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How nineteenth-century German classicists wrote the Jews out of ancient history

(2019) HISTORY AND THEORY. 58(2). p.210-232
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Abstract
This essay considers why Jewish antiquity largely fell outside the purview of ancient historians in the Germanies for over half a century, between 1820 and 1880, and examines the nature of those portraits that did, in fact, arise. To do so, it interrogates discussions of Jewish antiquity in this half-century against the background of those political and national values that were consolidating across the German states. Ultimately, the article claims that ancient Jewish history did not provide a compelling model for the dominant (Protestant) German scholars of the age, which then prompted the decline of antique Judaism as a field of interest. This investigation into the political and national dimensions of ancient history both supplements previous lines of inquiry and complicates accounts that assign too much explanatory power to a regnant anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism in the period and place. First, the analysis considers why so little attention was granted to Jewish history by ancient historians in the first place, as opposed to its relative prominence before ca. 1820. Second, the essay examines representations of ancient Judaism as fashioned by those historians who did consider the subject in this period. Surveying works composed not only for the upper echelons of scholarship but also for adolescents, women, and the laity, it scrutinizes a series of arguments advanced and assumptions embedded in universal histories, histories of the ancient world, textbooks of history, and histories dedicated to either Greece or Rome. Finally, the article asserts the Jewish past did not conform to the values of cultural ascendancy, political autonomy, national identity, and religious liberty increasingly hallowed across the Germanies of the nineteenth century, on the one hand, and inscribed into the very enterprise of historiography, on the other. The perceived national and political failures of ancient Jews-alongside the ethnic or religious ones discerned by others-thus made antique Judaism an unattractive object of study in this period.
Keywords
ancient Judaism, classics, historiography, nationalism, scholarship, Germany

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Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Kurtz, Paul Michael. “How Nineteenth-Century German Classicists Wrote the Jews out of Ancient History.” HISTORY AND THEORY, vol. 58, no. 2, 2019, pp. 210–32, doi:10.1111/hith.12110.
APA
Kurtz, P. M. (2019). How nineteenth-century German classicists wrote the Jews out of ancient history. HISTORY AND THEORY, 58(2), 210–232. https://doi.org/10.1111/hith.12110
Chicago author-date
Kurtz, Paul Michael. 2019. “How Nineteenth-Century German Classicists Wrote the Jews out of Ancient History.” HISTORY AND THEORY 58 (2): 210–32. https://doi.org/10.1111/hith.12110.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Kurtz, Paul Michael. 2019. “How Nineteenth-Century German Classicists Wrote the Jews out of Ancient History.” HISTORY AND THEORY 58 (2): 210–232. doi:10.1111/hith.12110.
Vancouver
1.
Kurtz PM. How nineteenth-century German classicists wrote the Jews out of ancient history. HISTORY AND THEORY. 2019;58(2):210–32.
IEEE
[1]
P. M. Kurtz, “How nineteenth-century German classicists wrote the Jews out of ancient history,” HISTORY AND THEORY, vol. 58, no. 2, pp. 210–232, 2019.
@article{8611335,
  abstract     = {{This essay considers why Jewish antiquity largely fell outside the purview of ancient historians in the Germanies for over half a century, between 1820 and 1880, and examines the nature of those portraits that did, in fact, arise. To do so, it interrogates discussions of Jewish antiquity in this half-century against the background of those political and national values that were consolidating across the German states. Ultimately, the article claims that ancient Jewish history did not provide a compelling model for the dominant (Protestant) German scholars of the age, which then prompted the decline of antique Judaism as a field of interest. This investigation into the political and national dimensions of ancient history both supplements previous lines of inquiry and complicates accounts that assign too much explanatory power to a regnant anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism in the period and place. First, the analysis considers why so little attention was granted to Jewish history by ancient historians in the first place, as opposed to its relative prominence before ca. 1820. Second, the essay examines representations of ancient Judaism as fashioned by those historians who did consider the subject in this period. Surveying works composed not only for the upper echelons of scholarship but also for adolescents, women, and the laity, it scrutinizes a series of arguments advanced and assumptions embedded in universal histories, histories of the ancient world, textbooks of history, and histories dedicated to either Greece or Rome. Finally, the article asserts the Jewish past did not conform to the values of cultural ascendancy, political autonomy, national identity, and religious liberty increasingly hallowed across the Germanies of the nineteenth century, on the one hand, and inscribed into the very enterprise of historiography, on the other. The perceived national and political failures of ancient Jews-alongside the ethnic or religious ones discerned by others-thus made antique Judaism an unattractive object of study in this period.}},
  author       = {{Kurtz, Paul Michael}},
  issn         = {{0018-2656}},
  journal      = {{HISTORY AND THEORY}},
  keywords     = {{ancient Judaism,classics,historiography,nationalism,scholarship,Germany}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  number       = {{2}},
  pages        = {{210--232}},
  title        = {{How nineteenth-century German classicists wrote the Jews out of ancient history}},
  url          = {{http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/hith.12110}},
  volume       = {{58}},
  year         = {{2019}},
}

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