Below spoilers for the Kushiel’s Legacy books (first trilogy). If you have not read them, I highly recommend reading before looking below — they are pretty awesome. Technically, there are also spoilers for Lord of the Rings, though if you have not read it by now, I don’t know what else to do.
I want to start by talking about Lord of the Rings. As everyone knows, it tells the story of the failed attempt of the dwarves to restore their ancient homeland in a retrospective. I think they had a side-plot about a couple of short guys throwing a ring into a mountain or something? Anyway, back to the main point of LotR: the dwarves. The story of a people who everyone thinks of as just being greedy, master of goldsmithing and gem cutting, but with the desire to return to a homeland — but who wake an ancient evil upon returning there. Though Tolkien maintained he was not into allegories, this one is a pretty thin facade for talking about the struggles of the Jewish people. The reason for this long introduction to LotR is to explain how I read books: parochially, maybe, if they have Jews in them, the Jewish plot lines stir my heart much more than the story the author tried to write.
Well, I have to say, Jacqueline Carey knows how to write Jews. Admittedly, it took me until the end of Kushiel’s Dart to figure out that the Yeshuites were not supposed to be Jesuits. They are really an interesting take on Jews for Jesus. In a world that lacked Christianity, since Elua and his followers took on the role of taking down the Roman (“Tiberian”) empire, there are no evangelical religions. The Jews end up accepting Jesus as the “Mashiach” (not “Christ”, since the Romans aren’t there to take over the terms), and keep being…pretty Jewish. They are discriminated against in a heart-touching manner in Venice (ok, “La Serenissima”) and, like every good Jews, have fierce arguments about restoring their homeland. Near as I can tell, judging from estimated geography, they decide to make their homeland in Switzerland? Or maybe Lichtenstein? Belgium? Netherlands? In any case, the more devout, as always, pray for salvation while the younger and more practically minded take up the sword, and head up north to make a place where they will be free from discrimination.
All the while, the Jews in the Kushielverse keep studying the Talmud, and the more mystical minded of them take up something suspiciously like Qabbalah and seek the true name of God. They speak “Habiru” among each other, and have stories of the lost tribes. That’s, of course, the most awesome parts — the ten tribes have a “Judaism without Jesus” (what we would call, well, Judaism) since they have not heard of him having been sequestered in…Uganda. I, well, I certainly appreciate the subtle humor there.
[Please note that as far as I know, the author really intended the Yeshuites to add color to the religions in the Kushielverse, and actually fairly little of the plotline involves them — it is really the story of a masochist prostitute in a country where not being polyamorous is a blasphemy…]