Not Jewish but Zionist? Or, when is anti-Zionism, Zionism?

The following is a particularly interesting case of seemingly contradictory ideologies at work (thanks to Robert Myles who gives more details).

Bruce Malina argues that we should drop popular concepts such as ‘Jewishness’ in the study of the New Testament for the following reasons:

The facts that Christendom arose in the fourth century with Constantine and that Jewishness emerged with the Talmud in the fifth century indicate that there were no Jews or Christians in the New Testament period. Meanings come from social systems, and social systems that articulate Christianity and Jewishness recognizable today emerged first in the fourth and fifth centuries. Thus, there were no Christians or Jews in the New Testament period in any sense that might be known from modern experience. Jesus was not what we today would call a Jew and neither was Paul, since there were no Jews in any modern, recognizable sense in the first century. (Bruce Malina, ‘Social Scientific Approaches and the Gospel of Matthew’, in M.A. Powell (ed.), Methods for Matthew [2009], p. 172)

Instead, the following is suggested, including a curious lumping of all Israelis (which might lead to questions about [for instance] Arab Israelis or Israelis of North African background):

Thus, we may access some of the social systems of biblical peoples through comparative analysis of villagers in Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, and Egypt (but not Israelis, since Israelis are a non-Semitic, central European people of Turkic origin). (Bruce Malina, ‘Social Scientific Approaches and the Gospel of Matthew’, in M.A. Powell (ed.), Methods for Matthew [2009], p. 158)

Some of these points about Jews, Jewishness and Israelis may be startling to some readers.

Instead, a key alternative identity marker suggested concerns what might be described in this context as ‘The Land of Israel’ and sounds…Zionist:

Rather, Judean meant a person belonging to a group called Judeans, situated geographically and forming a territory taking its name from its inhabitants, Judea. Judea is precisely a group of people, Judeans, organically related to and rooted in a place, with its distinctive environs, air, and water. Judean thus designates a person from one segment of a larger related group, Israel (John 1:47, 49), who comes from the place after which the segment is named, Judea (Ioudaia). The correlatives of Judean in John are ‘Galilean’ and ‘Perean,’ and together they make up Israel. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John [1998], p. 44)

So, Jewishness goes, Israelis and Israel go. They are then replaced with ‘a group of people, Judeans, organically related to and rooted in a place, with its distinctive environs, air, and water. Judean thus designates a person from one segment of a larger related group, Israel’

Advertisements

5 responses to “Not Jewish but Zionist? Or, when is anti-Zionism, Zionism?

  1. Not sure…

    For one thing, Malina says that Israel is made up of Judeans, Galileans and Pereans, so Israel doesn’t exactly ‘go’ for him.

    His comment about Israelis not being Semitic is strange and problematic, not least because the modern state is clearly inhabited by a diverse group of people, around of fifth of whom are Arab. But…

    …While his idea that we can access some of the social systems of biblical peoples through analysing contemporary villages in ‘the Mediterranean’ may sound a bit Orientalist, it is definitely a view shared by some Palestinian Christians, although I can’t say anything about any of the other groups he mentions…

    …And although his statement about ‘Israelis’ is bizarre, it is not unreasonable to suggest that we would be better off looking at indigenous peasant cultures in the so-called ‘Middle East’ than we would be looking at ‘mainstream’ western-Israeli culture for insights about ancient social systems (which I *imagine* is what he means). Whether he is right or wrong about this, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be that contentious a statement if he said, for example, ‘Italian peasant societies tell us more about the New Testament world than suburban Sheffield’. But true, Israelis do ‘go’ for Malina, in as much as he thinks they tell us less about the ancient world than village-based societies.

    What *exactly* sounds Zionist about what he is saying? To be honest, I can’t quite make it out… And to whom does it matter to if he just ‘sounds’ vaguely Zionist, when in reality he is anti-Zionist?

    • Ok, let’s see:

      1. “For one thing, Malina says that Israel is made up of Judeans, Galileans and Pereans, so Israel doesn’t exactly ‘go’ for him.”
      Collectively they make up Israel (for Malina). The land of Israel, that is.

      2.”…While his idea that we can access some of the social systems of biblical peoples through analysing contemporary villages in ‘the Mediterranean’ may sound a bit Orientalist, it is definitely a view shared by some Palestinian Christians”

      Indeed but it doesn’t stop it being Orientalism. The Clash of Civilisations rhetoric can be found among Arabs too but it doesn’t stop it being a product of contemporary Orientalist discourse.

      3. “it is not unreasonable to suggest that we would be better off looking at indigenous peasant cultures in the so-called ‘Middle East’ than we would be looking at ‘mainstream’ western-Israeli culture for insights about ancient social systems (which I *imagine* is what he means).”
      Indeed, but with a qualification. As Robert Myles has also shown, there is a clear emphasis on what Malina wants us to think about Jews and Judaism.

      4. “What *exactly* sounds Zionist about what he is saying? To be honest, I can’t quite make it out…”
      What about this language about roots: “Judea is precisely a group of people, Judeans, organically related to and rooted in a place, with its distinctive environs, air, and water. Judean thus designates a person from one segment of a larger related group, Israel”

      5. “And to whom does it matter to if he just ‘sounds’ vaguely Zionist, when in reality he is anti-Zionist?”
      No one (well, hardly anyone) will take seriously Malina’s remarks on the origins of Judaism for (hopefully) obvious reasons. Where he has been most influential, very influential in fact, is on the term ‘Israel’ as an identity marker. It shows the classic argument that ideology can distort personal politics whether interpreters know it or not (in this case not).

    • Folks this Samaritan-Jewish Commentary on John’s Gospel may give interesting perspectives on anti-Judaism in the crucial time of the birth of Christianity. Let me know what you think http://jewishstudies.eteacherbiblical.com/

  2. Pingback: On the ‘personal political’ views of Bruce Malina | Auckland Theology, Biblical Studies, et al

  3. Pingback: On Malina’s ‘personal political’ views | Auckland Theology, Biblical Studies, et al

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s