Thursday, October 11, 2007

PIETER VAN DER HORST is interviewed about the origins of anti-Semitism by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Excerpts:
"As far as we know Alexandria in Egypt was the birthplace of anti-Semitism's ideology. There also the first pogrom in history-as we now would call it-took place. In Asia Minor, which is now Turkey, there also were large Jewish communities from the fourth or third century BCE onward. One finds there no endemic hatred of the Jews as in Alexandria.

"The initial indication of a negative attitude toward Jews is found at the beginning of the third century BCE in the writings of an Egyptian priest called Manetho. This Greek-speaking Egyptian devotes a large section of his main work, which deals with the history of Egypt, to the Exodus of the Israelites."

Prof. Pieter van der Horst studied classical philology and literature. In 1978 he received his PhD in theology from Utrecht University. After his studies he taught there, among other things as professor of Jewish studies. Van der Horst is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Parallels with Today

"The fact that the Jews are monotheistic is no longer a real issue these days. Contemporary anti-Semitism by and large comes from Christians and Muslims, who consider themselves monotheists. The Jew-hatred these days stems from different sources than in antiquity.

"There is, however, another parallel with antiquity. The otherness of the Jews played a large role in their image among Greek and Roman circles. That also is the case in our own times. Anti-Semites perceive the Jews as being different, and this leads them to see them as dangerous. This imagined danger leads to hatred of the Jews.

"One horrifying aspect of the history of Jew-hatred, namely, the twenty-three centuries of anti-Semitism that we know of, is the tenacity of so many motifs such as that Jews are dangerous and enemies of humankind. These ideas are and always have been demonstrably false. They are, however, much alive up to the present day. It is apparently impossible to break through these perceptions.

"The image of the Jew as an enemy is grotesque and easily exposed as pure nonsense. Still these images are kept alive among many millions of people all over the world. That this is possible is one of the most frightening aspects of the history of Jew-hatred."