WANDERINGS: Chaim Potok's History of the Jews, (Knopf, $17.95). Babylonian chroniclers wrote, in two columns, the histories of Assyria and Babylonia side by side; during their captivity in Babylonia, Jewish scribes adopted the practice as they synchronized the histories of Judah and Israel. In a way, Chaim Potok now has done the same thing, matching the reigns of Abraham and Saul and David to the advancing civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and tracing the movements of the Hebrew peoples eventually through the development of Islam and Christianity. It is an intriguing concept, and one which lends a more solid basis to the ambiguous history related in the Bible. Unfortunately, Potok, who has formerly stuck to fiction for his explorations of Judaic culture, cannot prevent these massive civilizations from overshadowing the Hebrew tribes. As a matter of organization, he has left the Hebrews for last in each section, so that they seem tacked on. Potok has little control over his style, which staggers from prose to preachment to homily. And, he slips into pseudo-Bibilical language ("Now these are the achivements of Solomon son of David, king of Judah and Israel"). With its clumsy and sometimes even ungrammatical style, and its excessive punctuation, reading this book is like traversing the Rocky Mountains one hill at a time. And just to make it more difficult, the publishers have chosen a stark and exhausting typeface. However, the saving graces are the occasionally brilliant interpretations of prophetic passages from the Bible, and the beautifully chosen illustrations.