Addendum (3 November 2011): Since the writing of this piece, one Israeli soldier held in captivity for five years by Hamas was exchanged for a thousand Palestinian prisoners, and more, who were held in Israeli prisons. Having added this, I won’t be writing a piece called ”The detention of Gilad Shalit: a thousand ”Palestinians” make one Jew.”
I’d like to examine a little more the question, What is a Jew?”. In his book “When and How the Jewish People Was Invented?”, the Tel Aviv University historian, Prof. Shlomo Sand, argues that the Jews living outside of Israel as well as most of the Jews living in Israel have not descended from the Judeans of the First and Second Temple period. The Jews of Europe (the Ashkenazis), of North Africa (the Sephardis) and the Jewish Yemenites are all descendants of non-Jews who converted in earlier centuries. Of special interest to me is, of course, the Ashkenazis, who, Shlomo Sand says, did not originate from Judah but from 8th century converts to Judaism – the Khazars. Sand offers the same tired “Khazar argument” as Arthur Koestler in his “The thirteenth tribes.”
“The Wandering Who?” (the dissident title tells you enough already!) calls When And How the Jewish People Was Invented a “very serious study written by Professor Shlomo Sand, an Israeli historian. It is the most serious study of Jewish nationalism and by far, the most courageous elaboration on the Jewish historical narrative.” There is no doubt that the author is serious – and courageous? He boldy admitted himself (on AlJazeera, my favourite news station) a little while ago that he wisely waited for tenure before publication. Good move. And good history? I wander, I mean, wonder.
In a previous post, I mentioned Judah Halevi (1075 – 1141), a Spanish Jew who wrote the “Kitab Al Khazari.” You would be hard pressed to find a more Jewish name than Judah the Levite.” According to Sand, Spanish Jews like Judah descended not from Judah but from Berbers.
Shlomo Sand wants to shatter once and for all the myth of the “Wandering Jew”. There’s no such person, because, Sand says, the Jews never wandered. There is an unbroken line of Jews in modern Israel, he says, but he is not one of them. That unbroken line, he says, is a people a thousand times more Jewish than himself, the Palestinians.
In contrast to Sand, most historians agree that after the Bar Kochba revolt (132-136), the Romans exiled the Jews from Judea, after which they dispersed across Asia Minor, North Africa and Eastern Europe (For example “Ashkenazi Economic and Social History” in Cochrane et al.). The Facta et dicta memorabili of Valerius Maximus, first century AD, refers to the Roman expulsion of the “corrupting” Jews from Judea in 139 BCE after the Bar Kochba revolt. According to Josephus, King Agrippa tried to discourage the Jews of Jerusalem and other parts of the Roman Empire from rebelling against Roman authority. Agrippa warned that “the danger concerns not those Jews that dwell here only, but those of them which dwell in other cities also; for there is no people upon the habitable earth which do not have some portion of you among them, whom your enemies might slay, in case you go to war…”, Antiquities of the Jews 27.12.1.
Shlomo Sand maintains that the story of the Jews “wandering across seas and continents, reaching the ends of the earth and finally, with the advent of Zionism, making a U-turn and returning en masse to their orphaned homeland” is nothing more than a “national mythology,”. Don’t all national movements – Greece, Rome, Germany – fabricate their own heroic Golden Age? Sand says that the Jews also had their myths where “the first buds of Jewish nationalism blossomed in the direction of the strong light that has its source in the mythical Kingdom of David.” He also asserts – oh what irony – that the roots of this Jewish “invention” (his term) is the German Enlightenment.
In a previous post on Theodor Herzl and the Enlightenment, I mentioned that German Jews were at the vanguard of the German Enlightenment. According to Sand, the modern Jewish people invented themselves during the Enlightenment of the 19th century. German Jewish intellectuals, (like Theodor Herzl) were influenced by the volk character of German nationalism. What’s good for the German goose is good for the (still to be invented) Jewish gander – sans goose ste.
According to Sand, these German “Jews” invented a Jewish people “retrospectively”, and it was the Jewish (?) historians from Heinrich Graetz onwards who had this graetz idea of creating a history of a mythical Jewish nation, itself concocted in less enlightened climes out of the mythological ancient Jewish Kingdoms of David and Solomon. In his “A history of the Jews” ( 1987. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, p. 50), Paul Johnson offers a more cogent view:
“The period beginning with the national campaign against the Philistines is exceptionally rich in documentation. By this time the Israelites had developed a passion for writing history. Most of the material has disappeared forever. The Book of Judges gives tantalizing references to the lost chronicles. We alas hear of the ‘Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel’, the ‘Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Judah’, the Book of the Acts of Solomon’ and many other works. But those that survive, especially the two books of Samuel and and the two books of Kings, are history on a grand scale, among the greatest works of all antiquity. They incorporate material from the royal archives such as lists of government officials, provincial governors and even the menus of the royal kitchen. From these times it is possible to establish synchronisms between king-lists given in the Biblical and non-Biblical sources such as the Egyptian Pharaoh canons and the Assyrian limmu or eponym lists. These enable us to make accurate datings. In the early monarchical period , the margin of error may be ten years, or so, but later we get virtually absolute dates. Thus we can be fairly sure that Saul was killed about 1005 BC, that David reigned until c. 966, and that Solomon died in either 926 or 925 BC.”
Any historian worth his Salt (Sand?) could not deny that the Biblical records rival the greatest Greek and Roman historians such as Herodotus and Thucydides (Greek), and Livy and Tacitus (Roman): “…the Biblical records give us astonishingly vivid portraits of the principal actors in the national drama, portraits which rival and even surpass those we find in the finest Greek historians more than a millennium later” (Paul Johnson’s ‘A history of the Jews’, p. 50).
Sand does not deny that there used to be a Jewish nation, because he cannot deny the fact that the Jewish nation was almost wiped out by the Babylonians (560 BC) and the Romans (70 AD)1. What he does deny is the flight of the Jews from Judea after the Bar Kochba revolt. These “Jews” have been wandering ever since. But what then do I make of Gustave Dore’s etching of the Wandering Jew fleeing Christ on the cross, on which so much of my argument for the WanderingJew hangs? Hey, no one thinks that the “Wandering Jew” is a real person. It’s a mythical story; which is not to say that it’s “pure myth”, that is, fictional. Myth has another – and deeper – meaning than “figment” (Sand’s description of the modern Jew), than a “fanciful folk tale.”
This deeper meaning of myth begins where the fanciful meaning ends. What I mean is that this deeper sense of myth is generally considered to be based on fanciful events or dreams (the layman’s definition of myth). Sometimes, though, myth (in this deeper sense) is based on a real event. Whether real or imagined, these (deep) myths become imbued with symbolic meaning. The “Wandering Jew” is one of these myths.
Most Jews don’t care a fig about the Cross – and would be amused, if not outraged, to be told that they, like the “mythical” Wandering Jew, are – really or unreally – fleeing from the crucified saviour. Fleeing from the Messiah (Hebrew for the Greek “Christ”), especially a crucified Messiah, is not only a hot Jewish pursuit. but a universal one. Jesus explains why: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a). Now, it is as plain as day, that – in the Apostle John’s phrase – the whole world is born in darkness. Orphne (Greek “darkness”), araphel (Hebrew “thick darkness”). The orphan, Raphael, is no anagrammic exception. Nor is Shlomo Sand. Not only does Shlomo believe that the “Golden Age” (his term) of David and Solomon is a Jewish product of dark ignorance, but so are the sayings of Solomon products of the mythical night. “Then Solomon said,’The Lord has said that he (the Lord) would dwell in thick darkness’ (1 Kings 8:12).”
אָז אָמַר שְׁלֹמֹה יְהוָה אָמַר לִשְׁכֹּן בָּעֲרָפֶֽל׃
Az אָז (THEN) amar אָמַר (SAID) shlomo שְׁלֹמֹה (SOLOMON) JHVH יְהוָה (the LORD) amar אָמַר (SAID) lishkhon לִשְׁכֹּן (HE [the LORD] WOULD DWELL) ba-araphel (IN-THICK DARKNESS).
Unfortunately, Raphael and Shlomo can’t see well in the dark, and so unless God reveals himself to us, we shall forever remain in the dark.
According to Shlomo, Solomon is all made up (granted there might have been a veritable Solly, but of no more import than the Chinese apology – “velly solly”) – for the simple reason that Solomon is, according to Shlomo, a Jewish figment in the same mould as the fig leaf of Adam. Not only did Solomon emerge out of then thin air (or thick darkness, if you prefer) of myth, so did the God of the Hebrews, “the Holy One of Israel”. Darkness, for Shlomo Sand, clearly does no really exist, but the God of the Hebrews does not. Why can I be so sure that Shlomo Sand does not believe in the Hebrew God? Because he doesn’t believe that David and Solomon are all they are made out to be; they’re mostly made up. If David is made up, then so are the Hebrew scriptures. The French love Shlomo Sand, so do most Jews, who are either agnostic or atheist (there’s little difference between the two). Why do I mention the French? I suppose because they started this sorry “enlightenment” business. Then the German/Austrian Jews added their spit and polish – Herzl, Freud, Marx, Moses Hess, and many others.
Sand and liberal Jews would share Hans Herzl’s (the son of Theodor Herzl) view (see Herzl King of the Jews). Hans Herzl is an “enlightened” Jew, in today’s terms, a liberal Jew. Hans wrote:
“My father was a great man, whom I loved… But I’ve come to see that he made a great historical error in his attempt to rebuild the Jewish State…. My father did not realize the true mission of the Jewish people, which has proven that the living and fertilizing spirit does not need territorial boundaries, and that a people can live and exist even when fortifications and borders have disappeared. I would ask them not to attempt to add to the decadent civilizations but to remember their true identity and work for the cultural reconstruction of their homeland – and this homeland is the entire world.” (Hans Herzl to Marcel Steinberger in Princes Without A Home (1929).
Shlomo Sand – now that he has tenure at Tel Aviv university – is very tenacious that he is a thousand times less Jewish than a Palestinian. DNA research, perchance, could provide evidence to prove that Sand is more Jewish than he wants to think. Some examples of this DNA research are Behar et al.’s. “Multiple Origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y Chromosome Evidence for Both Near Eastern and European Ancestries” in American Journal of Human Genetics and Kevin Brooks’ “Jews of Khazaria” especially the chapter “Are Russian Jews Descended from the Khazars”, – which has specific relevance to this bography (See my first post where I explain the origin of my user name “bography”).
In “When is a Jew…”, I referred to Jon Entine’s book “Abraham’s children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People”. Entine explains why most Jews shy away from genetic research:
“Discussing the genetic distinctiveness of populations, Jews or any other group, is a hot- button issue for many news outlets. “Abraham’s Children” suggests that there exist meaningful differences between populations, maybe even “races,” and that’s a taboo subject. It’s on the edge of acceptable popular discourse, although scientists discuss this all the time. I think a high percentage of reviewers are Jewish and liberal, and liberal dogma is that we don’t talk about racial differences. I understand that there is a traditional Jewish commitment to egalitarianism and identification with the underdog, which comes out of the Jews having been discriminated against throughout so much of their history. Many Jews carry that torch of fighting against discrimination, I do myself, and that’s a wonderful aspect of Jewishness.”
Several genetic studies (I mentioned a few above) provide reliable evidence that can establish whether a person is (more or less) Jewish. Yet most Jews eschew genetics of any kind in the evaluation of human beings; for example, measurements of intelligence between groups or races. These Jews are generally Ashkenazi Jews. But the facts are plain to see. North American Ashkenazi Jews, who make up three percent of the population, won 27 percent of North America’s Nobel prizes, and half the world chess champions are Jewish. They have reason to boast of a bodily descent, but not of the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7:15).
Much of my academic research had to do with the relationship between intelligence and academic ability, where I argued that much of intelligence was inherited. This was long before I found out that Ashkenazi Jews have Jewish genes that show they have higher average intelligence than other Jews and non-Jews. But don’t ask a Nazi or a liberal Jew to give his opinion on this one.
Jews are generally satisfied with having Jewish family tree and that other Jews – religious or not – accept them as Jewish. They’re not so much interested in the gene part of family tree (gene!alogy) than in historical continuity. If liberal Jews hear the term Jewish genealogy, they may contract a genetic disorder, a gene-allergy. Now, here;s the rub: there are certain genetic disorders that are prevalent among Ashkenazis (See Ashkenazi Howard Metzenberg’s Closing in on the intelligence genes—at least some Jewish ones and Cochran et al.’s Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence. Indeed, it is those very genetic disorders in Ashkenazis that not only increase the intelligence of the Ashkenazi Jew, but also and more importantly prove that he is Jewish. “Even though gene frequencies in Ashkenazim are nearly indistinguishable from mixed Europeans overall, there are clear genetic signatures of the Middle Eastern ancestry of the population and of shared history with other Jewish groups.” This genetic evidence rebuts Sands thesis that Ashkenazis (like him) are not real Jews. If that is so, then Sands book is not only clever, but very clever; and Sands is as clever as only a Jew could be – an Ashkenazi Jew, that is.
The Oirish say “the ansir lois in the soil.” I, on the contrary, playfully say (the onedaringjeu3 never ceases to infuriate) the answer lies in the genes. If you’re not sure whether you’re really Jewish, let me ask you a question. Have you got Jewish genes? There are specific genetic traits that mark you as Jewish. If you’re Jewish, or think you’re Jewish or want to be Jewish, you can find peace of mind on the matter; take a reliable DNA test. But it’ll cost you up to 250 dollars. Now, say you turn out to be Jewish, and that’s what you wanted, “do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8). But you’ll need to be a Jewish Christian, or a Jewish Oxymoron, to fully appreciate this one.
About the Khazar connection to the Ashkenazi that Shlomo Sand and Arthur Koestler go on so much about: there appears to be evidence that many modern Ashkenazis are descendents from converts to Judaism, but I would never bet a thousand to one that Shlomo Sand is one thousandth Palestinian, as he is so eager to claim. According to Rabbi Tani Burton’s “On the Derech”, Sand is talking drek. Burton gives Sand a pish of his mind:
“That an anti-semite would want to invoke the Khazar myth to disconnect the Jews from the land of Israel does not perturb me; people driven by hatred will employ all means to prove their point. I do find it odd that a published professor on the staff of an academic institution would utilize a theory that he knows has been proven totally false through historical, genetic, linguistic and archaeological evidence.”
In the prologue of his “History of the Jews”, Paul Johnson, the eminent historian, says: “The Jews created a separate and specific identity earlier than than any other people which still survives. They have maintained it, amid appalling adversities, right up to the present.” (my italics). The rest of Johnson’s book expounds on the vicissitudes of this “separate and specific identity.” Paul Johnson is a Catholic. He knows more Jewish history than Shlomo Sand, who can now shout from the Jewish rooftops of his university so that all on campus can hear, I’m soooo not Jewish. But not before his fellow Khazars have given him tenure. When you’ve got tenure, it means you hold (Latin tenere) on to your job for life; not for dear life like those poor sods who have to keep on signing contracts. Now that Shlomo is well shtetled in his job, when is Aljazeera going to invite Paul Johnson?
1 Josephus writes about a million Jews were killed during the siege of Jerusalem and about 100 000 were captured and enslaved Many fled to the coasts of Asia Minor and North Africa.
3Jeu (French “game”, “play”) of the onedaringjew. The jeu is the “play” of deconstruction, which I wrote about in an article entitled “Can the deconstructive tour (surprisingly) translate Us anywhere?” published in the Journal of literary studies. If you would like a copy of the article, just ashk this Ashkenazi and he’ll email it to you.
Conversation overheard at tea at a Jewish Brain Disorders Convention straight after a brilliant presentation by a Professor Cohen called “Why Ashkenazis have it all.”
Gentile delegate (pale, eyes flashing): You Jews are so clever; you make me sick!
Jewish delegate: No, no, you have the Professor all back to front. What he was saying was: we Jews are sick; that’s why we’re so clever.