How Edward Said’s Ideas Perverted the Study of Ancient Jewry

Having started his scholarly career as a student of ancient Roman politics, Erich Gruen—now a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley—later shifted his focus to the study of Jews in the Hellenistic and ancient Roman eras. In a retrospective on his scholarship of ancient Jewry, Gruen sums up some of his key conclusions:

I entered [the academic debates concerning ancient Jewry] directly by confronting the widespread notion that societies tended to define themselves by “othering” those unlike them and by demonizing those from whom they wished to distance and distinguish themselves. The classic statement of that approach rang loud and clear in Edward Said’s powerfully influential Orientalism. And it seeped deeply into studies of the ancient world. Negative images, misrepresentations, and stereotypes, it was regularly argued, justified marginalization and exclusion, a tendency to divide the world into the acceptable and the unacceptable, whether Greek and Persian, Roman and barbarian, Jew and Gentile—in short, the invention of the “Other.” . . .

[I] attempted to show that Greeks, Romans, and Jews (whence comes the bulk of our evidence) had far more mixed, nuanced, shifting, and complex opinions about other peoples and did not simply propagate derogatory images to enhance their own self-image. There was more going on than ethnocentrism or xenophobia. [Thus, many ancient] Jewish writers underscored their connectedness [to the Gentiles] rather than their separatism, as in the story [in Genesis of Judah and his daughter-in-law] Tamar and of [the convert and ancestor of King David] Ruth, and in the manipulation of traditions that implied kinship between Jews and Greeks, such as turning Abraham into a forefather of the Spartans or inventing a marriage alliance between Abraham and Heracles, as well as a number of tales that linked Jewish sages to Greek philosophers. These intertwinings, however fictitious, reveal a mindset that did not retreat into isolation and xenophobia.

Nor did Greek and Roman writers view Jews as beyond the pale. They might mock their customs and badly misconstrue their practices. But that was due more to ignorance or dismissal than to animosity or malice. Even the notorious [anti-Jewish] tirade by the Roman historian Tacitus, normally seen as the chief purveyor of [ancient] anti-Semitism, had a very different agenda. Tacitus’ penchant for irony and sardonic reversal twisted the image of the Jews largely to skewer his own countrymen. . . .

If a consistent thread runs through my studies of Jewish history in the context of classical antiquity, it can be found in resistance to the common portrayal of Jews as victims.

Read more at Ancient Jew Review

More about: Ancient Israel, Ancient Rome, Anti-Semitism, Edward Said, Hellenism, History & Ideas


Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria