In Search of the Hebrew People


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As German scholars, poets, and theologians searched for the origins of the ancient Israelites, Ofri Ilany believes they created a model for nationalism that drew legitimacy from the biblical idea of the Chosen People. In this broad exploration of eighteenth-century Hebraism, Ilany tells the story of the surprising role that this model played in discussions of ethnicity, literature, culture, and nationhood among the German-speaking intellectual elite. He reveals the novel portrait they sketched of ancient Israel and how they tried to imitate the Hebrews while forging their own national consciousness. This sophisticated and lucid argument sheds new light on the myths, concepts, and political tools that formed the basis of modern German culture.

1. Troglodytes, Hottentots and Hebrews: The Bible and the Genesis of German Ethnography
2. The Law and the People: Mosaic Law and German Enlightenment
3. The Eighteenth-Century Polemic on the Extermination of the Canaanites
4. "Is Judah Indeed the Teutonic Fatherland?" The Hebrew Model and the Birth of German National Culture
5. "Lovers of Hebrew Poetry": The Battle over the Bible’s Relevance at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century



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Published 01 April 2018
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EAN13 9780253033871
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Editorial Board:
Matthew Handelman,Michigan State University Iris Idelson-Shein,Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main Samuel Spinner,Johns Hopkins University Joshua Teplitsky,Stony Brook University Kerry Wallach,Gettysburg College
Sponsored by the Leo Baeck Institute London
Bible and Nation in the German Enlightenment
OfRî IlàNy
INDîàNà UNîveRsîTy pRess
This dook is a pudlication of
InDiana University Press Office of Scholarly Pudlishing Herman B Wells Lidrary 350 1320 East 10th Street Bloomington, InDiana 47405 USA
First pudlisheD in Hedrew dy the Leo Baeck Institute anD Zalman Shazar © 2014 dy Ofri Ilany. English language rights licenseD from the Hedrew-language pudlisher. English translation © 2018 dy Ishai Mishory All rights reserveD
No part of this dook may de reproDuceD or utilizeD in any form or dy any means, electronic or mechanical, incluDing photocopying anD recorDing, or dy any information storage anD retrieval system, without permission in writing from the pudlisher. The paper useD in this pudlication meets the minimum requirements of the American National StanDarD for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for PrinteD Lidrary Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
ManufactureD in the UniteD States of America
Lidrary of Congress Cataloging-in-Pudlication ata
Names: Ilany, Ofri, author. | Mishory, Ishai, translator. Title: In search of the Hedrew people : Bidle anD nation in the German Enlightenment / Ofri Ilany ; English translation dy Ishai Mishory. Other titles: ?Hipu?s a?har ha-?am ha-?Ivri. English escription: First eDition. | Bloomington, InDiana : InDiana University Press, [2018] | Series: German jewish cultures | IncluDes didliographical references anD inDex. IDentifiers: LCCN 2018000957 (print) | LCCN 2018000289 (edook) | ISBN 9780253033857 (e-dook) | ISBN 9780253033512 (harDdack : alk. paper) Sudjects: LCSH: Bidle. OlD Testament—Criticism, interpretation, etc., Jewish—History —18th century. | Enlightenment—Germany. | Politics in the Bidle. | Jews—History— To 70 A.. | Michaelis, Johann aviD, 1717–1791. | Jewish law—Bidlical teaching. Classification: LCC BS1186 (print) | LCC BS1186 .I5313 2018 (edook) | C 221.60943/09033—Dc23 LC recorD availadle at
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For Iair
Troglodytes, Hottentots, and Hebrews: The Bible and the Sources of German Anthropology
The Law and the People: Mosaic Law and the German Enlightenment
The Eighteenth-Century Polemic on the Extermination of the Canaanites
“Is Judah Indeed the Teutonic Fatherland?” The Hebrew Model and the Birth of German National Culture
“Lovers of Hebrew Poetry”: The Battle over the Bible’s Relevance at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century
Bibliography Index
AS SOMEONE WHO grew up in the State of Israel and experienced firsthand its ideologically laden educational system, I absorbed the imagery of a place where the Bible and its characters have a palpable, at times almost inescapable, presence. In this place, covenants, calamities, and wars recorded thousands of years ago still, sometimes tragically, seem to decide people’s fates. Deeds of the deepest past are reflected in and reverberate through the most contemporary of developments. A chilling example is Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who claimed that the 1948 Arab-Israeli war was the ultimate acting out of the Book of Joshua, providing an ultimate exegesis next to which all other interpretation pales. The Bible-centered ideology marks the boundaries of the Israeli worldview, so that those born and raised there sometimes have to journey as far as the universities of eighteenth-century Germany to understand the way the biblical past appears to their eyes. Being the son of a Bible-loving zoologist, biblical natural history played a formative role in my upbringing: everywhere my father went, he carried a copy of the Hebrew Bible in which he marked verses relating to gazelles, leopards, hyraxes, acacia trees, and the like. I remember him troubled by a mysterious verse in Genesis 36 about a man called Anah: “that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.” As opposed to the English and German translators, who deftly deduced that the original animals mentioned in Hebrew were “mules,” the word for the animal in the Hebrew original, “yemim,” is unclear. So which exactly were the animals Anah had found? My father tried to find them his entire life. Biblical natural history was his way of interpreting hard-to-decipher biblical verses. Only during my university studies did I come to realize that this form of interpretation—wrestling with hard biblical verses by observing the “orient’s” natural and human phenomena—was developed by Protestant, and particularly German Bible scholars of the early modern period. I would like to thank my parents who fostered my curiosity for ancient texts and myths as well as other cultures and forgotten periods. I thank my teacher Shulamit Volkov for supporting me and my work from the beginning, when my thesis was only a sketch. The writing of the dissertation on which this book is based was made possible by an Israeli Council for Higher Education Nathan Rotenstreich Scholarship for PhD Students in the Humanities, which allowed me to devote my time to research. I am also grateful for Lichtenberg-Kolleg, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, for inviting me as a visiting scholar and allowing me to use both its extensive university library and the Michaelis archive. Turning my dissertation into a book was made possible by a Hebrew University Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center Postdoctoral Fellowship, a Minerva Stiftung Postdoctoral Fellowship, and a Ben Gurion University Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters Postdoctoral Fellowship. An earlier version of chapter 3 of this book has been published in theJournal of the History of Ideas, volume 73, 2012, and an earlier version of chapter 4 has been published in Naharaim, volume 8, 2014. Both are reprinted with permission. I am grateful to the staff of the Leo Baeck Institute, who made publication of the Hebrew edition of the book possible and worked on it from beginning to end, as well as the staff of the Zalman Shazar Center, Jerusalem. I thank Haifa University School of History for awarding my dissertation the Gilad Margalit Prize for outstanding doctoral work on European history and the Historical Society of Israel for awarding the Hebrew edition of the book the Bella and Solomon Bartal Am and Olam Prize. I owe my teachers at Tel Aviv University’s history department and other departments, from whom I learned the craft of history writing, a debt of gratitude. Joseph Mali, Billie Melman, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Shmuel Feiner, Jonathan Sheehan, Moshe Sluhovsky, Avi Lifshitz,
Avihu Zakai, Jan Eike Dunkhase, Yehonatan Alsheh, Kathrin Wittler, Yotam Feldman, Yitzhak Laor, Shai Lavi, Avner Ben Amos, Sharon Gordon, Hannan Harif, Dominik Huenniger, Yosefa Raz, and Shai Zamir read parts of the book at different stages and gave me invaluable advice. I thank Markus Witte, who hosted me at Humboldt University Faculty of Theology, as well as Jan Assmann of University of Konstanz and Christoph Bultmann of University of Erfurt, who helped me and gave advice on many ideas. A special thanks goes to Iris Idelson-Shein, coeditor of the German Jewish Cultures series at Indiana University Press, who accompanied the book’s editing and publication from its inception. Thanks to the translator, Ishai Mishory, for his concise and inspiring translation. My gratitude goes also to Avner Greenberg for the language editing. And finally I thank my partner, Iair Or, who dove with me into the world of Michaelisiana.