Wednesday 15 October 2008

Lies, Damned Lies and Lies of Biblical Proportions

Once upon a time, so the story goes, the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt.

Then God spoke to Moses and told him to tell Pharaoh to let his people go.

Ten plagues later, the Jews were on their way to the promised land.
They exterminated the Canaanites and settled there, worshipping the one true God, with their ark of the covenant.

And after the judges came David And Solomon, the Jewish golden age, when Israel stretched to the Tigris and the Temple of God in Jerusalem was one of the wonders of the world.

Only the thing is, it is probably an origin myth. No more true than the colonisation of Britain in 1123 BC by Trojan exiles. No more true than the settlement of Ireland by the the sons of Miled, no more true than Theseus or Hercules. An origin myth.

So what is the truth about the Jewish people?
Well, there may be two questions here. One, which archaeology agrees with. And the other, which is a dark political football.

Because one question concerns the truth about the people who lived in Judaea when Christ lived.
The other, is the darker allegation, that controversial suggestion that Ashkenazi Jews AREN'T the descendants of the Jews of the Bible at all. Only Sephardic Jews are.

But we'll deal with the first question first.

The problem with the Bible version of the story, is that archaeology doesn't recognise a cultural change in Palestine circa 1400BC- the time of the Exodus. There is no change in the culture. No change in the features of the skeletons found. The evidence says that the same people lived in Canaan/Palestine in 1000BC as lived there in 2000BC. There is no evidence for a mass invasion or genocide. he evidence is, nothing dramatic happened in Palestine in 1400BC- or nothing dramatic enough for archaeology to see. In fact, archaeology says that the people described as Canaanites in writings before 1400BC are one and the same people as the people who later called themselves Jews.
So the Jews never came from Egypt. The never slaughtered the Canaanites because they WERE the Canaanites.

So why the myth?

Well, let's look at what history tells us ACTUALLY happened in 1400BC Egypt. And the Pharaoh you need to be looking at isn't Rameses, as Biblical tradition says. It's Akenhaten.

Up to and including the aftermath of his reign, Canaan was in fact an Egyptian province. His reign marks a curious episode in Egyptian history that started Egypt's terminal decline.
Basically, he founded a new religion. Ahenhhaten abolished all Egypt's Gods. Gone Amun-Re, Osiris, Horus, etc. Enter then one God- Aten.

Akenhaten founded a Monotheist religion. And forced everyone to observe it.

On his death, there was a counter-revolution. The boy king Tutankhamun was put forward as a puppet and the old religion restored. But it was pretty much a civil war situation. Because Aten had his devotees.

And it is at this point Canaan drops out of Egyptian history.

Moses is clearly an Egyptian name.

So is not the foundation of the Jewish state really an Atenist Egyptian local Governor refusing to revert to the old religion and holding his province in defiance?

And in time, the Atenist Egyptian elite hid the history of the origins of the Montheist state. They claimed that Moses and the Canaanites were one, that the ruling elite had never been of a different race to the ruled. They'd all come from Egypt but NONE of then were Egyptian.

The rest of it, the Torah, is an origin myth, all composed long after Moses ever lived, most of it, hundreds of years even after Solomon might have existed- if he did. It may well be so that little of Biblical history before the Babylonian history is anything more than half remembered legends.

The second possible myth is more controversial. Controversial, because it's political. It has political ramifications.
And it concerns just who Ashkenazi Jews are.

To explain, Ashkenazi Jews form 80% of the Jewish population in Israel. They are the largest Jewish community globally. And they tend to form the bulwark of Zionism.

The other main Jewish community, are Sephardic Jews. And in fact, they tend to form a kind of second class Jewish community to most Ashkenazi Jews.

Now let me just point out, both groups were equally the victims of Anti-Semitism. And whatever theory of the origins of either groups is true, doesn't make Anti-Semitism right. I hasten to point that out. This is most certainly NOT a piece suggesting that somehow persecution and pogroms were justified. And I would be grateful if people would read what comes next objectively- and see the point.

Sephardic Jews are the Jews who dispersed around the Mediterranean basin. Where we would expect them to disperse during the diaspora. Their settlement patterns are consistent with logic. No reason to doubt the facts about who Sephardic Jews are. To suggest they are anything other than the descendants of Biblical Jews, doesn't hold water. It seems pretty clear they were- and are.

Not of course that gives them a great claim to Israel, because the fact is in 1917, the majority of people living there were Arabs. It's all Arab land, whatever it once was. Israel is still a state founded on the same principles as White South Africa. You might as well give all England to Wales on the basis that two thousand years ago the English weren't there. The Israeli claim to own the land of Israel is based on a colonisation and a conquest and a claim that their ancestors once lived there. It's a bad claim, but the rest of the world felt that the Jews deserved a homeland somewhere as a result of the horrific history they'd endured- made more poignant by the ashes of Auschwitz and Belsen, and therefore the dubious nature of the claim was ignored.

So it's a lame claim, but at least in the case of Sephardic Jews, it's a claim. Their ancestors certainly lived there.

But Ashkenazi Jews- who are they?
The largest group of Jews?

Well, they're the Northern European Jews. Ultimately, they sprung from Jews settled in the Southern Ukraine in the Middle Ages, who due to persecution spilled into Poland, then Germany, these being the Jews who suffered most, and of course, form the backbone of American Jews as a result.

But- hang on- How DID they end up in the Ukraine???

And many have asked this question. It doesn't seem to make sense. Why would so many Jews have gone there? So much so that the majority of the population of Israel are descended from Jews who, rather than disperse round the Mediterranean, went off to the weirdest place they could think of.

And there's a politically unpopular theory that they DIDN'T.

You see, there's another strange question of history.

The 'What happened to the Khazars question'.

The Khazars were a people living in the Southern Ukraine between the fifth and the eleventh centuries. They bordered the Black sea and traded with the Byzantine Empire. Their ruler, The Khazar Kagan, was the first non-Byzantine to marry a Byzantine princess.
And the Khazar state has one unusual feature.

It was the only state ever to CONVERT to Judaism.
It's later rulers bear names such as 'Joseph' and 'Benjamin'.

And between 1000AD and 1100AD, the state disintegrated.

But what became of its people?

Millions perhaps, of Khazars practising Judaism living in the Southern Ukraine...

You see, many have pointed out that there's no great mystery here. Just that Ashkenazi Jews have forgotten their history. Or perhaps it changed over time. Maybe the first Jewish Khazars justified their conversion by claiming to be the twelve lost tribes of Israel. Only later, as memories got blurred, did they claim to be actual descendants of the diaspora.

The theory of course makes sense. And of course, it's contentious. Highly. Many Ashkenazi Jews accuse the theory of being Anti-Semitic.

But of course, it isn't. The theory doesn't in any way make Anti-Semitism justifiable.

What it does do, is say that the people most often seen as being the racial stereotype of Jews, may in facts have embraced Judaism and indeed become the most noticeable people on Earth practising that religion, but the actual people who are ethnically Jewish, are the Sephardic Jews. Them and no one else.

So what it actually means, if true, is that even the tenuous claim of Zionism to Israel, is itself a myth. Not only was it NOT the property of Ashkenazi Jews in 1947, or 1917, it wasn't even theirs in the time of Christ. They were roaming the steppe somewhere at that time.

Is this theory true?

Modern DNA testing comes up with no clear answer. It says that both Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews are related to a degree that is compatible with a large part of their genes coming from a common source within the last few thousand years. Well, we might expect that. Sephardic Jews especially, travelled. And since they married within their own faith, we'd expect these two communities to have genetically cross pollinated. What the genetic evidence can't state clearly, is whether these are communities which have got closer or further apart genetically.

Its an unproven theory. One day we may know the answer. But the problem is, it's a politically sensitive theory.

Because what would happen the day it really was proven that Ashkenazi Jews really are the descendants of Khazars?

Where does that leave the last sixty years of Western policy in the Middle East and the bitter fruit we are reaping from it?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interesting post! I enjoy reading your history and myth posts.

You would not suspect history has anything to do with politics, but doesn't it just?

Anonymous said...

Food for thought this post.

I had not heard the one about the colonisation of Britain in 1123 BC by Trojan exiles, must have myth-ed it ^_^.

Even if it did happen it could only have been an elite settled in a locality and took over, replacing the original movers and shakers.

As far as Jews and Arabs are concerned, it would be real interesting to see if there is any real difference between those who lived in the region before the state of Israel was founded, my bet would be very little. My bet would be that most of the Palestinian’s ancestors were once Jewish before they were converted to Islam.

In the same way I would bet the ancestors of modern day Turks who follow Islam were once Christian Orthodox and before that worshipped the gods of the classical world.

It all gets confused when you have a religion that can also be considered a race. Is there really any great difference genetically between Jews and non-Jews, or is it more cultural and in some cases religious combined with prejudice?

There is no arguing but that the whole situation in the Middle East is a can of worms. Everyone involved seems to have been the victim of one sort of injustice or another, subjected to violence and inflicting it, almost like a child growing up in a violent home beating on their family when adult.

Sometimes it seems that there are so many people fanning the flames things can never improve.

Anonymous said...

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics exposes government economic reporting. The truth be told, the inflation rate is over 10 percent, job creation less than zero and growth in GDP based on credit rather than production.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Crushed, you are a fount of knowledge. Very interesting line of thought that I am not qualified to comment on so won't.

Anonymous said...

Kate- It does, very much so.

And of course, so often history is political myth.

I find this one a subject not tackled enough, it's unconfortable, but neds addressing.

Incidently, Freud wrote essays on both theories. He believed both of them.

Moggs- Really? You surprise me.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Brittania written in the time of Henry II, Britain was founded by a gradson of Aeneas called Brutus. A long line of Kings then reigned, including King Lear, who foinded Leicester and lived about the time of Romulus and Remus.

The History includes KIngs like King Coel, Cymbeline, Belinus, eetc. And of course, it is the prime source for King Artuhr.

Very little of it is true, but it was accepted as true up until about the eightenth century.

It's diifficult to be sure about ethnicity in many cases. So many groupsd have blended in her and there. Very few languages refelect the ethnicity of their speakers. Case in point, it is quite clear that large parts of Achaea were settled by Slavs during the sixth century but they seem to have blended in. And of course, the Danelaw has just become a part of England where they talk funny.

Do you know that the majority of the people in Guatemala are Mayans? Its true.

The Middle East is a definitely a hot bed of age old grievances...

Think it will still be settled long before we stop hearing about the siege of Derry though...

Gayle- Thanks for your- input.

Spam on toast anyone?

jmb- As I say, Freud wrote essays on both, I think. I know I was discussing it with a work colleague and he actually went and got a book out on it, he was that fascinated by the idea.

Anonymous said...

Though there is no evidence per se, Arthur Koestler and his wife were found dead in their apartment in London. His narrative on the Khazars was probably the direct cause of his death. I often wondered and talk about this incessantly on my own blog about the Khazars, and am flabbergasted to find that Shlomo Sand's entry is the one that is consistently the most widely read across the globe. This has to tell you something, doesn't it?
I'm sephardic, and quite authentic.
Aimee Kligman