In this excerpt from an article in The Atlantic Monthly (July 1919), the British Zionist Harry Sacher (1882–1971) explains to an American audience why the issue of a Jewish homeland is such a necessary part of the then-ongoing Paris Peace Talks, at the end of World War I.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
From The Atlantic Monthly, July 1919
Abba Eban (1915–2002) was an Israeli diplomat who served as Minister of Education and Culture (1960–1963), Deputy Prime Minister (1963–1966), and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1966–1974). From 1949 to 1959 he served as the first ambassador to the United Nations for the newly established State of Israel. The speech from which this selection is excerpted provided the Israeli view of the question of the Palestinian refugees.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
Composed in Akkadian and consisting of 480 lines distributed over four tablets, this poem is a protest against one man’s undeserved suffering. The author is tormented but cannot determine the cause, and he feels that the god Marduk is not responding adequately to his lamentation. Because he has always been faithful to his god and assiduous in his worship, the Sufferer begins to speculate that the gods are not concerned with human pain at all. Even more, they may engage in this sort of torment for their own benefit. The figure of the “Righteous Sufferer” is frequently compared to the Biblical figure Job. While this “Babylonian Job” is eventually delivered from his sufferings, perhaps his complaints linger on.
Nels M. Bailkey and Richard Lim, eds., Readings in Ancient History: Thought and Experience from Gilgamesh to St. Augustine, 6th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 2002), 20–22.
A few months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in the spring of 2001, Taliban officials oversaw a series of explosions in the Bamiyan Valley, which deliberately detonated priceless elements of world heritage. Among the victims of this depredation were a set of enormous Buddha statues that had symbolized the unity of peoples in the region across religious lines. The two statues of Buddha (at 35 and 53 meters in height, one was the tallest Buddha in the world until its destruction) were rendered in a blended Hellenistic and South Asian style. Even after the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, little has been done to restore the objects. (Left: an 1880 drawing showing how they originally appeared; right, what remained of the statues after their destruction.)
©SuperStock (drawing); ©Graciela Gonzalez Brigas (landscape)
Composed in Arabic and translated into Persian in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Chachnama details the Arab conquest of the Sind (a province corresponding to northwest India and Pakistan) in the eighth century. The work details the most successful of the many attempts by Muslims to conquer the region, which was led by Muhammad Ibn Qasim, a cousin of the governor of Iraq. In this history of the campaign, Ibn Qasim is both a conquering hero and a defender of Islam, subduing non-Muslims and imposing new religious values in his wake.
The Chachnamah: An Ancient History of Sind, trans. Mirza Kalichbeg Fredunbeg, available online at http://persian.packhum.org/persian/main?url=pf%3Ffile%3D12701030%26ct%3D0.
Samuel Huntington (1927–2008) was an influential political scientist who taught for most of his career at Harvard University. He was the author of numerous books and articles on politics and government, including the Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil–Military Relations (1957) and The Political Order in Changing Societies (1968). The latter provided a critique of modernization theory, which had driven much of U.S. policy in the developing world in the prior decade. In Clash of Civilizations, which appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs, Huntington argues that the main drivers of history in this century will not be political or ideological, as they have been in the past, but civilizational. Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world.
From Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996, pp. 209–18.
Ibn al-Athir was a Muslim scholar whose most important work was al-Kamil fi at-tarikh (“The Complete History”), a history of the world. Born in Jazirat in 1160, he lived most of his life in Mosul but traveled widely in the Muslim lands of southwest Asia, including several trips to Baghdad, and later lived in Aleppo and Damascus. As a young man he spent time with Saladin’s army in Syria as Saladin fought the Crusader states. He died in 1233 in Mosul. Here he tells the story of the origin of the Crusades as he had it and then describes the Frankish conquest of Jerusalem in 1099.
From Francesco Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades. University of California Press (1957): 3–4, 7–9, 10–12. Copyright © 1957 The Regents of the University of California.
Abd al-Hamid al-Ghazali
Originally from Persia (Iran), Abd al-Hamid al- Ghazali (1058-1111 CE) was an educated scholar living and working in Baghdad, the cosmopolitan center of the Muslim world at that time. Midway through his career, however, Ghazali changed course and took up the Sufi mystic path of contemplation and writing. His scholarly background helped him reconcile orthodox Islam with the individualism of Sufism.
Abd al-Hamid al-Ghazali, Confessions (1100), trans. by Claude Field (E. P. Dutton, 1909).
This remarkable account of a merchant’s travels throughout Eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and India resulted from the singular obsession of a monk in retirement. Determined to prove that a proper understanding of earth’s geography would confirm God’s creation—and that the earth was a flat, oblong table surrounded by the ocean—the monk Cosmas reflected back on his extensive voyages, which had probably been undertaken to further a spice-import business. Cosmas commented on the trading practices of the Aksumites and on their wealthy culture, providing one of the few outsider glimpses of Aksum that are now available.
Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christianike Topographia, Book 3, trans. and ed. Christopher Haas, Villanova University; available online: http://www29.homepage.villanova.edu/christopher.haas/cosmas_indicopleustes.htm<
Cyrus the Great
Founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, Cyrus (Kurosh) the Great rose to the throne of a small kingdom in 559 BCE; by the time of his death in 529, he had brought virtually the entire Near East under his control. In 539, he conquered Babylon and drove out Nabonidus, the last of the Neo-Babylonian kings. However, he was hailed as a liberator by the priests of the Babylonian god Marduk, and he issued a remarkable document, guaranteeing freedom of religion to the subjects whom he had added to his empire. The text was publicized in Akkadian, an ancient Mesopotamian language, and it is preserved today on a clay cylinder, today called the Cyrus Cylinder and housed in the British Museum.
Cyrus Cylinder, trans. R. W. Rogers, http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/meso/cyrus.html.
The Byzantine Empire was racked by a series of religious disputes that pulled in emperors as well as priests. One of the most significant of these was an ongoing difference of opinion concerning “graven images” of Jesus and other prominent figures in Christian narratives. Was it proper to create and display images of God, and, if so, should existing “icons” be destroyed in order to protect the faithful? These documents represent the two major perspectives on this debate, between the poles of the “iconodule” (pro-icon) position and the “iconoclastic” (anti-icon) position.
Anthony Bryer and Judith Herrin, eds., Iconoclasm: Papers Given at the Ninth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham, March 1975 (Birmingham, UK: Centre for Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham, 1977), available online at http://www.tulane.edu/~august/H303/readings/Iconoclasm.htm.
The name of the most holy book of Islam, the Qur’an, means “the recital.” It contains, according to Islamic theology, the direct words of God (Allah), as told to his prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Muslims believe that the angel directed Muhammad to “recite” 114 suras, or books, beginning around 610 CE. After Muhammad’s death in 632, an authorized text of these suras was compiled and publicized. The general arrangement of the Qur’an is according to the length of each document. It is important to note, therefore, that the Qur’an does not purport to be a continuous narrative, telling a series of stories, as is typical in other religious texts. This means that individual pronouncements can be taken out of context, and that various portions of the document can be quoted to different effects.
Sahih International translation, available online at http://quran.com/2.
Osama bin Laden
In 1992, al-Qaeda (“the base”) under the leadership of Osama bin Laden (1957–2011) had emerged as a significant terrorist organization operating on an international scale. Bin Laden, the multimillionaire son of a Yemeni-born Saudi Arabian contractor, had fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979–1989). He now turned his attention to the United States (who had covertly funded the “mujahid” Afghan resistance in the interest of its own Cold War ambitions). In bin Laden’s eyes, America was a godless country without moral principles, bent on a Western crusade to destroy Muslim independence. The al-Qaeda campaign of terrorism climaxed on September 11, 2001, but bin Laden had already ordered bombings and terrorist attacks in several parts of the world in the 1990s. This fatwa (an opinion or ruling based on Islamic law) was issued by bin Laden against the “Zionist-Crusader alliance” in 1996.
This hymn to the Egyptian sun god Aten has been attributed to King Akhenaten (“the devoted adherent of Aten”), the Pharaoh formerly known as Amenhotep IV. While Akhenaten’s experiment in monotheism was short-lived, the poem reflects the connections this revolutionary religious thinker attempted to forge between himself and an all-powerful deity. Note that he also solicits the blessings of Aten for himself, as leader of the Egyptian people, and for his wife, the famous Nefertiti.
Translated by J. A. Wilson, as quoted by Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 2, 96–99.
With a change of Ottoman sultans in 1839, the government issued the Rose Garden Edict, the first of three reform edicts which are collectively known as the Tanzimat (reorganizations). With this edict, the government bound itself to basic principles with respect to relations between it and its subjects, and it carefully avoided a definition of the position of religious minorities in the empire. The document also enumerates basic human rights, drawing on ideas from the American and French revolutionary declarations of the eighteenth century. Accordingly, it reflects the adaptability of the Ottoman Empire to Western ideas, at least in the general context of the Tanzimat reforms.
Herbert J. Liebesny, The Law of the Near and Middle East: Readings, Cases, and Materials (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975), 46–49.
Not all the subjects of the Roman Empire were happy with its rule, despite the peace and prosperity of the Pax Romana. The Jews, whose exclusive monotheism prevented them from participating in the cult of Augustus, were uncomfortable subjects of the Roman Empire, though the Romans were in fact fairly tolerant of the Jewish population, recognizing their separate religious tradition and allowing them to practice it. Nonetheless, religious and ethnic tensions fanned the flames of Jewish discontent, and the population broke into open revolt in 70 CE.
Flavius Josephus, The Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whiston. Auburn and Buffalo: John E. Beardsley (1895).
Just before his death in Babylon in June 323 BCE, Alexander the Great was the unrivalled conqueror of an enormous portion of the known world, counting modern Greece, Egypt, the Middle East, Iran, and Afghanistan among his possessions. However, when he died, leaving his kingdom “to the strongest,” conflicts immediately broke out among his Macedonian successors to determine who that strongest man was. A part of the military and political struggle that followed was an attempt to Hellenize, with varying levels of success, the older and more entrenched cultures Alexander had defeated as he raced through Africa and Asia. This process continued for the next three centuries, and, in the mid-second century BCE, one of these successor kings, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, attempted a brutal imposition of Greek cultural values on the Jews in Jerusalem. This effort, and the revolt it triggered, is described in the apocryphal (i.e., not part of the standard canon) Jewish book of 1 Maccabees. Notice that the Hellenistic era did not appear to everyone to have been a fortuitous blending of disparate cultures.
The Apocrypha: Revised Standard Version of the Old Testament (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1957), 190–192.
A fascinating instance of a woman’s empowerment in the Classical World is that of Vibia Perpetua, who was executed for her beliefs in 202 or 203 CE in Carthage in Roman North Africa. Very little is known about Perpetua, except that she was still a catechumen—that is, she had not yet been baptized—at the time of her arrest. Her father, who figures prominently in her diary, was a pagan, but her mother and two brothers were Christians. She was executed along with five others who publicly asserted their Christian faith, despite, or perhaps because of, the assurance of execution. As the diary and accompanying materials make clear, Perpetua was a leader and was looked up to as having special spiritual gifts. The supposed day of her death, March 7, is still celebrated as her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church.
Women’s role in society is a complex issue in Christianity. On the one hand, Eve is blamed for the fall from grace and the expulsion from the Garden into the troubles of this world. On the other hand, Mary was honored by her selection as the woman who would bear the god-child, Jesus, and the sorrows she endured watching her son be tortured and crucified have earned her particular respect and affection among Christians. Given the subordinate role that women have experienced in almost all cultures, Jesus’ special recognition and blessing of the meek in the Sermon on the Mount gave Christianity an additional appeal among women. Yet despite the fact that Christian congregations have often numbered more women than men, most Christian religions have not accorded women equal status. This can be seen very clearly in religion’s policies concerning women clergy. Christianity has historically been dominated by men, who are still the only ones deemed worthy of being priests or preachers in the majority of Christian denominations.
The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, trans. Herbert Musurillo. Oxford University Press (1972): 109, 111, 113, 115, 117, 119.
Halidé Edib Adivar
Halidé Edib Adivar (1884–1964) was a Turkish feminist and writer, best known for novels focusing on the status of Turkish women. Born in Constantinople (Istanbul), she was connected by family to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and educated in a multilingual environment where she learned Arabic, English, and French. One of a new generation of women, her experiences spanned the old world of harems as well as the new world of professional women. Her early career involved writing articles on education for newspapers and work for the ministry of education. Her memoir is not particularly personal, focusing as it largely does on Turkey’s struggle for nationhood, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, and the Nationalist politics of its first “modern” leader, Kemal Ataturk.
From H. Edib, The Memoirs of Halidé Edib. London: John Murray, 1926, pp. 11–4, 85–8, 142–8. Halidé Edib, The Turkish Ordeal: Further Memoirs. London: John Murray, 1928, pp. 25–34 (excerpts).
Usama Ibn Mundiqh
A scholar, a gentleman, and a warrior, Usama (1095–1187) had ample opportunity to meet Crusader forces in person on the battlefield and in civilian life. After a distinguished military career, he became a consultant and advisor to Saladin in 1174, and he oversaw the surrender of Beirut, as its governor, to Crusader forces. Basking in Saladin’s favor, Usama became the center of attention in Damascus. He began a memoir describing the various peoples whom he had encountered during his long and adventurous life. His observations are often humorous, sometimes baffling, but always imbued with curiosity about people whose customs are strange—and intriguing.
An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usāmah ibn-Munqidh, trans. Philip K. Hitti (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), 160–161, 162–163, and 164–165.