid with his life. The nineteenth century American abolitionist and campaigner against social injustice, Julia Smith, helped lay the early foundations of feminism with her translation of the bible. And long before either of them, Saadia Al-Faiyumi, a ninth century Jewish philosopher, used it in his campaign against literalists and sectarians who threatened to bring down the edifice of rabbinic Judaism. He endured exile and ignominy for his pains.

There’s a theme which runs through the story of Bible translations. It is of the translated bible as an instrument of social or political change. The theme becomes evident even when we look back at the ancient translations. The activists were not always those who made the translations, sometimes it was their opponents, for example those who reacted against the Septuagint and the Peshitta. But Origen, Jerome and Wycliffe were on the side of the radicals, as were lesser known translators such as Mesrop Mashtots, Little Wolf and Moses Mendelssohn.

Of course, not all translations were controversial. Some, such as King James’s enterprise appeared to be wholly benign, a noble venture to clothe the divine word in literary magnificence. But we only have to peel away the façade to discover the manipulative, establishment-driven agenda beneath.

Today, when Western society is no longer centred on the Bible, its translators have abandoned grand upheaval, focusing instead on single issues. But they still exude passion, and a belief that the Bible translated after their fashion will bring about the change they so fervently desire. Even if they are unlikely to pay for it with their sanity, freedom or life.

Kabbalah- Secrecy, Scandal and the Soul

Kabbalah- Secrecy, Scandal and the Soul

Kabbalah was never meant to be fashionable. Its earliest exponents; deeply mystical, other-worldly Jews, studying in closed, secretive groups, in twelfth century Provence would have been amazed, and probably horrified, to hear how far and wide their doctrine has spread and how universal it has become.

The recent interest in Kabbalah emerged out of the hippy movement’s fascination with mysticism and meditation in the 1960s. It became particularly popular with the advent of New Age spirituality in the late 20th century, when it was feted as a powerful technique for personal development. This was not Kabbalah as it had been practised in the 12th century. But Kabbalah has always evolved, changed, and bifurcated into different strands. The 20th century was by no means the first time that Kabbalah had broken away from its early, exclusively Jewish confines.

This book tells the story of Kabbalah’s origins, its development and spread, up to the present day. Our story begins in the first centuries of the Common Era with a group of Jewish mystics whose curiosity about the nature of heaven inspired them to embark on mystical voyages of discovery to the heavenly palaces.

Subsequent chapters trace the evolution of this mysticism, as it entered Christian Europe and Muslim Spain. It was not yet known as Kabbalah; the name did not emerge until the 12th century shortly before the appearance of the Zohar, its most enigmatic text. Allegedly composed by Shimon bar Yohai, a 2nd century rabbi in the Land of Israel, kabbalists believe that the Zohar lay concealed for over a thousand years until it surfaced in the Castille region of Spain in the 13th century. Historians believe no such thing.


Diagram of Sefirot from Knorr von Rosenroth’s Kabbalah Denudata


One of Kabbalah’s distinguishing features is that its techniques can be applied in many different contexts. Christian Cabala is a case in point. Conceived at the high point of the Renaissance, in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Florence, Christian Cabala became allied to magic, alchemy and Hermeticism occult. Kabbalah contributed to the Scientific Revolution and played a central part in the 19th century occult revival.

At the same time as Christian Cabala was beginning to forge new paths, Jewish mystical fraternities in the Northern Israel city of Safed were pushing at classical Kabbalah’s boundaries. Their work reached its peak in the thought of Isaac Luria, who developed the doctrine of heavenly exile, a necessary act, essential for the creation of the world.

The approach of modernity did nothing to lessen Kabbalah’s appeal to the dreams and fantasies of the masses, nor to diminish its disruptive potential. A messianic crisis rooted in Kabbalah rocked the Jewish world in the seventeenth century. Its repercussions could be felt across Europe, they still reverberate today. A hundred years later Kabbalah was instrumental in creating Hasidism, the most vibrant, yet antimodern of all Jewish religious movements.

Kabbalah became fashionable in the late twentieth century. The Kabbalah Centre, famous in its heyday for its celebrity devotees, developed what has been called Kabbalah-lite, formulating mystical remedies and personal development techniques designed to respond to the stresses and traumas of modern life. Buffeted by accusations of sexual offences and financial misdemeanours, its short history has been rocky. But it has nevertheless won as much praise as condemnation.

Today, Kabbalah exists in many incarnations, and is taught from many perspectives; its story is far from over. I have tried in this book, to provide a flavour of its history.

The Talmud: A Biography

The Talmud: A Biography

This is the story of a book. Most books don’t have their own story, at best they have a narrative about their publishing history and subsequent reception by the public. But the Talmud has more than just a story, it has a turbulent history. One which, in many ways, parallels the history of the Jewish people.

The Talmud was composed as a record of discussions amongst scholars and sages in the ancient Jewish diaspora, in towns and villages close to Baghdad. As the Jews dispersed across the world, the Talmud went with them, travelling along trade and migratory routes into the Maghreb, Europe, Arabia and the East. It became the foundation of the Jewish legal system, the bedrock of the Jewish faith. It became more important to the Jews than the Bible itself.

They exchanged perspectives and ideas with their neighbours. Early contacts between Judaism and Islam produced an intense, intellectual cross-fertilization, the effects of which can still be discerned in Talmudic and Islamic law. The medieval encounter between the Jews and Christianity was less benign, the Church regarded the Talmud as the obstacle which prevented them from converting the Jews. Their response was to challenge, burn, ban and censor it.

Talmud Sanhedrin Lemburg

Title Page, Talmud Sanhedrin, Lemburg, 1864. (Library of Jewish Community in Bielsko-Biala, Poland)

Later generations, particularly in Protestant Europe, although just as intent on converting the Jews nevertheless explored the Talmud for ideas. We find philosophers and poets, republicans and kings, priests and professors all probing the Talmud, seeking inspiration, support or validation for their particular points of view.

The most intractable of the Talmud’s challenges came from the Jews themselves. Rejectionists,  messianic pretenders and savants vilified it, seeking to delegitimize or at the very least to minimize its influence. But like the Jews themselves, the Talmud’s capacity for survival is boundless. Today it is studied by more people than at any time in its history.

The Talmud is a classic of world literature. It’s a massive, ancient and seemingly impenetrable work. People devote their lives to studying it. But you are not reading a book about what is in the Talmud. This is the story of what happened to the Talmud, and the role it has played in world history, religion and culture. It’s not a book for experts, or for specialists. It’s a book for anyone who wants to know the story of one of the great classics of ancient literature, albeit one which is far less heavily thumbed, outside of Jewish circles, than Homer, Chaucer or Ovid. The content of the Talmud may be esoteric. But its history belongs to us all. For there is scarcely a square inch of the world’s surface upon which its story was not, at some time, acted out.

Reason To Believe

Reason To Believe

Louis Jacobs was Britain’s most gifted Jewish scholar. A Talmudic genius, outstanding teacher and accomplished author, cultured and easy-going, he was widely expected to become Britain’s next Chief Rabbi.

Then controversy struck. The Chief Rabbi refused to appoint him as Principal of Jews’ College, the country’s premier rabbinic college. He further forbade him from returning as rabbi to his former synagogue. All because of a book Jacobs had written some years earlier, challenging from a rational perspective the traditional belief in the origins of the Torah.


In 2005 the Jewish Chronicle conducted a poll of its readers to mark 350 years since Oliver Cromwell allowed the Jews to return to England. The newspaper aimed to highlight the contribution made by the Jewish community to national life, by asking its readers to decide whom they thought had been the “Greatest British Jew”.

An initial field of nearly 100 names was whittled down to a short list of eight, from whom readers were asked to make a final choice. When Louis Jacobs won the competition, winning nearly twice as many votes as the nearest runner up, he said with characteristic modesty that he felt “both embarrassed and daft”.

Contributors to the Jewish Chronicle’s letters page were not so reticent. One naysayer described Jacobs as a “pariah” and “highly destructive”, whose victory was “bizarre and irrelevant”.  Another correspondent thought that the poll results had made a “mockery of Anglo-Jewish history”. These remarks were condemned in a letter the following week as illustrative of “the festering tumour that is infecting Anglo-Jewry today”. But by far the largest number of letters simply celebrated his victory, correspondents writing of the “tears of joy” they had shed when they’d heard the news, praising his intellect and condemning the “obscurantists” who opposed him. Not for the first time in his career Louis Jacobs had unwittingly divided the community.

For his opponents, his victory was a reminder, if they cared, that by ostracising him all those years ago they had alienated a large part of their community, enhanced his scholarly reputation and guaranteed his popularity. But in the main they did not care. Religious certitude brooks no compromises.

For his supporters, Louis Jacobs’s victory was a vindication. For the best part of half a century he had been an outcast from the Orthodox community that had once hailed him as a genius, their brightest and most promising hope for the future. Spurned by those who could not reconcile his theology with the established creed, nor accept his refusal to compromise when it came to matters of the mind. Disparaged by former colleagues and students, who considered the conclusions he reached, through intellectual prowess and depth of learning, to threaten their traditions and the religious commitment of their congregations. They feared his reputation as a man of reason, a spiritual leader with his feet on the ground, a theologian who spoke the language of ordinary people, a polymath with a depth of knowledge unequalled in the British rabbinate. And perhaps most of all, since we are talking about Britain, an underdog who had been unfairly treated and who was, in words echoed by a Jewish Chronicle columnist, “the best Chief Rabbi we never had.”

© 2020 Harry Freedman Books