The Jewish Invention

“Beware of scholars with agendas”, David Aaronovitch begins his polemical review (“We’re an invention? Prove it“, David Aaronovitch, November 19, 2009) of comments made by historian Tony Judt, regarding Shlomo Sand’s book The Invention of the Jewish People. Noteworthy advice at best, but not necessarily good advice, for I would modify it to being aware of scholars with bad agendas. Looking further at the gaps of Jewish historiography has not always been the preserve of people with agendas seeking to damage or tar Jews.

Sigmund Freud, of all people, once remarked that Moses, being an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten, and not, as is erroneously assumed, his being originally Hebrew, meant that in many ways the accepted version of Jewish history had to be revised. As such, in a letter he told Arnold Zweig “Moses created the Jews” and, in his last substantial book Moses and Monotheism stated that “it was not God who chose the Jews … but Moses”.

Interesting timing for Freud’s assertions. Just before writing his book on Moses, Freud had been visited by Nazi guards in his house in Vienna, to rob him of his wealth, and send a token warning of Freud’s continued safety in occupied territory. For Freud, such events might typically persuade Jews into unquestionably buying into all hitherto established histories, as an overcompensatory mode of solidarity. But Freud chose not to do this, he instead uncovered a history that both sought to undermine the Nazi’s attitudes towards Jews (for everything they knew was wrong), and in turn sealed another chapter in the long and rich history of Jewish people.

Beware of scholars, but if the agenda is to undercut anti-Semitic attitudes, fire away.

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