The Inventing of a Nation: When and How Was the Jewish People Invented

When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? is a book written by Tel Aviv University scholar Shlomo Zand. The book, which was published last year, has produced intensive discussion about the origins of Israel both inside and outside academia. Zand’s book will be translated into English and published in the United States this year.

According to AlterNet, the following are some of the issues raised by the book:

What would happen if the Jewish nation was a modern invention? What if the Palestinians who are oppressed by Israel were the true Israel of the Bible?

What if the Palestinian Arabs who have lived for decades under the heel of the modern Israeli state are in fact descended from the very same “children of Israel” described in the Old Testament?

And what if most modern Israelis aren’t descended from the ancient Israelites at all, but are actually a mix of Europeans, North Africans and others who didn’t “return” to the scrap of land we now call Israel and establish a new state following the attempt to exterminate them during World War II, but came in and forcefully displaced people whose ancestors had lived there for millennia?

What if the entire tale of the Jewish Diaspora — the story recounted at Passover tables by Jews around the world every year detailing the ancient Jews’ exile from Judea, the years spent wandering through the desert, their escape from the Pharaoh’s clutches — is all wrong?

One reviewer of the book summarized Zand’s book with the following words:

There never was a Jewish people, only a Jewish religion, and the exile also never happened — hence there was no return. Zand rejects most of the stories of national-identity formation in the Bible, including the exodus from Egypt and, most satisfactorily, the horrors of the conquest under Joshua.

This book raises difficult issues that are directly related to the minimalist/maximalist controversy. Although I have not yet read Zand’s book, it seems to me that he begins where the minimalists and the reconstructionists focus their argument: that the history of Israel is an invention of the post-exilic community. Zand, on the other hand, believes that there was never a Jewish Diaspora and that the Jews living in Palestine today are not directly related to Biblical Israel.

The view proposed by Zand is a radical departure from the traditional historical understanding about the people who live in the land of Israel today. According to the article in AlterNet, Zand’s book seems to be an apologia for Palestinian rights and a call for a single nation where Israelis and Palestinians live together as one nation.

The arguments for a single-state solution, that is, a binational state where all residents of Israel and the Palestinians share the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship, is gaining some momentum in the discussion on how to solve the political situation in Palestine today.

I believe it would be a sad day if the solution of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is solved by denying the fact that the Jewish people who live in Israel today are not the direct descendants of the people of the Bible.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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5 Responses to The Inventing of a Nation: When and How Was the Jewish People Invented

  1. Nate says:

    >I’ve always found it absurd to think that a group of people scattered throughout the world would adopt a national identity and attachment to a foreign land when the cost of holding such an identity was continual and persistent persecution and punishment.As for the historical existence of the Jewish people according to the Bible, my old Hebrew school teacher used to tell us, “if we made all this up, we’d do a better job making ourselves look good.”

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  2. >Nate,Thank you for your comment. I agree with your school teacher.If the Jewish people were to invent a nation and take over a land to be their own, they could have selected a better place. I think the thesis proposed by the book in question has no merit.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  3. Anonymous says:

    >I seem to remember that Arthur Koestler made much the same points in “The 13th Tribe” published in the mid-1970’s. Tha book seems to have been quietly buried.It makes sense to me that whatever you call the land it ought to be a truly democratic and secular state and allow the return of those Palestinians who, after all, even have title to land in Israel.

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  4. >Dear Friend,I am not familiar with Arthur Koestler’s book. I will try to locate it. Thank you for this information.I agree with you: whatever solution to this difficult problem, the answer must include a democratic state that makes some form of accommodation to the Palestinians. It also must be secular to accommodate the many Jews who are not observants and the many Christians and secular people who live in Israel.That alone will be an almost impossible task.Claude Mariottini

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  5. Anonymous says:

    >The invention of the Jewish People did not take place overnight – no more than the 'Holy Books' of Judaism and descendant religions were the product of a single sitting. In the case of the Jewish books writing and rewriting continues to our day, although it slowed down since the 2nd Century.Constructive investigation would need to center on the migration of the constant inhabitants of that to other parts of the known world. Is it the decline of Egypt? The overpopulation of Palestine? The breakup of the state and the economy of Palestine? There are so many such regions in the Middle East and elsewhere where one is astonished at a deliberate act of desertion. The rest, I am afraid is myth propagated and carried over the centuries, leading, as we know today, to tragic consequences.

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