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Friday, 4 October 2013

Keeping A Cultural Identity

I have been watching "The Story Of The Jews" by the historian Simon Schama, and its been very interesting. Of course the story has one underlying narrative thread, one of the continual persecution of the Jews through out the ages, from the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and then repeatedly thereafter.

This persecution has gone on in some form or other over the last 2,500 years right up to the current date ..... (and according to some Labour party activists, continuing in the UK this week). So much so, that if the 10% of the population of the Roman Empire in 70 AD (When the Romans sacked Jerusalem after an uprising), who were thought be Jewish, had just bred at the normal rate through the intervening two millennia, then if nothing unusual had intervened, the statisticians have suggested that there would be 200 million Jews in the world today, instead of the something like the mere 13 million there are today. That's something for the Arabs of today to think about ..... they would be unbeatable in the Middle East with those numbers, and would probably be the second or third most powerful Nation on Earth.

However this idea begs the simple question, "What is it about the Jews that has made them subject to attack by some many different cultures?"

And its that question which the TV series failed to address head on. Was it envy, fear, greed, or a combination of local factors that made each persecution unique, but that put with the others, became a tragic history?

I suspect that the reason for this omission on the show was that some of the answers would make uncomfortable reading for the more ardent of the Zionists, and perhaps Mr Schama as well. As well the more traditional answers to do with greedy Christian rulers in the West of Europe and and the need for 'scapegoats' for the injustices to all the peasants in the East of Europe. Of course, this question isn't new, and indeed even Karl Marx addressed it in some sense .... The Jewish Question for example, but personally, I suspect that the answers deal with the very nature of 'Jewishness' itself:

On The Jewish Question - Karl Marx


Religion:

The Jewish religion has traditionally said that its the only religion of 'Gods chosen people', but then added that the only way anyone can become Jewish (and therefore 'chosen'), is to be born a Jew via a Jewish mother (not on the paternal side). Now this latter point may well have developed, partly as a social coping mechanism to the raping of Jewish women by the soldiers of various armies crossing the near east in ancient times, and which then made all children born of Jewish women 'Jewish' themselves, with no questions asked.  However, it has the effect of saying that there is but one chosen race, but you can't be a member. This attitude, which has kept their cultural identity alive through the ages, must also have raised the hackles of all the races around the region, and the greater empires, who ran that area throughout the ages.

Attitudes:

Jewish uprisings against the latest empire of the region, from the Babylon exile onwards, have always been totally unrealistic, and have always led to massive repression - in fact invariably led to the exact opposite of the rebellions aims. For example the revolt against the Romans that ended in 70 AD, led directly to another major banishment from the Jewish Kingdom - which although later repealed, effectively took thousands of years to undo (and at what cost).

The Jewish revolt against Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in the period 602–628, while supporting the Persian Empire, so weakened the two Empires, that the Muslim Arabs were able to capture Jerusalem in 638 AD (which they would probably never had managed in 600 AD, and which they held pretty much from then on until the Ottomans), and then actually conquer the ancient Persian Empire (the invasion starting 631 AD - ending 651 AD .... Muslim Iran is now Israel's greatest enemy and threat).... it also forced the Byzantine Emperor to authorise the forced baptism and or massacre of the East Roman Empire's Jews as traitors.   

So to some extent that Jewish people (or rather their leaders), have brought disasters on their heads by making them the architects of some of their own misfortunes. Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that the pogroms and the holocaust are the fault of Jews, they are not. But what I am saying is that, by two of the traits of 'Jewishness' that have helped keep them as a people over the years:
  1. Their exclusivity in religion, and 
  2. Their constant battling (and usually losing) against far superior forces.

They have, in their efforts to survive as a people and culture, unwittingly helped forge the events that have led to many of their troubles ......

2 comments:

  1. That fact about there potentially being 200 million Jews but for the persecutions was interesting. I wonder how many other races could claim the same? The native American Indians spring to mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment .... and now I think on it, its a very good point. The Amerindian's of both North and South American continents (and the 'Aborigines' of Australia), were virtually wiped from the map by a combination of violent attacks and more tellingly, diseases. However on top of this, they faced a deliberate cultural assault, which in many ways succeeded in destroying what was left after the diseases and wars had taken their toll.

      This was exactly the same fate that the Jews avoided, but in doing so they paid a terrible price ......

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