The Source  
1st edition
Author James A. Michener
Illustrator Jean-Paul Tremblay
Country United States of America
Language English
Genre(s) Historical novel
Publisher Random House
Publication date 1965
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

The Source is an historical novel by James A. Michener, first published in 1965. It is a survey of the history of the Jewish people and the land of Israel from pre-monotheistic days to the birth of the modern State of Israel. The Source uses for its central device a fictional tell in northern Israel called "Makor" (Hebrew: "source").

A parallel frame story set in modern-day Israel supports the historical timeline. Archaeologists digging at the tell at Makor uncover artifacts from each layer, which then serve as the basis for a chapter exploring the lives of the people involved with that artifact. The novel begins with a Stone Age family whose daughter begins to realize that there is a supernatural force, then leads us to the beginnings of monotheism, the Davidic kingdom, Hellenistic times, Roman times, etc. The site is continually inhabited until the end of the Crusades when it is destroyed by the victorious Mameluks (as happened to many actual cities after 1291—and is not rebuilt by the Ottomans.

The Book follows the story of the Family of Ur from the age of cavemen to modern times, with its descendants now living in the Galilee—though, naturally, they themselves are not aware of the ancient antecedents revealed to the reader by the all-knowing writer.

Chapter list

  1. The Tell
  2. The Bee Eater
  3. Of Death and Life
  4. An Old Man and His God
  5. Psalm of the Hoopoe Bird
  6. The Voice of Gomer
  7. In the Gymnasium
  8. King of the Jews
  9. Yigal and His Three Generals
  10. The Law
  11. A Day in the Life of a Desert Rider
  12. Volkmar
  13. The Fires of Ma Coeur
  14. The Saintly Men of Safed
  15. Twilight of an Empire
  16. Rebbe Itzik and the Sabra
  17. The Tell

Recurring symbols and themes

Fertility/The phallic

In the early civilizations, the concept of fertility sprouts from agriculture, and the desire for a fruitful harvest. During the earliest layer of history, the giant stone idol named El is created to please the earth, and bring good crops.

As society moves away from a rural and agricultural existence, fertility is given less and less importance. The phallic is present from the Stone Age ("The Bee Eater"), until 606 BCE ("The Voice of Gomer").


Later, as modern Judaism begins to take form, the theme of dedication and tenacity is brought forward again and again. The final words of many of the book's characters are of prayer, they are defending their religion with their life. As antisemitism becomes more prevalent this theme grows stronger, as if to show the strength of the faith that the Jewish people hold, and still do.


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