Commentary Magazine


Topic: Haifa University

Anthony Julius’s Trials of the Diaspora

In the New York Times Book Review, Harold Bloom reviews Anthony Julius’s monumental new book, Trials of the Diaspora. It is a cover review — an indication of the book’s importance — and a uniformly favorable one: a “strong, somber book” reflecting “extraordinary moral strength.” But even those complimentary terms, from one of America’s leading literary critics, do not begin to convey the scope and magnitude of Julius’s achievement.

The book’s subtitle is A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which itself understates the significance of the book, since the book covers aspects of the psychology and sociology of anti-Semitism that extend far beyond a single country’s experience. Julius has provided probably the most in-depth discussion of the “blood libel” in any volume meant for general readers; and without understanding the blood libel it is impossible to understand the literary power of Shakespeare’s Shylock or Dickens’s Fagin — and without understanding the power of those literary portrayals, one cannot understand modern English anti-Semitism. The literary analysis of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in this book is masterful, but even more significant is the connections Julius makes from literature to culture to politics.

Julius is one of England’s most prominent lawyers, best known in America for his representation of Deborah Lipstadt in the libel action that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against her. He also represented Ariel Sharon in connection with the Independent’s anti-Semitic cartoon of Sharon eating a Palestinian child (itself an allusion to the blood libel); he represented the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) against London’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone; both Haifa University and Hebrew University against the Association of University Teachers (AUT); and Israeli universities and Jewish academics against the National Association of Teachers, among other actions — all of which has given him a perhaps unique understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism in England. He is also a literary critic with a gift for a telling phrase, such as his description of certain Jewish ideologists as “proud to be ashamed they are Jews.”

Julius is particularly eloquent on two matters: first, the sheer surreality and incoherence of anti-Semitism:

The Holocaust should have altogether put paid to anti-Semitism. It should have rebutted once and for all the principal anti-Semitic fantasy of malign Jewish power; it should have satiated the appetite of the most murderous anti-Semites for Jewish death. And yet instead it precipitated new anti-Semitic versions or tropes: (a) Holocaust denial, (b) the characterizing of Zionism as an avatar of Nazism, and (c) the cluster of allegations that the Jews are exploiting the Holocaust in support of false compensation claims, the defense of Israeli policies, the defense of Zionism, etc. Many Arab and Muslim anti-Semites somewhat promiscuously embrace all three tropes – denying the Holocaust, praising Hitler, and representing Israel as the successor to the Nazi state.

And second: the enduring power throughout history and into the present of even a surreal and incoherent view of a small people.

Julius acknowledges the need for nuance and judgment in evaluating anti-Semitic sentiment at any particular historical point in time, and the unemotional discussion that characterizes his book makes his conclusion about the present particularly chilling:

Trials of the Diaspora has been written across a period of rising violence and abuse directed at English Jews. Of the present conjuncture, then, my provisional judgment is that it is quite bad, and might get worse. Certainly, it would seem that the closed season on Jews is over.

This is a very important book.

In the New York Times Book Review, Harold Bloom reviews Anthony Julius’s monumental new book, Trials of the Diaspora. It is a cover review — an indication of the book’s importance — and a uniformly favorable one: a “strong, somber book” reflecting “extraordinary moral strength.” But even those complimentary terms, from one of America’s leading literary critics, do not begin to convey the scope and magnitude of Julius’s achievement.

The book’s subtitle is A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which itself understates the significance of the book, since the book covers aspects of the psychology and sociology of anti-Semitism that extend far beyond a single country’s experience. Julius has provided probably the most in-depth discussion of the “blood libel” in any volume meant for general readers; and without understanding the blood libel it is impossible to understand the literary power of Shakespeare’s Shylock or Dickens’s Fagin — and without understanding the power of those literary portrayals, one cannot understand modern English anti-Semitism. The literary analysis of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in this book is masterful, but even more significant is the connections Julius makes from literature to culture to politics.

Julius is one of England’s most prominent lawyers, best known in America for his representation of Deborah Lipstadt in the libel action that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against her. He also represented Ariel Sharon in connection with the Independent’s anti-Semitic cartoon of Sharon eating a Palestinian child (itself an allusion to the blood libel); he represented the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) against London’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone; both Haifa University and Hebrew University against the Association of University Teachers (AUT); and Israeli universities and Jewish academics against the National Association of Teachers, among other actions — all of which has given him a perhaps unique understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism in England. He is also a literary critic with a gift for a telling phrase, such as his description of certain Jewish ideologists as “proud to be ashamed they are Jews.”

Julius is particularly eloquent on two matters: first, the sheer surreality and incoherence of anti-Semitism:

The Holocaust should have altogether put paid to anti-Semitism. It should have rebutted once and for all the principal anti-Semitic fantasy of malign Jewish power; it should have satiated the appetite of the most murderous anti-Semites for Jewish death. And yet instead it precipitated new anti-Semitic versions or tropes: (a) Holocaust denial, (b) the characterizing of Zionism as an avatar of Nazism, and (c) the cluster of allegations that the Jews are exploiting the Holocaust in support of false compensation claims, the defense of Israeli policies, the defense of Zionism, etc. Many Arab and Muslim anti-Semites somewhat promiscuously embrace all three tropes – denying the Holocaust, praising Hitler, and representing Israel as the successor to the Nazi state.

And second: the enduring power throughout history and into the present of even a surreal and incoherent view of a small people.

Julius acknowledges the need for nuance and judgment in evaluating anti-Semitic sentiment at any particular historical point in time, and the unemotional discussion that characterizes his book makes his conclusion about the present particularly chilling:

Trials of the Diaspora has been written across a period of rising violence and abuse directed at English Jews. Of the present conjuncture, then, my provisional judgment is that it is quite bad, and might get worse. Certainly, it would seem that the closed season on Jews is over.

This is a very important book.

Read Less

More Evidence for the Biblical Kingdom of David

Every once in a while, archaeologists in Israel hit pay dirt, undoing years of speculative claims that the key stories in the Bible never happened. For decades, it was claimed that King David never existed — putting into question the pivotal stories of the books of Kings and Chronicles on which a great deal of the biblical narrative turns. But then, in 1992 at Tel Dan, archaeologists uncovered the first clear nonbiblical evidence of David’s reign, an explicit reference to the king himself.

Now it has happened again. For years, biblical “minimalists,” as they are called, have been telling us that most of the Bible had to have been written many centuries after its stories took place. Basing their view mostly on the lack of Hebrew texts being found that date back to the time of David and Solomon, scholars like Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University have insisted that the ancient Israelites back then didn’t have the textual skills needed to record the stories of the Bible and that, at best, the texts we now have were written in the 7th or 6th centuries B.C.E., three or four centuries later.

But last week, Prof. Gershon Galil of Haifa University revealed what may be the most important discovery in the last decade: he succeeded in deciphering a text dating to the 10th century B.C.E., written in an ancient proto-Canaanite script, discovered near the Elah Valley in Israel 18 months ago. (Click here for a reproduction of the text and analysis.) Employing verb roots that are uniquely Hebrew, the text tells readers to protect the widows and orphans and strangers in their midst — themes immediately familiar from the prophecies of Isaiah and other biblical texts, and mostly absent from any of the neighboring peoples’ texts. Judge for yourself:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Sound familiar? As Galil puts it, the discovery “indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.”

Archaeology is not an exact science, and while books purporting to offer conclusive debunkings of the biblical accounts continue to sell well, they are usually grounded in the absence of evidence supporting the Bible, rather than in any hard evidence contradicting it. Yet as the renowned Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen once said, in archaeology “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” And the evidence that does exist overwhelmingly supports the reality of ancient Israel in the land of Israel very much as described in the biblical books beginning with Joshua. Maybe not everything in the Bible has been proved, but there’s more than enough to indicate that it’s far from a string of myths about a fanciful kingdom that never existed.

For more than a century and a half, new “scientific” proofs of the falsehood of the Bible have been the surest way to establish yourself in the inner circles of academic fashion. Yet in most cases, these proofs unravel with the continued work of archaeologists, whether at Tel Dan in 1992, or in the discovery of King David’s Palace in the City of David in the early 2000s (full disclosure: I was at the time the editor of a journal published by the Shalem Center, which also sponsored that dig), or in the Elah Valley this week.

None of this proves that one has to accept the Bible’s authority as a source of faith or morals. But it does suggest that efforts to use science as a bludgeon against religion are not really working.

Every once in a while, archaeologists in Israel hit pay dirt, undoing years of speculative claims that the key stories in the Bible never happened. For decades, it was claimed that King David never existed — putting into question the pivotal stories of the books of Kings and Chronicles on which a great deal of the biblical narrative turns. But then, in 1992 at Tel Dan, archaeologists uncovered the first clear nonbiblical evidence of David’s reign, an explicit reference to the king himself.

Now it has happened again. For years, biblical “minimalists,” as they are called, have been telling us that most of the Bible had to have been written many centuries after its stories took place. Basing their view mostly on the lack of Hebrew texts being found that date back to the time of David and Solomon, scholars like Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University have insisted that the ancient Israelites back then didn’t have the textual skills needed to record the stories of the Bible and that, at best, the texts we now have were written in the 7th or 6th centuries B.C.E., three or four centuries later.

But last week, Prof. Gershon Galil of Haifa University revealed what may be the most important discovery in the last decade: he succeeded in deciphering a text dating to the 10th century B.C.E., written in an ancient proto-Canaanite script, discovered near the Elah Valley in Israel 18 months ago. (Click here for a reproduction of the text and analysis.) Employing verb roots that are uniquely Hebrew, the text tells readers to protect the widows and orphans and strangers in their midst — themes immediately familiar from the prophecies of Isaiah and other biblical texts, and mostly absent from any of the neighboring peoples’ texts. Judge for yourself:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Sound familiar? As Galil puts it, the discovery “indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.”

Archaeology is not an exact science, and while books purporting to offer conclusive debunkings of the biblical accounts continue to sell well, they are usually grounded in the absence of evidence supporting the Bible, rather than in any hard evidence contradicting it. Yet as the renowned Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen once said, in archaeology “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” And the evidence that does exist overwhelmingly supports the reality of ancient Israel in the land of Israel very much as described in the biblical books beginning with Joshua. Maybe not everything in the Bible has been proved, but there’s more than enough to indicate that it’s far from a string of myths about a fanciful kingdom that never existed.

For more than a century and a half, new “scientific” proofs of the falsehood of the Bible have been the surest way to establish yourself in the inner circles of academic fashion. Yet in most cases, these proofs unravel with the continued work of archaeologists, whether at Tel Dan in 1992, or in the discovery of King David’s Palace in the City of David in the early 2000s (full disclosure: I was at the time the editor of a journal published by the Shalem Center, which also sponsored that dig), or in the Elah Valley this week.

None of this proves that one has to accept the Bible’s authority as a source of faith or morals. But it does suggest that efforts to use science as a bludgeon against religion are not really working.

Read Less




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