When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?by Shlomo Zand January 29, 2009 2:44 AM
Controversial Bestseller Shakes the Foundation of the Israeli State
What if the entire tale of the Jewish Diaspora is historically wrong?
What if the Palestinian Arabs who have lived for decades under the
heel of the modern Israeli state are in fact descended from the very
same "children of Israel" described in the Old Testament?
what if most modern Israelis aren't descended from the ancient
Israelites at all, but are actually a mix of Europeans, North Africans
and others who didn't "return" to the scrap of land we now call Israel
and establish a new state following the attempt to exterminate them
during World War II, but came in and forcefully displaced people whose
ancestors had lived there for millennia?
What if the entire tale
of the Jewish Diaspora -- the story recounted at Passover tables by
Jews around the world every year detailing the ancient Jews' exile from
Judea, the years spent wandering through the desert, their escape from
the Pharaoh's clutches -- is all wrong?
That's the explosive thesis of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?,
a book by Tel Aviv University scholar Shlomo Zand (or Sand) that sent
shockwaves across Israeli society when it was published last year.
After 19 weeks on the Israeli best-seller list, the book is being
translated into a dozen languages and will be published in the United
States this year by Verso.
Its thesis has ramifications that go
far beyond some antediluvian academic debate. Few modern conflicts are
as attached to ancient history as that decades-long cycle of
bloodletting between Israelis and Palestinians. Each group lays claim
to the same scrap of land -- holy in all three of the world's major
Abrahamic religions -- based on long-standing ties to that chunk of
earth and national identities formed over long periods of time. There's
probably no other place on Earth where the present is as intimately
tied to the ancient.
Central to the ideology of Zionism is the
tale -- familiar to all Jewish families -- of exile, oppression,
redemption and return. Booted from their kingdom, the "Jewish people"
-- sons and daughters of ancient Judea -- wandered the earth, rootless,
where they faced cruel suppression from all corners -- from being
forced to toil in slavery under the Egyptians, to the Spanish massacres
of the 14th century and Russian pogroms of the 19th, through to the
horrors of the Third Reich.
This view of history animates all
Zionists, but none more so than the influential but reactionary
minority -- in the United States as well as Israel -- who believe that
God bestowed a "Greater Israel" -- one that encompasses the modern
state as well as the Occupied Territories -- on the Jewish people, and
who resist any effort to create a Palestinian state on biblical grounds.
Inventing a People?
central argument is that the Romans didn't expel whole nations from
their territories. Zand estimates that perhaps 10,000 ancient Judeans
were vanquished during the Roman wars, and the remaining inhabitants of
ancient Judea remained, converting to Islam and assimilating with their
conquerors when Arabs subjugated the area. They became the progenitors
of today's Palestinian Arabs, many of whom now live as refugees who
were exiled from their homeland during the 20th century.
As Israeli journalist Tom Segev summarized, in a review of the book in Ha'aretz:
never was a Jewish people, only a Jewish religion, and the exile also
never happened -- hence there was no return. Zand rejects most of the
stories of national-identity formation in the Bible, including the
exodus from Egypt and, most satisfactorily, the horrors of the conquest
But this begs the question: if the
ancient people of Judea weren't expelled en masse, then how did it come
to pass that Jewish people are scattered across the world? According to
Zand, who offers detailed histories of several groups within what is
conventionally known as the Jewish Diaspora, some were Jews who
emigrated of their own volition, and many more were later converts to
Judaism. Contrary to popular belief, Zand argues that Judaism was an
evangelical religion that actively sought out new adherents during its
This narrative has huge significance in terms
of Israel's national identity. If Judaism is a religion, rather than "a
people" descended from a dispersed nation, then it brings into question
the central justification for the state of Israel remaining a "Jewish
And that brings us to Zand's second assertion. He argues
that the story of the Jewish nation -- the transformation of the Jewish
people from a group with a shared cultural identity and religious faith
into a vanquished "people" -- was a relatively recent invention,
hatched in the 19th century by Zionist scholars and advanced by the
Israeli academic establishment. It was, argues Zand, an intellectual
conspiracy of sorts. Segev says, "It's all fiction and myth that served
as an excuse for the establishment of the State of Israel."
Zand Gets Slammed; Do His Arguments Stand Up?
ramifications of Zand's argument are far-reaching; "the chances that
the Palestinians are descendants of the ancient Judaic people are much
greater than the chances that you or I are its descendants," he told Ha'aretz.
Zand argues that Israel sho
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January 29, 2009 2:52 AM
Zand argues that Israel should be a state in which all of the
inhabitants of what was once "British Palestine" share the full rights
and responsibilities of citizenship, rather than maintaining it as a
"Jewish and democratic" state, as it's now identified.
Predictably, Zand was pilloried according to the time-tested formula. Ami Isseroff, writing on ZioNation,
the Zionism-Israel blog, invoked the customary Holocaust imagery,
accusing Zand of offering a "final solution to the Jewish problem," one
in which "No auto da fe is required, no charging Cossacks are needed, no gas chambers, no smelly crematoria." Another feverish ideologue called Zand's work "another manifestation of mental disorder in the extreme academic Left in Israel."
kind of overheated rhetoric is a standard straw man in the endless roil
of discourse over Israel and the Palestinians, and is easily dismissed.
But more serious criticism also greeted Zand's work. In a widely read critical review
of Zand's work, Israel Bartal, dean of humanities at the Hebrew
University, slammed the author's second assertion -- that Zionist
academics had suppressed the true history of Judaism's spread through
emigration and conversion in favor of a history that would give
legitimacy to the quest for a Jewish state.
important questions about Zand's methodology and pointed out what
appears to be some sloppy details in the book. But, interestingly, in
defending Israel's academic community, Bartal supported Zand's more
consequential thesis, writing, "Although the myth of an exile from the
Jewish homeland (Palestine) does exist in popular Israeli culture, it
is negligible in serious Jewish historical discussions." Bartal added:
"no historian of the Jewish national movement has ever really believed
that the origins of the Jews are ethnically and biologically 'pure.' "
He noted that "[i]mportant groups in the [Zionist] movement expressed
reservations regarding this myth or denied it completely."
far as I can discern," Bartal wrote, "the book contains not even one
idea that has not been presented" in previous historical studies. Segev
added that "Zand did not invent [his] thesis; 30 years before the
Declaration of Independence, it was espoused by David Ben-Gurion,
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and others."
One can reasonably argue that this
ancient myth of a Jewish nation exiled until its 20th century return is
of little consequence; whether the Jewish people share a common genetic
ancestry or are a far-flung collection of people who share the same
faith, a common national identity has in fact developed over the
centuries. But Zand's central contention stands, and has some
significant implications for the current conflict between Israel and
Changing the Conversation?
primary reason it's so difficult to discuss the conflict between
Israelis and Palestinians is the remarkably effective job supporters of
Israel's control of the Occupied Territories -- including Gaza, still
under de facto occupation -- have done equating support for
Palestinian self-determination with a desire to see the destruction of
Israel. It effectively conflates any advocacy of Palestinian rights
with the specter of Jewish extermination.
That's certainly been
the case with arguments for a single-state solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until recent years, advocating a
"single-state" solution -- a binational state where all residents of
what are today Israel and the Occupied Territories share the full
rights and responsibilities of citizenship -- was a relatively
mainstream position to take. In fact, it was one of several competing
plans considered by the United Nations when it created the state of
Israel in the 1940s.
But the idea of a single, binational state
has more recently been marginalized -- dismissed as an attempt to
destroy Israel literally and physically, rather than as an ethnic and
religious-based political entity with a population of second-class Arab
citizens and the legacy of responsibility for world's longest-standing
A logical conclusion of Zand's work exposing
Israel's founding mythology may be the restoration of the idea of a
one-state solution to a legitimate place in the debate over this
contentious region. After all, while it muddies the waters in one sense
-- raising ancient, biblical questions about just who the "children of
Israel" really are -- in another sense, it hints at the commonalities
that exist between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Both groups lay
claim to the same crust of earth, both have faced historic repression
and displacement and both hold dear the idea that they should have a
"right of return."
And if both groups in fact share common
biblical ties, then it begs the question of why the entirety of what
was Palestine under the British mandate should remain a refuge for
people of one religion instead of being a country in which Jews and
Arabs are guaranteed equal protection -- equal protection under the
laws of a state whose legitimacy would never again be open to question.
to Marion Y for finding this article.
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history is a myth agreed apon (Napoleon Bonepart) January 29, 2009 6:45 AM
Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 15:19 GMT
The Balfour Declaration
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was the first significant declaration by a world power in favour of a Jewish "national home" in what was known as Palestine.
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Historians disagree as to what the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, intended by his declaration. The letter has no mention of the word "state", and insists that nothing should be done "which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".
The letter was addressed to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Britain. It became an important arm of the movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine.
November 2nd, 1917
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you. on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:
His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
January 29, 2009 6:47 AM
Please note the date ! contrary to the Zionist ideology the issue was thought of previous to any Expulsion attepts by the Nsdap party of Germany
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May 03, 2009 2:24 PM
This is very interesting! I wonder if the book, The Africans Who Wrote the Bible, by Nana Banchie Darkwah, could shed some similar light. I haven't read the whole thing yet. It's one of those books I start, then a friend wants it, and I've yet to see it again! (ever happen to you?)
Also this article on Wiki looked telling indeed:
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When and How.. May 03, 2009 6:53 PM
Pete is this book by Shlomo Zand available at Amazon? Seems to be quite interesting stating the facts...
peace and solidarity
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