Sand traces how Zionist ideology drove the project of Jewish nationalism by turning Judaism “into something hermetic, like the German Volk …” (255). He argues that history and biology were enlisted “to bind together the frangible secular Jewish identity.” Together, these engendered an “ethnonationalist historiography” which was typified by the mid-19th century German Jewish historian Heinricht Graetz and his friend Moses Hess, who “needed a good deal of racial theory to dream up the Jewish people” (256).
According to Sand, the destruction by the Romans of the Second Temple in 70 AD left the indigenous Jewish population of Judea and Samaria in place. “[T]he Romans never deported entire peoples. It did not pay to uproot the people of the land, the cultivators of produce, the taxpayers” (130). Furthermore, at that time there were already Jewish communities numbering up to four million persons in Persia, Egypt, Asia Minor and elsewhere (145). Palestine’s status as the unique “ancestral homeland” of the Jews collapses together with the myth of David and Solomon’s imposing kingdom.
Against the ethno-biological concept of a Jewish people — a “race” — whose linear descendants returned from exile to (re)found today’s Israel, Sand posits a religious community proliferating throughout and beyond the Mediterranean region by means of proselytism and conversion. He offers a detailed rebuttal of the conventional wisdom whereby “Judaism was never a proselytizing religion,” a view disseminated by historian Martin Goodman and others (150, note 42).
Most importantly, he concentrates attention on Khazaria, that “Strange Empire” that flourished in the Caspian region between the seventh and tenth centuries AD. By the eighth century the Khazars had adopted Hebrew as their sacred and written tongue, and “[a]t some stage between the mid-eighth and mid-ninth centuries, the[y] … adopted Jewish monotheism” (221). Sand speculates that this conversion was calculated to save them from absorption into either the Roman or the Islamic empires. The Khazars, he contends, engendered those Askhenazi Jews of central and eastern Europe who would later invent the myths of Zionism to justify their colonization of Palestine, a land to which they had no “ethnic” connection and where they remain the dominant elite. [continued…]