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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Calls Jewish People an ‘Invention’


Published: November 23, 2009 

Despite the fragmented and incomplete historical record, experts pretty much agree that some popular beliefs about Jewish history simply don’t hold up: there was no sudden expulsion of all Jews from Jerusalem in A.D. 70, for instance. What’s more, modern Jews owe their ancestry as much to converts from the first millennium and early Middle Ages as to the Jews of antiquity.

See Video of Sand's Lectures (inventionofthejewishpeople.com)

Other theories, like the notion that many of today’s Palestinians can legitimately claim to be descended from the ancient Jews, are familiar and serious subjects of study, even if no definitive answer yet exists.
But while these ideas are commonplace among historians, they still manage to provoke controversy each time they surface in public, beyond the scholarly world.

The latest example is the book “The Invention of the Jewish People,” which spent months on the best-seller list in Israel and is now available in English. Mixing respected scholarship with dubious theories, the author, Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, frames the narrative as a startling exposure of suppressed historical facts. The translated version of his polemic has sparked a new wave of coverage in Britain and has provoked spirited debates online and in seminar rooms.

Professor Sand, a scholar of modern France, not Jewish history, candidly states his aim is to undercut the Jews’ claims to the land of Israel by demonstrating that they do not constitute “a people,” with a shared racial or biological past. The book has been extravagantly denounced and praised, often on the basis of whether or not the reader agrees with his politics.

The vehement response to these familiar arguments — both the reasonable and the outrageous — highlights the challenge of disentangling historical fact from the sticky web of religious and political myth and memory.

Consider, for instance, Professor Sand’s assertion that Palestinian Arab villagers are descended from the original Jewish farmers. Nearly a century ago, early Zionists and Arab nationalists touted the blood relationship as the basis of a potential alliance in their respective struggles for independence. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Israel’s longest-serving president, made this very argument in a book they wrote together in 1918.

Harry Ostrer, director of the Human Genetics Program at New York University Langone Medical Center, who has been studying the genetic organization of Jews, said, “The assumption of lineal descent seems reasonable.”

Books challenging biblical and conventional history continually pop up, but what distinguishes the dispute over origins from debates about, say, the reality of the exodus from Egypt or the historical Jesus, is that it is so enmeshed in geopolitics.

The Israeli Declaration of Independence states: “After being forcibly exiled from their Land, the People kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it.” The idea of unjust exile and rightful return undergirds both the Jews’ and the Palestinians’ conviction that each is entitled to the land.

 Since Professor Sand’s mission is to discredit Jews’ historical claims to the territory, he is keen to show that their ancestry lines do not lead back to ancient Palestine.

He resurrects a theory first raised by 19th-century historians, that the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, to whom 90 percent of American Jews trace their roots, are descended from the Khazars, a Turkic people who apparently converted to Judaism and created an empire in the Caucasus in the eighth century.

Since Professor Sand’s mission is to discredit Jews’ historical claims to the territory, he is keen to show that their ancestry lines do not lead back to ancient Palestine. However, genetics also did not completely support the Khazar theory.

Many Jews are of mixed descent. “The ancient admixed ancestry explains the blond hair and blue eyes of Ashkenazi Jews whose grandparents and great-grandparents all lived in shtetls two and three generations ago,” Dr. Ostrer said. They brought the genes for coloration with them to Eastern Europe.

Experts dismiss the popular notion that the Jews were expelled from Palestine in one fell swoop in A.D. 70. Yet while the destruction of Jerusalem and Second Temple by the Romans did not create the Diaspora, it caused a momentous change in the Jews’ sense of themselves and their position in the world. For later generations it encapsulates the essential truth about the Jews being an exiled and persecuted people for much of their history.

Yet he Israeli Declaration of Independence states: “After being forcibly exiled from their Land, the People kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it.” The idea of unjust exile and rightful return undergirds both the Jews’ and the Palestinians’ conviction that each is entitled to the land.

See the complete story at  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/books/24jews.html

Rightardia comment: There are many questions about the Exodus in the Bible because the Egyptians were excellent archivists and there was not mention of it in Hieratic, the common cursive writing system used in pharaonic Egypt or in the  hieroglyphs. Now it appears that the diaspora was also an exageration.

In additon. Abraham was the father of all semitic people in the Middle East and he lived in what is now called modern Iraq. Both the original Jews and Palestianians are descended from Canaanite peoples that populated areas around modern day Israel.

There are chromosome markers  in Ashkenazi Jews may represent the vestiges of the mysterious Khazars in  about 12% of the present-day Ashkenazi men. Ashkenazi women do not appear to have a Middle Eastern heritage although one study suggests that about 40 per cent of the women have Middle eastern Mitochondrial DNA markers

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2 comments:

Charles said...

Why would we want to believe Sand, who is not a scholar of the Hebrew people? Thousands of excellent historical researchers have based their expertise on tens of thousands of noteworthy thesis and dissertation papers on the history of the Jewish people. Sand is not among them. So, how are we to believe him?

Citing genetic markers for a people who have used the entire planet for their diasporah is obviously illogical. The 200 year-old "Khazar" theory has holes large enough to drive a truck through and is accepted by no scholarly community today. Worse yet for Sand, recent research reveals that only two identifiable genetic markers exist for people living in the Holy Land after the exodus from Egypt - Jews and Cananites (who have no living descendents). This also verifies the Jewish claim on modern Israel.

Claiming that Palestinians are of Jewish heritage provides no smoking gun for Sand's purpose. Both cultures trace their ancestors to Abraham. And, it is illogical to claim that Jews were driven from the Holy Land. While many were driven out (by Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans) many also remained, providing a constant Jewish presence in the Holy Land dating to the exodus from Egypt. And, suggesting that Jews were not slaves in Egypt is like saying that slavery did not exist in Antebellum America. We know both to be true.

Sand posits controvercial and baseless theories; an esoteric collection of unproven gossip about the Jewish ancestry. His book is only a best seller because anti-Semitism thrives and people wish for anything to prove that Jews are not a valid people. None of Sand's ideas are original and all have been disproven by the intellectual community of historians.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage
http://jacobscourage.wordpress.com/

Rightardia said...

The Palestinians have just as a valid claim as Israel. Ancient Israel didn't exist as a country very long and split into Israel and Judea.

In addition, the Israelis who rightfully insisted upon reparations from the Swiss have never paid the Palestinians for the homes and property that was confiscated.

Israel is a Jewish Island that exists with a sea of Arabs. Without some flexibility on the part of Israel, the Middle East problem will be resolved by the end of a gun. Israel, if fact, is an issue that unites Islamic people. In the long run, Israel will continue to win battles, but may lose the war.

As a secular humanist, there is little evidence the Israelites were ever the slaves of Egypt and that an Exodus occurred. Slavery in antebellum South is well documented. We even know the names of many of the people who were slaves.

Genetic markers are hard to refute and it actually a good thing that Jewish genetics are diverse. We don't need more of the racial insanity that occurred during World War 2.

Thank you for your comments. You make excellent points.