Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pondering Anti-Semitism Part I: Etymology

This will (hopefully) be a series of short notes on this subject, which is more or less along the lines of the Protestant Dispensationalists.  This is a distinct view from the Eastern Orthodox, Romanist, and European state churches and is one of a few areas where I deviate from classical orthodoxy, although this is certainly not a central doctrine to classical orthodoxy.  Some of this is a reflection on a modern Russian Orthodox article, which was brought to my attention by Max.

The phenomenon of persecution of Jews is one that I want to get to, although admittedly I have very few original sources to go on, which really is crucial in properly understanding the subject.  Perhaps some will turn up along the way.

Etymology of Anti-Semitism:

Although the phenomenon of Anti-Semitism can be quite distinct from the origin or the word, the choice and origin of the word often gives some additional insights or nuances to the discussion.

We must begin with the root word "Semite".  This goes back to a Biblical origin with the names o the sons of Noah.  Shem (שם) is the father of those who settled in the middle east.  Shem gave birth to Eber (עבר), which I understand is the origin of the word, Hebrew (עברית).  Although perhaps technically a term referring to a people group and race, we primarily use Semitic to refer to a common set of languages that have similar patterns.  This includes Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Babylonian, Akkadian and Ugaritic, and Amharic.  It does not include Persian, Hittite or Egyptian.

What has always been puzzling to me is why the term "Anti-Semitism" was chosen in the first place, since this clearly refers to a group that is both broader and perhaps distinct from those who have been the target of the attacks.  Checking Dr. Wiki, it seems that the first usage of the term Anti-Semitism was by a German Jewish Scholar, Moritz Steinschneider, in response to a French Scholar, Ernest Renan.  Both seem to be experts on Middle Eastern languages.  A follow up on this topic would be to read what both of these men had written.

The wiki article asserts that Renan was a proponent of the idea of Aryan superiority, which leaves me wondering if this notion is of French origin!  He also asserted that the European Jews were of Turkish descent, which would leave them as neither Aryan nor Semitic.  Reading between the lines, Renan was an atheist, and engaged in the sort of intellectual malpractice regarding the Bible that atheists are famous for.  At the same time, he had not fully distanced himself from the church, like most of the other modernists both in Europe and America.

I should stop here and give some sort of a wrap-up.  It is clear that the modern term Anti-Semitic is a reaction to atheist views of racial evolution that were prevalent in the 19th century.  The irony here being that even if I accept atheist notions of the independent evolution of different races, the concept of Semitic as applied to European Jews is deserving of an F.

Personally, I should prefer the term anti-Jewish to anti-Semitic, as this is much more accurate.  Anti-Zionist might be an alternate, to refer to those who are opposed to the Jewish state, but aren't necessarily anti-Jewish, like the orthodox Jews.  And so here is a list of the eras to which this category belongs:

Classical Era:  This would range from Antiochus IV to the Bar Kokhba revolt and would be characterized as a conflict between Judaism and Pagan rulers.  As the Pagan rulers always had a tight merging of religion and state, a religion that was distinct from the state and would not submit to the state was hopelessly conflicting.

Intermediate Era:  This is the various anti-Jewish events in the Christian world.

Modern Era:  There are two distinct types of anti-Jewish in the modern era with entirely different motives.  The first is the modernist Christian / atheist view which is hostile to Jews and/or Israel for reasons that are unfathomable to me.  Perhaps the visible claim that God exists and would work through a people group is sufficient to outrage them.  The second is the Mohammedan view, which is likewise hostile, but this relates to the tenets of their religion, especially that of Jihad, and the fact that it is mandatory for clerics to stir up jihad fervor in this religion, while it is always "safe" to direct this fervor at the Jews and/or Israel.

As a Christian, it is the era when the Christian religion was dominant and Jews were treated badly that deserves some exploration.  I don't think I will quite get there in this series, but at least I should start working in that direction and perhaps find out where the sources are for this.

Postscript:  Having written this, I checked my 1910 Encyclopedia Brittanica and found that they had a lengthy article on this topic which is certainly valuable since it predates most of the modern political correctness and revisionism.

1 comment:

Max Coutinho said...

Hi Looney,

First, congratulations for a magnificent piece. I am looking forward to the sequels.
Second, good point: perhaps the French started the "superior Aryan race" nonsense; as much as my leftist Jewish brothers have started so many other nonsensical concepts (e.g. apartheid in Israel notion and the European Jews have no right to claim Israel as its historical homeland).

"The irony here being that even if I accept atheist notions of the independent evolution of different races, the concept of Semitic as applied to European Jews is deserving of an F."

That's right.

Again, my Jewish brothers taught the Jew-haters how to camouflage their hatred: some fringes of the orthodox Jewry (who believe that Zionism is an insult since the Mashiach hasn't come yet; but I'd ask them: what if Zionism is part of the plan that opens way for the Coming of the Mashiach?) came up with this term "Anti-Zionism" that is being used by those who want to say "Anti-Jew". As for the term anti-Semitic, I understand that it was born from the German word "Judenhass" in the 19th century (as you stated) but again it gave the Jew-haters arguments that they're not anti-Semitic because they love Arabs (who are Semitic as well)...so perhaps, anti-Jew/anti-Zionism is more appropriate for the present times.

You are quite right about Islam's Jew-hatred. I have no comments to make on Christian Jew-hatred as in my opinion those who claim to be Christian and hate the Jews are not Christian (insisting on calling themselves so is antithetical).

Loved this piece. Next!

Happy New Year, my friend.