47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2009
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2011
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. Sand has no doubt that Israel is not in any real sense a democracy, but an ethnocracy; this alone no doubt will offend many Israelis, but his ideas require consideration: he has done the work to support them, and it is fortunate that Israel remains a country where debate can encompass this kind of issue, even as dogmatic Zionists might insist that he is overstepping the bounds of permitted free speech in a country that disallows parties that do not support the idea of a Jewish State from running.
Notably, Sand suggests that Israel's constant claim to be the only democracy in the middle east does not hold water, because Israel has not connected their democracy to the basic liberal expectation of universal rights and equality among citizens. This, and his summary chapter on the history of nationalism, two chapters that bracket the book, are worth the attention of any reader, even one without an interest in Israel per se.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2009
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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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.
Sometimes shocking, always enlightening, Sand's book is a great look at propaganda and the way out from the prison in which it keeps the minds of those who believe in it. I read this one around the same time I read Ilan Pappe's _The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine_, and I heartily endorse both. You won't be disappointed.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2013
This is one of the most important non-fiction books (outside of science) published in years, dealing as it does with a topic which has caused immense pain and difficulty to so many, particularly in the last century.
A great many non-fiction books today are little more than essays or magazine articles padded into the size of books. Many are true disappointments to read, let alone failing to be genuine contributions to thought.
Here, though, is a book in which every chapter says something challenging and interesting.
And do not skip the introduction - something of which I am often guilty, being anxious to get to the heart of the matter - for in this case the introduction is fascinating, and Mr. Sand could not have provided a subtler or better way to introduce the nature and complexity of his topic.
The book was written in Hebrew - I know it caused quite a sensation in Israel a couple of years ago - and only now has been translated into English. Just one of the things which surprised me was the clarity and flow of the language, something for which social scientists are not noted, Mr. Sand being a historian. I don't know whether Mr. Sand is that unusual thing, a social scientist who is a truly excellent writer or whether he has found a gifted translator. Perhaps it is both.
Mr. Sand has not done original research into the topic, but he has done a massive and perceptive review of the literature, the kind of effort which in medicine often proves extremely valuable in bringing together the results of scores of scattered original studies, and, as the reader will discover, the author is an impressive scholar.
I knew just one of the topics which caused such upset in Israel was the idea that today's Palestinians are at least in part the actual descendents of the children of Israel, it being a well-known fact that Rome in her conquests never disturbed the original people of a place unless they refused to acknowledge Rome's authority. While Roman Palestine did have a couple of revolts, they were by zealots and not the population as a whole, and there is absolutely no historical record of the resident Hebrews having been expelled.
But the author covers much more of interest than that one topic and weaves a cohesive story of the history of the Jewish people which is both challenging and fascinating. He covers the Khazars, the people of a ninth and tenth Jewish kingdom in what is today the Crimea and part of Ukraine. There is no evidence of their having any ancient Hebrew ancestry, and, on the contrary, there is good evidence that the kingdom was the product of Jewish evangelism.
Jewish evangelism sounds mighty odd to a modern ear, but the evidence is there. After all, Christianity started as merely a sect of Judaism and has evangelized much of its history. Christianity's first great evangelist was Paul, a converted Jew. And we know there were even different early sects of Christians, such as the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, documents which show considerable differences with the content of the accepted Gospels.
There is also the fascinating possibility that Khazar migrants settling in Poland and Germany and other places in Europe are the actual source for the European Jews we call the Ashkenazi. The author cites many clues which suggest this, including clues in the Yiddish language, and in the dress and customs of Eastern European Jews. And it is an idea of which some determined Zionists were aware but chose to ignore or excuse away.
The book is dotted with interesting anecdotes such as quotes from early documents which show Jewish warriors fighting for the Moors in Spain, being perhaps part of the substantial Jewish population from North Africa - again a people with no ancestry to ancient Israel - as well as providing the foundation of what would come to be the Sephardic Jews, later deported from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella.
This is a book which will stimulate discussion and additional research for a long time, and what is a more important criterion for a truly important book?
Mr Sand has a few pretty hair-raising quotes from some Zionists which in almost no material way differ in attitude and outlook to the early gutter literature of the Nazis - stuff about blood and destiny. It is one of the author's major themes that a combination of Zionists and modern Israeli history professors, conspiring to justify the foundations and practices of modern Israel, have worked assiduously to promote the old idea - he calls it a myth - that the Jews were thrown out of their ancient land and have wandered for centuries without a home.
Small wonder the book stirred a controversy in Israel. I can only say that were Mr. Sand any less a scholar and writer, he would have been crushed, but here his research and ideas spring to life for readers everywhere to consider.
The book is highly recommended to all those with an interest in the affairs of the Middle East, the history of Europe, the history of religion, the history of ideas, the nature of political movements, the eccentricities of human nature, human psychology, or those who just enjoy a stimulating read.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2012
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!
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2010
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.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2011
On May 14th 1948 the British Mandate of Palestine and the Jewish People's Council issued 'The Declarations of the Establishment of the State of Israel'. It reads as follows:
"The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the Book of Books.
After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept their faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and to hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom'.
This is a history I have never questioned, the people of Judea, later renamed Palestine by the Romans, were forced out of their lands, dispersed and lived in exile of thousands of years before their return and the founding of the state of Israel. Throughout the book Sand attempts to undermine some of the central tenets of Zionism and nationalistic right wing politicians in Israel. He attempts to show that the Jewish people aren't all the racially pure descendants of the Hebrews (the chosen people). That there was never a mass exodus of people during the Roman occupation of Judea, that although modern Judaism isn't quite the proselytizing religion now, the ranks of Jews throughout the middle east and the Mediterranean came (at least in part) through mass conversions and that the present day Palestinians (at least in part) do also descend from the ancient Hebrews who after the Arab invasion converted to Islam to reap the tax benefits.
I am no historian therefore I can't tell you about the veracity of the events as he states and whilst the arguments he makes are interesting there is quite a lot of dramatism and hyperbole in the way he makes them. What is more interesting than the book is perhaps the reception it received. Topping the best-selling lists in Israel when it was first published in Hebrew, it has won prizes in its French translation and it has brought itself a considerable reaction in the English translation. Many academics have questioned the author's credentials to write such a book (a history professor but not of Jewish history) and bloggers have been fiercely divided (the book is either essential reading or the work of a Stalinist anti-semite.
Sand's purpose seems to be twofold, to dispel the idea that Judaism is something more than a religion and to undermine the idea of their divine right to the land of Israel. His sights are firmly set on the Zionism and the right wing politicians of modern Israel. It feels as if he sets up a belief system that perhaps few genuinely follow and creates targets for himself that are easy to knock down. I was uneasy about carrying this book with me daily and the reaction of some being to call Sand an anti-semite make me think I do have reason to have felt that way. I feel that Sand's intentions have been honourable but his execution perhaps flawed. Interesting nonetheless.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2009
This book should be read by all Jews but most likely will be given a hostile reception.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2013
This is an exceptionally well written (particularly in the Hebrew original) and bluntly presented exposition. While one may disagree with the political perspective that underlies this compilation, and its more recent companion "The Invention of the Land of Israel", the historical analysis on which it is based is beyond reproach. Incidentally, the correct translation of the respective titles is "When and How was the Jewish People/ Land of Israel Invented" which better reflects the historical perspective of these myths, which is the main focus and interest of these works. The main myth on which the concept of the "Jewish People" is based is, of course the Old Testament. One of the main points that Sand eloquently and systematically demonstrates is that, while being an amazing compilation in its own right, the Old Testament is not a historical document, as some would have us believe. Another myth that Sand attempts to shatter is the direct link of persons currently identifying themselves as belonging to the "Jewish People" to the original inhabitants of the "Land of Israel" (Itself being largely a myth). According to Sand, based on extensive historical analysis, the widespread dispersal of people of the Jewish faith is due not to exile of such people from Judea/ Palestine, an exile for which there is no historical evidence, but to mass conversions to Judaism which took place at certain periods.
Themes of a more political flavour relate to the Zionist national movement's claims for a "Jewish Nation State" in "The Land of Israel", claims which are largely based on the myths of the "Jewish Nation" and its connection to the "Land of Israel". As Sand point out, the whole concept of nationality, as a basis for the so-called "Nation State" is a rather modern one, and one that is often based on myths in an attempt to give these new inventions a historical foundation. In the case of Judaism, there is clearly no basis for such interpretation, not only on historical but on simple logical grounds - one cannot be a Jewish Christian, for instance, or an atheist, for that matter. Clearly Judaism is a religion, first and foremost, which does not exclude some common cultural and historical background for persons identifying themselves as belonging to the "Jewish People". Whether such justification is at all needed, especially in view of the Holocaust and persecution of Jews, not just as a religion but as a presumed ethnic group, is a matter for debate.