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Sand - The Invention of the Jewish People (2009) - Synopsis

Sand - The Invention of the Jewish People (2009) - Synopsis



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Published by Mark K. Jensen
Synopsis of Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People, translated by Yael Lotan (London and New York: Verso, 2009; original Hebrew edition 2008). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on November 23, 2009.
Synopsis of Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People, translated by Yael Lotan (London and New York: Verso, 2009; original Hebrew edition 2008). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on November 23, 2009.

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Published by: Mark K. Jensen on Nov 23, 2009
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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) — Digging Deeper CV: November 23, 2009, 7:00 p.m. 
Shlomo Sand,
The Invention of the Jewish People
, translated by Yael Lotan(London and New York: Verso, 2009). First published in 2008 as
Matai ve’ekh humtza ha’am hayehudi?
(‘When and How Was the Jewish PeopleInvented?’).
Despite its claims, Zionism hasproduced in the Israeli state not ademocracy, but a “liberal ethnocracy”(307) based on fictitious claims about“the Jewish people” that derive from a“nationalization of the Bible and itstransformation into a reliable historybook” that took place between the 1850sand the 1930s.]
Preface to the English-LanguageEdition.
Sand wrote this book out of asense of duty to the historical profession,which in Israel is divided betweendepartments of “general history” and“separate departments of Jewish (Israeli)history” (x; ix-xi).
Introduction: Burdens of Memory.
Sketch of his father’s life (1-3). Sketch of his wife’s father’s life (3-5). Two ‘native’friends (6-9). Two students (9-13). TheIsraeli national myth, like other nationalmyths, is an invention of the era of nationalism (14-18). ‘New historians’have turned up many findingsthreatening the myth, but they havebeen forgotten or buried (18-20). Thisbook transgresses academic boundaries(20-22).
Ch. 1: Making Nations: Sovereigntyand Equality.
On general concepts(23-24). The rise of ‘peoples’ coincidedwith the rise of democracy; when thesewere purged of race concepts, similarand equally fictitious notions of 
have been adopted, beginning in the1950s (24-31). In terms of intellectualhistory the concept of 
has been alaggard, but recent work by BenedictAnderson and Ernest Gellner establishesthat “the advanced consolidation of anation is closely connected with theformation of a unified culture, such ascan only exist in a society that is nolonger agrarian and traditional” (37; 31-39). Nation as ideology (40-43) and asreligion (43-45). Hans Kohn showed that“all the liberal democracies have givenrise to an imagined citizenship in whichthe future is more significant than thepast” (49; 43-49). But in contrast to this“citizenship nationalism,” an “ethnicistnationalism” prevailed in Germany,Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, andRussia due to the lack of a long-standinghigh culture (49-54). In nationalism, a‘theology’ of the intellectuals canbecome a ‘mythology’ promulgated byeducators for the masses bereft bymodernity of old traditions (54-63).
Ch. 2: Mythistory: In the Beginning,God Created the People.
Flavius Josephus [37-95? CE] took the divinelysanctioned truth of Jewish scripture asthe basis for his pioneering attempt towrite the history of the Jews (64-65). Thenext history of the Jews did not appearuntil 1706-1707, by Jacques Basnage, aHuguenot theologian (66-67). In 1820-1828 the German-Jewish historian IsaakMarkus Jost’s history of the Jews in ninevolumes “skipped over the biblicalperiod” (67; 67-71). Heinrich Graetz’shistory of the Jews (1853-1876) washighly influential; it was “the first workthat strove, with consistency and feeling,to invent the Jewish people”:“Henceforth, for many people, Judaismwould no longer be a rich and diversereligious civilization that managed tosurvive despite all difficulties . . . andbecame an ancient people or race thatwas uprooted from its homeland inCanaan and arrived in its youth at thegates of Berlin” (73; 72-77). Moses
Rome and Jerusalem: The Last Nationalist Question
(1862) was imbuedwith the racial theories that flourished inEurope after 1850 and embraced a racialinterpretation of Jewish history (78-81).In 1879 Heinrich von Treitschke, aprestigious historian at the Univ. of Berlin, warned against Jews againstembracing racialist notions (81-84).“Low-level anti-Semitism” was spreadingthrough society; Theodor Mommsen[1817-1902] prominently opposed it (84-87). Meanwhile, the Old Testamentbecame “the book of the Jewish nationalrevival”; Julius Wellhausen published
Prolegomena to the History of Israel
(1882) and before he died in 1891 Graetzattacked its skeptical questioning as“anti-Jewish” (87-88). Simon Dubnow of Belorussia translated Graetz intoRussian; he considered the Jews a“world-people” in need of a fullyautonomous space and wrote a
WorldHistory of the Jewish People
(1901-1921)that selected some elements of the Bookof Genesis, which he regarded as havingbeen written in the time of David andSolomon, as historical and the others assymbolic—an approach “adopted by allthe Zionists historians who followedhim”; he began the “history of Israel” inthe 20
century BCE (92; 88-95). Ze’ev Yavets’s
Book of the History of Israel
(1932) and Salo Wittmayer Baron’s
 ASocial and Religious History of the Jews
(1937; rev. ed. 1952) were, “just beforethe advent of professionalization andspecialization in the discipline of history,“two final attempts to produce a totalhistory of the Jews” (95; 95-100). In1938 Yitzhak Baer, a German Jew whohad moved to Palestine in1929 andtaught history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, criticized Baron for adoptingan exilic perspective on Jewish history;what was needed, he said, was an“organic understanding,” by which hemeant that (as he wrote in
[‘Exile’])in 1936) “The dispersion of Israel amongthe nations is unnatural,” that “to the Jews [God] gave Palestine,” andtherefore the Jews had to return toPalestine; by the mid-1950s Baer wasendorsing the biblical narrative’shistoricity and Abraham as “a historicalfigure” (101; 100-04). “Ironically,[Baer’s] self-consciousness drew on thesame imaginary idea of nationhood thathad nurtured his [German] mentors forseveral generations” (102). In 1936Hebrew University decided to have notone but two history departments: a“Department of Jewish History andSociology” and a “Department of History,” and “all the other universities inIsrael followed suit” (102). Baer hadfounded
with Ben-Zion Dinur(Dinaburg) in 1935; Dinur would be “thechief architect of all history studies in theHebrew educational systems” (105). In1918 Dinur had produced a compilationof sources and documents he titled
Toldot Yisrael
(‘History of Israel’); “[f]orHebrew readers in Palestine, it becamethe dominant narrative,” and he began topublish an expanded version in 1938(105). “Dinur discarded the religiousmetaphysics of the holy book and turnedit into a straightforward national-historical credo” (he claimed the Bible,not the Greeks, was “the beginning of modern historiography”) (106). Ben-Gurion was deeply engaged in the useand promotion of “biblical mythistory”(109; 107-10). “During the early years of the State of Israel, all the intellectualelites helped cultivate the sacred trinityof Bible-Nation-Land, and the Biblebecame a key factor in the formation of the ‘reborn’ state” (110; 110-15). Thearcheological work carried on after the1967 war posed more and more historicalproblems, which finally came to publicconsciousness at the time of the firstIntifada (1987): the dating of thepatriarchs, the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, the existence of the supposedlyglorious kingdom of David and Solomon,the monotheism of the population wereall discredited (115-23). Sand doubts theconclusions of the ‘Tel Aviv school,’which attributed the invention of the
Bible and its myths to a political projectof the kingdom of Judah, and attributesthem instead to “the remarkableencounter between Judean intellectualelites, in exile or returning from exile,with the abstract Persian religions,”adopting the “theory of the Copenhagen-Sheffield school” (125; 123-27). Reviewof the history of the status of the Bible(127-28).
Ch. 3: The Invention of the Exile:Proselytism and Conversion.
Theconcept of exile is “deeply embedded in Jewish tradition in all its forms” (129). Infact, though the exile is asserted inIsrael’s founding document, it neverhappened: Romans never deportedentire peoples, and neither did theAssyrians or the Babylonians; Josephus isthe only source, and, as a notion, itsestablishment (like the myth of theWandering Jew) depended on promotionby Christians who considered itpunishment for the crucifixion of Jesus(130-34). “Only when the Americanborders closed in the 1920s, and againafter the horrendous Nazi massacres, didsignificant numbers migrate toMandatory Palestine, part of whichbecame the State of Israel. The Jewswere not forcibly deported from their‘homeland,’ and there was no voluntary‘return’ to it” (134-36). Graetz gave theimpression of mass deportation withoutasserting it, and Baer and subsequenthistorians also described a sort of “exile-without-expulsion,” and promoted theidea of an “exile” without expulsion atthe time of the Arab Conquest, (137-43).But long before 70 CE there were large Jewish communities outside Judea, innumbers that are hard to explain (143-49). It appears that a Hellenisticallyinfluenced Judaism became aproselytizing religion and that growthtook place through conversion (150-54).In the case of the Hasmoneans vis-à-visthe Edomites, by force (154-60). TheSeptuagint, the Greek version of theBible, was a proselytizing text, as werethe works of Josephus (161-66). TheRoman Empire afforded opportunitiesand Roman documents (Horace, Tacitus, Juvenal) cite Jewish proselytizing, whichcontinued until repressive Christianityimpeded it (167-78). It is “reasonable toassume” that the disappearance of a Jewish majority in Judea was due to “aslow, moderate process of conversion”from Judaism (178-82). Many earlyZionists were convinced that Musliminhabitants were “people . . . of our ownflesh and blood” (184; 182-87). After themassacre in Hebron in 1929 and the Arabuprising of 1936-1939, historicalaccounts changed, and “early Islam didnot convert the Jews but simplydispossessed them” (188; 187-89).
Ch. 4: Realms of Silence: In Searchof Lost (Jewish) Time.
In pre-Islamicperiod Judaism continued to proselytizeand “must have helped prepare thespiritual ground for the rise of Islam,”(191; 190-92), e.g. in the kingdom of Himyar at the end of the 4
century CE(192-99), among the Phoenicians, theBerbers, and in Spain (199-210). Themedieval Jewish kingdom of the Khazars(210-29). Jewish historians in the early20
century took an interest in theKhazars but later ones have been“scared off” (248; 230-38). ArthurKoestler’s
The Thirteenth Tribe
wasattacked by Israeli historians as an anti-Semitic fiction; Sand, however, believesthe hypothesis that Khazar kingdom wasthe origin of Eastern European Jews isworth exploring (238-49).
Ch. 5: The Distinction: IdentityPolitics in Israel.
“The Zionist idea wasborn in the second half of the nineteenthcentury in Central and Eastern Europe, inthe lands between Vienna andOdessa . . . part of the last wave of nationalist awakening in Europe . . .exactly like the surrounding nationalenterprises that were then starting totake shape” (252; 250-52). A “secular,modern Yiddishist civilization . . .

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