Monday, 14 December 2009

Bah, Humbug

...used to be the preserve of the Christian-leaning world - you know, the miserable old geezer who pisses over everyone's parade each year by pointing out that Jesus was probably born in October, or that the incongruities in the accounts in the four Gospels makes it at least likely that they were narrated, long after the fact, on the 1st Century equivalent of Facebook. Assuming that there was a Jesus, of course...

Anyway, I'd always kind of assumed, in a not-terribly-interested way, that Jewish history was kinda immune from this sort of scandalous ex post facto re-interpretation: I mean, you guys can trace your direct lineage back several millennia, no?

Apparently not. This year, the designated Scrooge who ruined Channukah is NYT columnist David Brooks, whom in typically dry and reasoned manner chucks all sorts of things at the nice and cuddly Channukah story of resistance and oil lasting 8 days and Nes Gadol and stuff like that. The link to the article is here (and for once, I recommend taking the time to read through the talkbacks; some of them are, unintentionally, hilarious), but here's a sample of Mr Brooks humbuggery (I get the feeling that I made this word up, but it's late and I'm too tired to look for a dictionary)

The Maccabees are best understood as moderate fanatics. They were not in total revolt against Greek culture. They used Greek constitutional language to explain themselves. They created a festival to commemorate their triumph (which is part of Greek, not Jewish, culture). Before long, they were electing their priests.

On the other hand, they were fighting heroically for their traditions and the survival of their faith. If they found uncircumcised Jews, they performed forced circumcisions. They had no interest in religious liberty within the Jewish community...


I could be mean and point out some pretty obvious parallels with the situation today, but I won't. Not in keeping with the spirit of the season and all that...

Whilst on the topic of 'false' myths, I've just started reading Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People. To be honest, I didn't expect very much - I assumed that it would be either a book with a few kernels of interesting fact buried under a landside of academic drivel

(academics, as a general rule, can't write for shit: this, more than anything else, explains the enduring popularity of Malcolm Gladwell. But, as ever, I digress...

- but, so far (p40-ish) it has proven refreshingly readable. Dunno if his conclusions - which caused a bit of a stink here, when the book was published in Hebrew a year and a half ago - will stand up to scrutiny; I remember that one of the criticisms levelled against him was that he was a common-or-garden-variety political historian, and thus had no business loitering in the sacred halls of classical Jewish History. Still, a well written book means that at the very least I'll follow it through to the end, rather than chucking it aside in exasperation before I've cracked the spine properly. I'll try and remember to keep you, dear reader, posted in due course.


And now, back to my mission to taste every variety of Doughnut commercially available in Eretz Israel before the 8th Candle is lit. Reader, I may be gone some time...



4 comments:

Adam E. said...

Don't forget to try the vodka flavoured one from "English cake". I haven't read that book, but I've skimmed through it on one occasion, and it really is barking up the wrong tree. Jewishness is one the most complex things out there, and the author is not the first one to get it totally wrong.

Goy said...

Vodka flavoured? And why didn't anyone tell me about this before now? (Running to the door, pulling on my coat...)

Anonymous said...

i love this blog very much, and you can talk to me about things like that from time to time. But when you write about academics you have to remember you go to sleep with one at night, so choose your words carefully :)

Goy said...

Anonymous: For the record, I should make it absolutely clear that the academic I go to bed with every night can write extremely well. Loose wording on part, I should make clear :-)