March 25, 2008

Inventing the Jews

There are a couple of pervasive racial myths upon which zionism is founded. One is that of exile and the other is that of the common origin of the Jewish people, though given the treatment of Jews from Arab countries and Ethiopian Jews by the Ashkenazi establishment of Israel, the myth of common origin is purely for outside rather than internal or in-group consumption.

The Magnes Zionist covered the myth of exile in a post some time ago, July last year in fact. Drawing on an article by Yisrael Yuval he makes two claims:
The first point to make is that well before the revolt against Rome in 66-70 c.e., there were Jewish communities outside Palestine, most notably in Babylonia and in Egypt, but elsewhere as well. References to the dispersal of the Jewish people throughout the civilized world are found in the book of Esther, Josephus, and Philo. There is no indication that these communities were small, satellite communities.

Second, there is no contemporary evidence – i.e., 1st and 2nd centuries c.e. – that anything like an exile took place. The Romans put down two Jewish revolts in 66-70 c.e. and in 132-135 c.e. According to Josephus, the rebels were killed, and many of the Jews died of hunger. Some prisoners were sent to Rome, and others were sold in Libya. But nowhere does Josephus speak of Jews being taken into exile. As we shall see below, there is much evidence to the contrary. There was always Jewish emigration from the Land of Israel, as the quote above from Baron indicates.
Well it has been known for some time that there have been Jewish states in places other than Palestine, apparently Yemen was Jewish twice before becoming Muslim. Now Diana Neslen has posted an article titled Shattering a 'national mythology' by Ofri Ilani to the Just Peace UK list. The article outlines the recent work of Professor Shlomo Sand, according to whom, the main origins of the celebrated Spanish Jewish community were Berber peoples.
Of all the national heroes who have arisen from among the Jewish people over the generations, fate has not been kind to Dahia al-Kahina, a leader of the Berbers in the Aures Mountains. Although she was a proud Jewess, few Israelis have ever heard the name of this warrior-queen who, in the seventh century C.E., united a number of Berber tribes and pushed back the Muslim army that invaded North Africa. It is possible that the reason for this is that al-Kahina was the daughter of a Berber tribe that had converted to Judaism, apparently several generations before she was born, sometime around the 6th century C.E.

According to the Tel Aviv University historian, Prof. Shlomo Sand, author of "Matai ve'ech humtza ha'am hayehudi?" ("When and How the Jewish People Was Invented?"; Resling, in Hebrew), the queen's tribe and other local tribes that converted to Judaism are the main sources from which Spanish Jewry sprang. This claim that the Jews of North Africa originated in indigenous tribes that became Jewish - and not in communities exiled from Jerusalem - is just one element of the far- reaching argument set forth in Sand's new book.
Of course none of this says anything as to the legitimacy or not of the modern State of Israel but it is one more nail in the coffin of a ludicrous racial mythology surrounding the Jewish identity. But please read the whole article. It covers far more ground than I have here.


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