Two new articles deal with political/genetic controversies over the origins of “the Jewish people” (of whom I consider myself a part for one tribal reason or another). Here is Israeli historian Schlomo Sand in Le Monde Diplomatique, writing, “Israel Deliberately Forgets Its History.” Sand says that the Jewish exile of 70 AD is a myth, and “the Jews” of Europe were created by conversion.
Then there is the question of the exile of 70 AD. There has been no real research into this turning point in Jewish history, the cause of the diaspora. And for a simple reason: the Romans never exiled any nation from anywhere on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean…
But if there was no exile after 70 AD, where did all the Jews who have populated the Mediterranean since antiquity come from? The smokescreen of national historiography hides an astonishing reality. From the Maccabean revolt of the mid-2nd century BC to the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century AD, Judaism was the most actively proselytising religion…
The most significant mass conversion occurred in the 8th century, in the massive Khazar kingdom between the Black and Caspian seas. The expansion of Judaism from the Caucasus into modern Ukraine created a multiplicity of communities, many of which retreated from the 13th century Mongol invasions into eastern Europe. There, with Jews from the Slavic lands to the south and from what is now modern Germany, they formed the basis of Yiddish culture…
Until about 1960 the complex origins of the Jewish people were more or less reluctantly acknowledged by Zionist historiography. But thereafter they were marginalised and finally erased from Israeli public memory. The Israeli forces who seized Jerusalem in 1967 believed themselves to be the direct descendents of the mythic kingdom of David rather than – God forbid – of Berber warriors or Khazar horsemen. The Jews claimed to constitute a specific ethnic group that had returned to Jerusalem, its capital, from 2,000 years of exile and wandering.
Hillel Halkin somewhat concedes the point in Commentary, writing that DNA studies suggest that “Jews” owe a lot to intermixing of genes in eastern Europe and Asia. Halkin briefly sounds an enlightened note:
Perhaps one day Israel will be become the “state of all its citizens”
that democratic values require it to be, a country of Hebrew-speaking
Jews, Muslims, and Christians, all equal before the law. Although the
great majority of secular Israelis do not yet subscribe to this point
of view, more and more will come to it if things continue on their
As for Palestine, Schlomo Sand suggests that the Palestinians are the people we call “the Jews” in the Bible:
Apart from enslaved prisoners, the population of Judea continued to live on their lands, even after the destruction of the second temple [in 70 AD]. Some converted to Christianity in the 4th century, while the majority embraced Islam during the 7th century Arab conquest.
Most Zionist thinkers were aware of this: Yitzhak Ben Zvi, later president of Israel, and David Ben Gurion, its first prime minister, accepted it as late as 1929, the year of the great Palestinian revolt. Both stated on several occasions that the peasants of Palestine were the descendants
of the inhabitants of ancient Judea.
I guess that’s why I’m for the right of return. Hey, we’re all just people. Can’t we all just get along??
(Thanks to Nabil Al-Khowaiter for the tip.)