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Author: Maurice Olender

The antique Christian “appropriation” of Hebrew by the Early Church Fathers was succeeded historically by a kind of scholarly appropriation that resulted in the emergence of a “ready-made India” founded on a new discourse about Sanskrit. In a world governed by romanticist visions undergirded with colonial aspirations, in a historical period between a Christianity weakened by Enlightenment philosophers and the advancement of scientistic secularism, certain scholarly fables about a primordial India came to resemble the fables about Hebrew. In this race toward the discovery of human origins, the new “Aryan Bible” required a new language of paradise: Sanskrit. Can one then say that India was appropriated within a scholarly environment that was being pulled between Christianity, secularism and scientism? Since our investigations have allowed us to demonstrate that this hypothesis is plausible, it is necessary to test this hypothesis through the clarification of the historical contexts, intellectual dynamics, and theological and political fields of action in which myth and reason mutually reinforce one another. While underlining the political stakes of the comparative method of anthropology, this article also recalls that not so long ago, knowledge of ancient and modern humanities often bore the mark of racial sciences that influenced all university disciplines from the early 19th century to the late 1940s.

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In: Philological Encounters
Author: Netanel Anor

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’.

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In: Philological Encounters

One of the claims that was voiced in the debate over Edward Said’s book Orientalism was that the author ignored German Orientalist research. This essay does not discuss this claim itself, but rather uses this debate as a starting point for investigating different aspects of Israeli consciousness. Indeed, German Orientalism was not directly connected to colonialist activity, but it encompassed the discourse regarding the relation between Germany and Judaism and “the Jewish Question.” The question was whether Jews were Oriental and therefore foreign to European culture, or rather a religious group that could be integrated into that culture. The modern national definition of the Jewish collective was based on adopting this worldview and on accepting the Orientalist paradigm. The tendency was to define the Jews as a European nation, emphasizing the difference between the new entity and the Orient. This tendency was manifested both in the attitude towards Arabs and towards the history of “the land” [Palestine/“Land of Israel”], and in the attitude to Oriental Jews [Mizraḥim]. Nonetheless, other directions for the definition of Jewish thought and identity can also be found in the Orientalist literature.

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In: Philological Encounters

This contribution analyses the transition from the “Semites”, which were derived, in early Semitic philology, from linguistic classification, to “Semitism,” a category combining linguistics, psychology, and cultural history. Goldziher’s critique of Renan’s understanding of Semitism not only led to a new logic of peoples in an economy of invention, transformation, and circulation but also, through the analysis of the names of the gods, to the reconstruction of a language of myth characterized by an inherent duality. With Carl Abel’s work on contradiction in primeval words, this question of duality in the language of myth is linked to Freud’s research on the language of dreams, conceived as remnant of an old primitive stratus of language. Karl Abraham’s Myths and Dreams () and Otto Rank’s The Birth of the Hero () also reveal the inspiration early psychoanalysis found in some reflections on Semitism: both combined insights from Semitic philology and the science of mythology with those of dream interpretation. When Freud finally offered his own interpretation of Moses in Moses and Monotheism (), his psychoanalytical reading revealed the potential of the philological and psychological reconstruction of the language of myth: he also read the names as traces of circulation and the canonical text as an archive of conflicts, but transformed traces into symptoms.

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In: Philological Encounters

The article discusses the ideological role played by the Semitic component in Yiddish in four major texts of Yiddish philology from the first half of the 20th century: Ysroel Haim Taviov’s “The Hebrew Elements of the Jargon” (1904); Ber Borochov’s “The Tasks of Yiddish Philology” (); Nokhem Shtif’s “The Social Differentiation of Yiddish: Hebrew Elements in the Language” (); and Max Weinreich’s “What Would Yiddish Have Been without Hebrew?” (). The article explores the ways in which these texts attribute various religious, national, psychological and class values to the Semitic component in Yiddish, while debating its ontological status and making prescriptive suggestions regarding its future. It argues that all four philologists set the Semitic component of Yiddish in service of their own ideological visions of Jewish linguistic, national and ethnic identity (Yiddishism, Hebraism, Soviet Socialism, etc.), thus blurring the boundaries between descriptive linguistics and ideologically engaged philology.

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In: Philological Encounters

The article begins with a brief sketch of the beginnings of Semitics and the Wissenschaft des Judentums, highlighting the theological roots of the former and the relation of each to Jewish emancipation in Prussia. The second section presents a close reading of Leopold Zunz’s Etwas über die rabbinische Litteratur (1818), a text that initiates the Wissenschaft des Judentums, and highlights several aspects of the work: the tension Zunz grapples with between rabbinic rupture and Jewish continuity, the former of which dominates; the contemporaneous use of “our science” and the relation between knowledge and the power it asserts; and the theological foundations of the program he proposes. It then looks at Zunz’s later writings, emphasizing the continuity of his thought and how he revises some of his earlier views. In closing, the article speculates as to why Zunz did not engage the field of Semitics.

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In: Philological Encounters
Author: Tuska Benes

The desire to uphold monogenesis encouraged Christian Bunsen (1791-1866) to bridge the Semitic and Indo-European language families. Bunsen’s identifying ancient Egyptian as a linguistic bridge had implications for the supposed history of God’s revelation to humankind, as well as for German conceptions of “Semitic” as a racial category in the 1840s. The rise of Sanskrit as a possible Ursprache, as well as new critical methods and the rationalist critique of revelation, altered the position Egypt once held in ancient wisdom narratives. However, the gradual decipherment of hieroglyphs and efforts to historicize ancient Egyptian encouraged Bunsen to rethink the history of religion. His faith in monogenesis and Bunsen’s deriving Aryans and Semites from a common ancestor did not inhibit the racialization of “Semitic” as a category or reverse the loss of status Hebrew antiquity suffered as other scholars located primordial revelation in the Aryan past. Instead religion itself became racialized.

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In: Philological Encounters
Author: Ottmar Ette

Hans Robert Jauss cannot simply be excluded from the history of Romance Studies, or from the history of literary science in 20th century Germany: the attractive power of his style of thought, writing and scholarship was too profound, his machine de guerre too powerful. If the “case of Jauss” is now on its way to becoming the “paradigm of Jauss,” it is time to examine scientifically the text and work, the impact and the reception of the author of Ästhetische Erfahrung und literarische Hermeneutik (“Aesthetic Experience and Literary Hermeneutics”), and to illuminate them from the perspective of Romance Studies. The considerations put forth in this essay should in no way diminish the undeniable merits of the founder of “Reader-response criticism”. With him and with his words, one may surely hold on to the hope that “the triadic relationship of technology, communication, and world view” can be brought “once more into equilibrium.” Hans Robert Jauss—to use the words of Jorge Semprún—traveled the very short, and at the same time very long, path from Buchenwald to Weimar: a path that first led him into the most abysmal, reprehensible, and rational form of human barbarism, which he wished to leave behind him as quickly as possible after the end of the war. His path to Weimar, as the symbol of a “refined” western culture, was extremely short: indeed, all too short.

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In: Philological Encounters

This article examines the ideological implications of the literary debate about the Arab-Islamic influences on Dante’s Divina Commedia and the emergence of the idea of Mediterranean literature. It traces the question of “influences” back to 16th century Italy, casts the modern controversy about Dante and the Arabs in the broader context of borders, and questions the definition of European and Romance literatures in relation to Arabic literature. It then focuses on the 20th century debate about the Arabic roots of the Commedia in Italy, Spain and the Arab world in order to account for the reception and translation of the Commedia into Arabic.

In: Philological Encounters