Guardian reviews Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People – OUT NOW in paperback

by Sarah on July 7, 2010

Ian Pindar reviewed the paperback edition of Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People for The Guardian on Saturday 26th June. Full review below (not yet available online):

The idea of the Jews as a single people or race is a myth, a fi ction based on Old Testament “mythistory”, argues Shlomo Sand, a Jewish historian based at the University of Tel Aviv. It is also one of the founding assumptions of the state of Israel, and throughout this polemical, revisionist history Sand has Zionist ideology in his sights. (He is not anti-Israel, but he is “post-Zionist”.) In essence, his book undermines the moral right of the state of Israel to define itself as exclusively Jewish and how you respond to it will very much depend on your political views. Sand admits none of his findings is new and there are no revelations, but what he offers is a radical dismantling of a national myth. He can find no evidence of any Jewish exile, and without exile there can be no right to return. However, even if it is founded on a myth, the state of Israel exists. Sand wants it to abandon ethnic nationalism and to modernise and democratise, and as this controversial book was a bestseller in Israel, perhaps there is hope that some Israelis want this too.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

zkharya July 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Jews have been regarded as an ethno-national group, dispossessed of temple, city and land for most of Christian and Islamic history. One consequence of this is that, in the 19th and 20th centuries, Jews of Old World Christendom and Islam were regarded, not so much as nationally European or, say, Arab, but nationally Judean, that is to say, metaphorically speaking, Palestinians. With the result that most were either killed or effectively expelled: before 1914, mostly to America; after 1914, mostly to Palestine, or what became Israel.

Which is the why the Jewish state of Israel is the second or largest Jewish community in the world today.

Try telling Israeli Jews the notion of Jewish nationality and exile, restoration and right to return is an illegitimate myth, and they will tell you where to get off.

Cultural Christians and Muslims have been telling Jews they have been dispossessed as a punishment for their rejection of Jesus and the prophets for most of Christian and Islamic history. Now Jews are in large part in the land, they tell them it was a mistake, and now their exile, and thus right to return, is false.

Unsurprisingly, they will tell you to get lost.

Also, the assertion that Sand’s book was a bestseller in Israel is also largely a myth. I checked up on it. Most Israeli major book suppliers I have asked have difficulty finding whose or what the book is. It is far better known outside Israel. It sold comparatively well for an academic text (which it is not, actually), but not especially well by normative best seller criteria.

Also, why did The Guardian ask a poet to review this book, instead of an academic in Jewish history?

I think the answer is obvious: they didn’t want it to get a negative review. Such as that given by Oxford professor of ancient Jewish history, Martin Goodman:

Fortunee Cohen July 19, 2010 at 1:04 am

I am absolutely in agreement with Mr. Zkharya… Why are some of
our brothers and sisters so uncomfortable or even ashamed of their identity… I can’t understand it!!! Please, enlighten me….

Kanan48 July 19, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Mr. Zkharya logic makes sense only to him and few like you Mr. Cohen,because both of you are convinced that an Ethiopian, Yemeni, Russian, German, Polish, Moroccan , Iraqi, Indian, Argentinian… all belong to “an ethno-national group”! Good luck!!

Also Mr. Zkharya said: “Try telling Israeli Jews the notion of Jewish nationality and exile, restoration and right to return is an illegitimate myth, and they will tell you where to get off”! Really? is this the kind of argument would prove that there was a real exile?!!

Just try to understand the difference between identity, religion, and nationality, this book and some of Herzl reading should make you question the racist core of a “Jewish national home”, but if you chose to stay misinformed the world is starting to be more aware about the issue.

You are no different from the other extremists If your goal is justice for Jews only without giving the same right to other religions like Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and non-religious group. By blaming the others, the extremists see people divided to religious or ethnic sects not as an equal human beings.

The real justice is for all, to have a life with dignity wherever they are, why not doing your civil duty and being an equal citizen anywhere in the world if it is Yemen or Poland?

Why playing the victim role while committing the on going ethnic cleansing in Palestine and ignoring the right of the Arab natives in their homes and towns? And based on what? A biblical myth in our 21 century?

I don’t don’t know how on earth you can associate “logic” with this religious-nationalist ideology. But here we are with more then 6 Million refugees around the world, based on the UNRWA, because of your “Justice”.

This my second try to post this comment!!

N. Gomb. July 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I read the paper published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in June, and I have just been reading chapter 3 (“The Invention of the Exile”) in Shlomo Sand. The paper does not seem to contradict Sand! To the contrary, both texts agree that mass conversions (and forced circumcisions) occurred between 200 BCE and 100 CE. According to the genetic experts, “the genetic proximity of these European/Syrian Jewish populations, including Ashkenazi Jews, to each other and to French, Northern Italian, and
Sardinian populations favors the idea of non-Semitic
Mediterranean ancestry in the formation of the European/
Syrian Jewish groups” (Atzmon et al., “Abraham’s Children,” p. 857). Sand got it right, it seems. (I have not yet read the chapter on the Khazars.)

Dr Bernard Leeman August 15, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Sand’s thesis is incorrect. Evidence from Ethiopia and Arabia indicate that the Israelite kingdoms before the Babylonian conquest and deportations (586 B.C.) were in West Arabia not Palestine. Sand and Biblical scholars generally have ignored the Sabaean inscriptions on two incense burners at Adi Kaweh, Wukro, Ethiopia that state there was a Hebrew population there ca.800 B.C. ruled by three queens of Sheba; and the content of the Ge’ez Kebra Nagast which contains the Law of Moses in Solomon’s time – i.e lacking the restrictions of the Book of Deuteronomy (compiled ca. 600 B.C.). Sand makes no mention of Rabin’s 1951 work on the presence of Hebrew grammar and vocabulary in West Arabia, Noldeke and Rabin’s shock at realising the Ethiopian word for the Ark of the Covenant dates from Solomon’s time, Salibi’s 1985 work on Biblical place names the area of West Arabia where Rabin found “Hebrewisms”, and the Sabaean origin of many aspects of Beta Israel (“Falasha”) culture. If proof is required of the veracity of ancient Israel and Judah. the answer lies not in Palestine but in West Arabia, Yemen and Ethiopia.

Dr Bernard leeman August 22, 2010 at 1:18 am
N. Gomb August 22, 2010 at 9:09 pm

“Dr Bernard Leeman” wrote: “If proof is required of the veracity of ancient Israel and Judah, the answer lies not in Palestine but in West Arabia, Yemen and Ethiopia…”

Your thesis is contradicted by recent genetic studies: “Most Jewish samples form a remarkably tight subcluster that overlies Druze and Cypriot samples but not samples from other Levantine populations or paired Diaspora host populations. In contrast, Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) and Indian Jews (Bene Israel and Cochini) cluster with neighbouring autochthonous populations in Ethiopia and western India…” (Doron M. Behar et al. “The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people,” Nature 466, 8 July 2010, 238-242).

Put differently, Ethiopian Jews and Indian Jews are not Semitic Jews at all.

Julia T. August 23, 2010 at 10:30 am

Amnon Rubinstein, Israeli lawyer, politician and author, recommended The Invention of the Jewish People on as one of the best books on Israel:

Stephen Voss August 26, 2010 at 9:26 am

Dear Julia — please! Rubinstein lists it with 4 other books true but he says it’s a terrible book!

Stephanie July 1, 2011 at 11:52 am

N.Gomb I guess we would need your definition of semitic then…

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