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The Invention of the Jewish People [Hardcover]

Shlomo Sand , Yael Lotan
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 19 2009
A historical tour de force that demolishes the myths and taboos that have surrounded Jewish and Israeli history, The Invention of the Jewish People offers a new account of both that demands to be read and reckoned with. Was there really a forced exile in the first century, at the hands of the Romans? Should we regard the Jewish people, throughout two millennia, as both a distinct ethnic group and a putative nation—returned at last to its Biblical homeland?

Shlomo Sand argues that most Jews actually descend from converts, whose native lands were scattered far across the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The formation of a Jewish people and then a Jewish nation out of these disparate groups could only take place under the sway of a new historiography, developing in response to the rise of nationalism throughout Europe. Beneath the biblical back fill of the nineteenth-century historians, and the twentieth-century intellectuals who replaced rabbis as the architects of Jewish identity, The Invention of the Jewish People uncovers a new narrative of Israel’s formation, and proposes a bold analysis of nationalism that accounts for the old myths.

After a long stay on Israel’s bestseller list, and winning the coveted Aujourd’hui Award in France, The Invention of the Jewish People is finally available in English. The central importance of the conflict in the Middle East ensures that Sand’s arguments will reverberate well beyond the historians and politicians that he takes to task. Without an adequate understanding of Israel’s past, capable of superseding today’s opposing views, diplomatic solutions are likely to remain elusive. In this iconoclastic work of history, Shlomo Sand provides the intellectual foundations for a new vision of Israel’s future.

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Review

“Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that the Jewish people arose in the Land of Israel and was exiled from its homeland. Every Israeli schoolchild is taught that this happened during the period of the Roman rile, in 70 CE. The nation remained loyal to its land, to which it began to return after two millennia of exile. Wrong, says the historian Shlomo Sand, in one of the most fascinating and challenging books published here in a long time. There was never a Jewish people, only a Jewish religion, and the exile also never happened—hence there was no return.”—Tom Segev, Haaretz

“The reader will have understood the message: what this well-documented and fearless book explodes is the myth of a unique Jewish people, miraculously preserved, in contrast to all the other peoples, from external contamination ... [Sand’s] conclusions, which are prudently formulated, nonetheless lead one towards a sole solution: the construction of a secular and democratic Israel.”—Jacques Julliard, Le Nouvel Observateur

“Shlomo Sand has written a remarkable book ... Anyone interested in understanding the contemporary Middle East should read it.”—Tony Judt, author of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

The Invention of the Jewish People is an indispensable challenge and a very complex intellectual exercise ... a more secure society [than Israel] would include the book in the core curriculum of its school system.”—Avraham Burg, former Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth

About the Author

Shlomo Sand studied history at the University of Tel Aviv and at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, in Paris. He currently teaches contemporary history at the University of Tel Aviv. His books include The Invention of the Jewish People, On the Nation and the Jewish People, L’Illusion du politique: Georges Sorel et le débat intellectuel 1900, Georges Sorel en son temps, Le XXe siècle à l’écran and Les Mots et la terre: les intellectuels en Israël.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Truth about the Israeli Big Lie Nov. 29 2009
Format:Hardcover
This is a fascinating exploration of how the mythology of the Old Testament has been exploited by Zionists to claim that Greater Israel is the ancient Jewish homeland and therefore our rightful contemporary home. Sand makes a compelling case pointing out that the Bible is not an historical tome, but was written centuries after the events it describes by authors with particular religious and political motivations. The absence of archaelogical evidence for Biblical stories is the final nail in that coffin. There is also no evidence that European Jewry, the Ashkenazi, are related to the ancient inhabitants of Judea. We are likely descended from the Khazars, a kingdom of Jewish converts that existed in Eastern Europe between the 8th and 12th centuries CE. It turns out Israel isn't our ancient homeland, but the homeland of the Arab Jews who are a minority in Israel and the Palestinians who are both descended from the ancient Judeans. Sand also points out that both of these issues have been repeatedly raised in Israeli academic circles, but that these findings have always been suppressed in defense of the Zionist narrative.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one fantasy demolished Dec 18 2009
Format:Paperback
This book establishes that the real genetic descendants of the ancient Israelites are the Near Eastern Jews and their Palestinian brothers (Jews who subsequently converted, willingly or unwillingly, to Islam and Christianity). European Jews by contrast are genetic Khazars, who converted to Judaism, and who have no historical connection to the Holy Land. These facts, acknowledged but suppressed by Israeli historians, have finally been exposed by Professor Sand, driven by conscience and integrity to publish despite the prospect of being damned by zionists within and outside Israel. Every country and people needs professionals like Prof Sand, and I give his book five stars despite it being so massively documented it is tough to read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A New Foundation for Jewish History March 17 2011
Format:Paperback
The tragedy at the core of The Invention of the Jewish People is the rich and fascinating history of Jews in the ancient world, that has been suppressed or ignored simply because it fails to serve, or is seen to discredit Zionist objectives. Sand chronicles a complex history of the ancient world, full of endlessly changing forces, one of which was the rise of monotheism, driven by Jewish proselytization and forced conversions that transformed humanity.

Zionism, by contrast, in Shlomo Sand's readable and fascinating book, remains shackled to a crude nationalism that embodies discredited essentialist ideas that have not changed much since the first Zionist Congress in 1897. Out of this has arisen an instrumental view of history, where facts that do not meet the realpolitik objectives the movement that brought the State of Israel into existence are ignored or suppressed, and where trained historians, archaeologists and scientists face pressure to adapt their findings to political exigencies.

But Sand also paints a portrait of a country fraught with contradictions that are, inevitably percolating up to create a new consciousness of Jewish History, where the tools of modern historiography bring the possibility of change. Whether this is too little too late, Sand clearly understands that the mistakes and brutality of Israel's Zionist ideology, and the contradictions that the 4 and a half decades occupation of Palestinian lands, have created the conditions where change is inevitable.

Sand seems to suggest that Israel's best chance is to try to guide, rather than control these forces, to bring israel into line with the normative standards of democracy, liberalism and identity of the modern states Israel compares itself to.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars explosive book June 13 2010
Format:Paperback
I was inspired by Mr. Sand's interview on BBC. It was a "Hardtalk" on a hard topic. that was last year and the book was not yet available in English so I pre-ordered it on Amazon. Now I have it and use all my free time reading it.
thanks
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invention of Jewish People Review June 1 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book delivers some cutting edge research on the racial origin(s) of Jewish people around the world today. The author dispels the myth that the majority of Jewish people today are racially derived from the same stock as those who peopled the ancient land of Canaan. In fact, due to extensive proselytizing under the fertile conditions of the Hellenistic conquests of Alexander the Great and later, the Roman Empire, Judaism spread far and wide throughout the Mediterranean basin, into the Arabian Peninsula (before Mohammed), and even into the Khazar Kingdom in West Asia. The author disputes that the Jewish people were ever exiled by the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple and fills in 2000 years of Jewish history since the end of the chronicles of the Old Testament. A very interesting read, indeed!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Harrison Koehli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Reading this book was a revelation. Growing up in the West, I pretty much assimilated the 'party line' when it comes to issues on the Middle East 'conflict', albeit the liberal party line. You know the schtick, "the situation is ... complicated." In other words, neither side is right or wrong, and at the same time perhaps they are both right and wrong. Again, it's ... complicated. Then there were the mantras of divine right, Palestinian mendacity, and the long, epic history of the people of Israel. The last several years have disabused me of all of those notions. Shlomo Sand helped, putting a lot of the research I've found elsewhere, and more, into one coherent, well-researched, elegantly written account that reaffirmed for me just how much I was a victim of Hasbara media trolls.

Take your pick: the "Unified Kingdom", the great "Exodus", the great historical "nation" of Israel, etc. ad nauseam. Sand takes each myth perpetuated by and about the "Jewish" people and exposes it for what it is: absolute, complete fiction. He uncovers the ethnocentrism that hides behind all of the slogans, their historical roots, and he does so with precision. He documents the rise of "nationalism", how played itself out in our history, and the different methods and means people go about creating these fictional divisions we now call "nations", with particular reference to the "Jewish nation". This is the essence of the book that makes it all makes sense. Sand shows HOW such myths could become so thoroughly entrenched and believed, and why they were created in the first place. In that regard, the book is so much more than a treatise on how much of a misnomer the term "Jewish People" really is. It gets to the heart of modern society and the lies we tell ourselves to keep the facade in place.
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