Joseph Halévy, Racial Scholarship and the “Sumerian Problem”

in Philological Encounters
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This article deals with the different racial approaches that influenced the academic debate known as “The Sumerian problem”. The so-called “problem” under discussion was the racial affiliation of the inventors of the first writing system, the cuneiform script. The notion of ‘race’, which tied religion, language and culture into one essence, played a key role here. Some scholars were eager to prove the “non-Semitic character” of such a major invention. Others were convinced that only “Semites” inhabited ancient Babylonia and thus were the only possible inventors of writing. The focus of this paper is Joseph Halévy, who was the determined leader of the “anti-Sumerist” camp. This article will show that Halévy shared many essentialist views with his anti-Semitic protagonists. He did this by applying a ‘pro-Semitic’ approach to the ‘Sumerian-problem’.

Joseph Halévy, Racial Scholarship and the “Sumerian Problem”

in Philological Encounters

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References

AbrahamiPhillipe LyonBrigitteMichelCécile “Un système d’idéogrammes: ‘Sumérien ou rien?’” Hisoires de dćhiffrements 2009 Paris Édition Errance 111 128

BaumgartenJean “Jules Oppert et la naissance de l’assyriologie” Histoire Épistémologie Langage 2001 23 2 77 99

BenesTuska In Babel’s Shadow: Language Philology and Nation in Nineteenth-Century Germany 2008 Detroit Wayne State University Press

BernalMartin Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization 1987 New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press

ByrnesRobert Francis Antisemitism in Modern France Volume I: The prologue to the Dreyfus Affair 1950 New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press

CarenaOmar History of the Near Eastern Historiography and its Problems: 1852-1985 Part One: 1852-1945 1989 Kavelaer Butzon u. Bercker

CathcartKevin J. “The Earliest Contributions to the Decipherment of Sumerian and Akkadian” Cuneiform Digital Library Journal 2011 1 1 12 http://www.cdli.ucla.edu/pubs/cdlj/2011/cdlj2011_001.html.

CooperJerrold S. “Posing the Sumerian Question: Race and Scholarship in the Early History of Assyriology” Aula Orientalis 1991 9 47 66

HalévyJoseph “Observations Critiques sur les Prétendus Touraniens de la Babylonie” Journal Asiatique 1874 June 7 3 461 536

HalévyJoseph La prétendue langue d’Accad: est-elle touranienne? 1875 Paris Ernest Leroux

HalévyJoseph La nouvelle évolution de l’Accadisme 1876 Paris Ernest Leroux

HalévyJoseph Documents Religieux de l’Assyrie et de la Babylonie 1882 Paris Maisonneuve

HalévyJoseph Précis d’allographie Assyro-Babylonienne 1912 Paris Ernest Leroux

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LehmannReinhard G. Friedrich Delitzsch und der Babel-Bibel-Streit 1994 Freiburg (Schweitz) Universitäts Verlag Freiburg Schweitz

LenormantFrançois Études accadiennes 1873 Paris Maisonneuve

LenormantFrançois La langue primitive de la Chaldée et les idiomes touraniens: étude de philologie et d’histoire suivie d’un glossaire accadien 1875 Paris Maisonneuve

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MarasalErika “The beginnings of Sumerology (i): From Early Sketches to a First Complete Grammar” Aula Orientalis 2014 32 2 283 297

MosseGeorge L. Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism 1985 Madison University of Wisconsin Press

OlenderMaurice Les langues du Paradis: Aryens et Sémites un couple providentiel 1989 Paris Le Seuil

OppertJules “Sumérien ou rien?” Journal Asiatique 1875 May-June 8 1 442 500

PoliakovLéon Le mythe aryen: essai sur les sources du racisme et des nationalismes 1971 Paris Calmann Lévy

PolotskyHans Jakob “Halevy Joseph” Encyclopedia Judaica 1971 Vol. 7 Jerusalem Keter 1185 1186

RenanErnest De la part des peuples sémitiques dans l’histoire de la civilisation 1862 Paris Michel Lévy, frères

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ShavitYaacovEranMordechai The Hebrew Bible Reborn: From Holy Scripture to the Book of Books; A History of Biblical Culture and the Battles over the Bible in Modern Judaism 2007 Berlin, New-York Walter De Gruyter

הרמתי שלמה. שלושה שקדמו לבן-יהודה. ירושלים: יד יצחק בן-צבי תשל"ח.

נתן וסרמן "מדוע לא נסע טין-טין לבבל? אשורולוגיה פוליטיקה ותרבות במאה ה-19 ובמהלך המאה ה-20." קשת החדשה 13 (סתיו תשס"ו): 149-163.

יאיר עדיאל "עיצוב זכרו של יוסף הלוי." פעמים 100 (תשס"ד): 73-89.

סטיבן קפלן "יוסף הלוי- מסע בחבש לגילוי הפלשים- הקדמה והערות." "פעמים 58 .(תשנ"ד): 5-66

3

Edward SaidOrientalism (New-York: Pantheon Books1978) 42.

5

Maurice OlenderLes langues du Paradis: Aryens et Sémites un couple providentiel (Paris: Le Seuil1989) 14.

6

Ibid.20-23. See also a more recent account of the role of these scholars in the construction of a racial world history on the basis of language by Tuska Benes In Babel’s Shadow: Language Philology and Nation in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Detroit: Wayne State University Press 2008) especially 207-250.

9

See for example: Micheal RoafCultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East (Oxford: Andromeda1990) 152-153.

18

Edward Hincks“On the Khorsabad Inscriptions”Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 22 (1850): 5765.

22

Abrahami“Sumérien ou rien”113.

23

François LenormantÉtudes Accadiennes (Paris: Maisonneuve1873). For a recent history of the study of the Sumerian language see Erika Marasal “The beginnings of Sumerology (i) From Early Sketches to a First Complete Grammar” Aula Orientalis 32/2: 283-297. See pp. 285-89 on the role of Lenormant and Oppert in this enterprise. See p. 289 and 291 for the mention of Halévy’s thesis.

29

Joseph Halévy“Observations Critiques sur les Prétendus Touraniens de la Babylonie”Journal Asiatique 7:3 (June 1874): 461-536.

30

Ibid.534.

31

Ibid.535.

34

Joseph HalévyLa prétendue langue d’Accad: est-elle touranienne? (Paris: Ernest Leroux1875).

35

Ibid.13.

37

Ibid.31.

38

Ibid.31.

42

Eberhard SchraderHöllenfahrt der Istar: Ein altbabylonisches Epos (Giessen: J. Rickersche Buchhandlung1874) 58.

43

Ibid.58-59. See also his paraphrase of this idea almost in the same words in his answer to Halévy: Eberhard Schrader “Ist das Akkadische der Keilschriften eine Sprache oder eine Schrift?” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 29 (1875): 50.

46

Joseph HalévyLa nouvelle évolution de l’Accadisme (Paris: Ernest Leroux1875).

47

Ibid.3.

50

Joseph HalévyPrécis2.

58

George L. MosseToward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press1985) 52 ff.

59

Léon PoliakovLe mythe aryen: essai sur les sources du racisme et des nationalismes (Paris: Calmann Lévy1971) 266.

60

Ibid.264.

63

ByrnesAntisemitism48-49 191.

67

OlenderLes langues du Paradis79-80.

68

Ernest RenanDe la part des peuples sémitiques dans l’histoire de la civilisation (Paris: Michel Lévy, frères1862).

70

RenanDe la part des peuples sémitiques10-12.

71

Ibid.14-16.

74

Joseph HalévyLa nouvelle évolution de l’Accadisme (Paris: Ernest Leroux1876): 4.

77

Ibid.11-13. This argument appears to be Halévy’s way of affirming the rabbinic literary topos of the patriarch Abraham coming from a polytheistic background and only then adopting monotheism. To cite only the most famous example for this topos found in the Haggadah and read by Jews at least once a year in Passover eve: מִתְּחִלָּה עוֹבְדֵי עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה הָיוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְעַכְשָׁיו קֵרְבָנוּ הַמָּקוֹם לַעֲבֹדָתוֹ. “In the beginning our fathers served idols; but now the Omnipresent One has brought us close to His service”.

80

See Ibid.10.

82

Cooper“Posing the Sumerian Question”66.

Figures

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    A postcard addressed to Theo Pinches, August 2nd, 1884.

    courtesy of irving l. finkel.

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