The Jewish Journey by Rebecca Abrams Published Today

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4000 years in 22 objects from the Ashmolean Museum

by Rebecca Abrams
with a foreword by Simon Schama

Published on 17 October 2017 by Ashmolean Museum


The Jewish Journey tells the 4000-year history of the Jewish people through 22 little-known treasures from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, brought together here for the first time.Spanning 14 countries from Ancient Mesopotamia to modern Europe, this ground-breaking book brings Jewish history into the mainstream of one of the greatest and oldest public galleries in the world, highlighting objects that have been hidden in plain view until now.

Weaving together the remarkable stories behind these objects is award-winning author and literary critic Rebecca Abrams, described by Simon Schama as ‘the model of learned story-teller’.  With 22 chosen as a number of special significance, the objects provide tantalising glimpses into the lives of the people who made, owned and used them, from kings and courtiers, to ordinary men and women, merchants, scholars and musicians. 

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Highlights include: a Dead Sea Scroll jar from Qumran; a hidden painting by artist Mark Gertler; a letter from a worried parent in 5th century BCE Egypt; a Roman coin made of gold looted from the Second Temple during the Siege of Jerusalem;  a Hebrew magic amulet used by Christian Kabbalists;  a viola da gamba with links to crypto-Jews in Renaissance Italy and Tudor England;  a forged English banknote made by Jewish prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp.

The Jewish Journey offers a unique perspective on the diversity and resilience of Jewish life, revealing centuries of close interaction and exchange with other cultures. The 22 objects remain on display throughout the galleries of the Ashmolean, helping to contextualise Jewish history within its wider historical, geographical and cultural framework.


Rebecca Abrams is an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction, regular literary critic for the Financial Times, and former columnist for the Daily Telegraph. Her most recent novel, Touching Distance (Picador, 2009), was highly praised by Hilary Mantel, shortlisted for the 2009 McKitterick Prize for Literature, and won the MJA Open Book Award for Fiction.  She is a tutor on the Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford and Writer-in-Residence at Brasenose College, Oxford.  

Rebecca’s great grandparents came to England as Jewish immigrants from Lithuania,
Latvia, Poland and Romania. One was a photographer who helped found a new synagogue in Cardiff and whose son became the Labour MP for Coventry North.  Another was an East End anarchist with a boot stall in Edmonton market.  A third was an illiterate carpenter who became the millionaire owner of Park Royal Coachworks, held shabbat suppers at The Savoy, and named a street in Hackney after his beloved wife, Charlotte.