The Origins of Anti-Semitism?

November 24, 2016 22:56

Many words have been written about the roots of anti-semitism. Some authors have even delved into and examined pre-Christian anti-semitism. Instances of Roman and even Greek anti-semitic writings have been cited.

No-one, though has ventured into the dim, distant past, into the pre-Patriarchal era, to try and explain what it was about Abraham’s background that led to the growth of what is now known as anti-semitism – to the very beginning, that is.

It is generally agreed that there is quite a disarming similarity between the term “Habiru” (or “‘Apiru” of the Egyptian sources) and the word “Hebrew”. It is also striking that both the Habiru and the early Hebrews led a similar lifestyle.

The Habiru, it is now commonly accepted, were of both semitic and non-semitic origin and were a class rather than a race or an ethnic “entity”.

The connection between them and the Hebrews, though, is not definitive.

If, however, Abraham’s family roots are to be traced to the Habiru then we have our explanation of the beginnings of what is now called anti-semitism.

The Habiru, the fundamental meaning of which seems to be “wanderers” were universally despised at the end of the third millenium BC and there are many quotations in which they are described in pejorative terms.

They were despised because they were thought of as lawless highwaymen who had no respect for the property of others.

Even if Abraham’s family roots are not to be traced to the Habiru, there is still evidence, asserted by noted specialists in this era, that Abraham and his kinfolk were not well-received by the inhabitants of Canaan when he, Sarai his wife, Lot his nephew and “all the other souls that had gathered round them,” sojourned from Haran to Canaan.

Abraham and the people gathered around him were, after all semi-nomads, who, once they had entered Canaan, encountered a sedentary local population. The bulk of these inhabitants, though belonging to the same “family” as the Hebrews, were yet different racially and in their cultural traditions. And so, to a clash of economic interests, where the semi-nomad was competing for fodder, water and other resources, was added the clash of racial and cultural differences.

No wonder, then, that the Biblical tradition has the patriarchs wander over the hills of central Palestine and the dry lands of the south, where there was still plenty of room for them.

Abraham’s father, Terah, had himself wandered from Ur to Haran. Had he, also, experienced ill will as a semi-nomad?

Did Abraham’s father’s experience of a lawless, semi-nomadic lifestyle, of being rejected wherever he went – did this experience make Abraham susceptible to the revelation by God whilst he was still at Haran?

It was here, after all, that God promised Abraham a settled stability and righteous way of life that Abraham may have hankered after.

The experience of being repulsed by the local population in Haran could possibly have been magnified by Abraham’s experiences in Canaan.

Was the trumpeting of the one, ethical God of Abraham an attempt to change the negative image of the Hebrews – an image held by the settled inhabitants of Canaan and later on by the Egyptians? Was it an attempt to cut away from their Habiru or semi-nomadic past?

The concept of the one, ethical God was, of course, to become the downfall of the Jews to an unprecedented extent in the Holocaust of the 20th century.

The clash between the Christian and Jewish theologies meant that the Jews’ redemptive concept of a single, indivisible God, would be rejected by the Christians. With their concept, the Jews themselves were to be rejected.

Yet, underneath this new layer of anti-semitism, it is contended, there was already a layer of anti-semitism dating back to the pre-patriarchal age which had much to do with subsequent layers and which has, to this day, not been removed.

November 24, 2016 22:56

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