The Sacred Chain, by Norman F. Cantor
If there is a case for scholars sticking to their specialties, this book makes it well. Norman Cantor is a well-known medievalist who has written, I am told, some excellent studies in his field. Now he has branched out to write a general history of the Jews, and the results are a volume marked by error, arrogance, and a degree of disdain for his subject that makes his choosing of it seem a puzzle.
Or perhaps not—for The Sacred Chain is written under the cocky assumption that the author’s very distance from what he writes about renders him its first reliable commentator. Cantor makes no bones about the fact that he is out to debunk (or, as he more fashionably puts it, to “deconstruct”) his predecessors, and to present what he seems to think are a number of original theses. As it happens, however, nearly all of these have been advanced long before him—and by writers, from Apion in the 1st century to Arnold Toynbee in the 20th, not known for their friendliness toward the Jews.
About the Author
Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.