Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Jewish Nation Myth

No one is more surprised than Shlomo Sand that his latest academic work has spent 19 weeks on Israel's bestseller list – and that success has come to the history professor despite his book challenging Israel's biggest taboo. Dr Sand argues that the idea of a Jewish nation – whose need for a safe haven was originally used to justify the founding of the state of Israel – is a myth invented little more than a century ago.

...he argues that the Jews were never exiled from the Holy Land, that most of today's Jews have no historical connection to the land called Israel and that the only political solution to the country's conflict with the Palestinians is to abolish the Jewish state.

... Surprisingly, Dr Sand said, most of his academic colleagues in Israel have shied away from tackling his arguments. One exception is Israel Bartal, a professor of Jewish history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper, Dr Bartal made little effort to rebut Dr Sand's claims. He dedicated much of his article instead to defending his profession, suggesting that Israeli historians were not as ignorant about the invented nature of Jewish history as Dr Sand contends.

...Dr Sand's main argument is that until little more than a century ago, Jews thought of themselves as Jews only because they shared a common religion. At the turn of the 20th century, he said, Zionist Jews challenged this idea and started creating a national history by inventing the idea that Jews existed as a people separate from their religion.

Equally, the modern Zionist idea of Jews being obligated to return from exile to the Promised Land was entirely alien to Judaism, he added.

"Zionism changed the idea of Jerusalem. Before, the holy places were seen as places to long for, not to be lived in. For 2,000 years Jews stayed away from Jerusalem not because they could not return but because their religion forbade them from returning until the messiah came."

The biggest surprise during his research came when he started looking at the archaeological evidence from the biblical era.

"I was not raised as a Zionist, but like all other Israelis I took it for granted that the Jews were a people living in Judea and that they were exiled by the Romans in 70AD.

"But once I started looking at the evidence, I discovered that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were legends.

"Similarly with the exile. In fact, you can't explain Jewishness without exile. But when I started to look for history books describing the events of this exile, I couldn't find any. Not one.

"That was because the Romans did not exile people. In fact, Jews in Palestine were overwhelming peasants and all the evidence suggests they stayed on their lands."

Instead, he believes an alternative theory is more plausible: the exile was a myth promoted by early Christians to recruit Jews to the new faith. "Christians wanted later generations of Jews to believe that their ancestors had been exiled as a punishment from God."

So if there was no exile, how is it that so many Jews ended up scattered around the globe before the modern state of Israel began encouraging them to "return"?

Dr Sand said that, in the centuries immediately preceding and following the Christian era, Judaism was a proselytising religion, desperate for converts. "This is mentioned in the Roman literature of the time."

Jews travelled to other regions seeking converts, particularly in Yemen and among the Berber tribes of North Africa. Centuries later, the people of the Khazar kingdom in what is today south Russia, would convert en masse to Judaism, becoming the genesis of the Ashkenazi Jews of central and eastern Europe.

Dr Sand pointed to the strange state of denial in which most Israelis live, noting that papers offered extensive coverage recently to the discovery of the capital of the Khazar kingdom next to the Caspian Sea.

Ynet, the website of Israel's most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, headlined the story: "Russian archaeologists find long-lost Jewish capital." And yet none of the papers, he added, had considered the significance of this find to standard accounts of Jewish history.

One further question is prompted by Dr Sand's account, as he himself notes: if most Jews never left the Holy Land, what became of them?

"It is not taught in Israeli schools but most of the early Zionist leaders, including David Ben Gurion [Israel's first prime minister], believed that the Palestinians were the descendants of the area's original Jews. They believed the Jews had later converted to Islam."

This fascinating article can be found in full here. It was written by Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. A quick perusal of his website at is all that is needed to demonstrate Cook's rabid anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian bias. A footnote at the bottom states that "A version of this article originally appeared in The National (, published in Abu Dhabi." Abu Dhabi, in case you didn't know, is a country with very strong anti-Judaic policies. They also flog unmarried girls as young as 14 for having sex.

Neither the author of this article nor the Abu Dhabi connection has any bearing on whether Sand's assertions are factual or not, but it does clearly show one how Sand's work is perfect fodder for both anti-Zionists and anti-Semites.


Freethinking Upstart said...

wow... this is possibly one of the most disturbing things I've read in my entire life. My immediate reaction is that this MUST be a load of BS... a conspiracy theory that belongs next the "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Frum Heretic said...

Let's get beyond the immediate visceral reaction, which is indeed disturbing. What is your considered reaction?

What is needed is a scholarly rebuttal to Sand's theories. Unlike the Protocols, this cannot simply be glossed over as the ravings of an anti-semite. Some of what is said in the article is the culmination of research by a supposedly dispassionate academia (e.g., archaeological work by Finkelstein, DNA studies related to the Khazars...)

jewish philosopher said...

At long last secularists are agreeing with the Satmar rebbe on most things at least. The Messiah must be coming soon.

Holy Hyrax said...

Sometimes, I tend to think that academia inspires to be controversial for the sake of being controversial.