Jewish Influence

Most people, including many Jews, know little or nothing about Jewish history and the little which they do know consists almost entirely of three components: the chronicles of the so-called “Old Testament”, the fact that the Holocaust took place and the existence of the state of Israel.  The 2000 years of Jewish history which separate the first of these components from the other two remain little known except to Jewish historians, and even among Jewish historians there is a strong tendency to minimize the significance of what happened during this period for anyone except the Jews themselves.


Looming over the historiography of the buried Jewish past are the ghetto walls of medieval Europe.  These walls were erected for the specific purpose of preventing the Jews from influencing their neighbors, and they have succeeded so well that even now most Jewish historians cannot imagine the Jews of the past 2000 years as having influenced anyone except other Jews.  This is unfortunate, for what it means among other things is that the origins of both Christianity and Islam will remain forever shrouded in mystery.


Ghettoization, whether official or unofficial, did eventually become the normal condition of Jewish life in the Diaspora prior to the modern era, but this did not happen immediately after the end of the “Biblical” period of Jewish history.  It was only during the past 1000 years or so that the ghetto system was gradually imposed on the small and scattered Jewish communities which had managed to survive the rise of Christianity and Islam.  At the time when first Christianity and then Islam actually took shape, the Jewish people was still a large and significant force in the politics of the Middle East and Mediterranean region.  Once the extent and nature of this force is recognized, the origins of both Christianity and Islam appear in a whole new light.



According to the census of the Roman empire conducted by the Romans in 42 CE, the empire had a total population of approximately 60 million people, of whom some 7 million were Jews.  Jews therefore formed over 10% of the population of the entire empire, but as there were very few Jews living at that time in the western, Latin-speaking portion of the empire, Jews in the eastern, Greek-speaking part must have formed at least 20% of the population.  Nicholas de Lange on page 25 of his authoritative Atlas of the Jewish World estimates that there were also approximately 1 million Jews living at that time in what is now Iraq, which was not under Roman rule, yielding a total of roughly 8 million Jews in the world 2000 years ago.  The fact that there are only approximately 14 million Jews in the entire world today, some 2000 years later, speaks volumes about the genocidal pressures to which the Jewish people has been subjected throughout our history.  Other nations and peoples have multiplied their population many times over during this time span, yet we who love children so much have had a hard time even maintaining our past numbers.


Of the 8 million Jews in the world 2000 years ago, historians estimate that there were at least 2 and perhaps 3 million in the land of Israel, plus roughly 1 million in each of the countries which are today Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.  Jews were particularly numerous in the large Greek-speaking cities of the eastern Mediterranean region such as Alexandria, Antioch and Sardis.  In these cities they must have formed considerably more than 20% of the population, since Jews were not heavily settled in the countryside at that time anywhere outside of the land of Israel.  In short, far from constituting a small, ghettoized minority in the region where Christianity first arose and took shape, Jews formed a large and influential part of the population, one which came close to a majority in some cities.


The spread of Jewish influence in the Greco-Roman world of 2000 years ago was a direct consequence of the incorporation of the nation of Judah into the Roman empire.  In 63 BCE a Roman army under the command of Pompey invaded the land of Israel and overthrew the Hasmonean dynasty which had ruled Judah for the previous 100 years.  There ensued several decades of more or less continuous warfare between the Romans and the supporters of the Hasmoneans which ended in a kind of compromise in the time of Julius and Augustus Caesar.  On the one hand the Jews accepted a puppet ruler, Herod, imposed on them by the Romans, but on the other hand Judaism was declared a “legal religion” by the Romans, thereby facilitating the growth of Jewish communities throughout the Greco-Roman world.


However, the more the Romans learned about Judaism, the less they liked it.  In the first place, although the Roman empire was founded on the widespread exploitation of slave labor, Judaism had a fundamentally negative attitude towards slavery, as reflected in the injunction appearing in Chapter 23 of the Book of Deuteronomy:


You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master.  He may live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him.


And in the second place, Judaism prohibited the worship of idols, which meant that Jews had to refuse to take part in the ceremonies of emperor worship which became an increasingly important part of the religious program of the Caesars over the course of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.  From the point of view of the Roman ruling class, Judaism therefore came to appear as a subversive ideology, one which was essentially at odds with the autocratic principles on which the Roman empire was based.


What made Judaism particularly threatening in Roman eyes is that it not only implied an attitude of disapproval towards the Roman social order but also offered a clear alternative to that order.  Although Jews were required to obey Roman law the same as all the other subjects of the empire, they also had their own Jewish law, which they followed as much as possible.  Some of the provisions of Jewish law, such as the ban on work on the seventh day, proved popular even with non-Jews, giving rise to the complaint by the Roman philosopher Seneca, “The vanquished have given their laws to their victors.”  And although the nation of Judah may have lost its independence, it still retained much of its former power and prestige due to the presence in its midst of the Temple of Jerusalem.  Greatly enlarged and refurbished during the reign of Herod, the Temple was considered one of the landmarks of the ancient world, a center of pilgrimage and devotion for Jews throughout the Mediterranean region.


However, in the year 70 CE the Temple was destroyed by the Romans towards the end of the so-called “First Jewish War”, a genocidal campaign in which the Romans, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, killed more than 1 million Jews.  This assault was followed by the “Second Jewish War”, in the years 132-35 CE, in the course of which the Romans killed an additional 580,000 Jews according to the Roman historian Dio Cassius.  And modern historians estimate that many hundreds of thousands of Jews were also killed by the Romans during the “Diaspora revolt” of 115-17 CE, which was touched off by a Roman invasion of Iraq and assault on the Jews there.


These mass murders and destruction of the Temple were accompanied by an attack on the nation of Judah as a political entity and Judaism as a religion.  After first breaking up Herod’s kingdom into smaller entities, the Romans eventually abolished it altogether and replaced it with a Roman province which they called “Palestine” in honor of the ancient Philistines.  And at the start of the so-called “Second Jewish War” in 132 CE, the Romans issued a decree banning the practice of circumcision, which effectively banned Judaism as a religion.  This decree was soon partially rescinded by a new decree permitting Jews to circumcise their male children, but it remained in effect for non-Jews, making conversion to Judaism an illegal act subject to the death penalty.


The cumulative effect of these measures was to sharply reduce the Jewish population of the Roman empire.  Michael Avi-Yonah in The Jews of Palestine estimates that there were only 750,000 Jews remaining in the land of Israel at the end of the “Second Jewish War”.  Egypt and Syria had become almost completely Judenrein, and the Jewish population of Turkey was much smaller than it had previously been.  It is impossible to judge precisely to what extent this process of depopulation was due to mass murder or rather to flight from the Romans, but it seems clear that something like 2 million Jews were killed by the Romans and their Greek allies during the course of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.  At the same time, the nation of Judah had officially ceased to exist and conversion to Judaism had been completely banned.


These facts are well attested, yet you will search in vain through the writings of the historians of classical antiquity for a recognition of the genocidal character of the Roman campaign against the Jews.  To the contrary, the Romans are typically portrayed as “tolerant” and easy going in matters of religion but stirred to action by the “stubbornness” of the Jews.  Each of the Roman assaults on the Jews is dealt with separately, often only in a few sentences, and the question of the actual number of Jewish deaths is never raised.  The one detail that is always mentioned, the destruction of the Temple, is usually portrayed as a spur of the moment by-product of the Roman siege of Jerusalem and not as the end result of a conscious policy of suppressing Judaism.  Yet Roman literature is full of anti-Semitic slurs against the Jews and the destruction of the Temple was preceded by a long series of attempts by the Romans to somehow introduce the practice of emperor worship into the Temple precincts.


The disinclination of historians of antiquity to recognize the true character and extent of the Roman campaign against the Jews has the effect, whether intended or unintended, of making it possible to attribute the origins of Christianity to the inspired guidance of a few remarkable individuals.  Were historians to notice the mass murders carried out by the Romans against the Jews throughout the Roman empire during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, they would also be compelled to notice the obvious connection between these mass murders and the emergence of a cult of a crucified Jew during precisely this same time period.  And were historians to notice that conversion to Judaism was banned by the Romans on penalty of death in the early 2nd century CE, they would also be compelled to notice that Christianity functioned from this time forward as a kind of legal Judaism, one which preserved many Jewish beliefs and traditions but situated them within the framework of an anti-Semitic narrative that dovetailed neatly with the violently anti-Semitic culture of the Roman empire.


Moreover, the “New Testament” tale of how the Jews scorned and rejected their one and only Messiah and then handed him over to the Romans to be killed was not the only anti-Semitic component of Christianity.  Even more hostile in a way was the Christian treatment of Jesus himself.  To be sure, he was worshipped as a god, but a very peculiar god, one whose outstanding characteristic was the willingness to be tortured, killed and eaten in effigy so that the Christians could live forever in a pleasant place in the sky.  Pretending to eat the flesh and drink the blood of a Jewish man once a week effectively distanced Christianity from Judaism, and this same effect was also achieved by the explicit rejection of Jewish law as a code of conduct.  Yet at the same time, the Christians preserved and disseminated a large quantity of Jewish literature in the form of the so-called “Old Testament” and upheld, in the name of the teachings of Jesus, a moral and ethical ideal which was a standard part of rabbinical Judaism.


In short, Christianity represented a compromise or synthesis between the pro-Jewish and anti-Jewish currents in Greco-Roman society.  But what made this compromise or synthesis so popular and influential was the Roman campaign against the Jews.  The murder of several million people, including many hundreds of thousands of residents of major Greco-Roman cities, had a profound effect on all concerned.  On the one hand it tended to bring the autocratic values of the Roman empire into disrepute, but on the other hand it also eliminated Judaism as a likely alternative to Roman rule.  The end result was a Christian empire, one which insisted on the supremacy of Greco-Roman culture yet sought to imbue this culture with attitudes and values more or less explicitly derived from Jewish tradition.



However, once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire in the 4th century CE, the legal position of the surviving Jews in the Roman world began to deteriorate rapidly.  One consequence of the so-called “Jewish Wars” had been that the Roman Caesars ceased to view Judaism as a serious threat, so that there were no new persecutions or legal measures against Jews for a period of roughly 200 years following the end of the “Jewish Wars”.  But once the Christians came to power, a long series of anti-Jewish decrees followed which sharply restricted Jewish participation in public life, barred Jewish contact with Christians and imposed all kinds of new disabilities on the Jews.  In the eyes of the Christian church, the very existence of the Jewish people constituted an implicit threat to the legitimacy of Christianity, and it therefore became the policy of the Christian empire to make life for the Jews so difficult that they would be forced to convert to Christianity.


The consequences of this policy were particularly severe for the surviving Jewish community of the land of Israel.  The Christian rulers were determined to turn the land of Israel, which they called Palestine, into a Christian country, and they did everything in their power to encourage pious Christians to settle there.  By the 5th century CE there was a Christian majority in the land of Israel, while the Jewish population had been greatly reduced.  Michael Avi-Yonah in The Jews of Palestine estimates that there were only some 200,000 Jews remaining in the land of Israel by the 6th century CE, as opposed to perhaps 750,000 at the end of the “Jewish Wars”.  Christian harassment of the Jewish population of the land of Israel had touched off a Jewish revolt in 351 CE, and the Samaritans also rebelled against Christian rule in 484 and 529 CE, but all to no avail.  By the end of the 6th century CE, Jews throughout the Greco-Roman world had been reduced to the position of a small, embattled minority numbering at most several million and Judaism had been denied the status of a “legal religion” in the authoritative law code of the 6th century Christian Caesar, Justinian.


Yet during this same period, from the 4th through the 6th century CE, large scale conversions to Judaism were taking place among the peoples established just to the south and east of the Greco-Roman world, in North Africa, Ethiopia and Arabia.  Far from declining, the Jewish people was actually growing during this period, but you would never know it from standard histories of the ancient world.  You will seek in vain through these works for even one word mentioning the mass conversions to Judaism on the fringes of the Greco-Roman world during the period of some 300 years preceding the rise of Islam.  And even studies by Jewish historians, although they do document these conversions, treat each one individually and fail to take note of the obvious similarities between them.  In this way the existence of a broadly based social movement in favor of Judaism is completely concealed from view, thereby creating a false and misleading impression of the historical background to the rise of Islam.


In North Africa, most of the Berber tribes living in the hill country just beyond the reach of the Romans on the coast converted to Judaism during this period.  The Berbers were the indigenous people of what is called in Arabic the “Maghreb”, the part of North Africa now forming the countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.  In the area close to the Mediterranean coast, the Berbers were conquered and colonized by successive waves of invaders, beginning with the Phoenicians and continuing with the Romans, Byzantines and Vandals.  Further inland the Berber tribes remained independent, and it was these independent tribes who began converting to Judaism in large numbers starting in the 2nd or 3rd centuries CE.


The story of the Berber Jews of North Africa is recounted by Andre Chouraqui in Between East And West: A History of the Jews of North Africa.  Chouraqui on page 21 cites the Christian theologian Tertullian who “reported that the Berbers observed the Sabbath, the Jewish festivals and fasts, and the dietary laws”.  These tribes remained Jewish right up to the time of the Arab conquest of North Africa in the 7th century CE.  In fact, the resistance to the Arab conquest in the Maghreb was led by the Jewish Berber tribes, and in particular by the Jerawa tribe, which was headed by Dahya al-Kahena, a Jewish priestess (“Kahena” means “priestess”).  Chouraqui notes on page 35 that the forces under her command defeated an Arab army in 688 CE on the banks of the El Meskyana river, driving the Arabs back to Libya for a period of about 5 years.  The Arabs subsequently returned in force and killed Dahya al-Kahena, opening the way to the conquest of the rest of the Maghreb.  Many Berber Jews converted to Islam, but others remained Jewish.  Of the approximately 500,000 Jews who were living in North Africa in modern times, Chouraqui estimates that approximately half were of Berber descent.  Many were still Berber speaking, particularly in Morocco.  According to Chouraqui, of the over 200,000 Jews living in Morocco in the early 20th century, 15% spoke only Berber, 59% both Berber and Arabic, and 29% only Arabic.


In Ethiopia, the kingdom of Axum became Christian at some point in the 4th century CE, but there are many indications that before becoming Christian it had been Jewish.  As is well known, the Ethiopians follow a form of Christianity that has strong Jewish overtones.  They practice circumcision, follow the Jewish dietary laws, use the Star of David as an emblem and observe the Jewish Sabbath as well as the Christian Sunday.  According to Christian Ethiopian tradition, this is because the Ethiopian monarchy was founded by a certain King Menelik, who was the descendant of the union of King Solomon with the Queen of Sheba.  This legend, although widely believed, has been debunked by historians, who point out that Sheba was the Hebrew name for the ancient kingdom of Saba, which was located in Yemen, not Ethiopia.  But why then did the Ethiopian Christian kings claim Jewish descent and promote Jewish practices?  One possible reason is because the kingdom of Axum was first ruled by Jewish kings who subsequently converted to Christianity.


In any case there is no doubt that a mass conversion to Judaism took place in Ethiopia starting perhaps in the 3rd century CE.  On page 3 of The Falashas, David Kessler states: “According to Ethiopian tradition half the population was Jewish before the country was converted to Christianity in the fourth century.”  This conclusion is borne out by the history of the “Falashas” or Ethiopian Jews, who once numbered in the millions.  Until the 17th century, large portions of Ethiopia were under Falasha rule.  The Falashas refused to accept the authority of the Christian kings, and in the 10th century CE they even attempted to seize control of the entire country under the leadership of a Jewish queen, called Judith or Esther in different sources.  They were defeated, but Kessler states on page 93 that there were still as many as 500,000 Falashas living in Ethiopia in the 17th century, at which time their independence was drastically curtailed by the Christian kings with European military assistance.  Persecution reduced their numbers considerably, but European travelers still reported close to 200,000 Falashas in Ethiopia in the mid-19th century.


In Arabia, the emergence of a Jewish community in Yemen starting in the 2nd century CE is described by Shlomo Goitein on page 47 of Jews And Arabs.  Yemen was then as now the most populous part of Arabia and was the home of the rival kingdoms of Saba and Himyar.  By the 4th century CE, the Jewish community in Yemen had grown through conversion to the point where it became a major factor in the politics of the region.  The kingdom of Himyar was dominant at the start of the 4th century, but it was overthrown in 375 CE by the forces of As’ad Ab-Karib, who converted to Judaism and founded a new Sabaean kingdom.  As’ad Ab-Karib, also called As’ad Kamil al-Tubba by later Arab historians, established Judaism as the state religion of the kingdom of Saba.  This entire history is recounted in detail by Robert Stookey on page 20 of Yemen.  Judaism remained the state religion of the kingdom of Saba for the next 150 years, until the overthrow of the rule of the Jewish king Joseph Dhu Nuwas by Christian Ethiopian invaders around 525 CE.  Since Yemen was the only densely populated part of Arabia, it is very likely that a majority of Arabs were Jews during this period.  Jewish communities also flourished in the caravan towns of northern Arabia.  The town of Medina, to which Mohammed fled in 622 CE, was one third Jewish at the time.


If we put the pieces of the puzzle together, the picture which emerges is one of a mass movement in support of Judaism among the Middle Eastern peoples just out of reach of the Roman empire.  At one time or another the Romans had in fact attempted to conquer the Berber tribes, Ethiopians and Arabs, but had found themselves unable to do so.  Since the Jews were the most conspicuous victims of the Romans, conversion to Judaism by the Berbers, Ethiopians and Arabs clearly functioned as a way of affirming their desire to remain independent of Roman rule.  At the same time, there was probably also an element of nation building involved, particularly among the Arabs and perhaps also the Ethiopians.  With its written scriptures, monarchical history and long established religious practices, Judaism may have appealed to monarchical forces among these peoples as an appropriate royal ideology.  But Judaism also had great popular appeal among these peoples, as shown by its survival in the Maghreb, Ethiopia and Yemen long after the monarchies associated with it had been overthrown.


In order to fully appreciate the significance of the mass conversions to Judaism during this period, it is necessary to remember that the one large Jewish community that had survived the “Jewish Wars” largely intact was the Jewish community of Iraq.  Despite numerous invasions of Iraq, the Romans were never able to retain control of this area for very long.  In the 3rd century CE, it came under the rule of a revived Persian empire, which remained in a more or less continual state of war with the Greco-Romans for the next 400 years.  Although the Persians established Zoroastrianism as their state religion, they were not hostile to Judaism and the Jewish community of Iraq flourished under their rule.  When the rabbinical Sanhedrin in the land of Israel was dissolved by Justinian in the 6th century CE, the rabbinical academies of Iraq replaced it as the authoritative interpreters of Jewish law in the eyes of the entire Jewish world.  And since the Jews of Iraq were strong supporters of the Persian empire, which effectively protected them against Greco-Roman attack, conversion to Judaism during this period implied membership in a broad coalition of Middle Eastern peoples aligned with the Persians against the Greco-Romans.


The full meaning of this coalition became apparent at the beginning of the 7th century CE with the start of a major Persian offensive against the Greco-Roman (now called Byzantine) empire in Syria.  In 614 CE, a Persian army entered Jerusalem.  The Christians were driven from the city, their churches burned and control of Jerusalem placed in the hands of the Jews.  Jewish detachments from Iraq had formed a part of the Persian army that conquered Jerusalem, and the surviving Jews of the land of Israel had also launched a revolt against the Byzantines as the Persian army approached.  In liberated Jerusalem a Jewish government was constituted headed by a man called Nehemiah.  A Jewish army was formed which joined the Persians in the siege of Tyre and other Byzantine strongholds in Lebanon.  After hundreds of years of almost continuous struggle, the Zionist dream had finally come true.  Jerusalem and the greater part of the land of Israel were once more under Jewish rule, whose legitimacy was formally recognized by the Persian king Chosroes in a triumphal visit to Jerusalem in 617 CE.


Unfortunately, soon afterward there took place a sudden shift in Persian policy.  Persian support for the Jewish government in Jerusalem was abruptly withdrawn and a policy of alliance with the Christians of the land of Israel instituted instead.  Avi-Yonah on page 268 of The Jews of Palestine offers the following analysis of the change in Persian policy :


Basically however there can be only one real reason for this sudden change in Persian policy.  The Jews now suffered the common fate of revolutionaries after a successful revolution.  While the fight was still going on, the Persians accepted Jewish aid because they were interested in upsetting the existing state of things…It seems, however, that the Persians quickly noticed that they were relying on only 10-15 per cent of the population, too weak a base for a permanent domination.  As they got to know the situation on the spot, it became clearer every day that they would have to come to an agreement with the Christian majority.

The failure of the siege of Tyre seems to have been another factor which led the Persians to withdraw their support from the Jews.  In any case, the Jewish government was driven from Jerusalem by Persian troops.  Moreover, within a few years the fortunes of war shifted in favor of the Byzantines, and in 629 CE Byzantine troops reconquered Jerusalem.  The Byzantine conquest was followed by massacres of Jews throughout the land of Israel, reducing the number of Jews remaining there to a small remnant.  As Avi-Yonah succinctly puts it on page 269: “By betraying their Jewish allies the Persians put an end to the national hopes of the Jews for many centuries.”


Although usually briefly mentioned in standard histories of the Jewish people, the formation of a Jewish government in Jerusalem in 614 CE is never alluded to in any other historical studies, and for one obvious reason.  It was at just this time that an individual named Mohammed got up in the market at Mecca and began to preach a doctrine that called for observation of the Jewish dietary laws, prayer in the direction of Jerusalem and worship of the Jewish God, whom he called “Allah”.  However, after the Persians turned on the Jews, this same individual changed his tune and began to make hostile remarks about the Jews.  Worse yet, once he got control of Medina, he attacked the Jews living there, exiled some, massacred others, and changed the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca.  In this way there came into being a religion which, just like Christianity, synthesized pro-Jewish and anti-Jewish elements into one comprehensive package whose origins in a mass movement on behalf of Judaism were soon forgotten.


However, the pro-Jewish element in Islam was quite different from that in Christianity.  Whereas Christianity created a kind of ideological affinity with Jewish tradition, if not the Jews themselves, through its canonization of the so-called “Old Testament”, the Muslims paid little attention to this text and indeed accused the Jews of “falsifying the Scriptures”.  But unlike the Christians, the Muslims made a big point of their ethnic identity with the Jews by claiming descent from Abraham, practicing circumcision and following similar dietary laws.  In this way, the Muslims sought to affirm a Middle Eastern cultural identity as a means of resistance to Greco-Roman cultural domination.  But the reason why they chose this particular means of affirming their Middle Eastern identity is because this is precisely what a number of Middle Eastern peoples, including the Arabs, had already been doing in the name of Judaism for hundreds of years prior to the rise of Islam.



At the heart of Jewish influence is Judaism, and at the heart of Judaism is Judah.  Judah is the standard English language version of the Hebrew word Yehudah, which appears in the Torah as the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  It is then commonly applied to the kingdom founded by David, who was a member of the tribe of Judah, around 1000 BCE.  But when historians have to describe the country which the Romans invaded in 63 BCE, it suddenly ceases to be Judah and becomes “Palestine”, or at best, “Judea” or “Judaea”.


There was no “Palestine” before the Romans created this term in 135 CE, and there was no “Judea” or “Judaea” before the Romans began to use these terms for the country which they wished to turn into a province of their empire in the 1st century BCE.  The term “Palestine” was derived from the geographical term “Philistia”, the area on the southern coast of the land of Israel where the Philistines had once lived.  And the terms “Judea” or “Judaea” were simply the Roman way of pronouncing “Yehudah”, which initially they like everyone else regarded as the established name for the country which they invaded in 63 BCE.  The Greeks called it “Ioudaia” and the Persians “Yahud”, so if we are speaking English, the correct name for that country is Judah.


Judaism in its origins was nothing other than the veneration of the religion, language, laws and customs of the nation of Judah.  This nation was founded by David, divided into the rival kingdoms of Judah and Israel after the death of Solomon, then overwhelmed by successive waves of Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian and Greek invaders, and finally restored to independence by the guerilla forces of Judah the Maccabee starting around 165 BCE.  As a result of subsequent conquests by the Hasmonean (meaning Maccabean) kings, the nation of Judah at the time of the Roman invasion occupied roughly the same territory as had the ancient kingdom of David.  And from that time to the present, the main goal of Judaism as a religion has been to restore the independence of the nation of Judah as a means of also restoring its original religion, language, laws and customs.


It is in its commitment to the restoration of Jewish national independence that Judaism differs most profoundly from both Christianity and Islam.  Both of these religions were traditionally hostile to the idea of Jewish national independence for the simple reason that both came to function as the ideologies of great empires, the one initially Greco-Roman, the other initially Arab.  It is in large part in order to denigrate the idea of Jewish national independence that both Christianity and Islam contain so many derogatory references to the Jews.  Yet if the Jews had not fought to defend and revive the nation of Judah, there never would have been either a Christianity or an Islam.  Such is the nature of Jewish influence, which more often than not is denied, concealed or rejected by the very ones most dependent on it.


What is needed today is the deghettoization of Jewish history and its inclusion in a mainstream narrative of world history.  Jewish influence did not begin or end with Christianity and Islam.  If the ideals of national self-determination, social equality and rational thought today form such an important part of modern culture, it is at least in part because of Jewish influence.  It was precisely because of their adherence to these ideals that the Jews of Europe were slaughtered in the millions by the Nazis, yet today the United Nations that arose out of the defeat of the Nazis is consumed with hatred of the nation of Israel.  It is high time that the world became aware of its own history and the progressive role which the Jewish people has played in it.  Jewish history should not be confined to Jewish Studies but also treated as an integral part of the history of the entire world.


Add new comment