Babylon

Islamo-Judaic Relations : politically correct mythology – 2 (the strange case of no-Roman-trauma)

Posted on February 4, 2012. Filed under: Antisemitism, Babylon, diaspora, exile, Israel, Palestine, religion, Roman |

Who repressed the Jews or expelled them “more” -Babylonians, Romans or Muslims? The case of Babylonian versus Roman debate.

(the “Roman violence on the Jews and the resultant Jewish Diaspora” : )

The Myth : “In A.D. 70, and again in 135, the Roman Empire brutally put down Jewish revolts in Judea, destroying Jerusalem, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and sending hundreds of thousands more into slavery and exile.

Hebrew University professor, Yisrael Yuval, dubs the above a “myth” in “The Myth of the Jewish Exile from the Land of Israel: A Demonstration of Irenic Scholarship” Common Knowledge – Volume 12, Issue 1, Winter 2006, pp. 16-33

“The first point to make is that well before the revolt against Rome in 66-70 c.e., there were Jewish communities outside Palestine, most notably in Babylonia and in Egypt, but elsewhere as well. References to the dispersal of the Jewish people throughout the civilized world are found in the book of Esther, Josephus, and Philo. There is no indication that these communities were small, satellite communities. There is no contemporary 1st and 2nd centuries c.e evidence that anything like an exile took place. The Romans crushed two Jewish revolts in 66-70 c.e. and in 132-135 c.e. As per Josephus, the rebels were killed, and many of the Jews starved to death.”

Some POW’s were sent to Rome, and others were sold in Libya. But nowhere does Josephus speak of Jews being taken into exile. Yuval claims that there is much evidence to the contrary and apparently there was always Jewish emigration from the Land of Israel.

The first known reference to the exile of the Jews occurs in remarks attributed to the third century Palestinian rabbi, R. Yohanan found in the Babylonian Talmud, a work that received its final formulation several centuries later (c. 500 c.e.): “Our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land” (Gittin). The editor/s of the Talmud apparently referred this statement to the Roman exile. Similar statements can be found elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud attributing to rabbis living in the Land of Israel the view that the Romans were responsible for the destruction of the House, the burning of the temple, and the exile from the land. Yuval however says that on examining other Babylonian sources, and most sources from Israel, the statements “most likely” refer to the First Temple, and the exile by the Babylonians.

 Yuval summarizes the sources as:
“In other words, it seems that the triple expression—destruction of the House, burning of the Temple, exile from the land—originally (in the sources from the Land of Israel) referred to the First Temple and were applied to the Second Temple only in Babylonia.10 In the Tannaitic and early Amoraic sources, Rome is accused only of destroying the Temple, not of exiling the people from their land.11 A broad historical and national outlook, one that viewed the “Exile of Edom” (Rome being identified with the biblical Edom) as a political result of forced expulsion, did not survive from this period. Nor would such a view have been appropriate to the political reality and the conditions of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, which were certainly very well known to the members of that generation.”

Note that Yuval is here being cautious as academics are trained to be – he carefully phrases his conclusion in the typical modern professional historian’s style of weaving new narratives within the old by posing speculating questions hinting at alternatives, but he does not commit entirely to this alternative because he might not have the incontrovertible proof and therefore his claim remains a hypothesis.
Chaim Milikowsky, professor and past chairman of the Talmud department at Bar Ilan university, has argued that in 2nd and 3rd century tannaitic sources, the Hebrew term rendered as “exile” has the meaning of political subjugation rather than physically being driven from the land (cited in Yuval, p. 19, n.1)  Commentators propose that “Zionists” supposedly were somewhat at a loss to explain how Jewish rabbis could create the Mishnah and subsequently the Talmud of the Land of Israel if there was a mass exile. Of course here the assumption is that “mass exiles” are exiles of whole nations or countries with nothing left behind.

An interesting historical paradox is of course overlooked here : what made the Babylonian “exile” so qualitatively different from the Roman “one”? The impression of a massive exile and trauma under Babylon is based on the same Jewish scholarly voices that are derided for fraudulently claiming similar trauma at the hands of the Roman. So if the Jews in the Roman period deliberately, or out of ignorance, drew upon and confused with the trauma of a period much earlier – what makes their representation of the Babylonian trauma so reliable and truthful? What if the Jews were also “emigrating” “all the time” even under the heyday of Babylonian rule? What if they were making up or confusing the Babylonian interlude with earlier reconstructions of trauma – say from the Egyptian “experience”? Modern archeologists and historians like Prof Zahi Hawas, seem to strongly support the theory [and conclusion] that Pharaonic society was not a “slave” society, and therefore the accusations of slavery within the Mosaic tradition is similarly suspect? 

By challenging and denying the reliability of one historical reconstruction of trauma by the use of another assumed historical trauma, even the earlier justifying one becomes unreliable and suspect – thereby making the whole exercise a futile speculation.

However, for the comparative trauma debate – modern scholarship appears to go for the version that Roman “atrocities” were a myth invented by “Zionists”. I would rather not go into the problematic aspects that this raises: was it the need to absolve an European “iconic heritage” (the Roman) from responsibilities of anti-Semitism? Was this need based on a panicked over-reaction to trying to absolve the role of the early Church in anti-Semitism and hence by association the modern Church? Was the urge to delegitimize the “Zionist” an overkill? These are issues to be debated or explored in how subconscious hidden political inclinations might still be colouring historiography – but for our purposes, it seems then that the Romans were not the chief culprits and they were perhaps not the cause of Jewish trauma as per modern so-called professional historians.

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