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.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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