"Anti-Judaism should not be understood as some archaic or irrational closet in the vast edifices of Western thought. It was rather one of the basic tools with which that edifice was constructed" from Anti-Judaism The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg
Anti-Judaism The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg is a brilliant, highly learned work that anyone interested In understanding world history, not just Jewish history, should read. I predict it will replace The Origins of Totalitarianism and Anti-Semitism by Hannah Arendt as the most read scholary work in the field.
Of course anti-Judaism became a dominant force in Western culture because of the rise of Christianity as the dominant religion. Nirenberg begins his account of the rise of anti--Judaism further back, to Egypt around 350 BCE with an alternative account of the departure of the Jews from Egypt. He cites a text from the Greek historian Heraclitus which suggests the Egyptian authorities expelled the Jews as a socially undesirable group. He does a very detailed story of the portrayal of Jews and Jewish culture as seen in the Gospels of the New Testament. The commonplace view on the biblical roots of antiSemiticsm arise from the attempt to place the blame for the cruxifiction of Jesus on the Jews.Nirenberg goes deeply into the ways in which Christianity defined itself as a repudiation of Jewish cultural identity. There is very interesting chapter on the Koran. There are very detailed chapters on medieval anti-Jewish texts,including those of Augustine.
One of the most informative s cations of the book was on the role of the rise of the theories of Martin Luther in making anti-Jewish ideology one of the foundations of Western culture. Luther was vehemently anti-Jewish and the spread of Lutheraism in Germania gave Kings backing for extensive special legislations restricting the economic and cultural lives of Jews.i was fascinated by his account of the relationship of Jewish money lenders to the royal authorities throughout Europe. Jews were allowed to loan money at interest, considered a sin. The authorities then would force the Jewish money lenders to sell them the debts at big discounts. Kings considered Jews in their fiefdoms to be their property.
Nirenberg shows us how the historical explanations of blaming the Jews for all the troubles in the world has very ancient roots.
Nirenberg’s thesis is that this idea of Judaism, which bears only a passing resemblance to Judaism as practiced and lived by Jews, has been at the very center of Western civilization since the beginning. From Ptolemaic Egypt to early Christianity, from the Catholic Middle Ages to the Protestant Reformation, from the Enlightenment to fascism, whenever the West has wanted to define everything it is not—when it wants to put a name to its deepest fears and aversions—Judaism has been the name that came most easily to hand. “Anti-Judaism"- from the Tablet's review of the book.
Nirenberg intentionally does not use the commonplace expression "AntiSemiticsm".
I was very pleased when in the closing chapters of the book Nirenberg referred to the work of Edward Said and Eric Aurerbach. He also rebukes the central themes of Arendt who placed part of the blame for Anti-Semticism on her theory that Eastern European and Russian Jews choose to keep themselves culturally separated from Christians.
Nirenberg's closing thesis is that Anti-Judaism has been used for two thousand years as an intellectual and historical,framework in which people could explain both what they are not and find a source for the evils of the world that exculpates themselves. We learn from his book that any such overarching theory is really the result of a shallowly based understanding of history, a search for an easy theory to explain everything.
David Nirenberg -University of Chicago Department of History
Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Social Thought, Medieval History, Fundamentals, Middle East Studies, and the College; Member of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge; Dean of the Social Sciences Division,
PhD 1992 Princeton University
I give my highest endorsement to Anti-Judaism The Western Tradition. It is aserious academic work which general history readers will find it fascinating. There is much more in this book than I have mentioned. For example I learned how even Nazi Ideology used as foundation for their warped the understanding by their alleged scholars of ancient Egyptian texts as a justification for their hatred of Jews.