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185 of 207 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting challenge to both Zionism and antisemitism., 16 Oct 2009
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This review is from: The Invention of the Jewish People (Hardcover)
Shlomo Sand's `The Invention of the Jewish People' is fascinating. It is a wide ranging study that is well written, well translated and easily read. It is about how, when, why and by whom the notion of the Jews as a people was invented and the consequences of this invention.

Sand starts with an exploration of theoretical understandings of nationalism and references such authors as Ernest Gellner and Benedict Anderson. I found this chapter a little bit scatter-gun and readers don't really need to read chapter 1. Nevertheless, Sand makes his case that nations are the product of nationalism - not the other way around.

Chapter 2 launches straight into what Sand calls `Mythistory'. Here he examines the evolution of historiography of the Jews and how this has been distorted by both the Bible and by nationalist and racial ideologies. When was the Old Testament written? By whom? Why? Sand then goes on to show that philological and archaeological research has undermined the notion that the Old Testament is older than the Persian and Hellenistic periods and that events such as the arrival of the Patriarchs and the Exodus did probably not occur.

Sand then tackles the myth of exile. The fact that Jews were not exiled from Judea in 71 CE upon the destruction of the Temple. Nor were they exiled after the Bar Kochba revolt some 80 years later. Sand follows the Zionist historiography as it tries to settle on it's third choice of when exile occurred after the 7th century Arab conquest. Here Sand is a little weak, I feel, in that he doesn't make the obvious link in Zionist ideology between the concept of Arab dispossession and the later justification of the dispossession of Arabs in 1948. Sand also points out that the idea of exile was initially a Christian idea that was adopted by Jews.

As Sand points out, the logical conclusion for the disappearance of Jews in Palestine after the Arab conquest was that they converted to Islam and that today's Palestinian are the descendents of these converts. Such was recognized by Zionists such as Ben-Gurion, although here Sand again fudges somewhat as he seeks to blame Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonisation for the fact that Zionist and Palestinian societies did not merge in the Mandate period and ignores the inbuilt urge to ethnic cleansing in Zionism as something which would always have precluded such a merging. It's a failing which runs through Sand book that he sees Zionism as simply a nationalist movement rather than appreciaiting it's inherent racism and colonialism.

Sand points out and amply illustrates the rise of Jewish proselytism from Hasmonean times onwards as Judaism merges with Hellenism to form a dynamic monotheistic religion that spreads throughout Judea and then beyond into the Greek and then Roman world. Sand takes us through the spread of Judaism to the kingdom of Himyar in Yemen, the conversion of the Berbers in N.Africa and the origins of the great Jewish society in Spain - all of these the product of proselytisation rather than emigration. Sand then moves on to the Khazar Kaganate in S.Russia/Caucasus, itself also the product of proselytisation, and the relationship between this society and the emergence of the E.European Ashkenazi Jewish society and Yiddish civilization. The evidence here is not quite so clear cut, but Sand makes a good case that Yiddish civilization owes a great deal to the Khazars.

Sand next tackles modern controversies and handles well the attempts by Zionists to bring genetics to the rescue of the failing notion that Jews are a race-nation. He points to contradictory findings, dubious sampling techniques and the financing of research by interested organizations to cast doubt on the validity of this approach.

Sand concludes with a chapter on Israeli politics and, essentially, a plea to create a secular democratic state for all the people rather than a Jewish democratic state which, as Sands rightly points out, is an oxymoron.

Very little of what Sand says is actually new. What Sand does is draw together all the diverse scholarly objections from, for example, history, philology and archaeology to the notion that Jews are a distinct race/nation/people into a coherent synthesis.

Essential reading for the debate around Zionism and racism.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Oct 2013 14:42:09 BDT
I find it funny that you seem to ignore all of the primary source historians of the day, eg. Josephus, Tacitus, Dio Cassius, when compiling your arguments. Not to mention all of the historical, archaeological, and scientific evidence that confirms the distinctness of the Jewish nation, eg. Arch of Titus, Burnt House in Jerusalem, and Y-chromosomal Aaron.

Your endorsement of Shlomo Sand proves to me that your views heavily biased. This is evident in your exclusion of undisputed historical facts which would disprove your assumptions and the fact the Jewish people and Judaism have survived against all the odds. A touch of Anti-Semitism? I think so.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Feb 2014 11:21:41 GMT
Hey Darren ...... I mean no offence but ...... it really is time that everyone writing critiques to reviews understands that the moment the 'Anti-Semite' accusation is wheeled out the post becomes pointless!! This is only MY opinion of course but I'd be amazed if many others didn't feel the same sense of boredom and frustration every time this accusation is levelled rather than intelligent debate being entered into!

It's not just your critique of course. I have read so many over the past few years where the original piece is clearly discussing fact and not just opinion and, almost without fail, someone pops up and cries 'Anti-Semite'! It seems to be the Jewish protective blanket for whenever something is written or said that doesn't quite fit into the Zionist illusion.

I personally have strong views about the role of Zionism, which have come from reading a lot of material, but does that make me anti-semitic!?! If you knew me you'd know that it doesn't. I think that Jews and Judaism have been hijacked by Zionists - I empathise with Jews and would love to see them reclaim the dignity and respect that the Zionists are destroying!!

Anyway, I can't comment on the substance of your critique - it may well be perfectly valid - it's just a shame you had to invalidate it by using the 'AS' card!

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Mar 2014 00:00:01 GMT
Germinal says:
I have to agree with Stephen Atkinson's comment: as soon as the accusation of anti-Semitism is hurled into argument such as this, then those that hurl it have forfeited that argument.
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