Saturday, February 10, 2024

On Shlomo Sand’s history book: The Invention of the Jewish People

I am inspired by the books of Leon Uris, especially his book Exodus, which describes the founding of the nation of Israel. But I have always known that Exodus is not a book of history—it is full of falsehoods and is a work of fiction. 

In this book Uris has contrived a fictional account of the founding of Israel against the backdrop of his imagined-history of the Jewish people in the last 2500 years. The book is very entertaining, very inspiring, very nationalistic, but as I said earlier, it is a work of fiction—the historical and contemporary events that Uris describes in his book never happened. 

History is a controversial subject. Even the works of reputed academic historians suffer from ideological, religious, ethnic and political biases. To gain knowledge about any historical event, you cannot afford to rely on a single book. You have to examine several books by writers of different backgrounds and then apply your own judgement.

For those who are interested in the history of Israel and the Jewish people, Shlomo Sand’s book, The Invention of the Jewish People, is a must read. Sand is a Professor of History at Tel Aviv University and he is not free of ideological biases. He is a radical leftist and he argues against nationalism like a typical Marxist intellectual. 

But the arguments and historical evidence that he presents are convincing, and probably correct. 

In his book, Shlomo Sand attacks the core idea that forms the fundamental basis for the idea of Jewish Israel. This core idea is that more than 2000 years ago, the Jewish people were driven out of the area, where modern Israel exists today, by Roman emperors. This forcible exile gave rise to the Jewish diaspora in Europe and North Asia. 

Sand rightly argues in this book that there is no historical record of the Roman Emperors forcibly driving out the Jews. He argues that this exile never happened and that the Jewish population in Europe and North Asia are not the descendants of refugees from the Middle East. They are the products of religious conversion. 

He argues that Judaism was the world’s first monotheistic religion that tried to convert people of other religions to its own faith. The ancient Jewish preachers went to Europe and parts of Asia and converted large parts of the population to Judaism. According to Sand, the millions of Jews around the Mediterranean and elsewhere are the products of religious conversion of locals. 

He argues that the story of the exile was a myth promoted by early Christians to recruit Jews to the new faith, and that the ancestry of most Jews can be traced to Europe and Asia, and not Israel or Palestine. 

Sand’s book is a convincing attack on not just Jewish nationalism but every other kind of nationalism. The arguments and historical evidence that he uses to refute the idea of Jewish nationalism can easily be deployed to weaken and destroy American, British, French, German, Arab, Chinese, Hindu (Indian) and other nationalisms. 

The biggest threat to Israel, I believe, is not from groups like Hamas or PLO. It is from brilliant Marxist historians like Shlomo Sand who possess the historical evidence and arguments to refute the “nationalistic mythology and falsehoods” that serve as the foundation on which Israel’s national identity has stood since the 1940s.

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