Voir dernièrement sur ces questions J. Dujardin, L’Église catholique et le peuple juif. Un autre regard, Paris, 2003, et également Le peuple juif et ses saintes écritures dans la bible chrétienne, Commission biblique pontificale, Paris, 2001.
Cf. A. Paul, « Jésus de Nazareth le Méditerranéen », dans Foi et vie 92 (1993), p. 101-111.
Cf. A. Paul, « Jésus de Nazareth le Méditerranéen », p. 103.
Cf. A. Paul, « Jésus de Nazareth le Méditerranéen », p. 102.
Voir l’excellente contribution critique de M. R. Macina, « Jésus “le juif” ou Jésus “l’hérodien” ? À propos d’une thèse récente d’A. Paul », dans Foi et vie 93 (1994), p. 87-104 et spécialement p. 90, dont cette étude critique est grandement redevable. Notons de surcroît que de nombreux critiques, spécialistes de la Galilée des premiers siècles, confèrent à cette région un cachet pharisien prononcé avec une pratique et une étude de la loi juive très soutenues notamment à l’époque de Jésus, voir en ce sens E. M. Meyers, « The Cultural Setting of Galilee : The Case of Regionalism and Early Judaïsm », dans Aufstieg und Nidergang des Römischen Welt, II, 19, 1 (1979), p. 689-693 ; S. Freyne, Galilee from Alexander the Great to Hadrian 323 B.C.E. to 135 C.E. A Study of Second Temple Judaism¸ Wilmington, 1980, p. 305-343 ; A. Oppenheimer, La Galilée à l’époque de la Mishna, Jérusalem, 1991, p. 114-117, [en hébreu].
Voir l’ouvrage de référence d’A. Schalit, Le roi Hérode. L’homme et son action, Jérusalem, 1978, p. 240-273, [en hébreu].
Cf. M. R. Macina, « Jésus “le juif” ou Jésus “l’hérodien” ? », p. 95-99, qui cite différents textes de ces littératures afin de mettre en évidence la haine qu’ils expriment envers Hérode le Grand.
Cf. A. Paul, « Jésus de Nazareth le Méditerranéen », p. 107.
Cf. A. Paul, « Jésus de Nazareth le Méditerranéen », p. 111. Soulignons également que A. Paul, « Nouveau plaidoyer pour les « faux jumeaux ». Réponse au R. P. Jean-Miguel Garrigues », dans Nouvelle revue théologique 115 (1993), p. 735, écrit : « En bref, dans les années vingt et 30 ou 35, au sommet de la civilisation et du siècle hérodiens, Jésus de Nazareth et un groupe d’hommes galiléens surent placer leur message, leur evangelion, “bonne nouvelle”, selon la terminologie propre du culte contemporain du souverain, dans les canaux mêmes de l’oikouménè. Pour ce faire, ils captèrent les forces disponibles de l’apocalyptisme, lui-même méditerranéen mais combien jalousement cultivé en terre nationale juive […] ». Les caractères en italiques sont notre fait.
Voir dans cette démarche à titre d’exemple J.-M. Joubert, Foi juive et croyance chrétienne, Paris, 2001. Notons que ces tentatives de « déjudaïsation » de Jésus et du mouvement chrétien touchent aussi les figures de Paul, voire de Pierre. Cf. notamment R. Burnet, Paul. Le bretteur de l’Évangile, Paris, 2000 ; C. Bizot, R. Burnet, Pierre l’apôtre fragile, Paris, 2001.
Cette remarque se trouve vérifiée quand par exemple A. Paul déclare que culturellement et même doctrinalement, le fait évangélique s’enracine au vivant même de Jésus (Id, Ibid., p. 110). Les travaux de chercheurs éminemment sérieux qui expliquent que les Évangiles sont une création littéraire postérieure à Jésus de quelques décennies et qu’ils mettent une narration dans la bouche de Jésus vu qu’il n’a rien prononcé de son vivant qui n’ait été consigné, sont trop nombreux pour en faire mention.
Les travaux sur Jésus qui attestent sans aucune réserve son identité juive sont innombrables, on ne renverra ici qu’à l’ouvrage déjà ancien mais non dépassé de J. Klausner, Jésus de Nazareth. Son temps, sa vie, sa doctrine, Paris, 1933, p. 523, qui écrit : « Jules Wellhausen, dont les travaux sur le Judaïsme pharisaïque tannaïtique et même prophétique sont remplis de haine, n’a pourtant pas pu s’empêcher d’émettre ce jugement audacieux : “Jésus n’était pas chrétien, il était juif” [J. Wellhausen, Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, Berlin, 1905, p. 113]. Il n’a pas proclamé une nouvelle religion, il a prêché l’obéissance à la volonté de Dieu. Et la volonté de Dieu se trouve exprimée pour lui, comme pour tous les autres juifs, dans la Torah et les autres livres de l’Écriture. Comment pouvait-il en être autrement, étant donné que Jésus avait puisé toutes ses connaissances et toutes ses idées dans les Écritures, et tout au plus encore dans quelques écrits apocryphes et pseudépigraphiques palestiniens qui, dans leur forme primitive étaient déjà répandus dans le peuple ? »
L’expression est de M. R. Macina, « Jésus “le juif” ou Jésus “l’hérodien” ? », p. 102.
Cf. A. Paul, Leçons paradoxales sur les juifs et les chrétiens, p. 15.
Cf. A. Paul, Leçons paradoxales sur les juifs et les chrétiens, p. 121.
Cf. A. Paul, Leçons paradoxales sur les juifs et les chrétiens, p. 181-182.
Cf. A. Paul, Leçon paradoxales sur les juifs et les chrétiens, p. 182-184.
Voir sur cette question D. Jaffé, « Les amei-ha-ares durant le iie et le iiie siècle. État des sources et des recherches », dans Revue des études juives 161 (2002), p. 24-31 ; D. Jaffé, « Les relations entre les Sages et les judéo-chrétiens durant l’époque de la Mishna : R. Eliézer ben Hyrcanus et Jacob le Min, disciple de Jésus de Nazareth », dans S. Trigano (Éd.), Le christianisme au miroir du judaïsme, Pardès 35 (2003), p. 65-69.
Voir l’intéressante étude consacrée à ce personnage par P. A. Bernheim, Jacques, frère de Jésus, Paris, 1996.
Cf. A. Paul, Leçons paradoxales sur les juifs et les chrétiens, p. 97, 181. Notons que dans Le judaïsme ancien et la Bible, Paris, 1987, p. 282, l’auteur affirmait avec plus de modération mais non avec plus de rigueur : « Le christianisme et le judaïsme sont nés ensemble sur les ruines du Second Temple. » Dans Le monde juif à l’heure de Jésus, Paris, 1981, p. 243, il écrivait qu’« après la chute de Jérusalem en 70 et l’écrasement de ce qui persistait de l’État national des juifs, le judaïsme fut réorganisé comme communauté et comme religion ». Propos certes moins incohérents et incisifs que ceux cités précédemment, toutefois on comprend mal l’emploi du terme « religion » qui semble encore une fois fort singulier. Il amène à penser qu’avant 70, il n’existait pas de religion juive, ce qui est une absurdité.
Il semblerait que, malgré toutes les tergiversations auxquelles il se livre, l’auteur ne puisse complètement nier cette idée. Ceci se comprend quand il emploie la formule « pré-judaïsme » à la place de « proto-judaïsme » (ibid., p. 166). Il en vient à une affirmation dont le seul aspect contradictoire exprime l’artifice terminologique sous-jacent : « Il y avait du judaïsme chez les juifs avant l’instauration décisive du judaïsme proprement dit » (ibid., p. 166). Cette illusion sémantique à la tournure emberlificotée tient du paradoxe fallacieux, dont le sens, si toutefois il existe, est totalement obscur.
Cf. J.-M. Garrigues, « Juifs et chrétiens : identité et différence. Réflexions sur les thèses de M. André Paul », dans Nouvelle revue théologique 115 (1993), p. 359.
Cf. A. Paul, « Nouveau plaidoyer pour les “faux jumeaux”. Réponse au R. P. Jean-Miguel Garrigues », p. 737.
Cf. A. Paul, Leçons paradoxales sur les juifs et les chrétiens, p. 120.
Cf. A. Paul, Leçons paradoxales sur les juifs et les chrétiens, respectivement p. 120, 126, 133, 172, 184.
Cf. M. R. Macina, « Vers une théologie révisionniste antijudaïque », dans Les nouveaux cahiers 111 (1992-1993), p. 42.
Voir M. R. Macina, « Jésus “le juif” ou Jésus “l’hérodien” ? », p. 101. Voir également M. R. Macina, « Il n’y a pas de petits dangers. Une nouvelle forme de marcionisme. La théologie antijudaïque d’André Paul », dans Les nouveaux cahiers 114 (1993), p. 32-34, où l’auteur affilie les thèses d’A. Paul à celles du célèbre hérésiarque Marcion.
Cf. A. Paul, Leçons paradoxales sur les juifs et les chrétiens, p. 196-197.
Notons que A. Gignac, Juifs et chrétiens à l’école de Paul de Tarse. Enjeux identitaires et éthiques d’une lecture de Rm 9-11, Québec, 1999, p. 52, explique à propos de la Théologie de l’accomplissement que : « L’existence d’Israël après le Christ n’a plus de signification théologique, en dehors du problème général de salut des non-chrétiens. Cette solution du problème identitaire est fusionnelle. On notera que les affirmations de Vatican II, pourtant libératrices, s’appuient implicitement sur ce schéma ».
Cf. S. Breton, « Christianisme : Paul ou Jean », dans Esprit 292 (2003), p. 72. Voir également sur l’apôtre Paul et le peuple juif, l’intéressant et suggestif ouvrage de S. Trigano, L’e(xc)lu. Entre juifs et chrétiens, Paris, 2003.
Cf. J.-M. Garrigues, « Juifs et chrétiens : identité et différence. Réflexions sur les thèses de M. André Paul », p. 361 ; voir aussi la mise au point de ce même auteur à la fin de l’article d’A. Paul, « Nouveau plaidoyer pour les “faux jumeaux”. Réponse au R. P. Jean-Miguel Garrigues », p. 739-741.
Voir par ailleurs:
VIDEO. Ils lisent la Bible à des passants en leur faisant croire que c’est le Coran
Une expérience sociale pour voir quels sont les préjugés des Néerlandais vis-à-vis de l’islam. Sacha Harland et Alexander Spoor, deux Youtubeurs néerlandais, ont réalisé une petite expérience : l’islam étant ces derniers temps la cible de critiques jugeant que c’est une religion qui prône la violence, ils se sont demandé ce qu’il en était du côté des chrétiens. Ils ont donc dissimulé une Bible sous la couverture d’un Coran, et sont allés en lire les passages les plus affreux à des passants dans la rue.
Parmi les passages choisis : « Si vous ne m’écoutez pas et ne mettez pas tous ces commandements en pratique, (…) Vous mangerez la chair de vos fils, vous mangerez la chair de vos filles » (Lévitique 26 : 33-35). « Je ne permets pas à la femme d’enseigner, ni de prendre de l’autorité sur l’homme » (1 Timothée 2:12). « Si un homme couche avec un homme comme on couche avec une femme, ils ont fait tous deux une chose abominable ; ils seront punis de mort » (Lévitique 20:13).
Ils ont ensuite demandé aux passants ce qu’ils pensaient de ce qu’ils venaient d’entendre. « Comment quelqu’un peut-il croire ça ? ! Ce n’est pas possible pour moi », a répondu une femme. « Si on a été élevé avec ce livre et ce genre de phrases, cela influence la façon dont on pense », a jugé un autre passant. « Pour moi, on dirait qu’ils veulent vous forcer à croire ce en quoi ils croient », a indiqué une troisième.
Des préjugés « inconscients »
Ils ont ensuite demandé aux passants quelle était selon eux la plus grande différence entre le Coran et la Bible. Un homme interrogé a alors expliqué que, d’après ce qu’il venait d’entendre, le livre saint des musulmans était beaucoup plus agressif.
On imagine donc bien leur surprise lorsque Sacha Harland et Alexander Spoor leur ont révélé la supercherie : la plupart ne s’imaginaient pas qu’il puisse y avoir des écrits aussi violents dans l’Ancien Testament. « Bien sûr, j’ai entendu des histoires venant de la Bible quand j’étais petite, et je suis allée dans une école catholique, mais je n’imaginais vraiment pas que cela pouvait y être écrit », a réagi l’une des passantes. « Ce sont des préjugés. J’essaie de ne pas en avoir, mais visiblement ce n’est pas le cas. C’est inconscient », a renchéri un autre.
Réflexion sur la question Marx
23 mars 2006
«Ne cherchons pas le secret du juif dans sa religion, mais cherchons le secret de la religion dans le juif réel. Quel est le fondement profane du judaïsme ? Le besoin pratique, le profit personnel ? Quel est le culte profane du juif ? L’agiotage. Quel est son dieu profane ? L’argent.» Prononcés aujourd’hui, de tels propos entraîneraient un procès pour incitation à la haine raciale, alors qu’ils n’émurent personne lorsque Karl Marx les coucha dans les pages de Sur la question juive. Les accusations d’antisémitisme ne viendront que plus tard : elles sont anachroniques et absolument injustes, selon Daniel Bensaïd qui, pour preuve, vient de rééditer dans une nouvelle traduction le texte de Marx, avec une présentation et des commentaires conséquents. Aussi a-t-on mis sur le compte de la conversion au christianisme du père, une supposée haine de soi du fils (qui a servi également à dénigrer Freud et bien d’autres) pour interpréter le discours marxien. Daniel Bensaïd démonte point par point cette «légende» d’un Marx antisémite en replaçant Sur la question juive dans un double contexte : celui de la condition juive dans l’Allemagne du deuxième quart du XIXe siècle d’une part et, de l’autre, celui du mûrissement de la théorie marxienne elle-même, au moment où un jeune philosophe hégélien libéral radicalise son humanisme avant de se tourner résolument vers le matérialisme et le socialisme révolutionnaire.
Lorsque Marx publie à Paris, en avril 1843, Sur la question juive dans le premier (et unique) numéro des Annales franco-allemandes, il a 25 ans. Avec ce long article, il entend répondre, comme l’indique le titre, à la Question juive, un ouvrage de Bruno Bauer, autre philosophe de la gauche hégélienne. Pour aller vite, Bauer propose aux juifs allemands l’émancipation politique par l’assimilation culturelle. Or, d’après Marx, le dédoublement entre l’Etat et la société civile institué par la Révolution française a déconnecté le citoyen de l’homme privé, l’Etat de la religion, les droits politiques des droits de l’homme. Dès lors, il n’y a aucune nécessité d’associer l’obtention des droits politiques à des renoncements identitaires. Cependant pour Marx, l’émancipation des juifs se pose différemment selon la nature de l’Etat du pays où ils résident. Dans une Allemagne sans un Etat digne de ce nom, elle prend des allures théologiques ; en France, il reste encore à mettre en oeuvre la Constitution ; aux Etats-Unis d’Amérique, pourtant le pays électif de la religiosité, il n’y a pas de question juive du tout, parce que la religion n’est en rien une affaire d’Etat. Marx est clair : «L’émancipation politique du juif, du chrétien, de l’homme religieux en général, c’est l’Etat s’émancipant du judaïsme, du christianisme, de la religion en général.» Mais «l’Etat s’émancipant de la religion ne veut pas dire l’homme réel s’émancipant de la religion».
Aux yeux du jeune Marx encore libéral, l’émancipation politique représente un grand progrès, mais elle n’est qu’une étape de «l’émancipation humaine» dont l’accomplissement (incluant évidemment le dépérissement de toute religion) reviendra dans le marxisme mature au prolétariat qui, en détruisant la société fondée sur le capital, libérera l’humanité tout entière. Pour l’heure, les concepts marxiens sont vagues. Aussi, la question juive se confond-elle avec celle de l’argent, le judaïsme n’étant que le nom impropre que Marx utilise en lieu et place de celui de capitalisme, puisqu’il n’a pas encore formalisé la notion de capital destinée à prendre l’ampleur que l’on sait. Daniel Bensaïd montre aisément que le rapport particulier que les juifs entretiennent avec l’argent, tel que le décrit Marx, est historique et social et non pas religieux et, en tout cas, aucunement racial. C’est l’humanité dans son ensemble qui doit se libérer de l’argent et non pas seulement les juifs, du moment que l’échange monétaire régit désormais l’économie tout entière : «L’argent est devenu la puissance mondiale et l’esprit pratique juif est devenu l’esprit pratique des peuples chrétiens. Les juifs se sont émancipés dans la mesure où les chrétiens sont devenus des juifs.» Libérons-nous donc de l’économie monétaire, semble dire le jeune Marx, et il n’y aura plus ni juifs ni chrétiens mais des simples êtres humains.
Le rapport à l’argent, l’émancipation politique, l’assimilation culturelle ou pas dans le cadre de l’Etat-nation, sont des facettes que structurent la question juive en Europe au cours du XIXe siècle, les plus assimilationnistes n’étant pas nécessairement les non-juifs. Marx analysait le destin juif «dans l’histoire et par l’histoire». Bensaïd reprend la méthode à son compte quand il retrace les contours actuels de la condition juive, déterminée encore une fois historiquement par le «judéocide» nazi, l’antisémitisme bureaucratique stalinien et la création de l’Etat d’Israël. Aussi va-t-il contre l’air du temps, s’élevant avec force contre «la transformation du judéocide d’événement historique et politique en événement théologique» qui «confirme le destin victimaire du peuple juif et légitime par contre-coup l’exception ethnique d’un »Etat juif »».
On suit bien Daniel Bensaïd quand il replace les prises de positions du jeune Marx sur la religion en général et le judaïsme en particulier dans le contexte d’une pensée en formation accélérée. On le suit moins quand il se refuse à voir dans la promesse marxienne de renversement de l’état de choses présentes une manière de fidélité au messianisme biblique, pour n’y déceler qu’une approche de l’histoire matérialiste (ce qui est vrai) et scientifique (ce qui reste à prouver). Un messianisme proprement juif , dans la mesure où le salut de l’humanité adviendra pour Marx sur cette terre, et non pas dans l’au-delà. Mais Bensaïd rétorquerait que la promesse marxienne n’a d’horizon que l’histoire humaine. Certes, mais en vue de son accomplissement… messianique.
Jean-Baptiste MARONGIU Karl Marx. Sur la question juive Présentation et commentaires de Daniel Bensaïd, traduit de l’allemand par Jean-François Poirier. La Fabrique, 190 pp., 14 euros.
Voir de plus:
Saint Paul : les Juifs « ont tué le Seigneur Jésus et les prophètes et nous ont pourchassés, ils ne plaisent pas à Dieu et sont hostiles à tous les humains ». Saint Jérôme : « qu’en Judas le Juif soit maudit ». Al-Maghîli (Algérie, vers 1500) : « Par Allah […], c’est avec certitude que je déclare licite le sang des Juifs, de leurs enfants et de leurs femmes ». Luther : « Tout d’abord, mettre le feu à leurs synagogues ou écoles… ». Edmund Burke : le gouvernement révolutionnaire parisien est dirigé par des « courtiers juifs ». Marx (d’origine juive) : l’argent est le « dieu profane » des Juifs ; abolir le capitalisme reviendra à « émanciper l’humanité du judaïsme » ; « les chrétiens sont devenus juifs ».
L’humanité a besoin de boucs émissaires, qui justifient la violence… et servent à consolider les sociétés, observait René Girard. Plus fondamentalement, l’humanité a besoin de croire. Le bouc émissaire s’inscrit dans le registre de la vérité. « Ma patrie est le pays de la vérité », chante la jeune Ahlam al-Nasr, poétesse de Daech. L’antijudaïsme des premiers penseurs chrétiens ou musulmans, celui d’un Luther ou d’un Marx, sont scellés au ciment de la vérité. Lequel reste longtemps de nature exégétique, puis, à partir de Marx, s’inspire de la « science », ou d’une certaine idée de la science.
Rétrospectivement, l’antijudaïsme peut donc aussi être considéré comme une puissante idéologie avant la lettre (le mot idéologie n’ayant pris son sens moderne que dans les écrits de Marx, justement). De façon significative, l’auteur du Capital dénonce l’idéologie comme la science fausse par excellence, mais n’imagine pas qu’il puisse en être lui-même victime. On peut en dire autant de son exact contemporain, Paul Broca, le fondateur de la science du cerveau : « Il est permis de supposer que la petitesse relative du cerveau de la femme dépend à la fois de son infériorité physique et de son infériorité intellectuelle. » Le bouc émissaire n’est pas loin, si l’on songe aux sorcières du Moyen Âge et, aujourd’hui encore, au sort fait aux femmes en diverses régions du monde.
Depuis Marx, anticapitalisme et antijudaïsme ont toujours partie liée, observait Hannah Arendt – même si aujourd’hui le premier tend à effacer le second. Avec l’invention de l’écologisme, le principal bouc émissaire est désormais l’homme lui-même : « Le monde a un cancer et ce cancer est l’homme. » 1 La science fait bon ménage avec l’idéologie.
1| 2e rapport au Club de Rome
‘Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition’ by David Nirenberg
Michael S. Roth
The Washington Post
April 26, 2013
Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.
So sang Tom Lehrer in his satirical song “National Brotherhood Week.” It’s no news that even those who preach “love they neighbor” have often combined their striving for community with the hatred of a scapegoat, the Jews. David Nirenberg’s “Anti-Judaism” is a thorough, scholarly account of why, in the history of the West, Jews have been so easy to hate. And this story goes back a very long way.
’Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition’ by David Nirenberg (W. W. Norton)
Nirenberg returns to ancient Egypt to examine traditions that portray Jews as “enemies of Egyptian piety, sovereignty, and prosperity.”This was already old in the 7th century BCE! Ancient Greeks and Romans would have their Jews, too; they found use for an “anomalous” people who stuck together and followed their own rules, who were “neither disenfranchised nor citizen, neither conquered nor conquering, neither powerless nor free.” Over the centuries, when there was trouble in the kingdom, be it corruption or military threat, famine or political chaos, pagan ideologues developed a handy solution: Attack the Jews.
Jews were useful for those who were contending for power in the ancient world, and the Egyptian model of scapegoating was often repeated. But it was the Christians who refined anti-Judaism into a core theological and political ideology. Christianity had a particular problem: to show that it had overcome Judaism — overcome its adherence to the laws of the “old” testament, overcome its tribal particularity with evangelical universalism. The idea of Judaism — together with the fact that there were still people in the world who chose to remain Jews — was an affront to that universalism. “To the extent that Jews refused to surrender their ancestors, their lineage, and their scripture, they could become emblematic of the particular, of stubborn adherence to the conditions of the flesh, enemies of the spirit, and of God.”
Throughout the centuries theologians returned to this theme when they wanted either to stimulate religious enthusiasm or quash some perceived heretical movement. Not that you needed any real Jews around to do this. You simply had to label your enemies as “Jews” or “Judaizing” to advance the purity of your cause. In the first through fourth centuries, Christians fighting Christians often labeled each other Jews as they struggled for supremacy. And proclaiming your hatred of the Jews became a tried and true way of showing how truly Christian you were. Centuries later, even Luther and Erasmus agreed that “if hatred of Jews makes the Christian, then we are all plenty Christian.”
Islam followed this same pattern of solidifying orthodoxy by stoking anti-Jewish fervor. Muhammad set Islam, like Christianity, firmly within an Abrahamic tradition, but that made it crucial to sever the new religion from any Judaizing possibilities. Rival Islamic groups, like rival forms of Christianity, often painted their adversaries as hypocritical Jews scheming to take the world away from spiritual truths essential for its true salvation.
Nirenberg shows how consistently the struggle for religious and political supremacy has been described as a struggle against the “Jews.” The quotation marks are especially important as his account moves beyond the medieval period, because between 1400 and 1600 Western Europe was more or less “a world free of Jews.” Banished from most countries, and existing only in the tiniest numbers through special exemptions, actual Jews were hardly ever seen. But it was in this period that “Christian Europe awoke haunted by the conviction that it was becoming Jewish.” In this period of cultural change and doctrinal and political disputes, patterns as old as the age of the pharoahs were reactivated: My adversaries must be extinguished for the polity to be purified; my adversaries must be Jews. And in early modern European eyes, the adversaries were especially dangerous if they were secret Jews who appeared to be Christian. Were Jews hiding everywhere?
Martin Luther brought this rhetoric to a fever pitch. In 1523 he accused the Roman Church of becoming “more ‘Jewish’ than the Jews,” and as he grew older he tried to convince his contemporaries that “so thoroughly hopeless, mean, poisonous, and bedeviled a thing are the Jews that for 1400 years they have been, and continue to be, our plague, pestilence, and all that is our misfortune.” Don’t believe in conversions, the aged Luther urged; the only way to baptize Jews was by tying millstones around their necks.
Nirenberg’s command of disparate sources and historical contexts is impressive. His account of the development of Christianity and Islam is scholarly yet readable. And his portrayal of the role that Judaism has played as a foil for the consolidation of religious and political groups is, for this Jewish reader, chilling. Nirenberg is not interested, as he repeatedly insists, in arguing that Christianity and Islam are “anti-Semitic.” Instead, he is concerned with tracing the work that the idea of Judaism does within Western culture. He shows that many of the important conceptual and aesthetic developments in that culture — from Saint John to Saint Augustine to Muhammad, from Shakespeare to Luther to Hegel — depend on denigrating Jews.That’s what’s so chilling: great cultural achievements built on patterns of scapegoating and hatred.
In the modern period, revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries continued to employ “the Jewish problem” as something to be overcome. “How could that tiny minority convincingly come to represent for so many the evolving evils of the capitalist world order?” Nirenberg asks. He shows that for thousands of years the patterns of anti-Judaism have evolved to provide great thinkers and ordinary citizens with habits of thought to “make sense of their world.” He doesn’t say that these patterns caused the mechanized, genocidal Nazi war against the Jews in the 20th century, but he argues convincingly “that the Holocaust was inconceivable and is unexplainable without that deep history of thought.”
Presaging Tom Lehrer, Sigmund Freud in 1929 wrote ironically that Jews, by being objects of aggression, “have rendered most useful services to the civilizations of the countries that have been their hosts; but unfortunately all the massacres of the Jews in the Middle Ages did not suffice to make that period more peaceful and secure for their Christian fellows.” Even when “everybody hates the Jews,” patterns of intolerance and violence remain intact. Nirenberg offers his painful and important history so that we might recognize these patterns in hopes of not falling into them yet again.
Michael S. Roth is the president of Wesleyan University and the author of “Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living With the Past.”
Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition
6 December, 2015
Book:Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition
New York, NY, W. W. Norton, 2013, ISBN: 9780393058246; 624pp.; Price: £20.00
King’s College London
Citation:, review of Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, (review no. 1558)
David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition is an impressive scholarly accomplishment that matches a dauntingly large subject matter with a vast vault of personal knowledge. At 474 pages and 13 chapters covering more than 3000 years, it is thorough without being exhaustive. (1) The book cogently follows the development of anti-Judaism from Ancient Egypt through to the de-Judaising theories of Martin Heidegger and Joseph Goebbels. It is, however, first and foremost a history of ideas rather than of societies and some of Nirenberg’s focus and conclusions may sit uncomfortably with readers expecting a straight socio-political history of anti-Judaism. Jewish communities and their religion Judaism appear infrequently in the context of Nirenberg’s sources. They haunt his history like invisible ghosts, invoked to attack perceived enemies who were as likely to be non-Jews as Jews. Take for instance the war of words between the fourth-century Christian theologians St Jerome and St Augustine. Jerome (340/2–420CE) accused Augustine (354–430CE) of ‘Judaising’ tendencies by defending Jewish Law, who in turn labelled Jerome a ‘Judaiser’ for reading original Hebrew texts rather than the Greek translations. Neither knew or had any actual contact with Jews, but their debates on the dangers of Judaism remained seminal guidelines for generations of Christian theologians (pp. 120–34).
Nirenberg focuses rather on how certain aspects of Christian teaching and culture used criticism of Jews and Judaism to make sense of their own religion and society. It is not a history of anti-Semitism, and Nirenberg differs from Robert Wistrich antithetically.(2) He does not examine anti-Judaism to explain the Holocaust, or contemporary western and Middle Eastern attitudes towards Israel. His purpose is more ambitious than this; he aims to show that ‘pathological’ fantasies of Judaism are central to the history of ideas that became deeply ingrained in the Western tradition (p. 468). Ancient civilisations, medieval kingdoms and modern industrial states each developed discourses on the Jewish threat that society could be defined against. For Nirenberg, the barbarism of the Holocaust is the conceivable product of the encoded threat of Judaism in western thought, but was not made inevitable by it. Previous historical instances of anti-Judaism did not create the anti-Semitic ideologies of the 20th century, but they did build on each other to create the cultural and political conditions for them to occur (pp. 469–70).
Nirenberg buttresses this argument with reference to influential thinkers from each era. The Ptolemaic historian Manetho’s (282–246BCE) demonising of the Jewish ‘shepherds’ was central to the development of a unique Egyptian historical and political thought (p. 22). St Jerome and St Augustine’s theological slanging match influenced the medieval Church and monarchies’ treatment of minorities (pp. 120–34). Martin Luther accused his papist opponents of ‘Pharasaism’ and attempted to ‘drain’ Jewish letters from the word of God (p. 252). Both Voltaire and Kant identified Jewish vices in the Old Testament as the source of intolerance in Ancien Régime society (pp. 352–60). And Marx, Heidegger and Sobert provided the philosophical context for Joseph Goebbels’ 1933 declaration ‘The age of rampant Jewish intellectualism is now at an end’ (p. 423).
With a book this ambitious, however, a wide ranging and generous smattering of primary source material drawn from lesser known thinkers is expected. Second-century writers such as Justin Martyr (pp. 100–3) and the chronicler Hegesippus (pp.92–8) inform the reader of the early Church’s anti-Judaism as much as Augustine and Jerome in Nirenberg’s narrative. Likewise Nirenberg uses Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools in 1494 to reveal the dramatization of Early Modern English concerns with the ‘Jewishness’ of Christian commerce as relevantly as Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1598) or Christopher Marlow’s Jew of Malta (1589). It is a testament to Nirenberg’s masterful scholarly skills that his interweaving of diverse primary sources – often across eras and continents – feels appropriate and convincing.
It is hard to avoid the impression that Anti-Judaism: the History of a Way of Thinking represents for Nirenberg the culmination of a career volte-face in respects to his methodological approach. His 1996 work Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages rejected a longue durée history of anti-Semitism.(3) This approach, Nirenberg argued, was liable to assess individual events in structures contextually grounded in the Holocaust, and not in the climatic conditions in which they occurred. The Montcluse massacre of 1320 was more relevant for understanding socio-economic relations between Jews and their Aragonese overlords than explaining the Holocaust, for example.(4) Communities of Violence used a relatively narrow belt of sources covering southwest France and the Crown of Aragon. With Anti-Judaism, his work takes in 3,000 years of historical thought from the Ancient Egyptians to Nazi Germany on a subject almost impossibly vast: how anti-Judaism became the basis for people to criticise and understand their societies, and subsequently, how this became the bedrock of the Western tradition.
In Anti-Judaism, Nirenberg allows for a continuation of trends in the development of a shared concept of anti-Judaism built on and progressed over the periods covered in his book. Nirenberg would not consider this a determinist argument: that questions of Judaism in the history of ideas necessarily connected with each other, or culminated in 20th-century anti-Semitism (pp. 456–7). He attempts to combine his disdain for a structural approach by viewing anti-Judaism within the context of each period ‘and with an awareness of potential futures- that is, of how that material will be put to the work of generating different worldviews in later periods and places’ (p. 11). This leads to dead ends as often as open doors. It is a history of how ideas on Judaism drove forward key concepts of Western thought concerning Christian (and Muslim) society, but that this tradition was not what inherently drove Western civilisation towards the Final Solution. This is perhaps an unsettling conclusion: by implication that the Holocaust was far from inevitable, but equally that it could have occurred not in Germany but in France, Britain, the United States or anywhere in the Western world (p. 458–9).
The great focus of the book is on the Christian history of thinking about Judaism, but the influence of pagan writers and concepts from antiquity were instrumental to the guidance of the early Church on Jewish subjects. In chapter one (‘The ancient world: Egypt, exodus, empire’) Nirenberg shows how Egyptian scholars used negative stories and stereotypes of Jews and Judaism, assigning a centrality to them that helped explain Egyptian civilisation’s past – and just as importantly its future direction. The Passover festival for Jews celebrated their liberation; for Egyptians it was an offensive celebration of their society’s destruction and the defeat of their gods (p. 18). In this context, Nirenberg asserts (conjecturally as the source base provides little assistance) that ancient Egyptians created their own pro-Egyptian versions of the ‘Passover’. Nirenberg quotes Manetho (282–246BCE), an Egyptian priest from Heliopolis, who relates an invasion of Egypt by a people called the ‘shepherds’ residing in Judea, bringing rapine pillage and murder, but more shockingly in Manetho’s view, impious destruction of temples and divine images (p. 23). Ultimately the Shepherds were resisted, and this became the basis for the Egyptian version of the exodus as well as Nirenberg’s first example of how ‘a people’s sense of their past and present place in the world could be articulated through the construction of a fundamental opposition to Jews and Judaism’ (p. 24).
Nirenberg shows how Egyptian anti-Judaism had a powerful influence on the two powers that bequeathed the West its political and cultural heritage: Rome and Greece. Greek thinkers such as Lysimachus (Second century BCE, p.30) accepted Egyptian narratives of Jews acting as the enemies of native piety and prosperity, and Alexandria saw some of the most brutal anti-Jewish riots of antiquity (pp. 40–1). By lobbying for the exclusion of Jews from the privileges of citizenship, Nirenberg asserts that Greeks in Alexandria were in effect defending their own sovereign rights, and by the act of anti-Jewish violence were hypostatizing political and theoretical criticism of the imperial power of Rome onto a powerless minority. Roman generals and governors used Egyptian histories to draw their own conclusions about how to deal with the perpetual rebelliousness of the state of Judea. However, unlike for the Egyptians and Greeks, the Jews mattered little to how Romans thought of themselves. Nirenberg leaves this unexplained but it perhaps resulted from a lack of physical threat from Jews in Roman historical origins (p. 46).
It was within the framework of the Greek cultural world (although deeply within the political sphere and territory of the Roman Empire) that the early Christian Church developed a contrary attitude towards Judaism which Nirenberg discusses in chapters two and three. Nirenberg details the overriding concern amongst early Christians (who were themselves predominantly of Jewish background) to define ‘true teaching’ from ‘false’ in their interpretations of the New Testament (p. 87). It was with the consolidation of the early Church that ‘false teaching’ became equated with ‘Jewish practice’. Second-century CE Christian theologians such as Marcion used the teachings of Paul and the other apostles to denounce as ‘Judaisers’ Christians who adhered too closely to the flesh (i.e. acceptance of circumcision or placing too much focus on Jesus’ mortal status) rather than the spirit (pp. 97–9). This marked a crucial phase in early Christian history. As the Church became increasingly a Gentile movement independent of Jews, they became the medium for which Christians condemned bad practice. Judaism became the ‘Anti-Christianity’ to which the narrative of their own Church and wider gentile society could be favourably compared.
Nirenberg focuses on the continuation of this theme in the medieval period, which became increasingly politicised (chapters four to six). Jews – barred from communal economic activities and guild membership – often found employment as money lenders or tax collectors with tacit sovereign approval. Despite not usually predominating in either professions, Jews became associated with them and therefore with sovereign and fiscal power. Political opponents would accuse rulers of becoming ‘Judaised’. Thus Simon De Montfort based the righteousness of his rebellion against Henry III of England in the King’s endorsement of Jewish economic activity. Nirenberg shows how this built on the teachings of St Augustine – that Jews should be tolerated only as an example to Christians of the ‘wandering’ fate awaiting adherents to a failed and tainted religion. As a De Montfort supporter, the 13th-century CE theologian Robert Grosseteste, stated, toleration should not extend to princely protection and favour: ‘Such lords, like the Jews, drink the blood of their subjects’ (p. 198).
Such powerful anti-Judaist sentiment contributed to the mass expulsion or forced conversions of Jewish populations by European monarchs. Vast tracts of Europe became Jew-free zones. Paradoxically, Nirenberg shows how this widened the scope and range of anti-Judaism in the West. The line between Jews and non-Jews suddenly became blurred. The Inquisition in Spain to root out secret Jews led to accusations of ‘Jewish tendencies’ for as little as refusing to buy an apple on the Sabbath or nodding one’s head during prayer (p. 242). In a Europe largely free from Jews, now potentially everyone could be a Jew or be accused of being ‘Judaisers’.
This was true also of the world of the Reformation as Nirenberg relates in chapter seven. Martin Luther in his polemic ‘That Jesus Christ was born a Jew’ (1523) inferred that the Catholic brand of Christianity was worse even than Judaism in its focus on the flesh and hypocrisy (p. 261). His later hard line towards ‘real’ Jews (‘On the Jews and their lies’, 1543) was perhaps influenced by Catholic counter attempts to Judaize him, and contributed towards the violent expulsion of Jews from most of the German lands by the 1570s (p. 262). But Luther was more concerned with attacking his Christian opponents, seeking to portray them as more ‘Jewish’ than the Jews for their perversion of the sacraments and other ‘Jewish’ crimes (p. 260).
Nirenberg shows how Luther refocused the debate surrounding the interpretation of the Scriptures and the word of God, and made the ghostly spectre of Judaism a ‘real’ threat to which Christian teaching was set against in the Confessional age. The centrality of the threat of Judaism within Europe did not diminish with the gradual move from a divinely to a secularised conception of the ordering of the world – it merely shifted (chapter ten – ‘Enlightenment revolts against Judaism: 1670–1789’). Enlightenment philosophes from Voltaire to Kant derided Christianity for its coupling with, and origin from, the ‘sterile’ and unreligious ‘legalism’ of Judaism (p.359). Only by throwing off the shackles of Judaism could Christianity become the true universal religion of humanity, by separating religious institutions and observance from the mechanisms of state. Here again then, Nirenberg shows political thinkers using Judaism to characterise their opponents and conceptualise the evils they observed in their society.
19th- and early 20th-century Germany provides Nirenberg’s focus in his later chapters. He shows how German philosophers from Hegel (1770–1831) to Schopenhauer (1788–1860) saw the remnants of Jewish law as the principle barrier to the freedom of the individual and human spirit (pp. 404–5). Concerns at the creeping calamity of industrialisation, urbanisation and commercialisation from 1750 onwards animated the writings of Heine (1797–1856), Fichte (1762–1814) and Marx (1818–83) with each equating in their own way these ‘dangerous’ processes with ‘Judaism’ (p. 422). Werner Sombart (1863–1941) saw the origins of capitalism deeply rooted in the migrations of the Jewish people; Max Weber (1864–1920) counters this with his assertion that Protestant capitalism and the ‘capitalist spirit’ originated separately from what he saw as the unethical history of Jewish economic activity. Marx, Sombart and Weber remain towering figures within the modern social sciences, and Nirenberg shows how all of them developed their theories to some degree by thinking about Judaism. And it was within the influence and schooling in such high intellectual German culture that Goebbels’s propaganda developed and provided the context in which it was delivered and received (p. 448).
Ultimately, Nirenberg seeks to show how each era of anti-Judaism to differing degrees built upon one another to develop the 20th-century political and cultural framework in which the Holocaust was realisable, if not inevitable. His is a history of anti-Judaism, but not particularly a history of interaction between Jews and non-Jews. It seeks to ask why so many people through history have thought negatively about Judaism. There is consequently little room for Jewish voices, or evidence of ‘Judeophilia’. The reader is left waiting in vain for a Jewish champion to stand up to the blistering barrage ‘Jews’ are subjected to in this history, or at least for someone to throw in the towel. Nirenberg no doubt would argue that this is not for him to provide; his focus is anti-Judaism and its relevance to Western thought, not the history of philosemitism. However, some acknowledgement of tolerance and co-existence between Jews and non-Jews would provide a useful counterbalance to the relentless pursuit of evidence of anti-Judaism which occasionally feels laboured.
This book is primarily a history of thought not a social history. Given this, Nirenberg is occasionally too quick to inflate the societal importance of the ideas he discusses. Broad socio-economic, cultural and political developments are summarised and dogmatic doctrinal debates between scholars indulged. Generalisations litter these summaries, such as the assertion that the rise of a stock capitalised banking system meant ‘every man became willy nilly a speculator’ (p. 425). 19th-century workers in sweated industries may have had something to say about this statement. It perhaps falls outside the scope of Nirenberg’s work, but I find the general reluctance to directly explore the impact and influence of anti-Judaism on the societies from which his thinkers originate (and vice versa) a tad frustrating. For instance, was the rhetoric and nature of anti-Semitism in 19th- and early 20th-century German towns and villages influenced by the anti-Judaism of Heideger, Marx and Sombert? Was support for the Third Reich a product of this continually evolving process of self-perlustration-by-Judaism?
A case in point is the Russian Jewish community of London during the First World War. A particularly nasty anti-Jewish incident occurred in September 1917 in Bethnal Green; Jewish businesses were looted and vandalised, and hundreds of immigrant Jews subjected to violent attacks in the streets. In determining the motivation driving the English crowd to violence against their Jewish neighbours, documentary analysis has uncovered several key determinants. Anger at a perceived non-commitment on behalf of the Jewish community to Britain’s war cause; war-strain and shortages on the home front; economic xenophobia resulting from Jewish encroachment in traditionally English industries such as tailoring and cabinet making.(5) In truth all three factors – their perception as much as reality – blended together to create the conditions for local fury to pour forth. Local memory mythologised how English tailors serving in the war were muscled out of their territory by entrepreneurial Jews ‘shirking’ their responsibilities, making quick bucks whilst East London families starved.
But was this focus on their supposed fiscal avarice a further example of an historic in-grained anti-Semitic discourse of Jews as money grabbers? A link perhaps from the time of the expulsion under Edward I, which has animated English perceptions of Jews ever since, from Shakespeare to Lord Northcliffe? Was it the legacy of the development of the ideology of anti-Judaism? If only such developments could be explained so simply. The Bethnal Green disturbances in 1917 were the product of a diverse and overlapping set of factors, the chief amongst which was a seemingly indiscriminate economic xenophobia on the part of the East End working class that spared few newcomers, be they French, Irish, Jewish, or Bangladeshi for that matter. In any case Nirenberg does not attempt to answer such questions; his is a history of ideas not a history of peoples. Besides, if Nirenberg had attempted this, his book would take on a length that would necessarily negate the punchy pace and direction that makes it such a delight to read.
This book represents a scholarly feat few writers could hope to match, engagingly tracking the history of how influential thinkers – from ancient Egyptian historians to Weimer Republic philosophers – negatively interpreted Judaism to better understand their own religions and society. But the focus on high philosophical thought, the broad sweeps through major societal transformations, and the brevity of analysis on how anti-Judaism influenced communal interaction between Jews and non-Jews will trouble some historians, perhaps even a young David Nirenberg.
This rises to 610 pages with notes and index.Back to (1)
R. A. Wistrich, Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to Global Jihad (New York, NY 2010).Back to (2)
D. Nirenberg, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages (Princeton, NJ, 1996), pp. 6–7.Back to (3)
Ibid, pp.69–93.Back to (4)
PROHO 45/10822/318095/478, ‘Anti-Jewish Demonstration’, Report of Superintendent J. Best, Hackney Police Station, J Division, 24 September 1917.Back to (5)
Voir de plus:
The strange history of antisemitism in Western culture
October 12, 2013
Sometime in the middle years of the sixteenth century, after the bodies were brought up for Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell made England modern, a brilliant Oxford scholar named John Jewel discovered what we now call Late Antiquity. Oxford has always been a city of books, and Jewel—a member of two bookish colleges, Corpus Christi and Merton—came across his newfound land between the leather covers of great folios. A nine-volume edition of the works of Saint Jerome, now preserved in the library of Magdalen College, excited him to fever pitch. Jewel tore through it, underlining passages and leaving notes on every page. And he took away some powerful messages. Jerome taught Jewel that the first Christian bishops had not been silk-clad princes who lived in palaces, but ascetic servants of the Christian believers entrusted to them. When Jewel became Bishop of Salisbury under Elizabeth, he wore himself out defending the Church of England and reorganizing his diocese. Reading had consequences in the sixteenth century.
Practical issues did not claim all—or even most—of Jewel’s attention. He wanted to explore and to map the whole world of early Christian life, and thought, and liturgy. Nothing in the whole massive set of books fascinated him more than the long and pointed letters that Jerome exchanged with his younger contemporary Augustine about the Hebrew language and the Jews. Augustine fired the first shot, protesting Jerome’s effort to retranslate the Old Testament from the original Hebrew. By doing so, he insisted, Jerome would call into question the authority of the apostles, who had used the Greek version. Worse, he would make Jews the arbiters of biblical truth, even for Christians. When consulted, some of them had told Christians disturbed by Jerome’s new translation of a word in Jonah that Jerome was wrong. Jerome, in his turn, denounced Augustine. The younger man claimed that Paul had been right, as a born Jew, to continue observing Jewish rituals even after his conversion to Christianity. But Jewish rituals, Jerome insisted, had lost their meaning with the Incarnation. Paul had observed them only to make his dealings with the Jews go more easily.
Jerome also attacked another powerful idea that Augustine was putting forward, in his letters and elsewhere. Many Christians—such as Jerome himself—thought that Jews deserved only their hatred (at least once they had revealed the secrets of their sacred language). Augustine momentously rebutted them. God had chosen the Jews, he taught, and had given them His law, as preparation for the coming of the Messiah. He wanted the Jews to survive, and to continue practicing their religion, because in doing so they provided a vital form of witness to Christianity. Enemy testimony, after all, offered powerful proof that the church had fulfilled the promises that God had made and the prophecies that He had inspired. Christians should not persecute or harm Jews, but should leave them to wander the Earth as Cain had, protected by the special mark of their sinfulness, eternally stuck in an antiquity that they could not leave.
Imaginary Jews often turned out to be not good, but strangely good to think about.
Jewel sided with Augustine. “Oh Jerome,” he wrote in the margin (in Latin), appalled at the argument that Paul had pretended to follow Jewish customs in order to deceive Jewish converts. “You’re babbling,” he noted at another passage, where Jerome insisted that Jewish rituals had lost all their value with the arrival of Jesus. It seems a strange scene. At this point, Jewel had probably never seen a Jew in the flesh, since England had expelled them centuries before. Only a handful perched in precarious niches in London. Yet we can still stand beside him as he sits, pen in hand, absorbed to the point of obsession by what two ancient men had to say, very much in the abstract, about Jews. You could not easily meet a real Jew in the streets of London. But the intellectuals of the sixteenth century did much of their wandering in the margins of their Christian books, and there they met imaginary Jews of every kind. Often they turned out to be not good, but strangely good to think about.
For David Nirenberg—whose Anti-Judaism
is one of the saddest stories, and one of the most learned, I have ever read—Jewel, and Jerome and Augustine are typical figures from an enormous tapestry. From antiquity to more recent times, an endless series of writers and thinkers have crafted versions and visions of Jews and Judaism that are as ugly and frightening as they are effective. Some of them—for example, the Egyptian priest Manetho—probably drew on older traditions that can no longer be reliably reconstructed. Some of them—Paul, Spinoza, Marx—were Jews by birth. Most of them knew few real Jews and had little or no direct knowledge of Jewish life or thought. Yet working in sequence, each in his fashion and each for his time and place, they have created beings at once complex, labile, and astonishingly consequential: call them, for want of a better term, imaginary Jews. These animated figures rival vampires in their ability to survive for centuries and zombies in their refusal to be defeated by rational argument. And they are of far more than antiquarian interest. Over the centuries, imaginary Jews have found their places, sometimes vital ones, in some of the loftiest intellectual edifices ever raised. Surprisingly often they have been the caryatids: the pillars on which everything else rests.
Anti-Judaism is an astonishing enterprise. It is certainly not the first effort to survey the long grim history of the charges that have been brought against the Jews by their long gray line of self-appointed prosecutors. During World War II, a learned rabbi named Joshua Trachtenberg brought out The Devil and the Jews
, an erudite and wide-ranging effort to explain why Christians found it rational to associate Jews with Satan and malevolent magic, and charge them with crimes that would have been as ludicrous as the indictment of the witch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail if the punishments meted out had not been so savage. In 1955, Léon Poliakov, a Russian émigré who settled in France, published the first of four volumes in which he traced the history of anti-Semitism from antiquity to 1933. As the memory of the Holocaust spread outside the Jewish world, historians began to excavate in the archives that preserved its documents. New social and cultural explanations of the Judeocide, by professional scholars and passionate amateurs alike, now appear every year.
But Nirenberg is after different quarry: he does not trace the millennial story of the Jews and their conflicts with non-Jews, though he does describe individual and communal fights. Nor does he compile a catalogue of the vile ideas about Jews that non-Jews have entertained and publicized. He wants to know why: why have so many cultures and so many intellectuals had so much to say about the Jews? More particularly, he wants to know why so many of them generated their descriptions and explanations of Jewishness not out of personal knowledge or scholarly research, but out of thin air—and from assumptions, some inherited and others newly minted, that the Jews could be wholly known even to those who knew no Jews. Nirenberg’s answer—and to summarize it, as to summarize so much of this impassioned book, is to flatten it—is that ideas about the Jews can do, and have done, many different and important jobs. True, they are anything but stable: this is not a paper chase after some original idea of the Jew that crops up everywhere from early Christianity to early Nazism. Visions of the Jews change emphasis and content as the larger societies that entertain them change shape and texture. Ideas have multiple contexts, and Nirenberg shows dazzling skill and a daunting command of the sources as he observes the changes and draws connections between them and his authors’ larger worlds.
Jews have been characterized by non-Jews for their obstinacy—their refusal, for example, to recognize the known truth that the Messiah had come, which enabled them to become the villains of both early Christian and early Muslim narratives. They have been characterized by non-Jews for their viciousness—their desire to desecrate the sacrament and murder Christian children, which allowed them to be used both by rebels against royal authority, and by kings, in the Middle Ages, as each side could claim, when the wind blew from the right quarter, that Jews were polluting society through their materialism and greed. They have been characterized by non-Jews for their greed—their failure to understand the difference between the value of material things and that of people, which inspired Shakespeare to compose some of the most memorable lines in The Merchant of Venice, when Solanio reports how the Jew cried, “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!” Each account differs from the rest—Shakespeare, using the case of a Venetian Jew to think about capitalism, does not much resemble Martin Luther, using the Jews to think about the relations between God and the created world. Yet somehow, part of each imagined Jew persists in the collected body of them all. Read the radical German philosophers who created the world anew in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, through Nirenberg’s eyes, and you see them “Judaize” their opponents—the idealists Judaizing the empiricists who did not see the power of critical reason, and Hegel, for a time, Judaizing the Kantian idealists.
Labile though they are, imaginary Jews have served—and still serve—an extraordinary range of purposes. Like the topics of ancient rhetoric or the harmony of the spheres, they have played a whole series of central roles in the drama of Western culture. They have served controversialists as weapons, provoked political thinkers, and inspired playwrights. Most remarkable—and perhaps most frightening—of all, they have sometimes been vital to the creation of Europe’s most critical and innovative ideas. What Nirenberg is offering, then, is less a history in any standard sense, or a genealogy in any trendy one, than a microscopically precise examination of a set of tools that Western thinkers have wielded for millennia, forging and re-forging and honing them as new tasks required it.
At the end of his book, Nirenberg evokes Erich Auerbach, whose Mimesis surveyed the multiple ways of representing reality practiced by Western writers, every chapter based on his own reading of the original texts—and whose article “Figura” traced the ways in which the Western Church Fathers rejected allegorical readings of the Old Testament for figural ones, which preserved the historical integrity of the ancient Hebrews.1 Like Auerbach, Nirenberg is a scholar of towering erudition as well as towering ambition: his mastery of languages and his command of secondary literature enable him to range the millennia with apparent ease, and, like Auerbach, he finds new and penetrating things to say about texts that scholars and critics have been working over for centuries. Yet this is a profoundly different enterprise from Auerbach’s: a study of the many ways in which language does not show us the world but shapes it for us. In some ways, it reminds me more of the work of E. R. Curtius, Auerbach’s great rival and antithesis, whose European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages
traced the lives and afterlives of classical tropes and forms across the centuries. Like both Auerbach and Curtius, Nirenberg writes with astonishing clarity and panache. He has devised a language equal to the demands of his subject and his sources—a language that not only serves his analytical purposes but also conveys his findings in a form that stamps them on the reader’s memory and imagination: “Secular power could never quite escape Cain’s conjoined significations, as both ‘founder of the earthly city’ and ‘a figure of the Jews.’ Sovereigns therefore trod a path haunted by monsters of Judaism even more ferocious than those that beset readers of biblical texts. Augustine did not seek to slay these monsters. Instead he tried to immure them, like the furies under Aeschylus’s Athens, at the foundations of the Christian city.”
In the end, though, Nirenberg is a historian, and this gives his story qualities found neither in Auerbach nor in Curtius.2 He carefully points out, again and again, that the way thinkers use Jews and Judaism in their work often tells us nothing about their personal relations with Jews. Yet his own story begins not only in antiquity, but also in a real conflict, which he documents in detail: in the Egypt of the first millennium BCE, a culture deeply committed to believing that it had never changed—and all the more deeply as it was conquered, first by the Persians and then by Alexander the Great. Jews enjoyed a privileged status in Egypt, not for the last time, thanks to royal patronage. But they were not seen as true Egyptians, and they suffered criticism and attacks from natives who resented their presence and their peculiar ways of living and worshipping. The ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, which was made in Egypt, shows traces of an effort to scrub Judaism of its traditional, and offensive, denunciations of polytheism. But this and other soft answers failed to turn away wrath. Manetho, an Egyptian priest, composed an elaborate work in Greek in which he described the ancient Jews as lepers—a diseased and antisocial people who, far from suffering servitude in Egypt, had conquered the country and mistreated its native inhabitants until they were expelled by force. Later writers, such as the Greek-Egyptian grammarian Apion, accepted his views and developed his critique.
The Jews as the enemy of mankind: this image, like the statue of the four empires in the book of Daniel, had legs. Though Roman writers had little good to say about the Jews, they did not take a deep interest in them. In Egypt, by contrast—the Greek-speaking Egypt that steamed and grumbled under Roman rule—the diseased and antisocial Jews called into being by Greek-writing scholars proved provocative and fertile. Egyptians rehearsed the crimes that Jews committed against them. They appealed to the Roman emperor Titus, after the defeat of the Jewish revolt, to strip Alexandria’s Jews of their civil rights. Finally, over a period of civil war, they slaughtered most of the thousands of Jews who lived in Alexandria. Even more remarkably, they rejoiced. As the great historian of science Otto E. Neugebauer once remarked, Egyptians normally showed little or no interest in that spirit of heroism that so often made life in ancient Greece a hell on Earth. But in Oxyrhynchus, the city of the sharp-nosed fish, they remembered, and celebrated, the crushing of the Jews, eighty years after it happened.
More subtle—and in a way even more deadly—were the complementary versions of Jews and Judaism elaborated by the early Christians—many of whom were born into Jewish communities, and some of whom continued to practice Jewish rituals throughout their lives. Nirenberg starts with Paul, the Pharisee who became the earliest and greatest Christian writer. In those dazzling works of Jewish exegesis, his New Testament epistles, Paul interpreted the history and the future of the world in terms of a series of opposites, tabulated with breathtaking precision and assurance: death and life, letter and spirit, outward observance and inner faith. In his early letter to the Galatians and sporadically after that, Paul accepted that Jewish converts to Christianity could go on practicing the rituals of their ancestral religion. Gentile converts, however, need not do so. Christ’s sacrifice, already complete, was the one and only thing that could save them, if they could only manage to have faith in Him. And only that—not circumcision of their flesh—could make them members of the true religious community.
Paul’s argument was balanced and tolerant, but his language had a power of its own. He associated Jews with letter rather than spirit, death rather than life, ritual rather than faith—and stasis rather than salvation. As Paul’s own message evolved, as he responded to opposition in some communities, and as his letters were read by later Christians in the light of later events, Judaism came to seem, if never wholly bad, at least wholly wrongheaded, the chosen people’s disastrous march in the wrong direction on a one-way street.
Even more than Paul, the Gospel writers are central to Nirenberg’s story. They transmuted theory into narrative: the table of oppositions came into play in action and dialogue to separate Jesus and his followers, parable by parable and sermon by sermon, from the Jews. Paul’s task had been to explain why Jesus and his sacrifice completed the history of Judaism. That of the evangelists was in some ways harder: they had to explain why, though the Messiah had come, the Romans had destroyed the Temple—and why, in their time, it seemed necessary to exclude Christians who wished to continue living as Jews from the church community. In their complementary accounts, the Pharisees and other Jews misunderstand, because they read too literally, every sign and interpretation that Jesus offers them. The seeds of truth fall on stony ground, and the Jews betray, denounce, and finally kill their savior. And as they commit this collective crime, the Jew is named and defined: he is the one who does not see, who always chooses the external, the letter that kills, over the internal, the spirit that gives life.
The Pharisees, strict in their upholding of the law and proud and unbending in their daily lives, think themselves splendid but in fact resemble the tombs of the prophets, which they guard: “You are like whited sepulchers,” Jesus tells them, “which look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of corruption.” Nirenberg appreciates the terrible beauty of this and other Gospel texts. Unlike Paul, the evangelists mobilize their unforgettable images not only to distinguish but also to condemn: to identify the Jews not only with the dead letter and the flesh, but also with Satan, the ruler of this world and the enemy of Christian followers of the spirit.
In Nirenberg’s first two cases, ideas about the Jews do not float free in the air: they are connected with, and sometimes generated by, the ways in which actually existing Jews and non-Jews confront one another at community borders. In an earlier period of his career, Nirenberg wrote as a master choreographer of the past, tracing the tense and intricate interplay, and occasional violence, that Jews, Muslims, and Christians engaged in as they lived, in close quarters, in medieval France and Aragon. It is not surprising, accordingly, to see this book begin with well-documented excursions into the social history of ideas.
But with the rise of a recognizable early Church, an institution with a sacred Scripture, a liturgy, and a table of organization of its own, the music changes. One after another, the theologians appear, and disagree—from heretics such as Marcion, who rejected the entire Old Testament and its God as irreconcilable with the message and values of Christ, to system-builders such as Eusebius, who insisted that Christians must not only take over the histories and prophecies of the Jews, but also reimagine them retrospectively in Christian terms. Marcion wanted to eliminate all traces of Judaism from Christianity. Eusebius, more influentially, set out to appropriate all of them for Christianity—turning Palestine from the promised land of the Old Testament, marked by invasion, battles, and revelation, to the Holy Land of the New Testament, marked by preaching and miracles.3 The patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, Eusebius reassured his Christian readers, were not Jews but Hebrews—and could be embraced in retrospect even as their descendants could be ignored.
Illustration by Sabrina Smelko
If the visions of Judaism varied, their uses did not. Again and again, Nirenberg shows, Christians saw those imaginary literalists with their marks of Cain appearing under the priestly garb of friends and rivals. Again and again, Christian thinkers denounced their critics and enemies as “Jews”—that is, Christians who read too literally, or with no inspiration. And almost every one of them was denounced in his turn for the same crime of Jewish deviationism. In this world, in which imaginary Jews haunted real cities and their imaginary crimes became the object of real sermons, Jerome could find it reasonable to insist, almost in the same breath, that the Christian scholar must master Hebrew in order to understand the first half of his own sacred scripture and that Jewish liturgy and practice had lost their entire positive value with the coming of Christ, so that his own duty, as the pupil of a Hebrew teacher, was to hate the entire Hebrew race.
Those whom Jerome denounced, Augustine defended. The Jews must live and worship as they always had, wrongly, but Christian rulers must protect them: not because Augustine had any particular fondness for Jews—the evidence suggests that he had little direct contact with them—but because they would serve, in their endless, sterile wandering of the Earth, as proof that Christianity had superseded their obsolete religion. Paula Fredriksen, a great student of Augustine, has re-created the development of Augustine’s ideas in a profound book called Augustine and the Jews
. She argues that Augustine’s notions about the Jews actually saved lives—during the Crusades, for example, when popes and preachers invoked them to prevent the destruction of more Jewish communities.
Nirenberg appreciates Fredriksen’s insight but reads the evidence differently. The Fathers had far less to do with actual Jews than Paul or the evangelists—which is why Nirenberg’s enterprise really takes wing when he reaches them. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Jews whom Jerome fiercely hated and Augustine drily pitied were largely abstract figures of thought rather than individuals of flesh and blood. Yet they were central to the two men’s visions of the past and the future—and their errors provided vital weapons with which Jerome could fight those who denied his readings of the Bible, and Augustine the Manicheans who did the same to his. Fictional Jews, as vivid as they were imaginary, began to fill the virtual world that the writers conjured into being. No wonder that Jewel watched with such fascination as the two great men shadowboxed, surrounded by Semitic phantasms.
Nirenberg’s parade of imagined and imaginary Jews—the most hideous procession since that of the flagellants in The Seventh Seal—stretches from the Arabian peninsula to London, and from the seventh century BCE to the twentieth CE. Working always from the original sources in their original languages, he observes the multiple ways in which imaginary Jews served the purposes of real writers and thinkers—everyone from Muhammad, founding a new religion, to Shakespeare, observing a new commercial society. God, here, is partly in the details: in the careful, tenderly observant way in which Nirenberg dissects everything from fierce political rhetoric to resonant Shakespearean drama. In works of the imagination, profound treatises, and acts of political radicalism, as he analyses them, imaginary Jews are wielded to powerful effect. He shows us the philosophes of the Enlightenment, those friends of humanity and enemies of tyrannical “infamy,” as they develop a viciously negative vision of Jewish sterility and error to attack Christianity at its origins or to characterize the authorities whom they defied.
Nirenberg’s lucid, searing narrative and analysis rest on extraordinarily wide reading, the contours of which are charted in his ample and informative notes. He never hesitates to take issue with authorities in many fields, and at times—as when he explains that “I intend no resonance with Jacob Taubes’s treatment of Romans”—his language has a touch of Carthago delenda est. But he conducts his arguments with a seriousness rare in our intellectual life, and vanishingly so in works of historical synthesis. Even when he piles paradox on paradox—as when he argues that Spinoza built the portrait of biblical Judaism in his Tractatus from the stockpile of materials that non-Jewish thinkers had created over the centuries—Nirenberg grounds his arguments in close reading of the texts and engages with the modern authorities whose interpretations he rejects.
An intellectual historian myself, I have no quarrel with Nirenberg’s view that ideas matter, and I have nothing but respect for the methods that he brings to their study. This does not mean that I entirely share his perspective. As a social historian of conflict and an intellectual historian of the uncanny imagination, Nirenberg is unbeatable. But Jews and non-Jews lived other histories together as well. As Josephus recalled, when the thousands of diaspora Jews settled in the cities of the Roman world, across Asia Minor and Italy as well as Egypt, many of their pagan neighbors found their ways attractive. Pagans admired the Jews’ pursuit of a coherent code for living and their worship of a single, unseen god. Some became “god-fearers,” who accepted the Jewish god but did not hold full membership in the Jewish community. Some converted. Jews, meanwhile, pursued their own visions of high culture—whether these involved learning to write Greek tragedies about the Jewish past or rebuilding one’s foreskin to make possible appearances at the gymnasium.
This story of loose borders and unexpected sympathies is hard to re-create—but scholars have teased out some of its contours from the evidence of inscriptions and papyri as well as satirical poetry and the Gospels. The intellectual story that Nirenberg tells—like the story of modern Judeocide—becomes harder to understand, demanding of more interpretation rather than less, when these conditions are brought into it. And they have been the objects of a vast, wide-ranging, and contentious scholarly literature, ever since the great Jewish and Christian scholars of the sixteenth century first realized that the Jews of antiquity had not lived closed off from the societies around them. Nirenberg himself refers to these points in his account of Egypt, but they do not figure largely in his analysis, and seem less prominent in later chapters.
There is another perspective that I wish Nirenberg had also brought to bear—one for which my great colleague Natalie Zemon Davis has always stood. Norms are norms, Davis has always acknowledged: societies have their ways of doing things, and intellectuals have their assumptions, those ideas so seductive that no mere fact can refute them. Historians can use their knowledge of these patterns to fill in gaps in the preserved documents. Yet somehow there are also, always, moments of contingency that unfold differently: moments when the cloud of assumptions clears, when eyes and minds meet across barriers that usually seem as high and deadly as the old Berlin Wall. There were real Jews in early modern Europe—more Jews than Nirenberg has room for in his account: not just the Portuguese in Amsterdam but also Sephardic merchants in other great ports, and smaller communities that survived in more hostile places. Frankfurt, for example, had a small Jewish community. And Frankfurt also housed the spring and fall book fairs, which scholars, writers, agents, and publishers from all of Europe attended, as they still do. No wonder, then, that Christian visitor after Christian visitor heard part of a synagogue service or smiled to see the Torah carried with devotion by the hard-pressed but pious and learned members of the Frankfurt congregation. Contacts would be far closer—and more intimate—in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Amsterdam, which Nirenberg comes close to dismissing as too unusual to matter much.
Nirenberg has rebuilt the walls, and shown us that, though they were abstract and immaterial, they were nonetheless real. They channeled most of the traffic—but not all of it. Sometimes men saw things they should not have seen—as when Montaigne, observing a circumcision in Rome, noted that the baby cried, like a Christian baby (“one of ours”) being baptized; or as when Joseph Scaliger would go from Leiden, where he was a professor, to Amsterdam, on Saturdays, for the sheer joy of seeing the Portuguese Jewish women sitting outside their houses, observing the Sabbath; or when Scaliger and other Christians began to read Jewish texts, and came to see that the ethics of the early rabbis and those of Jesus had far more in common than the Gospel writers suggested. The consequences of these little breaches of the wall could be disproportionately big.
Think of Paul Fagius—Reformed minister, Hebraist, often bitter critic of Jews—writing his commentary on Pirqe Avot, or The Teachings of the Fathers. Yossi ben Yo’ezer, so Fagius read, “used to say, let your house be a meeting place for the sages, cleave to the dust of their feet, and drink thirstily their words.” Yes, Fagius wrote, this was true: it was what Mary Magdalene was doing when she clung to the feet of Jesus, her teacher. This tiny insight, recorded in a technical little book in Hebrew and Latin, could be seen as the beginning of some very large changes in the way that Jews and Christians saw one another—a triumph of the scholar’s sharp eye over the beam that usually obstructed it. Fagius had some help: he worked for several years, day after day, with the great Ashkenazi Jewish scholar Elijah Levita. But from the eyes of Nirenberg’s scholars and writers, sadly, the beams are never removed, and in their lives the moments of communion across religious barriers are few.
Yet even in uttering these very small complaints, I feel like one of the critics who occupy the Temple of Dulness in Pope’s Dunciad
. David Nirenberg sets out his argument with a learning, a panache, and a style—as well as a range of interests and of erudition—that put workaday scholars like me to shame. Anti-Judaism is that rare thing, a great book, as much in its ability to provoke disagreement as in its power to shape future writing on the vast territory that its author has so brilliantly mapped. I only wish that John Jewel could come back to life and read it, pen in hand. It would take a multilingual bishop who knew his Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, his Jerome and his Augustine, his Erasmus and his Luther, to confront this extraordinary and troubling book with the intensity and the erudition that it deserves.
Anthony Grafton is a contributing editor at The New Republic, the Henry Putnam University Professor at Princeton University, and the author of Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West
As a learned friend sums up Auerbach’s secondary message: “We’re still here.”
Nirenberg is based not only in the Department of History, but also in the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago, perhaps the only academic institution designed for scholars and teachers whose range makes them impossible to pigeonhole.
Eusebius also managed to eliminate most traces of Jews and Judaism—as opposed to ancient “Hebrews”—from his influential history of the early Christian church.
The Western Tradition
By David Nirenberg
Norton. 610 pp. $35
March 20, 2014 Issue
Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition
by David Nirenberg
Norton, 610 pp., $35.00
In 1844, Karl Marx published his essay “On the Jewish Question.” This wasn’t an engagement with Judaism, or with Jewish history, or even with the sociology of German Jews. Its occasion was the contemporary debate about Jewish emancipation, but its real purpose was to call for the overthrow of the capitalist order. The call was expressed in a language that is probably not surprising to readers today and that was entirely familiar to readers in the nineteenth century. Still, it is a very strange language. Capitalism is identified by Marx with Judaism, and so the overthrow of capitalism will be, he writes, “the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” The argument is worth quoting, at least briefly:
Hermitage, St. Petersburg/Bridgeman Art Library
Rembrandt: Portrait of an Old Jew, 1654
The Jew has already emancipated himself in a Jewish way…not only insofar as he has acquired financial power, but also insofar as, through him and without him, money has risen to world power and the practical Jewish spirit has become the practical spirit of the Christian peoples. The Jews have emancipated themselves to the extent that the Christians have become Jews.
“Through [the Jew] and without [the Jew]”—mostly without him: as Marx certainly knew, Jews made up a very small part of the moneyed elite of England, the most advanced capitalist country, and an even smaller part of the “rising” German bourgeoisie. His own father had converted to Protestantism in order to facilitate his entry into bourgeois society, where Jews were not welcome in the early nineteenth century.
What Marx is doing here, David Nirenberg argues in his brilliant, fascinating, and deeply depressing book Anti-Judaism, is exactly what many other writers have done in the long history of Western civilization. His essay is a “strategic appropriation of the most powerful language of opprobrium available to any critic of the powers and institutions of this world.” That sentence comes from Nirenberg’s discussion of Martin Luther, but it applies equally well to Marx. Still, we should be more surprised by Marx’s use of this language than by Luther’s, not only because of Marx’s Jewish origins but also because of his claim to be a radical critic of the ideology of his own time. He might, Nirenberg says, have questioned the association of Judaism and capitalism and written a critical history aimed at making his readers more reflective about that association. Instead, he chose to exploit “old ideas and fears about Jewishness.”
Consider another famous use of this language of opprobrium, this time not in support of but in fierce opposition to revolutionary politics. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790, Edmund Burke compared what was going on in France to previous revolutions (like England’s in 1688) that were led by noblemen “of great civil, and great military talents.” By contrast, he wrote, the revolutionary government in Paris is led by “Jew brokers contending with each other who could best remedy with fraudulent circulation and depreciated paper the wretchedness and ruin brought on their country by their degenerate councils.”
In Burke’s case, the choice of this language was probably not “strategic.” The choice was structural—anti-Judaism was a feature of the worldview with which Burke was able to recognize what Marxists later described as a “bourgeois” revolution. “Given the complete absence of Jews from the actual leadership, whether political, pecuniary, or philosophical, of the French Revolution,” Nirenberg writes, the line about “Jew brokers” (and also Burke’s proposal to help the revolutionaries by sending English Jews to France “to please your new Hebrew brethren”) may, again, seem very strange. In fact, it is utterly common; only Burke’s ferocious eloquence is uncommon.
Friendly writers have worked hard to exonerate Burke of anti-Semitism. Nirenberg says only that they miss the point. Burke certainly knew that Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, and their friends and enemies among the revolutionaries were, all of them, Catholics and lapsed Catholics (plus a few Protestants). They were only figurative Jews, imaginary Jews, who came to Burke’s mind, and to many other minds,
because the revolution forced him…to confront basic questions about the ways in which humans relate to one another in society. These were questions that two millennia of pedagogy had taught Europe to ask in terms of “Judaism,” and Burke had learnt the lesson well.
Nirenberg’s book is about those two millennia and their pedagogy. It isn’t a book about anti-Semitism; it isn’t a history of the Jewish experience of discrimination, persecution, and genocide; it isn’t an example of what the historian Salo Baron called the “lachrymose” account of Jewish life in exile; nor is it an indictment of contemporary anti-Zionism or a defense of the state of Israel. The book is not about Jews at all or, at least, not about real Jews; it deals extensively and almost exclusively with imaginary Jews.
What Nirenberg has written is an intellectual history of Western civilization, seen from a peculiar but frighteningly revealing perspective. It is focused on the role of anti-Judaism as a constitutive idea and an explanatory force in Christian and post-Christian thought—though it starts with Egyptian arguments against the Jews and includes a discussion of early Islam, whose writers echo, and apparently learned from, Christian polemics. Nirenberg comments intermittently about the effects of anti-Judaism on the life chances of actual Jews, but dealing with those effects in any sufficient way would require another, and a very different, book.
Anti-Judaism is an extraordinary scholarly achievement. Nirenberg tells us that he has left a lot out (I will come at the end to a few things that are missing), but he seems to know everything. He deals only with literature that he can read in the original language, but this isn’t much of a limitation. Fortunately, the chapter on Egypt doesn’t require knowledge of hieroglyphics; Greek, Hebrew, and Latin are enough. Perhaps it makes things easier that the arguments in all the different languages are remarkably similar and endlessly reiterated.
A certain view of Judaism—mainly negative—gets established early on, chiefly in Christian polemics, and then becomes a common tool in many different intellectual efforts to understand the world and to denounce opposing understandings. Marx may have thought himself insightful and his announcement original: the “worldly God” of the Jews was “money”! But the identification of Judaism with materialism, with the things of this world, predates the appearance of capitalism in Europe by at least 1,500 years.
Since I want mostly to describe Nirenberg’s argument (and, though without the authority of his erudition, to endorse it), let me note quickly one bit of oddness in it. One could also write—it would be much shorter—a history of philo-Judaism. It might begin with those near-Jews, the “God-fearers” of ancient Rome, whom Nirenberg doesn’t mention. But the prime example would be the work of the Christian, mostly Protestant, Hebraists of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who searched in biblical and rabbinic texts for God’s constitution and produced books with titles like The Hebrew Commonwealth. Many of these writers studied with Jewish scholars, chiefly from the Netherlands, but (with some notable exceptions) remained in most of their references to contemporary Jews conventionally anti-Semitic.
Nirenberg writes about these Christian Hebraists with his usual learning, but they don’t fit neatly into his book. They were looking for an ancient, biblical Judaism (with the rabbis of the talmudic age as helpful interpreters) that they could learn from, even imitate. Nirenberg’s proper subject is a hostile understanding of Judaism, early and late, reiterated by writers of very different sorts, with which the social-political-theological-philosophical world is constructed, enemies are identified, and positions fortified. Philo-Judaism is aspirational; anti-Judaism claims to be explanatory.
What is being explained is the social world; the explanatory tools are certain supposed features of Judaism; and the enemies are mostly not Jews but “Judaizing” non-Jews who take on these features and are denounced for doing so. I will deal with only a few of Judaism’s negative characteristics: its hyperintellectualism; its predilection for tyranny; its equal and opposite predilection for subversive radicalism; and its this-worldly materialism, invoked, as we’ve seen, by both Burke and Marx. None of this is actually descriptive; there certainly are examples of hyper-intellectual, tyrannical, subversive, and materialist Jews (and of dumb, powerless, conformist, and idealistic Jews), but Nirenberg insists, rightly, that real Jews have remarkably little to do with anti-Judaism.
Speaking to German students in May 1933, a few months after the Nazis took power, Joseph Goebbels proclaimed that “the age of rampant Jewish intellectualism is now at an end.” Goebbels was a third-rate German intellectual (the word is unavoidable: he had a Ph.D.; he wrote articles; Nirenberg suggests that we think of him as an apostate intellectual). But he was making an argument that had been made by many less infamous, indeed, more worthy, figures. It begins in the Gospels, with the earliest attacks on the Judaism of the Pharisees. Christian supersessionist arguments—i.e., arguments about what aspects of Judaism had been superseded by Christianity—were based on a set of oppositions: law superseded by love, the letter by the spirit, the flesh (the material world, the commandments of the Torah, the literal text) by the soul. “I bless you father…,” writes Luke, “for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children.”
The Pharisees were indeed learned and clever, as were their rabbinic successors; the discussions and disputations of the Talmud are a particularly revealing display of learning and cleverness. By comparison (it’s a self-description), the early Christians were naive and innocent children to whom God spoke directly, evoking the faith that brought salvation (which law and learning couldn’t do).
The difficulty here is that the Christians very quickly produced immensely learned, clever, and disputatious theologians of their own, who were then accused, and who accused each other, of Judaizing—thinking or acting like Jews. The earliest Christian writers, Paul most importantly, were engaged with actual Jews, in some mix of coexistence and competition that scholars are still trying to figure out. Nirenberg writes about Paul with subtlety and some sympathy, though he is the writer who sets the terms for much that comes later.
By the time of writers like Eusebius, Ambrose, and Augustine, the Jews had been, as Nirenberg says, “a twice-defeated people”—first militarily by the Romans and then religiously by the imperial establishment of Christianity. And yet the threat of Judaism grew greater and greater as the actual Jews grew weaker and weaker. According to their triumphant opponents, the Jews never gave up their hostility to Jesus and his followers (indeed, they didn’t convert). They were endlessly clever, ever-active hypocrites and tricksters, who mixed truth with falsehood to entice innocent Christians—in the same way that those who prepare lethal drugs “smear the lip of the cup with honey to make the harmful potion easy to drink.”
That last charge is from Saint John Chrysostom, who was such a violent opponent of “the Jews” that earnest scholars have assumed that Judaism must have posed a clear and present danger to Christianity in his time. In fact, Nirenberg tells us, there was no such danger; the people mixing the poison were Christian heretics. If Saint John feared the Jews, “it was because his theology had taught him to view other dangers in Jewish terms.”
Bridgeman Art Library
The cover of a French edition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, circa 1940
The critique of Jewish cleverness is fairly continuous over time, but it appears with special force among German idealist philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who repeat many of the supersessionist arguments of the early Christians. Kant understood the heteronomy he sought to overcome—action according to moral law externally imposed rather than freely accepted by the agent—in Jewish terms, but he was himself considered too Jewish by the philosophers who came next, most importantly by Hegel. Kantianism, Hegel claimed, was simply a new version of “the Jewish principle of opposing thought to reality, reason to sense; this principle involves the rending of life and a lifeless connection between God and the world.” According to Hegel, Abraham had made a fateful choice: his rejection of the world in favor of a sublime God had alienated the Jews forever from the beauty of nature and made them the prisoners of law, incapable of love. (Needless to say, Schopenhauer, in the next generation, thought that the academic Hegelians of his time were “Jews” and followers of “the Jewish God,” but I shall stop with Hegel himself.)
It isn’t Nirenberg’s claim that any of these philosophers were anti-Semites. Indeed, Hegel defended the rights of Jews in German universities and thought that anti-Semitic German nationalism was not “German-ness” but “German-stupid-ness.” Nor is Nirenberg arguing for any kind of intellectual determinism. He doesn’t believe that Goebbels’s attack on Jewish intellectualism was the necessary outcome of the German philosophical identification of Judaism with lifeless reason—any more than German idealism was the necessary outcome of Christian claims to supersede Pharasaic Judaism or of Lutheran claims to supersede the Judaizing Catholics. In all these cases, there were other possible outcomes. But philosophers like Hegel used the language of anti-Judaism to resolve “the ancient tension between the ideal and the real,” and their resolutions were enormously influential. The idea of Judaism as the enemy of “life” had a future.
Judaism’s associations with worldly power and subversive rebellion are closely linked, for what is rebellion but an effort to seize power? So Jewish bankers can rule the world and Jewish Bolsheviks can aspire to overthrow and replace the bankers. In some alcoves of the Western imagination, the two groups can almost appear as co-conspirators. The populist anti-Semitism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (what August Bebel called “the socialism of fools”) has a long history. One very early example is Saint Ambrose’s response to the emperor Maximus, who punished the leaders of a Christian mob that burned a synagogue in the Mesopotamian city of Callinicum: “That king,” Ambrose said, “has become a Jew.” What made Maximus a “Jew” was not that he defended the Callinicum Jews but that he ranked enforcement of the law over the demands of the spirit (and the religious enthusiasm of the mob).
Often in the Middle Ages, Christian rulers were accused of Judaizing by populist rebels; the accusations had a curious doubleness. Tyranny was, first of all, imagined as a feature of Judaism, both when there were Jews at court (as physicians, advisers, tax collectors, and money-lenders) and when there were no Jews at court. The Jewish “seduction” of princes was one common way of understanding tyranny. Of course, Jewish seduction was often princely exploitation: the Jews were allowed to collect interest on loans to the king’s Christian subjects so that he could then “expropriate a considerable share of the proceeds.” It was a kind of indirect taxation, at a time when the royal power to tax was radically constrained. The indirectly taxed subjects resented the Jewish money-lenders, but, Nirenberg stresses, the resentment was politically acted out, again and again, in many times and places, though Jews rarely predominated in royal financial affairs “and then only for short periods of time.”
Anti-Judaism also had a second and rather different political usefulness. Jews were imagined not only as tyrants or the allies of tyrants but at the same time, and more realistically, as oppressed and powerless. Given their rejection of Jesus Christ and their complicity in his death, the oppression of the Jews was justified; but when a tyrannical ruler oppressed his Christian subjects, he could be accused of trying “to make a Jewry” out of them, which obviously wasn’t justified. “We would rather die than be made similar to Jews.” That last line is from a petition of the city council of Valencia to King Peter in 1378. So tyranny was twice understood in Jewish terms: a Judaizing prince treated his subjects like Jews.
Populist rebels obviously did not think of themselves as Jews; the construction of subversion and rebellion as “Jewish” was, and is, the work of conservative and reactionary writers. Among modern revolutionaries, the Puritans actually were Judaizers (focused far more on the Old than the New Testament), though with their own supersessionist theology. The use of the tropes of philo- and anti-Judaism during the English civil war made some sense, even though there were no Jews in England in the 1640s. The French revolutionaries were neither Jews nor Judaizers, though Burke and others understood them by invoking the “old ideas and fears.” But it was the Bolsheviks who, more than any other group of rebels, were widely understood as “Jewish.” It is true that many of them were Jews, though of the sort that Isaac Deutscher called “non-Jewish Jews.” Judaism had nothing at all to do with Bolshevism and yet, if Nirenberg is right, the Bolsheviks would have been explained in the language of anti-Judaism even if there had never been a Trotsky, a Kamenev, or a Radek among them.
The identification of Jews with merchants, money-lenders, royal financiers, and predatory capitalists is constant in Nirenberg’s history. I will focus on one moment in that history, Shakespeare’s England and The Merchant of Venice, which will give me a chance to illustrate the difference between his anti-Judaism and the anti-Semitism that is the subject of more conventional, but equally depressing, histories. Anthony Julius’s Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England includes a long and very intelligent discussion of Shakespeare’s play.1 Julius calls The Merchant of Venice an anti-Semitic drama that is also a dramatization of anti-Semitism and the beginning of its literary investigation. Shakespeare, as always, writes from opposing perspectives, but he clearly leans toward Shylock’s enemies.
Shylock himself is the classic Jew: he hates Christians and desires to tyrannize over them; he loves money, more than his own daughter; he is a creature of law rather than of love. He isn’t, indeed, a clever Jew; in his attempt to use the law against his Christian enemy, he is unintelligent and inept. (A modern commentator, Kenneth Gross, asks: “What could [he] have been thinking?”) But in every other way, he is stereotypical, and so he merits the defeat and humiliation he receives—which are meant to delight the Elizabethan audience.
Julius doesn’t ask Nirenberg’s question: What put so many Jews (like Shylock or Marlowe’s Jew of Malta) on the new London stage, in “a city that had sheltered fewer ‘real Jews’ than perhaps any other major one in Europe”? His answer—I can’t reproduce his long and nuanced discussion—is that London was becoming a city of merchants, hence a “Jewish” city, and Shakespeare’s play is a creative response to that development, an effort to address the allegedly Judaizing features of all commercial relationships, and then to save the Christian merchants by distinguishing them from an extreme version of the Jew. But the distinction is open to question, and so the point of the play is best summed up when Portia asks, “Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?” The play is about law and property, contracts, oaths, pledges, and promises. Shylock is the Jew of the gospels: “I stand here for law.” But he is defeated by a better lawyer and a more literal reading of the law: Portia out-Jews the Jew—which is surely an ironical version of Christian supersession.
So Shakespeare understands the arrival of modern commerce with the help of Judaism, though he knew no Jews and had never read a page of the Talmud. He knew the Bible, though, as Shylock’s speech about Jacob multiplying Laban’s sheep (Act 1, scene 3; Genesis 30) makes clear. And Paul and the gospels were a central part of his intellectual inheritance. Shylock emerges from those latter texts, much like, though the lineage is more complicated, Burke’s “Jew brokers” and Marx’s “emancipated Jews.” The line is continuous.
Nirenberg’s epilogue addresses one major theorist’s denial of that continuity. In the preface to The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt mocks what she calls the doctrine of “eternal antisemitism” (this could serve, Nirenberg writes, “as an ironic title for my own book”) and insists that the “specifically Jewish functions” (banking and finance) in the capitalist economy made the Jews partly “responsible” (her word) for the hatred they evoked.2 This is much like Marx’s claim that “the Jews have eagerly contributed” to the triumph of their “worldly cult,” “Haggling,” and their “worldly God,” “Money.”
Arendt actually draws on the statistical work of Walter Frank, a Nazi economist, who headed an Institute for the History of the New Germany, to support her account of the role of the Jews in the German bourgeoisie. It can’t be the case, she argues, that the Nazis, who had “to persuade and mobilize people,” could have chosen their victims arbitrarily. There has to be a concrete answer, a local socioeconomic answer, to the question: Why the Jews?
Nirenberg agrees that the choice of the Jews was not arbitrary; nor does he find Arendt’s argument surprising—though he rejects all the usual hostile explanations: her assimilationist childhood, her long relationship with Heidegger, and so on. He does think it remarkable that Arendt “clung” to her argument about Jewish responsibility “even after the full extent and fantastic projective power of Nazi anti-Semitism (including its vast exaggeration of the Jews’ economic importance) became clear.” But his whole book is a kind of explanation for why she found it so easy to connect Jews and finance: the connection was one of “the a priori ideological commitments that structured her selection and interpretation of ‘facts’ about the Jews.”
The disagreement with Arendt nicely sums up Nirenberg’s book. His argument is that a certain view of Judaism lies deep in the structure of Western civilization and has helped its intellectuals and polemicists explain Christian heresies, political tyrannies, medieval plagues, capitalist crises, and revolutionary movements. Anti-Judaism is and has long been one of the most powerful theoretical systems “for making sense of the world.” No doubt, Jews sometimes act out the roles that anti-Judaism assigns them—but so do the members of all the other national and religious groups, and in much greater numbers. The theory does not depend on the behavior of “real” Jews.
Nirenberg’s history of anti-Judaism is powerful and persuasive, but it is also unfinished. It never gets to the United States, for example, where anti-Judaism seems to have been less prevalent and less useful (less used in making sense of society and economy) than it was and is in the Old World—and where philo-Judaism seems to have a much larger presence. The modern state of Israel also makes no appearance in Nirenberg’s book, except for one sentence on the next-to-last page:
We live in an age in which millions of people are exposed daily to some variant of the argument that the challenges of the world they live in are best explained in terms of “Israel.”
So we have a partial discontinuity (the US) and an unexplored continuity (contemporary Israel) with Nirenberg’s history. There is still work to be done. But here, in this book, anti-Judaism has at last found its radical critic.
1Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 178–192. ↩
2Harcourt, 1968, pp. 5–7, 9. ↩
Voir par ailleurs:
“The neighbor of a Jew will never be a good Christian.” The words are those of a medieval holy man, Saint Vincent Ferrer, whose massive campaign of religious segregation and conversion in the early fifteenth century forever altered the confessional landscape of Europe. They express a powerful view of the world, simultaneously sociological and theological: right faith requires distance from wrong faith, which otherwise threatens the believer. St. Vincent was a brilliant impresario of this view—just how brilliant we will see in Chapter Five of this book—but he certainly did not invent it. Neighboring peoples and faiths occupy a place at the heart of each of the very diverse religious traditions we call Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The scriptures of each of these faiths contain many, sometimes quite contradictory, teachings about both the dangers and the virtues of “neighborliness.” The Hebrew Bible, for example, enjoined the extirpation of the “seven nations” living in the “Promised Land,” lest their presence lead to intermarriage and idolatry. (Deut. 7:1-‐5) But it also decreed “the stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:34, Deut. 10:19) It frequently condemned certain kinds of inter-‐marriage, but did not hesitate to start the messianic line of King David with the union of a Moabite woman and a Hebrew man (on which see the Book of Ruth). And it can in one and the same prophecy envision an apocalypse in which Israel’s mighty and aggressive neighbors are utterly and vengefully destroyed, and one in which they are saved and sanctified: “Blessed be my people Egypt, Assyria my creation, and Israel my heritage.” (Isaiah 19:25) The New Testament, too, contains many passages that could be and have been read as commanding love of the neighbor, the stranger, and even the enemy, such as Luke 10:27, Matt. 5:43, Hebrews 13:1. But it also preserves some that have been understood to enjoin quite the opposite. “He that is not with me is against me.” “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” “As for my enemies who did not want me for their king, bring them here and execute them 1 in my presence.” (Luke 11: 23, 12:51, 19:27) Similarly in the Qur’an, we can find many different injunctions about how to treat neighbors of other faiths. Some seem to encourage extermination: “Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, lie in wait for them with every stratagem of war.” (Surah 9:5) Others might trend toward tolerance: “It is part of the mercy of Allah that you deal gently with them [Unbelievers]. If you were severe or harsh-‐hearted, they would have broken away from about you: so pass over (their faults), and ask for (Allah’s) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs.” (Surah 3:159).”1 Still others suggest that some pluralism is possible but segregation necessary: “O you who believe, take not Jews and Christians as friends…. Who of you takes them as friends is one of them.” “O believers, do not accept into your intimacy those outside your ranks: they will not fail to corrupt you.” (Surah 5:56, 3:118)2 This is not a book about the scriptures of the three religions that claim descent from Abraham. It is a book about how Muslims, Christians and Jews lived with and thought about each other in the Middle Ages, and about what that medieval past can tell us about how they do so today. But we must start with scripture, because all later periods, including our own, often look to it for instruction about the sorts of neighborliness God has in mind. It is through their reading and re-‐reading of its pages that later Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike debated how (in the words of the greatest medieval rabbi), “the Omnipresent one has sanctified us and separated us from the heathens.”3 So it is crucial to acknowledge from the outset of our studies that the scriptures upon which all three religions are founded can themselves sustain any number of potential attitudes toward “neighbors,” ranging from love and toleration to total extermination. Even this sharp distinction between love and extermination 1 For one example of an interpretation that relies on these verses to draw out multiple Islamic teachings on the treatment of non-‐Muslims see Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, The Second Message of Islam, trans. Abdullahi Ahmed An-‐ Na’im (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1987), 166. 2 For an early Islamic tradition about the occasion for revelation of Surah 5.56 see the life of the Prophet by Muḥammad Ibn Isḥāq (died in AH 150/768 CE), translated by A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: a Translation of Ishāq’s Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2000), 364. 3 The words are Moses Maimonides’, from the introduction to his Mishneh Torah. 2 is a bit misleading: many communities of believers have read their scriptures in ways that identify and equate the two. In medieval Catholic canon law, for example, crusading could be considered an act of love toward the Muslim enemy, for whom an early death was considered more charitable than a long life spent in mortal sin. And as late as the mid-‐twentieth century, the Vatican’s lawyers underwent what might seem to us considerable contortions in order to classify the Nazi embargo and segregation of Jews in Germany as legitimate expressions of love of neighbor.4 One may choose, from one’s own time and perspective, to disagree with these previous interpretations of God’s will, and indeed it is important that we do so. Critical scholars of a given scripture, for example, can argue that the authors of the text could not have intended a given interpretation at the time in which it was written. Believers can cleave to the interpretations of their own particular religious community, rather than paying attention or lending credence to those of others. But as historians, at least, we have to concede that for millions of believers in other times and places, these cruel loves and “sharp mercies” (the phrase is Martin Luther’s) could be perfectly consonant with God’s written word, even demanded by it. Among the many potential truths that scripture teaches on the subject of neighbors, the interpretations that moved these believers must count every bit as much as our own.5 That concession alone can protect us from two forms of fantasy as prevalent in our age as in any other. The first is that my scripture is loving, while that of the other is cruel; that my faith community is capable of tolerance and neighborliness, while that of the other is not. (Chapter 9 will focus on a few modern 4 See Jonathan Riley-‐Smith, “Crusading as an Act of Love,” History 65, no. 214 (June 1980): 177-‐92; John Connelly, From Enemy to Brother: the Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-‐1965 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 37-‐9. 5 For Luther’s “sharp mercies” (which he also called “utter mercilessness”) see his “On the Jews and their Lies,” vol. 53 in the Weimar Edition (Weimarer Ausgabe) published by Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger (henceforth WA), pages 522.34-‐5, 531.6-‐7. The “mercies” included the burning of the Jews’ synagogues, the destruction of their houses, their segregation and concentration into one place, the confiscation of their wealth and their religious books, the prohibition of their teaching and their money-‐lending, forced manual labor for the young, and, if all this still failed to contain their blasphemy, then “away with them.” 3 manifestations of this type of fantasy.) And the second is that we have scripture right: that our interpretations have recovered its original and true intent, and that all other interpretations are miss-‐ readings whose study can provide, at best, only a history of error. The book before you is premised on a very different conviction. It pays close attention to how Muslim, Jewish, and Christian neighbors loved, tolerated, massacred, and expelled each other—all in the name of God—in periods and places both long ago and far away. And it insists that, no matter how wrong-‐headed or bizarre these ways of a distant past may seem, they have something to teach us about how we think and act today. Teach, not by way of example, whether positive or negative: I am not proposing that the past serve us as a model to emulate or avoid. I mean teach rather in the sense of cultivating within us a sensibility that can discover in the past a stimulus to critical awareness about the workings of our own assumptions, hopes, and habits of thought. Among those habits is the conviction that our religious traditions are independent of one another, that they are stable, and that one contains the capacity for truth and tolerance while the others do not. And among the hopes is the sense that greater knowledge of the neighbor leads to greater tolerance, that if only we understood better the history of our faiths, we would succeed in separating love from violence, choosing proximity over distance, and becoming better neighbors. As a stimulus to critique of these convictions, this book proposes a world in which the three religions are interdependent, constantly transforming themselves by thinking about each other in a fundamentally ambivalent form of neighborliness. Again, this is not a book about scripture, but we do need to remember that this ambivalent neighborliness, with all its power to produce both proximity and distance, is encoded in the scriptures themselves. Consider just this one example from the Qur’an, a verse focused on the founding moment of scriptural revelation itself: And remember we took your covenant and we raised above you (the towering height) of Mount (Sinai) (saying): ‘Hold firmly to what we have given you and hearken (to the Law)!’ They said: ‘We hear, and we disobey.’ And they had to drink into their hearts (of the taint) of the calf because of their faithlessness. (2:93; cf. 2.60, 4.153) 4 In this passage we see the Prophet and his community of believers creating their place in sacred history by looking toward the Hebrew Bible and the people to whom the earlier prophecies were given. They do so in ways that suggest deep familiarity, not just with those earlier scriptures (the Hebrew Bible), but also with the religious culture of their contemporary neighbors, the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula circa 600 AD. That familiarity surfaces even in the geographic vocabulary of the Qur’an, which names the mount of revelation not in Arabic but in Aramaic, the language of the Jews: Ṭūr Sīnīn.6 Even more remarkable is the cultural interplay that emerges in the strange citation with which the verse begins: “We raised above you the towering height of Mount Sinai.” The passage is not a citation from the Hebrew Bible, but rather from the Talmud, the “oral Torah” of the rabbis. Commenting on Exodus 19.17, the Talmud’s tractate Shabbat reports the following discussion: “And they stood beneath the mount”: Rabbi Abdimi the son of Hama son of Hasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be he, overturned the mountain upon them like an inverted cask, and said to them “If you take upon yourselves the Law, good. If not, here you will find your grave.”7 The stunning familiarity of the early Muslim community with their Jewish neighbors does not end there. Even the devastating line “we hear and we disobey” is an example of multi-‐cultural play. In Deuteronomy 5:24 the Israelites declare to Moses, “we hear, and obey.” (Compare Exodus 24:7.) The Qur’an’s transformation of that phrase is a multi-‐lingual pun, playing on the homophony between Hebrew shama’nu v-‐‘asinu (we heard and obeyed/we will hear and obey) and Arabic sami`inā wa-‐`aṣaynā (we hear and disobey).8 The play on words reveals a shared scriptural and 6 Compare the Targum’s Aramaic: ṭūrā de-‐sīnai. Alternatively, the language may be Syriac, utilized by Christians in the region, for the word is the same in both. The citation from the Talmud that follows, however, makes Aramaic the more likely source. It is curious that the Qur’an consistently refers (with one exception) to the site of revelation in Aramaic (or Syriac), not Arabic, as in the opening of Sura 52: “By the Mount [Ṭūr] (of revelation)! By a decree inscribed in a scroll unfolded!”” 7 Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 88a. See also BT Avoda Zara 2b. 8 Though grammatically in the past tense, the phrase can be taken in the future and the present tense. The Qur’anic transformation of this phrase, however, was itself deeply influenced by rabbinic Jewish commentaries, as Julian Obermann brilliantly demonstrated in “Koran and Agada: the Events at Mount Sinai,” 5 linguistic space of neighborliness at the same time that it shatters it. In this particular example we can see how familiarity with the Jewish neighbor is deployed in early Islam in order to claim continuity with that neighbor’s religious tradition (the teachings of the Hebrew prophets) and appropriate its authority, while simultaneously distancing the believers from the truth claims of those neighbors themselves (that is, the Jewish people and children of Israel). 9 I take the ambivalence of this gesture to be constitutional of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scriptural communities, which take shape through a process of simultaneous identification and dis-‐identification with their rival “siblings” and neighbors. We might call this process, in all of its ambivalence, the “co-‐ production” of religious communities.10 That co-‐production does not end with its codification in scripture: on the contrary, precisely because it is modeled in scripture, it continues to shape communities to come. And conversely, each and all of these later communities bring their own experiences and worries of neighborliness to bear upon their interpretation of scripture, transforming how that scripture can be read in the future. The dynamic ambivalence of this process cannot be purged: it lies at the foundations of all of our scriptural communities. But the study of this process nevertheless offers us its own principle of hope. That principle is different from the dangerous fantasy that if only all converted to the truth we could live together American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 58 (1941): 23-‐48. See also G.D. Newby, “Arabian Jewish history in the Sīrah,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 7 (1986): 136-‐8; and Ignazio di Mateo, “Il Tahrīf od alterazione della Bibbia seconodo i musulmani,” Bessarione 38 (1922): 64-‐111, 223-‐360. 9 The multi-‐lingual pun thus underwrites the Islamic doctrine of “taḥrīf”—the charge of Jewish and Christian alteration and falsification of previous scriptures—that allows the Islamic community both to honor the previous scriptures and to set them aside as tampered with. Compare Sura 4.46: “Of the Jews there are those who displace words from their (right) places and say ‘We hear and we disobey’… with a twist of their tongues and a slander to the faith.” 10 I do not propose the term co-‐production as a competitor to “convivencia” and other terms of art, but only as a metaphor. Although I stumbled upon the word on my own, it is a concept very much in the air, and I have since discovered it also in the work of three kindred spirits, Mercedes García-‐Arenal, Galit Hasan-‐ Rokem, and Uri Shachar. 6 in peace. Nor is it the blandly liberal (and demonstrably false) hope that if only we all knew more about each other we would love each other more. The principle on offer here is much more modest, but perhaps much more realistic. It is the hope that we can become a bit more self-‐aware, more critical of the ways in which we have learned to think with and about our neighbors, and that this critical awareness can have an impact on how we then act in the world. One necessary step toward greater self-‐consciousness of how our thinking about neighbors shapes our world is the realization that “neighborliness” between the three religions can take many different forms. Among them is our every-‐day sense of the word: at some times and in some places, Muslims, Jews, and Christians occupied houses next to each other. Those times and places were relatively rare. The lands of Islam contained large populations of Christians and Jews throughout much of their history, yet it remains the case that, in the later medieval as in the modern period, most Muslims living in those lands probably never met a living Christian or a Jew. All the more so in Medieval Western Europe, which was—with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula—the least religiously diverse of the regions clustered around the Mediterranean, harboring vanishingly small communities of Jews and Muslims. Many of the pages in this book focus on the lands we now call Spain: the one extraordinary region of Western Europe in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews did indeed live in close proximity.11 But we will also dwell on less local types of neighborliness, with their attendant anxieties. After all, the entire Mediterranean can be thought of metaphorically as a neighborhood, as when Plato wrote of the many peoples inhabiting the shores of that sea that they lived “like ants or frogs about a pond.” (Phaedo 109b) Even at a global level, the geo-‐political “proximity” of the three religions could generate a great deal of power. A priest in 12th century Paris did not have to meet any Muslims in order to preach about the relationship of “Christendom” to Islam, any more than it is today necessary for a 11 The term Spain is anachronistic, since in the Middle Ages the Iberian Peninsula was made up of multiple polities. I use it here for convenience, but will often refer throughout the text to those polities themselves: Castile, Catalonia, Valencia, Aragon, Navarre, Mallorca, etc. 7 citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran to know an inhabitant of Tel Aviv, or a voter in Boston a resident of Baghdad, in order for them to learn to think of the perils and opportunities of their world in terms of the interactions between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Finally, the book introduces yet another kind of neighborliness between the three religions: not in space and time but in thought. This sense of neighborliness is less obvious than the others, but perhaps more expandable, and so deserves some explanation. By neighbors in thought I mean that believers in all three faiths defined (and define) themselves and their place in this world and the one to come by thinking in terms of the other faiths. Another scriptural example might help to clarify this fundamental point. We all know that the early followers of Jesus emerged within or in close proximity to various types of Judaism, and that for them determining the appropriate relationship between these communities became an urgent question. There were many different answers to that question, some of which are preserved in the New Testament scriptures that became canonical. Consider, for example, just one sentence from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, one of the earliest writings produced by a follower of Jesus, circa 50 A.D. In chapter 2, verse 14, Paul upbraids Peter for refusing to eat with gentile converts who do not observe Jewish dietary laws, and he does so in striking terms: “Since you, though you are a Jew, live like the gentiles and not like the Jews, how can you compel the gentiles to Judaize?” Early Christians were shocked by Paul’s harsh criticism of Peter (in 2.13, he even used the word “hypocrisy”). But for us what is more noteworthy is the logic encoded in this (previously rare) verb “to Judaize.” The verb is applied to Gentiles, not Jews. Neither a Jew nor a Jewish follower of Jesus “Judaized” by observing dietary laws or being circumcised. For Paul, “Judaizing” designated the damning displacement of a gentile believer’s attention away from Jesus’ spiritual message and toward the literal commandments of the Jewish tradition within which Jesus was born and taught. By analogy it came to signify the Christian’s erroneous orientation of attention away from the spirit and toward the flesh, the letter of scripture, and the material things of this world: all things that came to be associated with Judaism in Christian thought.12 12 Judaize: the Greek term (ioudaizein, tr. into Latin as judaizare) appears 8 Over time, the repeated application of this type of analogy turned thinking about Judaism and Judaizing into a basic resource for Christian self-‐definition and self-‐critique, an important part of the conceptual tool kit with which Christians could make sense of their world, and this even in times and places where there were no “real” Jews to be found. In this sense, the “neighborliness” between Christian and Jew is not simply spatial. A potential “Jew” exists within every Christian no matter how “Gentile,” for “Judaism” threatens all of us as we pick our hesitant way through this transitory world of flesh. Over the course of this book we will see how variants of this Pauline logic were put to work in various Christian societies, work that transformed the possibilities of existence for Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. But this “neighborliness in thought” is an Islamic and Jewish phenomenon as much as a Christian one. Like Christianity, Islam faced questions about its relations to previous prophetic traditions, questions not so different from the ones Paul and Peter had been trying to address. In Islam, as in Christianity, this process of co-‐production did not end with the establishment of the new religion. According to tradition, Muhammad himself predicted its ongoing power: “Those who were before you of the People of the Book [i.e., Christians and Jews] became divided into 72 sects, and this community will be divided into 73: 72 in Hell, and one in Paradise.” Across the Islamic centuries charges of “Judaizing” helped to drive this sectarian productivity. It would be difficult to find a medieval Muslim sectarian community that was not at some time or other accused of being “Jewish” by its opponents (“the Shi’is are the Jews of our community,” as an ancient Sunni saying has it). 13 As in already in the Septuagint (e.g., in Esther 8.17), where it is not, however, negative. Paul’s use of it is in the long run transformative. On the verb’s history see Michele Murray, Playing a Jewish Game: Gentile Christian Judaizing in the First and Second Centuries CE (Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2004), especially 3-‐4; Róbert Dán, “Judaizare—the Career of a Term,” in Antitrinitarianism in the Second Half of the 16th Century, eds. R. Dán and A. Pirnát (Budapest and Leiden: Akadémiai Kiadó and Brill, 1982), 25-‐34; Gilbert Dagron, “Judäiser,” in Travaux et Mémoires 11 (1991) : 359-‐80. 13 This example and others are found in Uri Rubin, Between Bible and Qur’an: the Children of Israel and the Islamic Self-‐Image (Princeton: Darwin, 1999), 168ff.; and in Steven M. Wasserstrom, “‘The Shi’is are the Jews of Our Community:’ An Interreligious Comparison within Sunni Thought,” IOS 14 (1994): 297–324. On the “Jewish lineages” of all sects, see Wasserstrom, 9 Christianity, “Jewishness” became a danger to which every Muslim was potentially subject, and excessive proximity exacerbated the danger.14 For a good example we can turn to the eleventh-‐century Iberian poet, polemicist, politician and scholar Ibn Ḥazm, one of the most prolific and original pens of the Islamic Middle Ages: …God will treat those who befriend the Jews and take them into their confidence as He treated the Jews themselves. For whosoever amongst Muslim princes has listened to all this and still continues to befriend Jews… well deserves to be overtaken by the same humiliation and to suffer in this world the same griefs which God has meted out to the Jews…. Let any prince upon whom God has bestowed some of his bounty take heed… let him get away from this filthy, stinking, dirty crew beset with God’s anger and malediction, with humiliation and wretchedness, misfortune, filth and dirt, as no other people has ever been. Let him know that the garments in which God has enwrapped them are more obnoxious than war, and more contagious than elephantiasis.15 Following a logic and a diction very similar to that of Surah 5:56 (“Who of you takes them as friends is one of them”) or 3:118 (“they will not fail to corrupt you”), Ibn Ḥazm produces the “Judaism” of Muslim princes. Perhaps we could speak of a similar “co-‐ production” in modern Islamic political discourse, with its tendency to criticize Muslim politicians as “Jewish” hypocrites, materialists, and agents of Zionism. Between Muslim and Jew, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 157-‐8. His use of the word “heresy” is a bit misleading here, since the denomination is relative to the observer. The Khawārij, for example, probably considered their (eventually victorious and therefore “orthodox”) opponents a “Judaizing heresy.” 14 For an overview of this process see David Nirenberg, Anti-‐Judaism: the Western Tradition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013), 135-‐82. 15 Ibn Ḥazm, “Al-‐Radd `alā ibn al-‐naghrīla al yahūdī” [The Refutation of Ibn Naghrila the Jew], in Rasā’il ibn ḥazm al-‐andalusi, ed. Iḥsān `Abbās (Beirut, 1980-‐ 83) 3:67. Translated in Moshe Perlmann, “Eleventh-‐century Andalusian Authors on the Jews of Granada,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 18 (1948-‐49): 281-‐3. On this treatise see Ross Brann, Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Jews and Muslims in Tenth-‐ and Twelfth-‐Century Islamic Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 78-‐9. 10 What was true of medieval Muslims and Christians was true of Jews as well: the rabbis, too, understood godliness as produced and maintained in interaction with and distinction from one’s neighbors, both real and imagined. A rabbinic text called Lamentations Rabbah, dating roughly to the fifth century A.D., provides a parable on the subject: It is like a king who married a woman and wrote her a large marriage-‐settlement [ketubbah]. … Then he left her for many years and journeyed to the provinces. Her neighbors used to taunt her and say to her: hasn’t your husband abandoned you? Go! Marry another man! She would weep and sigh, and afterward she would enter her bridal chamber and read her marriage settlement and sigh [with relief]. Many years and days later the king returned. He said to her: I am amazed that you have waited for me all these years! She replied: my master the king, if not for the large wedding-‐settlement you wrote me, my neighbors would long ago have led me astray.16 Parables permit play, so I will interpret this one provocatively, as a recognition of the “neighborly co-‐productions” I am attempting to describe. Jews in the diaspora, whether in pagan, Christian or later in Islamic lands, lived in societies deeply structured by cosmologies and theologies different from their own. Often they adopted aspects of their neighbors’ cultures. The study of those adoptions and adaptations has of late become an important field in Jewish Studies. The influence of Arabic grammar and verse on Hebrew; of Islamic Law on Karaite thought or on the redaction of the Talmud; of Christian mysticism and neo-‐Platonism on Jewish Kabbalah: these are just a few of the countless co-‐ productions that scholars of Jewish culture have explored. Each of these borrowings and adaptations could be (and was) attacked from within Judaism as illegitimate, as idolatrous, “Christianizing,” or “Islamizing.” The Kabbalah, for example, seemed to many medieval (and modern) Jewish critics a Christianizing turn away from the unitary God of Israel. But to 16 Lamentations Rabbah, cited (with minimal alteration) from Galit Hasan-‐ Rokem, Tales of the Neighborhood: Jewish Narrative Dialogues in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003), 40. The translation is by David Stern, Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 57. 11 continue with my interpretation of the parable, each of these borrowings and transformations could also be authorized (as occurred in the case of the Kabbalah) by returning to the bridal chamber and rereading the “founding contract” in such a way that the new is discovered already within it and appears eternal.17 The parable’s authors may well have believed in the impermeability of their scriptural interpretations and religious practices, as well as in the stability and continuity of those interpretations and practices across space and time. But I prefer to understand it as pointing toward a more dynamic interaction between authoritative scripture and the many contexts of its reading. In my reading, the marriage contract—that is, Scripture— appears as both a historical record of neighborliness, and as a living one. Scripture is a historical record, in that the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, the Islamic Qur’an and Sunnah, and the writings of the Rabbis all provide us with a window into how the communities that came to be called Christian, Muslim, and Jewish produced themselves with and through each other. But these Scriptures are also a living record, in that they have been (and continue to be) read and interpreted by believers in all times and places. They provided (and continue to provide) later communities with an archive of ancient worries about neighborliness. The authority of that archive shaped (and continues to shape) some of the ways in which these communities created their own possibilities of neighborliness, re-‐imagining themselves by thinking about their proximity to and distance from the others, and authorizing their fresh visions of the world in the name of God. How Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities have imagined and re-‐imagined themselves by thinking about and (sometimes) living with each other: that is the subject of this book. The topic is important to our understanding of the past, but it is also vital to the present, for we too are engaged in similar co-‐ productions, making sense of our own world by thinking about ourselves and our neighbors. Indeed very often, the study of past interactions between these three faiths is undertaken with an eye on the present, in the hope that history might provide us council 17 For a striking example from Early Modern Central Europe, see Paweł Maciejko’s The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement, 1755-‐ 1816 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). 12 and comfort for the future. The resulting advice is diverse and often contradictory. For some, the history of neighborliness between the three faiths is one of inevitable conflict. The political scientist Samuel Huntington provided an influential synthesis of this view in his essay and later book, “The Clash of Civilizations,” where he argued that contemporary geopolitical conflict is structured along the fault-‐ lines between competing civilizational blocks. The cohesion of these blocks is determined by a shared religious and cultural history (Buddhist China, Western Civilization, and the Islamic World were his main categories) that puts them at odds with their neighbors. According to Huntington, the most aggressive of these blocks is Islam (in his words: “Islam has bloody borders”).18 Huntington’s vision of an asymmetrically violent neighborliness may well have influenced United States foreign policy, but more irenic views have had their geo-‐political influence as well. There are, for example, those who believe that the long history of neighborliness shared by the three “Abrahamic” religions provides an exemplary paradigm for the pursuit of peace and mutual prosperity. This is the historical logic behind political initiatives such as the United Nation’s “Secretariat for the Alliance of Civilizations” (established in 2005 upon the initiative of the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey), and the “Union for the Mediterranean,” championed by French President Nikolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy’s “Union” was based on a geographic definition of neighborhood: it was meant as an alliance of all nations—whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim—whose shores are lapped by the Mediterranean’s waters, including both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (By the time The Joint Declaration of the Union for the Mediterranean was signed on 13 July 2008, it included the entire European Union and Arab League, embracing such “Mediterranean neighbors” as Iceland and Yemen.)19 The last chapter of this book will explore some of these 18 Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (Summer 1993): 35. For “bloody borders” see Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 258. 19 The Joint Declaration of the Paris Summit of the Mediterranean, July 13, 2008, Union for the Mediterranean, http://www.ufmsecretariat.org/en/institutional-‐ documents. Another project along these lines is the United Nation’s “Alliance of Civilizations,” founded in 2005. 13 contemporary imaginings, interrogating their invocations of historical examples of neighborliness in order to expose the fantastic underpinnings of their resulting visions of current Muslim-‐Jewish-‐Christian relations. Here I’d like merely to reiterate the more general point: our communities continue to constitute themselves by thinking about the long history of relations with their neighbors. The resulting representations of the world are “co-‐productions,” not only of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but also of past and present. Visions of the past are deployed to do work in the present, and visions of the present transform how we interpret the past. This inter-‐dependence of what-‐has-‐been and what-‐may-‐ yet-‐be means that history and historians may have a role in shaping the possibilities for how we relate to others in our world. But what should that role be? The question is important, because the pressure of present politics is great. Today even the most technical arguments about, for example, the role of Arabic manuscripts in the medieval transmission history of Aristotle can become touchstones in bitter battles over Muslim immigration to France or the entrance of Turkey into the European Union.20 How should we write history, knowing that the possibilities for life in the present may be affected by the ways in which we choose to reconstruct the past? And in making these choices, what responsibility do we as self-‐identified historians (rather than, say, novelists or politicians21) owe to the past and its inhabitants? Are we free to work over the past until it resembles our hopes or fears for the future? If not, what commitments should discipline or limit the historian’s interpretive freedom? The chapters that follow approach these questions in different ways, but they all share the goal of demonstrating that 20 I am referring here to Sylvain Gouguenheim’s Aristote au Mont-‐Saint-‐Michel : les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne (Paris: Seul, 2008), and the ensuing controversy. 21 For novelists who have written on themes of medieval neighborliness between the three religions see, e.g., Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh (New York: Pantheon, 1995); Amin Maalouf, Leo Africanus, trans. Peter Sluglett (New York: New Amsterdam Press, 1992); A.B. Yehoshua, A Journey to the End of the Millennium, trans. Nicholas de Lange (New York: Doubleday, 1999); as well as Emile Habibi, Juan Goytisolo, and many others. There are also countless politicians who have voiced views on such questions. 14 the questions themselves are difficult, and do not admit any one answer. That modest goal is more ambitious and important than it may seem, for every present tends to seize upon “the manifestations of past or distant spiritual worlds, in order to take possession of them and unfeelingly incorporate them into its own self-‐absorbed fantasizing.”22 If the past is to provide us with a perspective from which to criticize our dearest certainties, we need to develop strategies for distinguishing between the fantastic and the critical. Careful attention to the available sources, knowledge of the necessary languages, deployment of relevant methodologies, recognition of divergent interpretations: these are all necessary, but not sufficient protections against self-‐absorption. After all, the categories of thought through which we approach the past, the methodologies we bring to it, the types of information we recognize as meaningful and significant: these are not independent of our experience in our own time and place. Similarly, the questions about the past that strike us as urgent in the present have a great deal to do with our own fears for the future, and our own sense of what that future should be. This means that historians must be both critics and prophets if they wish, without impiety or disrespect, to make the dead instructive for the living. Critics, so as to become conscious of the many gaps and frictions that exist between their own thought-‐ worlds and those of the shades they invoke. And prophets, in order to divine the best future in whose service this friction between past and present should be put to work.23 Like most historians, I am a poor prophet. So although my account of the past is animated by a sense of what is to come, I’ve attempted as best I can to keep these chapters free of a particular politics or vision of a future. My goal in them is simply to convince you that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have never been independent of each other: that it is as neighbors, in close relation to one another, that they have constantly transformed themselves, re-‐interpreting both their scriptures and their histories. Their 22 Walter Benjamin, “Delirium,” in The Origins of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: Verso, 1977), 53-‐54. 23 Compare Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, eds. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972-‐1992) vol. 1, pt. 3, p. 1245. 15 pasts are not discrete, independent, or stable, and neither are their presents or their futures. The Qur’an speaks hauntingly of its own inexhaustible capacity to generate meaning: “If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord.” (18:109)24 What is true of prophecy is also true of history. The countless ways in which previous communities have re-‐envisioned the world through their neighbors constitute an endless archive that future communities will draw upon to imagine, legitimate, and contest untold potential futures. Perhaps it is by making the workings of this process more visible that historians can best serve those communities to come, showing them how their ancestors, too, discovered in the past the seeming eternity of their now long vanished convictions. Though many a place or period could serve the purpose for this pedagogy, the chapters of this book will almost all focus on medieval and early modern Spain, sometimes called the “land of the three religions.” (The exceptions are the first chapter, on how medieval “Christendom” defined itself against “Islam,” and the last, on similar strategies today.) In that land we can witness Jews, Muslims, and Christians interacting not only as abstractions or categories in each other’s theologies and ideologies, but also as neighbors forced to jostle together on narrow streets, figures of thought elbowing figures of flesh, and in the process transforming both. We will, for example, watch them simultaneously theorizing the dangerous attractions of their neighbors, and also embracing those neighbors in full carnality, not only in the whorehouse but also in the household, and even in the marriage bed (Chapters Two, Three, and Five). We will explore how the interaction of the two—of thought and of flesh, to hold onto our admittedly inadequate metaphor—produced radically new ways of thinking about the nature of inter-‐religious relations, some of them horrifically violent, even exterminatory (Chapter Four), others segregationist (Chapter Five); some playful and poetic (Chapter Six), still others (Chapters Seven and Eight) giving rise to new 24 Compare John 21:25: “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” 16 theories and vocabularies of what we have learned to call race (from the Spanish word raza). And we will see how each of these new ways of thinking about world and neighbor re-‐wrote the ways in which people read their scriptures and their history, so that the new and the particular could be understood as universal and eternal. These chapters offer new ways of explaining the religious pluralism, massacre and mass conversion, assimilation, segregation, and expulsion that marked the extraordinarily rich history of interaction between the three religions in the medieval Iberian Peninsula. But in their insistence on the dynamic and inter-‐dependent ways in which religious communities constantly re-‐create their reality and their history, they offer us something more. The past of this “land of the three religions” is too often mined for exemplary histories, for models of tolerance or of persecution, Golden Ages or Black Legends. I offer instead a history that resists the exemplarity and stability of the past, in the hope that it might serve as a stimulus to reflection about the ways in which Judaism, Christianity, Islam and their many heirs continue to co-‐produce the realities of the world today.
Voir de même:
Neighboring Faiths, by David Nirenberg
David Nirenberg is a very learned historian who tackles topics of a scope that would be too daunting for most other writers. In Neighboring Faiths, he addresses themes that are critically significant for contemporary debates, and by no means only within the realm of religion.
Nirenberg’s approach runs directly contrary to familiar modern assumptions about the nature and definition of “Great Religions” and about how people belong to them. Particularly in the West, we know that an individual adheres to one faith at any given time, although conversion is certainly possible. The frontiers between those faiths are clear and well patrolled, and dialogue between them is a cautious and tentative enterprise. It is difficult then to imagine non-Western societies—or indeed, earlier Western communities—where such boundaries were much more fluid. But they were. For instance, recent scholarship has stressed how very slow and gradual was the break between Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity; in some regions the process stretched over several centuries.
For much of Western history, Christians lived in societies where they were the overwhelming if not exclusive majority, and other faiths were encountered rarely. Jews and Muslims were imaginary beasts whose views demanded little consideration or respect. Yet historically, such exclusivity was not always the rule, and particularly in the Mediterranean world the three faiths often coexisted for centuries.
The best-known example was undoubtedly in medieval Islamic Spain. Modern writers love to tell how believers of all shades flourished alongside each other in cultural and intellectual harmony. This was the legendary and somewhat mythical era of convivencia, which is so often cited as a night-and-day contrast with the intolerant Christianity of most European nations. I describe this view as mythical because the authentic spells of harmony were so regularly interrupted by pogroms and persecutions as to cast doubt on the benevolent image of medieval Islamic societies. The Granada pogrom against Jews in 1066 was as savage as anything Christian Europe would produce during the medieval era. The Iberian Camelot of the modern imagination is, to say the least, highly idealized.
Nirenberg is obviously far removed from any such myth making, or even from simple debunking. Rather, he uses Iberia as a setting to explore how the three faiths interacted so intimately, mainly during the era of growing Christian hegemony after 1250 or so. His central theme is how these neighbors “loved, tolerated, massacred, and expelled one another—all in the name of God.” Jews, Muslims, and Christians were indeed all children of Abraham, and that extended family was often spectacularly dysfunctional, but it was a family.
Although well thought out, Nirenberg’s book is avowedly a collection of case studies and essays rather than a thoroughly integrated whole. This means that he offers in-depth treatments of specific incidents, such as the hideous Valencia massacres of 1391, when Christians slaughtered the city’s Jews, and the events he discusses in the chapter titled “Deviant Politics and Jewish Love: Alfonso VIII and the Jewess of Toledo.”
Nirenberg offers splendid and seemingly paradoxical accounts of such religious interactions. He shows repeatedly how scholars constructed their religious foes in the grimmest possible terms, and Iberia produced many such fierce polemics. Such tracts coexisted with extensive social and family contacts that were friendly and often intimate. We see Jews, Muslims, and Christians “interacting not only as abstractions or categories in each other’s theologies and ideologies, but also as neighbors forced to jostle together on narrow streets, figures of thought elbowing figures of flesh, and in the process transforming both.”
There would have been no need for legislatures and councils to continue forbidding intermarriage and interfaith sex unless ordinary laypeople were enthusiastically engaged in these practices. And at least some of those who were not marrying outside their religion were boldly going into the brothels assigned to those other faith communities. Spain inevitably, and uncomfortably, became a land of mixed blood, a fact that tormented later generations.
Also, political exigencies meant that power struggles often crossed religious lines. Spain’s legendary Christian warrior was El Cid, whose Arabic-derived name was bestowed by his allies and vassals. Christian writers often criticized Catholic rulers for their excessive kindness to Jews and Jewish communities, a tolerance that was overruled by infuriated Christian mobs. In the 17th century, Miguel Cervantes drily credited his Don Quixote, Spain’s greatest literary classic, to a fictitious Moorish author named Cide Hamete Benengeli.
Plenty of scholars have discussed interfaith relations in this region and have examined how thinkers of each religion portrayed their counterparts. What makes Nirenberg’s book distinctive is his emphasis on how such conversations reshaped the self-image of the religion undertaking the portrayal—how, for example, when Christians studied Islam, their observations redefined Christian identity.
Such redefinitions could lean in the direction of tolerance. Though a medieval Christian might think that a particular idea or practice is characteristic of Muslims and therefore should be avoided at all costs, the idea or practice often leads to the opposite response—members of one group almost unconsciously adopt the practices of their neighbors because they are part of the general cultural ambience and part of what it means to live in that society.
In Iberia, that kind of assimilation in turn inspired new and more intolerant religious movements, which sometimes originated outside of Iberia. Time and again, just as Muslims and Christians were learning to coexist, Christian Crusaders and Islamic jihadis arrived to rebuild the walls between the faiths.
Meanwhile, internal reformers zealously sought to draw firm and proper boundaries. As the Spanish-born St. Vincent Ferrer noted in the early 15th century, “The neighbor of a Jew will never be a good Christian.” Spiritual contamination could be avoided by ensuring that non-Christian neighbors converted to the true faith, willingly or otherwise, and Vincent toiled strenuously to win over Jews. He was at his most active in the generation or so after the massacres of 1391, an age of mass conversions when concepts of social and racial identity were in a process of rapid transformation. Vincent became the patron saint of builders precisely because attitudes and acts like his constructed a religiously and racially pure Spain.
Over time, still more radical solutions suggested themselves. Gradually expulsions of religious minorities escalated from local and regional affairs to the thorough national cleansing that reached its culmination in the 17th century. By that point, Spanish governments were no longer content to remove Jews and Muslims (those groups had long gone), but struck at their converted descendants who had formally accepted Christianity, the conversos and Moriscos. Even remaining close to a tainted faith was now enough to attract vengeance.
One of Nirenberg’s major themes is the emergence, especially during the 15th century, of genealogical obsessions applied to Jewish identity that came uncomfortably close to a modern-sounding rhetoric of race. He devotes an important chapter to the vexed question of whether there was race before modernity and argues that in the Iberian context, the concept was scarcely avoidable.
It is tempting to extend Nirenberg’s analysis to other regions where Islam rather than Christianity won the decisive political victory. If we look at Egypt, another great land of three faiths, we see close parallels to the systematic hardening of attitudes that Spain experienced, and in the same years. In both lands massacres and forced conversions became much more frequent. It was not just that Christianity was becoming harsher and more intolerant in the late Middle Ages. Rather, larger transnational forces were at work, economic and social trends that were influenced by the change in climate.
By the early 16th century Spanish elites had thoroughly convinced themselves of the intimate alliance between race and faith, and those ideas profoundly influenced the lords and warriors who set off to conquer the New World. The ideas formed in encounters with Moors were now applied wholeheartedly to Aztecs and Incas. The conquistadors who invaded Mexico invoked James as their patron saint—Santiago Matamoros, the Moor-slayer.
The book’s final chapter is “Islam and the West: Two Dialectical Fantasies,” which pulls together themes of the construction of history and memory that appear sporadically throughout the work. How should we regard interactions between communities of different faiths, whether in the past or in the present? One popular solution is to imagine the West and Islam as utterly different categories in perpetual struggle, a continuing clash of civilizations, although such a view represents an abandonment of critical historical sense. Scarcely less improbable, though, is the modern romanticization of the old Arabic Spain, the “fairy tale” of al-Andalus and convivencia. Nirenberg’s comments on these debates are judicious and balanced.
Neighboring Faiths is an excellent book that thoroughly repays careful reading and reflection, but it is not primarily for the general reader. Nirenberg is a scholar writing primarily to scholars; the 210 pages in the chapters are followed by more than 70 pages of endnotes in small type. Nonacademics will find his work densely argued and sometimes heavy going. Any reader who perseveres, though, will be richly rewarded.
Voir de plus:
Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today
Reviewed by Thomas C. Devaney
Council for European studies
Debates, both popular and scholarly, about interfaith relations have too often been characterized by ahistorical notions of inevitable hostility, such as Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, or by equally problematic hopes for seamless harmony. David Nirenberg’s Neighboring Faiths, however, examines how Christians, Muslims, and Jews have defined themselves and their place in the world in terms of each other. These “coproductions” of identity do not allow for black-and-white interpretations, for narratives of unthinking tolerance or unceasing violence. This is a book focused on how Muslims, Jews, and Christians have “loved, tolerated, massacred, and expelled each other – all in the name of God” (p. 3). As a historian of late-medieval Spain, Nirenberg considers the neighborliness of the Abrahamic faiths in that context, one particularly appropriate for the questions he asks. But, though this is a work of history, he is not coy about his broader purpose, arguing that however strange or distant the attitudes of the past may seem to us now, they have modern relevance. In one sense, this relevance is literal; Jews, Muslims, and Christians continue to conceive their identities through and against each other. In another sense, Nirenberg hopes that, in these past processes, readers will find “a stimulus to critical awareness about the workings of our own assumptions, hopes, and habits of thought” (p. 3).
While he is perhaps best known for his Communities of Violence (1996) and Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (2013), Nirenberg has also penned a number of influential articles. Eight of these (published between 2002 and 2009) comprise the majority of this book; only the introduction and chapter 4 are new. Yet this is not a simple reprint of disconnected articles; while the previously published material has been only lightly revised, all chapters are closely connected in theme. Together they trace a clear narrative centered on the transformations of the fifteenth century, a period in which the conversion of large numbers of Jews to Christianity challenged existing ideas about all three faiths.
In the first chapter, “Christendom and Islam,” Nirenberg argues that proximity to and knowledge of other faiths did not necessarily lead to mutual understanding. Instead, such familiarity was often used to enforce boundaries. But the process was transformative, that Christians and Muslims (and Jews) shaped their understandings of themselves through constantly thinking about the others. In the examples he outlines, ranging from medieval Christian knowledge about Islam to the influence of such knowledge on emerging notions of “Christendom” to the creation of a “diasporic Islam” by Muslims living in Christian lands, polemic and hostility loom large. But responses to other faiths were never about enmity alone.
Nirenberg develops this further in chapter 2, “Love between Muslim and Jew.” Despite its title, “love” is not central to this discussion of intercourse, marriage, and conversion; rather, he focuses on the relative power of Jewish and Muslim communities in Christian-ruled Iberia. In tracing how Christian authorities generally permitted intercourse between Jewish men and Muslim women until the fifteenth century, when Christian anxieties about Judaism and conversion led them to favor Muslim claims, he reminds us that that relations between minority groups are always conditioned by the dominant power. The discussion of interfaith love continues in “Deviant Politics and Jewish Love: Alfonso VIII and the Jewess of Toledo,” but now the emphasis shifts to the political ramifications of imagined or fictionalized love. The tale of Alfonso’s misplaced affections serves as an entry into a political discourse in which Jewishness and illicit love are proxies for contested aspects of royal governance. In debates over taxation, administrative control, and the power of royal favorites (privados), depicting monarchical authority as Judaizing and feminizing was an effective means of attack, for it permitted political differences to be framed in terms of gender and religion, and thus as issues of natural and divine law.
The fulcrum of the book is the series of anti-Jewish riots that took place throughout Iberia in 1391, leading to the death or conversion of thousands of Jews. In Iberia, as elsewhere in medieval Europe, Jews traditionally had been directly subject to royal protection, exploitation, and jurisdiction. King Joan of Aragón therefore viewed the attack on Valencia’s Jewish community as an attack on royal power. In chapter 4, “Massacre or Miracle? Valencia, 1391,” Nirenberg creatively analyzes the Valencian response to Joan’s anger. They characterized the riot as a miracle, through which God had signaled his approval of the Christian attackers. This created a constitutional crisis of sorts, as Joan could not assert his authority as superior to that of God. Although this appeal to religion might seem exceptional, the situation was ultimately resolved through normal political means, negotiation, and reconciliation. Given our modern politics of constant emergency, of a routine “state of exception,” Nirenberg suggests that this mundane resolution offers a rebuttal to the claims of political theology as advocated by Carl Schmitt and Slavoj Žižek, among others.
The next several chapters consider the long-term implications of 1391. “Conversion, Sex, and Segregation” examines the creation of sexual boundaries between the converts (conversos or “New” Christians) and “Old” or “natural” Christians. In the decades following 1391, Old Christians expressed jubilation over the mass conversion of Jews, seeing them as miraculous. This initial joy, however, soon turned to “concern … that the disappearance of Jews and the emergence of the conversos would undermine the distinctive value and meaning of Christian identity” (p. 102). What, in other words, was a Christian in a world in which there were no Jews? After a brief overview of the place of sexual honor in conceptions of the Christian community, Nirenberg turns to prohibitions against sex with conversos, promulgated from the second decade of the fifteenth century. This was not for fear of the taint of “Jewish blood” – that would happen later. Rather, it was due to fears that conversion was incomplete, that the absence of traditional markers of religious identity would allow the wolves among the sheep. This recasting of sexual boundaries, in other words, was not a simple application of existing categories to converts but the “outcome of a highly creative historical transformation” (p. 114).
In chapter 6, “Figures of Thought and Figures of Flesh,” we see the emergence of “Jew” and “Judaizing” as key terms in fifteenth-century literary and political critique. Beginning with patristic debates about the meaning of language and about conversion, Nirenberg points to a tension in Christian thought between word – literal, worldly, and Jewish – and meaning – spiritual, heavenly, and Christian. These ideas saw renewed life in the fifteenth century, as ‘natural’ Christians used them to confront the challenges posed by the conversos. Nirenberg focuses on poems collected in the Cancionero de Baena (c. 1430). Baena and his colleagues devoted much of their work to insulting one another, especially through accusations of sexual deviancy or of Judaizing. Nirenberg argues that whether the poets or their targets were actually converts is irrelevant; rather, the gibes were attempts to confirm the spiritual value of poetry that also acted to establish particular meanings for “Jew.” The political utility of these meanings became clear in the second half of the century, as poetic rivalries gave way to efforts to exclude conversos from the body social. That exclusion was not a response to some retained “Jewishness” on the part of the victims, but emerged from a reimagining of a strand of Christian theology that “produced the phenomenon it sought to describe” (p. 140). Modern efforts to read these poets with what Nirenberg calls an “Inquisitorial” approach or to search for the “Jewish” roots of modernism simply replicate this process.
Chapter 7, “Mass Conversion and Genealogical Mentalities,” explores how people created new continuities with the past. That both Spanish Christians and Jews were greatly concerned with lineage and genealogy has often been noted. Here, Nirenberg argues that the emphasis on lineage emerged from a historical moment that made it newly meaningful for both Christians and Jews. Mass conversion and the destabilization of traditional categories of religious identity made new forms of communal identity possible (and necessary), as people forged new ties with “family, faith, ‘race’, and ‘nation’” (p. 167).
The term “race” is always contested, and that is especially the case when it is used in the context of late-medieval society. Nirenberg takes on this question in chapter 8, “Was There Race before Modernity? The Example of ‘Jewish’ Blood in Late Medieval Spain.” After a brief recounting of the debates over whether “race” and “racism” are particularly modern, Nirenberg notes that, in the fifteenth century, terms including raza, casta, and linaje “linked both behavior and appearance to nature and reproduction” (p. 180). Although originating in the context of animal breeding, this discourse evolved over the course of the century through conflicts over the inclusion of converts and their descendants. Both Old and New Christians made recourse to notions of distinct race and blood because, Nirenberg suggests, genealogical understandings of “Jewishness” fit medieval expectations of the relationship between biology and culture. This is not to say, however, that fifteenth-century categories were “racial,” but rather than there is potential for fruitful comparison between this and other ideologies of difference, comparisons denied by those who contend that “race” is a feature only of modernity.
The book concludes with an explicit turn to contemporary issues. In “Islam and the West: Two Dialectical Fantasies,” Nirenberg explores modern attempts to think about the interrelationship between “Islam” and “the West.” Identifying two major modes of characterizing those relations, clash and alliance, he argues that both produce “fantastical dialectics.” Nirenberg offers no solution here, other than to advise wariness of narratives of putative inclusion. For these also posit fundamental differences, with the result that “every dialectical fantasy of inclusion is simultaneously that of exclusion as well” (p. 211)
Throughout the book, Nirenberg brings together social and intellectual history; he writes, in other words, about how ideas shape real lives. In a sense, these articles trace Nirenberg’s evolving understanding of the longue-durée power of ideas. In Communities of Violence, he sharply challenged accounts that set instances of violence into larger frameworks, arguing instead for the centrality of local concerns and power structures. Anti-Judaism, by contrast, charts the history of the “imaginary Jew” across the centuries to argue that particular “ways of thought” lie at the heart of what we might call Western civilization. Here, however, we see both the enduring power of ideas and the local contexts in which people adapted, mobilized, and internalized those ideas.
This method does have its limits, however. One concern is the extent to which the ways of thought Nirenberg describes were comprehensible to those fifteenth-century people unfamiliar with Aristotelian ethics or biblical exegesis. While he clearly demonstrates that some elites were conscious of the intellectual underpinnings of their attitudes, I would like to hear more about popular awareness of the same. Also potentially problematic are the issues that his approach obliges him to turn away from. In chapter 6, for instance, Nirenberg argues that whether a poet was a convert is irrelevant; that the critical issue is how terms like “Jewish” and “Judaizer” acted as envelopes for other meanings. Yet surely it is not reading “like an Inquisitor” to ask whether it was a converso or an Old Christian who was deploying these constructs. Among other insights, such an inquiry might have much to tell us about the coproduction of identity from the convert perspective.
Nirenberg’s political agenda, most explicit in the introduction and final chapter, raises a question of audience. Specialists, of course, are likely to be already familiar with these articles, and the emphasis on modern lessons implies that the book is aimed at a broad audience. Although he certainly gives enough background to make his arguments intelligible, Nirenberg’s erudition, the vast range of sources he employs, the passing references to theoretical constructs, and the language in which these articles – which originally were intended for a scholarly audience – are written would make this book daunting for a neophyte. Such concerns are relatively minor, however. In bringing these articles together in a form that makes their interconnections apparent, in making them available to a wider audience, and in explicitly commenting on their modern implications, Neighboring Faiths is a significant contribution.
Reviewed by Thomas C. Devaney, University of Rochester and Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today
by David Nirenberg
The University of Chicago Press
Cloth / 352 pages / 2014
La Question Juive
La capacité des juifs et des chrétiens actuels de devenir libres selon Bruno Bauer 
C’est sous cette forme que Bauer étudie les rapports des religions juive et chrétienne, ainsi que leurs rapports avec la critique. Ce dernier rapport est leur rapport avec « la capacité de devenir libres ».
Il aboutit à ceci : « Le chrétien n’a qu’à s’élever d’un degré, à dépasser sa religion, pour supprimer la religion en général » et devenir, par conséquent, libre; « le Juif, au contraire, est obligé de rompre non seulement avec son essence juive, mais encore avec le développement de la perfection de sa religion, développement qui lui est demeuré étranger (p. 71). »
Bauer transforme donc ici la question de l’émancipation juive en une question purement religieuse. Le scrupule théologique, par lequel on se demande qui a le plus de chance d’arriver à la béatitude éternelle, le Juif ou le chrétien, se répète ici sous cette forme plus philosophique : lequel des deux est le plus capable d’émancipation ? On ne se demande plus : qui est-ce qui rend libre, le judaïsme ou le christianisme ?
On se demande, au contraire : qu’est-ce qui rend plus libre, la négation du judaïsme ou la négation du christianisme ?
« S’ils veulent devenir libres, les Juifs ne doivent pas se convertir au christianisme tout court, mais au christianisme dissous, à la religion dissoute, c’est-à-dire à la philosophie, à la critique et à son résultat, l’humanité libre (p. 70). »
Il s’agit bien toujours, pour les Juifs, de faire profession de quelque chose, non plus du christianisme tout court, mais du christianisme dissous.
Bauer demande aux Juifs de rompre avec l’essence de la religion chrétienne; mais cette exigence ne découle pas, il le dit lui-même, du développement de l’essence juive.
Du moment qu’à la fin de la question juive Bauer n’a vu dans le judaïsme que la grossière critique religieuse du christianisme, et ne lui a donc attribué qu’une simple importance religieuse, il faut bien s’attendre à ce qu’il transforme l’émancipation des Juifs en un acte philosophico-théologique.
Bauer considère l’essence idéale et abstraite du Juif, sa religion, comme étant son essence totale. Il conclut donc à juste titre : « Le Juif ne donne rien à l’humanité, quand il fait fi de sa propre loi bornée, quand il renonce à tout son judaïsme (p. 65). »
Le rapport entre Juifs et Chrétiens devient donc le suivant : l’unique intérêt que l’émancipation du Juif présente pour le chrétien, c’est un intérêt théorique, d’un caractère humain général. Le judaïsme est un fait qui offusque l’œil religieux du chrétien. Dès que l’œil du chrétien cesse d’être religieux, ce fait cesse de l’offusquer. L’émancipation du Juif n’est donc pas en soi une tâche qui convienne au chrétien.
Le Juif par contre, s’il veut s’affranchir, doit faire, en outre de son travail personnel, le travail du chrétien, la critique des synoptiques, de la vie de Jésus, etc.
« C’est à eux à se débrouiller; ce sont eux qui détermineront leur destinée; mais l’histoire ne permet pas qu’on se moque d’elle (p. 71). »
Nous essayons de rompre la formule théologique. La question relative à la capacité d’émancipation du Juif se change pour nous en cette autre question : quel est l’élément social particulier qu’il faut pour supprimer le judaïsme ? Car la capacité d’émancipation du Juif d’aujourd’hui est le rapport du judaïsme à l’émancipation du monde d’aujourd’hui. Ce rapport résulte nécessairement de la situation spéciale du judaïsme dans le monde actuel asservi (Geknechteten Welt).
Considérons le Juif réel, non pas le Juif du sabbat, comme Bauer le fait, mais le Juif de tous les jours.
Ne cherchons pas le secret du Juif dans sa religion, mais cherchons le secret de la religion dans le Juif réel.
Quel est le fond profane du judaïsme ? Le besoin pratique, l’utilité personnelle. Quel est le culte profane du Juif ? Le trafic. Quel est son Dieu profane ? L’argent. Eh bien, en s’émancipant du trafic et de l’argent, par conséquent du judaïsme réel et pratique, l’époque actuelle s’émanciperait elle-même.
Une organisation de la société qui supprimerait les conditions nécessaires du trafic, par suite la possibilité du trafic, rendrait le Juif impossible. La conscience religieuse du Juif s’évanouirait, telle une vapeur insipide, dans l’atmosphère véritable de la société. D’autre part, du moment qu’il reconnaît la vanité de son essence pratique et s’efforce de supprimer cette essence, le Juif tend à sortir de ce qui fut jusque-là son développement, travaille à l’émancipation humaine générale et se tourne vers la plus haute expression pratique de la renonciation ou aliénation humaine.
Nous reconnaissons donc dans le judaïsme un élément antisocial général et actuel qui, par le développement historique auquel les Juifs ont, sous ce mauvais rapport, activement participé, a été poussé à son point culminant du temps présent, à une hauteur où il ne peut que se désagréger nécessairement.
Dans sa dernière signification, l’émancipation juive consiste à émanciper l’humanité du judaïsme.
Le Juif s’est émancipé déjà, mais d’une manière juive. « Le Juif par exemple, qui est simplement toléré à Vienne, détermine, par sa puissance financière, le destin de tout l’empire. Le Juif, qui dans les moindres petits états allemands, peut être sans droits, décide du destin de l’Europe. »
« Tandis que les corporations et les jurandes restent fermées aux Juifs ou ne leur sont guère favorables, l’audace de l’industrie se moque de l’entêtement des institutions moyenâgeuses. » (B. Bauer, La Question juive, p. 114.)
Ceci n’est pas un fait isolé. Le Juif s’est émancipé d’une manière juive, non seulement en se rendant maître du marché financier, mais parce que, grâce à lui et par lui, l’argent est devenu une puissance mondiale, et l’esprit pratique juif l’esprit pratique des peuples chrétiens. Les Juifs se sont émancipés dans la mesure même où les chrétiens sont devenus Juifs.
« Les habitants religieux et politiquement libres de la Nouvelle-Angleterre, rapporte par exemple le colonel Hamilton, sont une espèce de Laocoon, qui ne fait pas le moindre effort pour se délivrer des serpents qui l’enserrent. Mammon est leur idole qu’ils adorent non seulement des lèvres mais de toutes les forces de leur corps et de leur esprit. La terre n’est à leurs yeux qu’une Bourse, et ils sont persuadés qu’ils n’ont ici-bas d’autre destinée que de devenir plus riches que leurs voisins. Le trafic s’est emparé de toutes leurs pensées, et ils n’ont d’autre délassement que de changer d’objets. Quand ils voyagent, ils emportent, pour ainsi dire, leur pacotille ou leur comptoir sur leur dos et ne parlent que d’intérêt et de profit; et s’ils perdent un instant leurs affaires de vue, ce n’est que pour fourrer leur nez dans les affaires de leurs concurrents. »
Bien plus ! La suprématie effective du judaïsme sur le monde chrétien a pris, dans l’Amérique du Nord, cette expression normale et absolument nette : l’annonce de l’Évangile, la prédication religieuse est devenue un article de commerce, et le négociant failli de l’Évangile s’occupe d’affaires tout comme le prédicateur enrichi. Tel que vous voyez à la tête d’une congrégation respectable a commencé par être marchand; son commerce étant tombé, il s’est fait ministre. Cet autre a débuté par le sacerdoce -, mais, dès qu’il a eu quelque somme d’argent à sa disposition, il a laissé la chaire pour le négoce. Aux yeux d’un grand nombre, le ministère religieux est une véritable carrière industrielle. » (Beaumont, p. 185-186.)
Si nous en croyons Bauer, nous nous trouvons en face d’une situation mensongère : en théorie, le Juif est privé des droits politiques alors qu’en pratique il dispose d’une puissance énorme et exerce en gros son influence politique diminuée en détail. (La Question juive, p. 114.)
La contradiction qui existe entre la puissance politique réelle du Juif et ses droits politiques, c’est la contradiction entre la politique et la puissance de l’argent. La politique est théoriquement au-dessus de la puissance de l’argent, mais pratiquement elle en est devenue la prisonnière absolue.
Le judaïsme s’est maintenu à côté du christianisme non seulement parce qu’il constituait la critique religieuse du christianisme et personnifiait le doute par rapport à l’origine religieuse du christianisme, mais encore et tout autant, parce que l’esprit pratique juif, parce que le judaïsme s’est perpétué dans la société chrétienne et y a même reçu son développement le plus élevé. Le Juif, qui se trouve placé comme un membre particulier dans la société bourgeoise, ne fait que figurer de façon spéciale le judaïsme de la société bourgeoise.
Le judaïsme s’est maintenu, non pas malgré l’histoire, mais par l’histoire.
C’est du fond de ses propres entrailles que la société bourgeoise engendre sans cesse le Juif.
Quelle était en soi la base de la religion juive ? Le besoin pratique, l’égoïsme.
Le monothéisme du Juif est donc, en réalité, le polythéisme des besoins multiples, un polythéisme qui fait même des lieux d’aisance un objet de la loi divine. Le besoin pratique, l’égoïsme est le principe de la société bourgeoise et se manifeste comme tel sous sa forme pure, dès que la société bourgeoise a complètement donné naissance à l’état politique. Le dieu du besoin pratique et de l’égoïsme, c’est l’argent.
L’argent est le dieu jaloux, d’Israël, devant qui nul autre dieu ne doit subsister. L’argent abaisse tous les dieux de l’homme et les change en marchandise. L’argent est la valeur générale et constituée en soi de toutes choses. C’est pour cette raison qu’elle a dépouillé de leur valeur propre le monde entier, le monde des hommes ainsi que la nature. L’argent, c’est l’essence séparée de l’homme, de son travail, de son existence; et cette essence étrangère le domine et il l’adore.
Le dieu des Juifs s’est sécularisé et est devenu le dieu mondial. Le change, voilà le vrai dieu du Juif. Son dieu n’est qu’une traite illusoire.
L’idée que, sous l’empire de la propriété privée et de l’argent, on se fait de la nature, est le mépris réel, l’abaissement effectif de la religion, qui existe bien dans la religion juive, mais n’y existe que dans l’imagination.
C’est dans ce sens que Thomas Münzer déclare insupportable e que toute créature soit transformée en propriété, les poissons dans l’eau, les oiseaux dans l’air, les plantes sur le sol : la créature doit elle aussi devenir libre ».
Ce qui est contenu sous une forme abstraite dans la religion juive, le mépris de la théorie, de l’art, de l’histoire, de l’homme considéré comme son propre but, c’est le point de vue réel et conscient, la vertu de l’homme d’argent. Et même les rapports entre l’homme et la femme deviennent un objet de commerce ! La femme devient l’objet d’un trafic.
La nationalité chimérique du Juif est la nationalité du commerçant, de l’homme d’argent.
La loi sans fondement ni raison du Juif n’est que la caricature religieuse de la moralité et du droit sans fondement ni raison, des rites purement formels, dont s’entoure le monde de l’égoïsme.
Ici encore le statut suprême de l’homme est le statut légal, le rapport avec des lois qui n’ont pas de valeur pour lui parce que ce sont les lois de sa propre volonté et de sa propre essence, mais parce qu’elles sont en vigueur et que toute contravention à ces lois est punie.
Le jésuitisme juif, le même jésuitisme pratique dont Bauer prouve l’existence, dans le Talmud, c’est le rapport du monde de l’égoïsme aux lois qui dominent ce monde et que ce monde met son art principal à tourner adroitement.
Bien plus, ce monde ne peut se mouvoir dans le cadre de ces lois sans les abolir de façon ininterrompue.
Le judaïsme ne pouvait se développer davantage au point de vue théorique, en tant que religion, parce que la conception que le besoin pratique se fait du monde est, de par sa nature, bornée et que quelques traits suffisent à l’épuiser.
La religion du besoin pratique ne pouvait, de par son essence, trouver sa perfection dans la théorie, mais uniquement dans la pratique, précisément par sa vérité, c’est-à-dire la pratique.
Le judaïsme ne pouvait créer de monde nouveau « tout ce qu’il pouvait, c’était d’attirer dans son rayon d’action toutes les autres créations et toutes les autres conceptions, parce que le besoin pratique, dont la raison est l’égoïsme, reste passif, et ne s’élargit pas ad libitum, mais se trouve élargi du fait même que les conditions sociales continuent à se développer.
Le judaïsme atteint son apogée avec la perfection de la société bourgeoise; mais la société bourgeoise n’atteint sa perfection que dans le monde chrétien. Ce n’est que sous le règne du christianisme, qui extériorise tous les rapports nationaux, naturels, moraux et théoriques de l’homme, que la société bourgeoise pouvait se séparer complètement de la voie de l’État, déchirer tous les liens génériques de l’homme et mettre à leur place l’égoïsme, le besoin égoïste, décomposer le monde des hommes en un monde d’individus atomistiques, hostiles les uns aux autres.
Le christianisme est issu du judaïsme , et il a fini par se ramener au judaïsme.
Par définition, le chrétien fut le Juif théorisant le Juif est, par conséquent, le chrétien pratique, et le chrétien pratique est redevenu juif.
Ce n’est qu’en apparence que le christianisme a vaincu le judaïsme réel. Il était trop élevé, trop spiritualiste, pour éliminer la brutalité du besoin pratique autrement qu’en la sublimisant, dans une brume éthérée.
Le christianisme est la pensée sublime du judaïsme, le judaïsme est la mise en pratique vulgaire du christianisme; mais cette mise en pratique ne pouvait devenir générale qu’après que le christianisme, en tant que religion parfaite, eut achevé, du moins en théorie, de rendre l’homme étranger à lui-même et à la nature.
Ce n’est qu’alors que le judaïsme put arriver à la domination générale et extérioriser l’homme et la nature aliénés à eux-mêmes, en faire un objet tributaire du besoin égoïste et du trafic.
L’aliénation, c’est la pratique du désaisissement. De même que l’homme, tant qu’il est sous l’emprise de la religion, ne sait concrétiser son être qu’en en faisant un être fantastique et étranger, de même il ne peut, sous l’influence du besoin égoïste, s’affirmer pratiquement et produire des objets pratiques qu’en soumettant ses produits ainsi que son activité à la domination d’une entité étrangère et en leur attribuant la signification d’une entité étrangère, l’argent.
Dans la pratique parfaite, l’égoïsme spiritualiste du chrétien devient nécessairement l’égoïsme matériel du Juif, le besoin céleste se mue en besoin terrestre, le subjectivisme en égoïsme. La ténacité du Juif, nous l’expliquons non par sa religion, mais plutôt par le fondement humain de sa religion, le besoin pratique, l’égoïsme.
C’est parce que l’essence véritable du Juif s’est réalisée, sécularisée d’une manière générale dans la société bourgeoise, que la société bourgeoise n’a pu convaincre le Juif de l’irréalité de son essence religieuse qui n’est précisément que la conception idéale du besoin pratique. Aussi ce n’est pas seulement dans le Pentateuque et dans le Talmud, mais dans la société actuelle que nous trouvons l’essence du Juif de nos jours, non pas une essence abstraite, mais une essence hautement empirique, non pas en tant que limitation sociale du Juif, mais en tant que limitation juive de la société.
Dès que la société parvient à supprimer l’essence empirique du judaïsme, le trafic de ses conditions, le Juif est devenu impossible,parce que sa conscience n’a plus d’objet, parce que la base subjective du judaïsme, le besoin pratique, s’est humanisée, parce que le conflit a été supprimé entre l’existence individuelle et sensible de l’homme et son essence générique.
L’émancipation sociale du Juif, c’est l’émancipation de la société du judaïsme.
 Bruno Bauer : Die Fähigkeit der deutschen Juden und Christen, frei zu werden.