Blogs > Cliopatria > When is a Revision simply a lie?

Aug 11, 2004 4:03 pm

When is a Revision simply a lie?

Jonathan Dresner pointed out below this article (care of HNN) on the use of historical “revision” to buttress current political needs of China and the resulting controversy between China, Japan, and Korea.

I received a Middle Eastern example of nationalist pseudo-history from my wife (and fellow historian) this morning. This article, if at all accurate, suggests that a fairly reasonable desire to counter the “Judea and Samaria” claims of some Israelis is resulting in falsehoods of at least equal if not greater proportions. In a program on Palestinian TV two scholars argued that Arab’s existed in Palestine in Biblical times, but the ancestors of Jews today did not. Some of the claims are fairly boneheaded. Others, however, show a certain degree of subtlety, which makes it all the more worrisome.

In responding to Sue and another colleague, I critiqued a list of claims from the article this way. Please post any corrections or suggestions.

* The Hebrews of the Bible have no connection to the Jews today.
>That one’s BS.
* The Hebrews of the Bible were Arabs.
>Don’t forget Ismael. There is a tradition of kinship in both Judaism and Islam, not to mention pre-Islamic Arab history. Of course kinship is not identity.

* The Prophets of the Bible were Muslims.
* Biblical King Solomon was a Muslim Prophet.
>Both true, but only retroactively. Muhammad (or Gabriel, if you prefer) does refer to biblical prophets as predecessors.

* Solomon’s Temple was not built by Israelites, but by Arab Canaanites.
BS, which is not to say that some of the builders aren’t up high in some Arab’s family tree. Again, there is a chance for connection.

* The Canaanites are the forefathers of the Palestinians.
Probably BS, but if their language was Semitic, there would be a case (though it would also emphasize the connection between the Hebrews and Palestine, which the scholar here is trying to avoid.)

* The Bible consists of legends based on what Jews imagined, and not on history.
>An element of truth to this. Of course approaching the Qu’ran in the same spirit could yield a similar conclusion.

* The Jews today are descendents of a 13th Century Khazar tribe with no history in the Land of Israel.
>I gather that there are connections betwen Russian Jews and Jews in Khazar, but this claim transforms that connection into something else entirely.

* The location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is a Zionist invention.
BS. That tradition is far older than Zionism.

* Zionism is Racism.
All nationalisms—including Arab and Jewish-- have the potential for systematic discrimination on some basis. Palestinians can make the case that Zionism in Palestine has done just that. And that is one reason that this junk may sell.

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Julie A Hofmann - 8/12/2004

It also seemed to me that the article was iffy on the use of Arab v. Muslim. Is there some new, amazing evidence that Islam existed before Gabriel appeared to the Prophet? It seems to me there is plenty of legitimate scholarship out there to deny most radical Zionist claims to historical ownership of the territories under debate, without this crap.

This kind of argument really depresses me, though. I mean, how far back are we supposed to go? How do we account for nomadic cultures? And just to add more happy perspective, let's remember that there are groups of Germans who still claim that much of eastern Europe should belong to Germany ... and I think the Queen is still Duke of Normandy, isn't she?


Oscar Chamberlain - 8/12/2004

I was indeed referring to Gabriel having given the Qu'ran to Muhammad. I should have done so more clearly.

Richard Henry Morgan - 8/12/2004


I just recently read (I'm not sure where, but I think it was from a reputable scholar -- it might have been Barry Powell) that the Palestinians were originally Indo-European speakers settled from Crete. Seems many issues are still undecided.

Richard Henry Morgan - 8/12/2004

I guess he's referring to the fact that Gabriel supposedly dictated the Koran to Mohammed.

Claire H.L. George - 8/12/2004

Mohammed/Gabriel? What do you mean?

Jonathan Dresner - 8/11/2004

You're right.

Unfortunately, then we're left with 'cultural' claims and property rights, neither of which are particularly strong arguments for either side, so they tend to shy away from them. Oh, and international law; that's been helpful, too.

Brian Ulrich - 8/11/2004

The thing about the Jewish history is that for a large chunk for the 1st millennium, Judaism actively sought and got conversions. There was also enough intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews to be meaningful. By the same token, however, the population of Palestine at the time of the Islamic conquests, which probably did have Jewish ancestry - also intermarried with people like the Arabs who wandered in. Which is why all these arguments about who has the ancestral claim are kind of ridiculous. If they're not, then let me know when Wisconsin gets control of northern Europe.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/11/2004

The Khazari claim is interesting: it is true, as I understand it, that there was a Khazari kingdom converted to Judaism, and there is considerable dispute as to whether Ashkenazi Jews descend, in all or in part, from them rather than from genetically contiguous Israelites. But genetic testing has found that those considered Kohen today are descended from a common ancestor roughly 3000 years ago.

Still, there's a fascinating series of arguments here, roughly akin to an old lawyer joke: the scriptures were historically suspect; even if they aren't, we decide what they mean; even if we can't, the Israelites didn't stay Israelites; even if they did, we wiped them out years ago; The Jews today aren't Israelites; even if they are, they're Zionists, so we don't have to care what they think.