“The flowers of religious history are strange flowers”

Beginning to read Guy Stroumsa’s magnificent new opus, The Idea of Semitic Monotheism: The Rise & Fall of a Scholarly Myth (Oxford 2021), during my Jerusalem quarantine: on “Orientalism” & the history of religion as a culture-shaping, 19th-century concerns. “The flowers of religious history are strange flowers”, says Ernest Renan in one of the book’s epigraphs – & they are. There is no subtler, more humane observer of these strange, dark-petalled flowers than Stroumsa – here, & in his earlier study, A New Science (Cambridge, Mass. 2010), to which this is a sequel.

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