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Religion (1992) 22, 151-170 JOSEPH CAMPBELL ON JEWS AND JUDAISM Robert A. Segal Joseph Campbell’s private expressions of antisemitism have been docu- mented by his acquaintances, his students, and even his friends, But Campbell’s own writings attest to his prejudice. Nearly all ofhis references to Jews and Judaism are disdainful and hostile. Campbell’s dislike of ‘Judaism does stem in part from his dislike of Western religions generally and to that extent cannot be said to reflect antisemitism. But his dislike of Judaism is especially uncompromising and, more, appeals to common antisemitic stereotypes. At the same time Campbell applauds the myth- ology of Judaism, as he does every other mythology, and really seeks to substitute the mythology for the religion. There are those who like both Jews and Judaism. There are those who dislike Jews but like Judaism. There are those who like Jews but dislike Judaism. In the companion article to this one Robert Ackerman argues that James Frazer came to be such a person. Finally, there are those who dislike both Jews and Judaism. Sadly, Joseph Campbell, the celebrated scholar of myth, falls here. Ever since Brendan Gill broke the news of Campbell’s antisemitism,! confir- mations have abounded. Arnold Krupat, a longtime colleague of Campbell’s at Sarah Lawrence College, relates an incident at a faculty gathering: ‘Atsome point in the evening, Campbell, responding to a remark I can’t recall, said something to the effect that he could always spot a Jew. I, a Jew, said, ‘Oh? Whereupon Campbell went into a description of how the New York Athletic Club had ingeniously managed for years to keep Jews out. He went on and on, telling his story in the most charming and amiable fashion, without any self-consciousness about the views he was expressing and, indeed, without any overt animus —for all that he obviously relished the notion of keeping Jews out of anywhere any time, forever.” Even more unsettling is the recollection of Eve Feldman, a former student of Campbell’s. Having told her teacher that she was Jewish and that she wanted to study the Hebrew Bible, she was informed: that the God of the Hebrews was an evil God, and that the American Indians’ feeling for color and beauty was totally absent from the Bible. . . . [I]mmediately after this opening gambit Campbell became agitated. ‘He was sweating and pacing and running his fingers through his hair. He began to spew out this 0048-721 X/92/020151 + 20$03.00/0 © 1992 Academic Press Limited 152 R.A, Segal garbage, about how the college was going Jewish and how he had moved to Bronxville to get away from the Jews and here they were taking over. Every few sentences he'd break off and repeat, ‘I know I shouldn’t be saying this, I know I shouldn’t . . . .” He went down his class roster identifying the students who were Jewish. He said that the Jews had ruined 20th century culture and went through a list of Jewish artists. . . . [I]t was horrifying. It was like watching someone have a fit or having them vomit uncontrollably all over you? More important here than whether Campbell disliked Jews is whether he disliked Judaism. Certainly he never says anything positive about Judaism. Still, he is rarely adulatory toward other Western religions either. Insofar as he chastises them, too, antisemitism can hardly be the sole source of his hostility to Judaism. Yet his disdain for Judaism is more unremitting.* Campbell was an odd mix of ecumenical love and generic hatred. He begins his 1949 Hero with a Thousand Faces, still his best-known book, with the hope that: comparative elucidation (of the similarities among the myths of all peoples] may contribute to the perhaps not-quite-desperate cause of those forces that are working in the present world for unification, not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the sense of human mutual understanding. As we are told in Vedas: ‘Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.”> Yet in almost all his subsequent works Campbell pits one group of humanity against another: Westerners against Easterners, moderns against primitives, primitive hunters against primitive farmers. Initially, he reveres Easterners and despises Westerners; later, the reverse. Initially, he lauds primitives and condemns moderns; later, the reverse. Initially, he commends primitive farmers and condemns primitive hunters; later, the reverse. His feelings toward religions mirror his feelings toward the peoples whose religions they are. CAMPBELL ON RELIGION Campbell’s dislike of a religion is always on the grounds that the religion: 1. interprets its sacred writings—its myths—literally rather than sym~ bolically, 2. interprets its sacred writings—its myths—historically rather than psychologically, 3. deems its adherents superior rather than merely equal to those of other religions, 4. is patriarchal rather than matriarchal in outlook, 5. is anti-mystical rather than mystical in outlook. Campbell thus denounces Western religions generally as: 1. literalistic: J. Campbell on Jews and Judaism 153 The loss of the connotative reading occurs with the Bible .... This accent on historicity is quite specific to Judaism and its descendants, Christianity and Islam, taking these things so literally. 2. historical: I would define the great value of the Oriental instruction for us [Westerners] as this: the translation of mythological symbols into psychological references. We have read our own mythological symbols as historical references. Moses did go up the mountain and get the tables of the Law from God, came down, broke them, went up, got a second edition, came back again. This is taken to be literally true... . So here are these symbols, important symbols of revelation, of spiritual birth, of exaltation, all read as historical facts. The same symbols come to us from the Orient, read however as having psychological reference, representing powers within the human spirit, within your spirit, which are to be developed and which can be evoked by contemplation and meditation on appropriate symbolic forms.” 3. ethnocentric: The historical references, if they have any meaning at all, must be secondary; as, for instance, in Buddhist thinking, where the historical prince Gautama Shakya- muni is regarded as but one of many historical embodiments of Buddha- consciousness; or in Hindu thought, where the incarnations of Vishnu are innumerable. The difficulty faced today by Christian thinkers in this regard follows from their doctrine of the Nazarene as the unique historical incarnation of God; and in Judaism, likewise, there is the no less troublesome doctrine of a universal God whose eye is on but one Chosen People of alll in his created world. 4. patriarchal: Toward the close of the Age of Bronze and, more strongly, with the dawn of the Age of Iron (c. 1250 B.C. in the Levant), the old cosmology and mythologies of the goddess mother were radically transformed, reinterpreted, and in large measure even suppressed, by those suddenly intrusive patriarchal warrior tribesmen whose traditions have come down to us chiefly in the Old and New Testaments and in the myths of Greece? 5. anti-mystical: [N]either to the patriarchal Aryans nor to the patriarchal Semites belong the genial, mystic, poetic themes of the lovely world of a paradise neither lost nor regained but ever present in the bosom of the goddess-mother in whose being we have our death, as well as life, without fear.'° Campbell equates matriarchy with mysticism and patriarchy with anti- mysticism. Matriarchy means less rule by female gods than the dissolution of the very distinctions into god and human and into male and female, Patriarchy means the division into superior god and subordinate human and into superior male and subordinate female,