An invention called 'the Jewish people'
- An invention called 'the Jewish people'
By Tom Segev
February 29, 2008
Israel's Declaration of Independence states that the Jewish people
arose in the Land of Israel and was exiled from its homeland. Every
Israeli schoolchild is taught that this happened during the period of
Roman rule, in 70 CE. The nation remained loyal to its land, to which
it began to return after two millennia of exile. Wrong, says the
historian Shlomo Zand, in one of the most fascinating and challenging
books published here in a long time. There 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 under
Joshua. It's all fiction and myth that served as an excuse for the
establishment of the State of Israel, he asserts.
According to Zand, the Romans did not generally exile whole nations,
and most of the Jews were permitted to remain in the country. The
number of those exiled was at most tens of thousands. When the country
was conquered by the Arabs, many of the Jews converted to Islam and
were assimilated among the conquerors. It follows that the progenitors
of the Palestinian Arabs were Jews. Zand did not invent this thesis;
30 years before the Declaration of Independence, it was espoused by
David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and others.
If the majority of the Jews were not exiled, how is it that so many of
them reached almost every country on earth? Zand says they emigrated
of their own volition or, if they were among those exiled to Babylon,
remained there because they chose to. Contrary to conventional belief,
the Jewish religion tried to induce members of other faiths to become
Jews, which explains how there came to be millions of Jews in the
world. As the Book of Esther, for example, notes, "And many of the
people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them."
Zand quotes from many existing studies, some of which were written in
Israel but shunted out of the central discourse. He also describes at
length the Jewish kingdom of Himyar in the southern Arabian Peninsula
and the Jewish Berbers in North Africa. The community of Jews in Spain
sprang from Arabs who became Jews and arrived with the forces that
captured Spain from the Christians, and from European-born individuals
who had also become Jews.
The first Jews of Ashkenaz (Germany) did not come from the Land of
Israel and did not reach Eastern Europe from Germany, but became Jews
in the Khazar Kingdom in the Caucasus. Zand explains the origins of
Yiddish culture: it was not a Jewish import from Germany, but the
result of the connection between the offspring of the Kuzari and
Germans who traveled to the East, some of them as merchants.
We find, then, that the members of a variety of peoples and races,
blond and black, brown and yellow, became Jews in large numbers.
According to Zand, the Zionist need to devise for them a shared
ethnicity and historical continuity produced a long series of
inventions and fictions, along with an invocation of racist theses.
Some were concocted in the minds of those who conceived the Zionist
movement, while others were offered as the findings of genetic studies
conducted in Israel.
Prof. Zand teaches at Tel Aviv University. His book, "When and How Was
the Jewish People Invented?" (published by Resling in Hebrew), is
intended to promote the idea that Israel should be a "state of all its
citizens" - Jews, Arabs and others - in contrast to its declared
identity as a "Jewish and democratic" state. Personal stories, a
prolonged theoretical discussion and abundant sarcastic quips do not
help the book, but its historical chapters are well-written and cite
numerous facts and insights that many Israelis will be astonished to
read for the first time.
Against the Rationalization of Zionist Crimes
by Joachim Martillo (ThorsProvoni @ aol.com)
Zionists and their white racist Evangelical Christian Fundamentalist
supporters justify mass murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide against
the native Palestinian population by asserting that ethnic Ashkenazim
are descended from ancient Greco-Roman Palestinian Judeans or Galileans.
This belief has no connection to the facts as many Jewish studies
scholars will admit in private. At an MIT lecture I asked Harvard
Professor Shaye Cohen about the ancestral connection of modern ethnic
Ashkenazim to ancient Palestine, and he told me there has been a lot
of conversion since Greco-Roman times (whatever conversion meant in
Greco-Roman times). In 2002 Marc Ferro published Les Tabous de
l'histoire, which discusses in detail the conversion to which
Professor Cohen referred.
Conversion is not the only process that deterritorialized Judaism
because the Hasmoneans and Herodians seem to have pursued a policy of
bringing as many worshippers of the high God El within the fold of the
Jerusalem Temple in order to improve the Judean kingdom's finances. El
was Kronos to the Greeks and Saturnus to the Romans. In Hellenistic
Tyre El Kon-Artz (El Creator of the Earth) was worshipped as El Kronos.
At the time of Jesus the vast majority of El-worshippers, who were
adherents of 2nd Temple Judaism, probably had no ancestral connection
whatsoever to Greco-Roman Judea, Persian Yehud or ancient Judah.
In very careful analysis of the sources, Seth Schwartz argues in
Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Jews,
Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World) that by
the end of the 2nd century 2nd Temple Judaism was completely
shattered. He argues that the Constantinian Church reconstructed late
Roman Judaism. In a way Shaye Cohen agrees because in The Beginnings
of Jewishness he dates the origin of Jewishness as we understand it
today to the 4th century.
In Schwartz's analysis Cohen's dating is probably too early because
Talmudic/Geonic Judaism is not clearly the dominant current in late
Roman Judaism, and Judean Christianity, which treats Jesus as messiah
but not as God or son of God, still has many adherents throughout
Palestine, Mesopotamia and Arabia Felix (Hijaz). Such Judean
Christians view themselves as practicing some form of Judaism, and no
Jewish group has a well-defined position on matrilineality or on
conversion practices within the Judaism of this time period.
As the Christian late Roman Empire gradually retrenches or breaks
down, the Khazar Kingdom rises in Southern Russia and flourishes from
the seventh through tenth centuries. The wealth of the Khazar kingdom
seems to have been based in trading Slavs and members of other
Southern Russian ethnic groups as slaves first with the Byzantine
Empire and then with the early Islamic Empires as well.
Trading in slaves in that time period cannot be equated with human
trafficking today. Ancient servitude like later Islamic or Ottoman
slavery could provide social mobility, confer political authority and
confer social status to members of an alien immigrant population. Ehud
Toledano discusses such aspects of Ottoman Slavery in Slavery and
Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East. Khazar, Byzantine and early
Islamic slavery was probably closer to the later Ottoman system.
Dealing with the Christian and Islamic Empires put pagan Khazars in a
tricky position. Some seem to have converted to Christianity and
Islam, but such conversion may have created problems for the slave
trade because as Christians or Muslims, the Khazars would have had an
obligation to convert Slav subjects to either Christianity or Islam
and incorporate them into the community. Slaving in such a situation
is quite problematic. That time period's Judaisms, which were far less
committed to proselytization than Christianity or Judaism, for the
most part made strong distinctions between members of the community
and gentiles as well as between Hebrew slaves and Canaanite (gentile)
slaves. Starting in the 8th century (or maybe earlier) the Khazars
began to convert to Judaism, and by the 10th century the Khazar
Kingdom officially practiced Judaism. For the entire Middle Ages,
Rabbinic Jewish literature consistently refers to Eastern Europe as
Kanaan -- I presume -- because Eastern Europe was a source of Slavs
who were treated legally as `avadim kanaanim (Canaanite slaves).
In contrast with Ibero-Berber Jewish naming practices, which often
include Talmudic Aramaic names consistent with the occasional
immigration of Jews from Babylonia to Spain, Khazar Jewish names show
the typical convert pattern of choosing names out of scripture as
described in the work of Columbia Professor William Bulliet.
Archeological investigation finds mixed Turkic pagan and Judaic
graveyards with the earliest such mixed graveyards in Southern Russia
and the later such graveyards in the Balkans and Hungary.
Archeologists have also found coins with Turkic and Hebrew
inscriptions in Hebrew-Aramaic letters. There is no textual or
epigraphical evidence of knowledge of Arabic or of Aramaic among
Southern Russian and Eastern European Jews of the 10th century or
earlier as one would expect if they or near ancestors were immigrants
from Palestine or Mesopotamia.
The Khazars corresponded with the Geonim, who seem to have been
willing to adjust the sacred law to fit the slave trade in exchange
for economic support. Such accommodation is probably the origin of
Medieval Rabbinic Judaism as Khazar slavers needed a codified legal
system, and Khazar contributions made it possible for Geonic Judaism
to dominate and finally absorb other forms of Judaism at the same time
that many members of non-Khazar Jewish communities throughout the
Mediterranean region, Germany and France became agents of the slave
trade either directly or through finance, tax farming, medicine or
estate management, which were professions supported almost entirely by
the slave trade in the early Medieval Period. The Jewish slavers that
accompanied William the Conqueror to England seem to have been of
Ibero-Berber origin and not of Khazar background.
Matrilineal non-proselytizing Medieval Rabbinic Judaism proved
exceptionally friendly to the Slavic slave trade. Medieval centers of
Rabbinic Jewish learning thrived along with the Slavic slave trade
while Medieval Karaites were probably the last holdouts against the
Geonic accommodation. Karaite centers declined and tended to be in
rather isolated parts of the world.
Amitav Gosh translated a lot of Geniza documents written by or about a
Jewish slaver in India. The book is called In an Antique Land, and
Gosh is somewhat diffident about describing his subject's source of
This Khazar hypothesis complements the Pirenne Thesis (Mahomet et
Charlegmagne) as well as some of the proposals of Crone, Cooke, and
Nevo about the development of early Islam (Hagarism: The Making of the
Islamic World by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, Crossroads to Islam
by Yehuda Nevo and Judith Koren). The spread of various forms of
Judaism to Southern Russia probably explains why St. Kliment of Ohrid
gave many Cyrillic forms similar to those in the Hebrew Aramaic
alphabet. Members of a non-Rabbinic Jewish group probably created the
Slavonic book of Esther while Bogomili Christianity and Catharism were
probably brought westward by Slavic slaves that practiced evolved
forms of Judean Christianity, no longer recognized as Judaism by
Rabbinic Jewish Khazars.
As the Slavic slave trade expanded the Jewish traders probably needed
to free semi-proselyte Slavic slaves to assist in the business. A
similar process took place in West Africa as the Black African slave
trade expanded. In Germano-Slavic territories where Sorbian and
Polabian were spoken, the Slavo-Khazar traders, who initially probably
used Sorbian and Polabian, had incentive to relexify their Slavic
dialect to German in order to trade with dominant German-speaking
populations and to separate themselves from pagan and Christian
Sorbian and Polabian. During the 9th-13th centuries this process
created an older form of Yiddish, which became the West Yiddish
dialects of German territories. During this time period, as the
Slavo-Khazar Jewish population becomes larger and more important
within the Jewish community, Arabic dies out as a language of
religious discourse among non-Khazar Rabbinical Jews.
As the Khazar traders reconstructed trade routes or created entirely
new trade routes, Khazar and non-Khazar Jews develop distribution
networks for goods unrelated to Slavery. In Spain the Jewish
non-Slavery-related trade does not seem to have been highly valued
because Spain expelled its Jewish population within 50 years of the
shutdown of Slavic slave trade in Mediterranean Christian countries as
a consequence of the Ottoman Conquest of Constantinople.
The development of sophisticated heterogeneous distribution networks
by Jews in Poland made Commonwealth Poland a wealthy world power while
Jewish estate management, finance and tax farming remained important
and often thrived in Poland even after the complete shutdown of the
overland Slavic slave trade by the end of the Wars of the Reformation.
As Jews from the German territories migrated Eastward because of the
Crusades and the Wars of the Reformation, the Slavic Kiev-Polessian
dialects of the Slavo-Turkic Eastern European and Southern Russian
Jewish populations (with the exception of certain isolated communities
in Slovakia and the Sub-Carpathian region) were relexified to West
Yiddish to create East Yiddish dialects. Paul Wexler explains the
vocabulary of Yiddish in Two-tiered Relexification in Yiddish without
proposing any historical reasons for the process. The work of
Alexander Beider and other specialists in onomastic studies also
demonstrate a westward migration of Eastern Slavic-speaking Jews. Some
of the linguistic development of East Yiddish may have taken place in
By the 17th century practically all consciousness of the Khazar
kingdom was lost among Jews, and Yiddish-speaking Eastern European
Jews constitute a distinct Eastern European Ashkenazi ethnic group.
During the German economic depression during the century after the
signing of the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), there was considerable
mixing of impoverished German Christians and German Jews, and many
Jews probably passed into the Christian community while some
Christians were probably absorbed in the Jewish community. During the
same time period, as Poland collapsed after the Chmielnicki Rebellion
(1648), Polish Prussia came under German rule, and German Jews began
to develop some familiarity with the Polish estate system. Thus even
after the crystallization of Ashkenazi ethnicity, the boundary between
German Jews and Eastern European ethnic Ashkenazim has never been
This article seems to conflict with genetic anthropological studies of
Hammer, Oppenheim and similar people but these studies are severely
flawed as Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh and I point out in
http://tinyurl.com/3e4xby . A recent article by Talia Bloch in the
Forward ("One Big, Happy Family," Aug. 22, 2007,
http://www.forward.com/articles/11444/ ) indicates that even some of
the most extreme Zionist genetics researchers are beginning to concede
that ethnic Ashkenazim are a separate ethnic group distinct from other
Jewish groups except insofar as members ethnic Ashkenazi communities
or related Eastern European and Southern Russian populations have been
exported to Ashkenazi or proto-Ashkenazi communities in the past.
The rationalization of Zionist crimes against Palestinians on the
basis of some sort of modern Jewish ancestral connection to ancient
Palestinian populations has always been unethical, but even those that
believe genes confer superior rights to one group over another must
concede that ethnic Ashkenazi Zionists in Palestine are murderous
genocidal thieves and interlopers.
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