Controversy, what controversy?

4 Nov

I became very annoyed when, about six months ago the BBC pulled a documentary with less than half an hour’s notice. This was about the Jewish diaspora, and to what extent the story told is myth rather than reality. The programme, under the title ‘Searching for Exile: Truth or Myth?’ aired last night was prefaced as a personal view by the film maker, and was followed by a discussion chaired by Ed Stourton that included the film maker, Ilan Ziv, a conservative Jewish rabbi / historian and two academics, one from Jewish and the other early Christian perspectives. In truth the programme was far from being provocative and the debate which followed was polite and in agreement in almost all points. So why should the program have caused so much disquiet earlier, and why was the debate afterwards required? This is because of politics and the way history and archaeology have been used to justify military and political policies. But history is always more complicated and interesting than the stories told in myths.

Here is the link to the Jewish Chronicle preview story about the programme:

As a bit of balance, here is the Palestinian version of the story. Make up your own mind.

The programme was pulled because of pressure from Zionist groups bombarding the BBC with complaints. The Jewish Chronicle story confirms that. Here is the separation between the academic and religious views on one hand and the political system making use of a myth on the other. To protect some myths pressure groups will try to prevent any questions being asked about the truth of the story. This is understandable as part of the justification of returning to a Jewish homeland is that the Jews were ejected. If they were not ejected, then that prop of justification is removed.

There was an exile from Jerusalem, which was of great spiritual significance, but not from the Jewish homelands. The Diaspora had already occurred. There were large Jewish populations in Egypt, Asia Minor, Rome and North Africa. After the defeat of the rebellion many people moved up to Galilee. The towns, such as the site of ancient Sepporis expanded and grew prosperous. If there was an exile, it was within what is the modern state of Israel. It is very possible that the modern Palestinians are descendants of the inhabitants of these towns and villages. The inhabitants of modern Saffuriya, on the site of Sepporis, were forcibly ejected in 1948.

All this is without any reference to the debate about the relationship between the Ashkenasim Jews who make up the majority of the inhabitants of modern Israel and the Khazars. (See Arthur Koestler’s book, The Thirteenth Tribe). The articles about the Khazars on Wikipedia have been mutilated by pressure groups and it is difficult to get good information anywhere on this debate.

When reading history, always ask, ‘What axe does this person have to grind?’

‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. ‘ (From the film, The Man Who shot Liberty Vallance)

History and archaeology are always political. In some areas they cannot be separated from political view points. We must always be free to ask the awkward questions and to challenge received wisdom. If politics tries to use history to justify actions, the interpretation of that history needs to be constantly reviewed.


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