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Joseph Halévy, Racial Scholarship and the “Sumerian Problem”

In: Philological Encounters
Author: Netanel Anor1
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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’.

Abstract

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’.

* I owe thanks to Nathan Wasserman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who first introduced me to this topic. Thanks are also due to Steven Aschheim of the Hebrew University and Udi Greenberg, now at Dartmouth College, who gave me important guidelines in this field of fin du siècle intellectual history. Some of the ideas here were published in the Hebrew review Hayo Haya in 2008. Since then, many new sources have become available to me. In this regard, I owe thanks to Markham J. Geller of the Freie Universität Berlin who directed me to some of Halévy’s correspondence kept in the collection of Irving L. Finkel, whom I also wish to thank for allowing me to publish parts of it here. Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to the organisers of the 2013 conference “Semitic Philology within European Intellectual History: Constructions of Race, Religion and Language in Scholarly Practice”, Islam Dayeh, Ya’ar Hever, Elizabeth Eva Johnston and Markus Messling, who gave me the opportunity to present the subject. I greatly profited from the different papers and fruitful comments given there.

Introduction

During the nineteenth-century, Western scholars showed increasing interest in the civilizations of the Ancient Near East. At first, it was the ancient Egyptian kingdoms that were the focal point of attention of Oriental academic research, as a result of Napoleon’s campaign to Egypt in 1799-1800. The enterprise of deciphering the language and ancient scripts used on the shores of the Nile was completed by 1824. It was considered to be an enormous scientific breakthrough at the time, since for the first time in western history, a language and script lost and unknown for thousands of years was made a subject of modern scholarship. In the middle of the nineteenth century an opening to yet another Ancient Near Eastern civilization was cracked. As the excavations in the Assyrian tells revealed impressive findings, and after the Behistun inscription was deciphered, a door to the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia was finally opened.

Both the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian civilizations intrigued Western scholars, as well as the wider public, but the type of interest each civilization drew was very distinct. The study of Mesopotamian civilization generated severe polemics and disputes, whereas in the case of the ancient civilization of the Nile it was more its aesthetics and visual imagery that drew the attention and imagination of the West.1 Western discourse spawned a dichotomy whereby the study of ancient Mesopotamia was much more related to inner issues of western identity, while the interest in ancient Egyptian civilization was driven by the urge to discover the alien and unknown.2 This does not mean that the dawn of Egyptology was not engaged to some level with cultural appropriation of Egypt’s past in the West,3 but that the debates in that field were never as fierce as those held in Assyriology, and never reached the amplitude of controversies such as “The Sumerian Problem” or “Babel und Bible”.4

In the mid-nineteenth-century, scholars commonly employed the concept of race. This was done in a manner completely unknown to the ancient cultures they examined. They divided human species into distinct rival groups. They openly argued that some races were superior to others, evaluated their “linguistic advantages” and “disadvantages” or defined them as “dynamic” or “degenerate”. This attitude was driven by an essentialist approach that assumed a primordial and indispensable link between language, religion, culture, technological abilities, and human spirit. This application of the term ‘race’ became more and more prominent in the context of the quest for the origins of language. This topic was already important among intellectuals of the 16th and 17th century, but it was especially developed throughout the 18th century. First, by the idea that “Schythian” (the original Aryan language) is at the origin of the languages of Europe, and hence also of its nations. The idea gained increasing support through new methods of linguistic comparatism developed by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.5 Subsequently, this type of knowledge was developed further by scholars of the later 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, such as William Jones and Friedrich von Schlegel and, then after that, by their successors, Franz Bopp and F. Max Müller.6

Subjecting the newly discovered cultures of ancient Babylonia to racial terminology in this academic environment was almost inevitable. Hence, we find that the attribution of terms such as “Semites”, “Scythians” or “Aryans” are applied in this context, not only to the language groups of ancient Babylonia, but also to it’s different political entities, cultural tendencies, and mythological traditions. The dichotomy “Semites” vs. “Aryans” played an especially prominent role in this discourse that shaped the cultures of the past according to the molds of nineteenth-century terms.7

These were the circumstances in which “the Sumerian Problem” emerged.8 The question was whether a non-Semitic language existed in Mesopotamia prior to Akkadian. The present article focuses on the position taken in this debate by Joseph Halévy, one of the most prominent scholars of Semitic languages at that time. I argue here that Halévy’s stance in the debate was driven by his “pro-Semitic” perspective, which enabled him to take an active part in the racial discourse common in nineteenth-century European universities. In other words, it is shown here that Halévy served as a propagating agent of racial ideas, without which the debate about the Sumerian language would not have been possible.

The Birth of Assyriology: “Who Invented Cuneiform?”

In the year 1842, the French consul in Mosul, Paul-Émile Botta, started his excavations at Kuyunjik (ancient Nineveh) and Khorsabad (ancient Dur-Sharrukin). Some three years later an English traveler and orientalist, Sir Austen Henry Layard started his digging in Kuyunjik and dug the modern tell of Nimrud (ancient Kalhu). It was he who identified Kuyunjik as part of the large complex of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh. These discoveries initiated the interest of the West in the ancient culture of Mesopotamia.

A first notion concerning the nature of the languages spoken in this region came only later, as a result of the decipherment of the Behistun inscription. This inscription was mostly discovered by Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, an English officer and later colonial statesman. As a first step, he had to accomplish, by 1936, the complex enterprise of copying it from the high cliff on which it was engraved.9 He then approached the task of deciphering the inscription. Like the ‘Rosetta Stone’, the Behistun inscription was a trilingual inscription, a fact that served as an important key for its decipherment. But, unlike the ‘Rosetta Stone’, none of the languages of this inscription were known to modern scholars.10 Nevertheless, there were some anchors to help decipher those languages, as the names of the Persian kings mentioned in the inscription were known from the bible and the classical sources. As it was found in Persia, the assumption was that one of the three languages of this inscription was a dialect of old Persian. This assumption, which was found to be true, was the first key that allowed deciphering a first variation of the cuneiform script, used for the old-Persian section of the inscription.11

The task of deciphering the two other languages required, however, a collaborative effort on the international level, a mission in which several orientalists were involved.12 Throughout the 1840s and 1850s the priest Edward Hincks13 from Dublin, Jules Oppert14 from Paris, and Rawlinson himself were working simultaneously on the decipherment of the rest of the inscription. They found that the two other languages in the inscription were Elamite, a language of ancient Persia, and Akkadian, which at that point was called “Babylonian” or “Assyrian”, an important language of ancient Babylonia.15

The newly deciphered “Babylonian” confronted the above-mentioned scholars with several contradictions. The most important one was the discrepancy between the ideographic and phonetic values of the signs. When signs are developed into a system representing a given language, one expects the phonetic value of a sign to originate from the word it originally represented. This was clearly not the case in Akkadian. For example, the phonetic value of the sign for dog (Akkadian kalbu) was “ur” and the phonetic value for the sign for water (Akkadian ) was “A,” and so on. Akkadian seemed to act like Greek in relation to its writing system. As these scholars already knew, speakers of Greek borrowed the alphabet from speakers of a west-Semitic idiom, and therefore it is impossible to trace the names of letters to any Greek word. However, each of the alphabet signs can easily be linked by name and its original graphical form to a west-Semitic word. In cuneiform, the situation appeared to be the same, only it was impossible to trace the names of the signs to any word of the languages of the Behistun inscription nor to any other language they knew of. Discrepancies of this type strongly pointed towards the fact that the cuneiform script was first designed to record another older language, and that its use for the notation of the Akkadian language was only secondary (see the illustration in table i).

plate i

A copy of an ancient Cuneiform Lexical list illustrating the relations between the Cuneiform sign and the Sumerian language.

plate i

The upper part is a copy of a tablet with a lexical list, taken from: Weissbach wvdog 4, Leipzig, 1903, Tf. 10. Under it is my transliteration and translation, based on Weissbach’s edition in Ibid., 28. This genre of text demonstrates the problem well. The first column consists of the word written phonetically in Sumerian. The second column is the ideographic sign and the third is the word written syllabically in Akkadian. The forth column is the modern translation of the word. The first readers of the Akkadian section of the Behistun inscription already encountered the idiographic signs (signs from the second column), as they are frequently used in Akkadian writings. They hence concluded that cuneiform was invented in the context of another language.

Around 1852, Rawlinson found the missing language they speculated about, when he noticed that some of the inscriptions dug up by Layard in Kuyunjik were written in a previously unrecorded language.16 He understood this language to be either Schythian or Turanian.17 Hincks opted for the Schythian option and suggested calling the language in question “Proto-Babylonian.”18 His main arguments were advanced on the basis of etymology. For example, he understood the Sumerian word for lord, en, to be related to the German Herr and the Greek κύριοςi.19 In addition, Hincks assumed that the speakers of that language got the idea of writing from Egyptians, developed it according to their language, and only then brought this idea to Mesopotamia.20 Rawlinson, for his part, suggested calling this yet unknown language ‘Akkadian’, referring to the title “King of Sumer and Akkad” that was known to him from the cuneiform documents he studied. The name “Akkad” was also known to him from the Bible and he therefore chose this name rather than the name “Sumerian”, reflecting his tendency to use the Mesopotamian material to confirm the biblical and classical sources.21 Oppert, for his part, understood the language in question to show affinity with the Elamite language know from the Behistun inscription, and in 1859 started calling the language “casdo-schythique”. But by 1869 he decided on the term Sumerian, a term appearing in the cuneiform sources he studied.22

To avoid confusion, it is important to stress here that in the 1870s and 1880s, most scholars including Halévy, followed Rawlinson and continued calling this non-Semitic language of ancient Mesopotamia, “Akkadian”. Oppert was the only one to persist with the term “Sumerian”, which is today in common use. The Semitic language was either called “Babylonian” or “Assyrian” at the time. Today, however, the name ‘Akkadian’ is used to designate the Semitic language of ancient Mesopotamia while the terms “Babylonian” and “Assyrian” refer to the southern and northern dialects. Plate ii contains a table that clarifies this matter.

Now back to the turn of events. After the scholars had identified the existence of the two main languages of ancient Mesopotamia, namely Sumerian and Akkadian, they began to study these languages, the evidence of which was growing due to the the numerous cuneiform tablets excavated by Layard and Botta. Evidence against Hincks’ Indo-European theory was mounting, and it became evident that the cuneiform writing system was developed originally in Mesopotamia, independently of the Hieroglyphic system. As for the language of these inscriptions, by the 1870s there was a tendency to link the language then called “Akkadian” (today’s Sumerian) to the “Turanian” family of languages. This opinion was already expressed in the 1860’s by leading scholars such as Oppert and Rawlinson, but it was supported especially by the extensive three volume study of the grammar of the language in question conducted by François Lenormant, which began publication in 1873 under the title “Études Accadiennes”.23 It was at this point that Joseph Halévy entered the scene in order to prove that the language then called “Akkadian” was not a “Turanian” language. He introduced an original idea, namely that this newly discovered “Akkadian” was not a language at all, at least not in the strict sense of the word.

plate ii

Table containing the names of the languages under discussion according to periods.

plate ii

Joseph Halévy and His Position Towards the ‘Sumerian Problem’

It was the orientalist and epigraphist Joseph Halévy who led the camp of the “anti-accadistes” or “Anti-Akkadians”. Halévy thought that the non-Semitic language of Mesopotamia was an artificial language that was used as a kind of priests’ code, similar to Hieratic in Egypt. He insisted that Sumerian was never a spoken language and that it could only have existed as a scholastic tool invented by “Semites”. For Halévy, the “Semitism” of the cuneiform script could not be disputed, even long after substantial epigraphic evidence, largely accepted by the scholarly community, had proven him wrong.24 He continued to publish his opinion on the matter for almost half a century and died without having changed his mind.

Joseph Halévy was born in 1827 and probably grew up in Adrianople (modern Edirne), which was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time.25 He started his career as a school teacher in this city and later taught in Bucharest. He was also a writer, philologist of Semitic languages, archaeologist and orientalist. He was an active participant in the ‘Hebrew Renaissance’ of the time as a writer contributing to the Hebrew journals Halevanon and Hamagid. There, he published poetry in a biblical style and was engaged in providing Hebrew translations of poetry and other texts such as the Ethiopic Enoch. In addition, he called for establishing a society called Merape’ Lalashon (“Remedy for the Language”), aiming to expand the use of the Hebrew language and inventing new words for it.26

Halévy also acted as a liaison between the Alliance Israélite Universelle society and the Falashian community in Ethiopia. In 1864 Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer published his famous manifesto in the Jewish press calling for a spiritual rescue of Ethiopian Jewry. Halévy accepted this challenge and launched his journey to Africa and Arabia in 1866. In 1867 he reached Ethiopia and contacted the ‘Beta Israel’ community.27 From there he traveled to south Arabia, which was closed to western travelers at the time. Nevertheless, he succeeded in reaching Yemen disguised as a Jewish Rabbi from Jerusalem, and made contact with the Jewish community there. Halévy made some important epigraphical discoveries during this expedition, from which he returned with hundreds of old south-Arabian inscriptions, which was then the biggest corpus of its kind.28

To sum up, Joseph Halévy had a variety of transcultural experiences spanning over several fields of interest, and accumulated across several continents. Despite this diversity, a common characteristic of all these experiences can still be identified. Whether in the field of Judaism or Hebrew, Ethiopian or Arabian studies, his activities were all considered in his time to belong to the category of Semitics, and played a role in his choice to adopt a pro-Semitic position. It is with this agenda that Halévy settled in Paris, where he arrived again in 1869, and where he became a known specialist in old Ethiopian languages. By 1879, he was appointed to direct the studies of Ge’ez in the École Pratique des Haute Études, a position he held until the end of his life. In 1893, he founded the Revue Sémitique and was a main writer in this journal. This journal dealt mainly with Semitic epigraphy (Sabaean, Canaanite, Aramaic), Old Ethiopian, Early Christianity and Biblical Studies. Halévy’s achievements in the field of Semitic philology encouraged him to use his skills in the nascent field of Assyriology. Hence, he became involved in the debates concerning the newly discovered languages of Babylonia and wrote acutely critical articles against anyone who recognized among these the existence of a non-Semitic language. It was in his 1874 article, titled Observations Critique sur les Prétendus Touraniens de la Babylonie, that he first presented this idea.29

In this article, he focused on three main questions: 1. Does the “Akkadian” (today Sumerian) language belong to the family of Turanian idioms? 2. Was it possible that there was a Turanian people in Babylonia? and 3. Might the texts designated as “Akkadian” (non-Semitic) represent a language different than Assyrian (Semitic) or do they show, alternatively, a different type of writing system? The answer to the three questions was negative. He found that the consonantal system and the lack of vocal harmony in “Akkadian” (Sumerian) did not coincide with the system in the Turanian languages. The mono-syllabic roots of “Akkadian” (Sumerian), he argued, contradicted the dual-syllable system in Turonian. He also pointed to the resemblance of the numbers, adjectives and noun declinations to those found in the Semitic languages. In addition, he adopts arguments from the realm of physical anthropology by mentioning that the artifacts (probably human status), carry an “exclusively Semitic physiognomy”30 and concludes that:

L’ensemble de ces résultats nous autorise donc à conclure que la théorie qui attribue aux Touraniens l’invention de l’écriture cunéiforme et l’origine de la civilisation assyro-babylonienne est une hypothèse gratuite qui n’est pas sans danger pour le progrès des études historiques sur l’Asie antérieure.31

The reaction of his opponents, “les assyriologues”,32 did not take long. In 1875, François Lenormant wrote his major essay, exceeding 450 pages, on the Sumerian language as a reaction to Halévy’s theory.33 There, Lenormant compared the non-Semitic language of Mesopotamia to languages he considered to be “Turanian” and concluded that the so-called “Akkadian” belonged to the “Turanian” group. In response, Halévy wrote another essay, La Prétendue Langue D’Accad: Est-Elle Touranienne?, that strongly rejected Lenormants conclusion.34 Halévy, who was proficient in Turkish, Hungarian and Finnish, was able to convincingly prove Lenormant wrong by demonstrating that there was no affinity between Sumerian and this alleged family of languages. This article could be seen as Halévy’s finest hour, as its main conclusions are still valid and accepted today. Yet, for the purposes of the current study, it is more pertinent to examine the manner in which Halévy presented his arguments as well as the strong accusations he made against Lenormant. Halévy accuses him of ignorance in the field of Semitic languages,35 while using exaggerated metaphors in order to mock him.36 Lenomant’s position, according to Halévy: “… se présente à nous comme une simple fantaisie dépourvue de toute réalité”.37 He then concluded his article with the saying: “…. il ne faut jamais vendre la peau de l’ours [avant] qu’on ne l’ait mis par terre !”38

Logically, the fact that an idiom is not related to a certain group of languages does not prove that it was never a spoken one, but Halévy continued to advocate his thesis. His next step was to address arguments presented by Oppert and Eberhard Schrader,39 the founder of German Assyriology.40 Schrader, in fact, did hold Aryanist tendencies, which Halévy noted already in 1874 and was only able to briefly allude to in a post-script added to his first article.41 Halévy’s reaction was to the publication of Schrader’s edition of Ishtar’s Descent to the Netherworld, where Schrader openly asked:

Aber eine andere Frage ist die, wie es denn gekommen, dass lediglich die babylonischen Semiten und nicht zugleich die Aramäer, Hebräer und in besondere nicht die Araber es zu wirklichen epischen Darstellungen gebracht haben?42

Schrader did not leave this question un-answered:

Hier scheint es uns kaum möglich sich dem Schlusse zu entziehen, daß die faktische Ausbildung jener Fähigkeit bei den babylonischen Semiten ihren Grund hat in dem Zusammentreffen der babylonischen Semiten mit jenen vor ihnen in Babylon ansässig gewesenen Bewohnern turanischer Abkunft, denen sie insbesondere die Schrift und die Mythologie entlehnten. Wie erfahrungsgemäß ein ausgebildeteres Epos im Alterthume ohne ausgebildetere Mythologie sich nicht findet, so suchen wir epische Dichtung im engeren Sinne bei den vom babylonischen Einfluß völlig unberührt gebliebenen Arabern fast ganz vergeblich.43

Oppert did not share Schrader’s view on the Semites, but he too contributed a lengthy article aiming to refuting Halévy’s hypothesis to the Journal Asiatique.44 There he presented a phonetic reading of the Sumerian texts and gave a series of examples of the declinations of nouns, verbs, and pronominal suffixes, to demonstrate the phonetic character of the Sumerian language. Then he didactically reviewed each of the examples brought by Halévy, and gave them an alternative interpretation. But more relevant to the discussion here is Oppert’s open call to Halévy to leave the racial issues aside:

Nous sommes d’accord avec M. Halévy: nous ne croyons pas que les Sémites aient dans l’histoire du monde une place moins privilégiée que celle qui devra revenir aux Aryas dans les origines de la civilisation. Mais c’est justement à cause de la grande influence qu’ont exercée les Sémites dans d’autres branches du développement de l’intelligence que nous n’hésitons pas à ne pas leur accorder ce qui ne leur revient pas.45

Oppert and Schrader apparently reached the same conclusion, while showing conflicting orientations. Nevertheless, Halévy reacted to both his opponents with equal rage. In response to their argumentations, Halévy wrote in 1876 a third article on the subject,46 which he opens with the following claim: “…, toutes ces constructions fantaisistes se sont écroulées pour ne plus se relever, et la question accadienne a aujourd’hui un problème de moins à résoudre.”47

Unlike his attitude in the 1874 article, the accusations made here by Halévy are openly personal this time. Here, he blames Schrader’s hot temperament for his mistakes:

M. Schrader me parait se mouvoir au milieu d’une température, sinon aussi brûlante que celle dans laquelle se sont placés mes autres critiques et censeurs, du moins assez chaude pour fausser son jugement au point d’émettre des assertions hâtées et de nier des faits facilement constatables avec un peu plus de calme.48

As is common in many academic disputes, this polemic continued and became more acute over the years, as Halévy’s involvement in Assyriology increased. He became engaged in the publication of texts and even developed his own method for transcribing cuneiform. All other scholars transliterated cuneiform signs in Latin script, but Halévy, in accordance with his pro-Semitic attitude, chose the Hebrew script for this purpose, yet for no practical reason.49 For him, cuneiform literature was “Semitic” by nature and could not be imagined as having been created by others.50 He was so obsessed with proving this point that wherever he went he felt the urge to express his opinion on the matter, even in brief messages, such as the following post cards:

Paris, 2 Août 1884

Cher Monsieur, je vous remercie de m’avoir envoyé votre intéressant travail sur la grammaire accadienne. Bien que je nie le caractère linguistique de la soi-disant langue d’Accad, tout extrait de nouveaux textes a un grand prix pour moi. Pour plusieurs expressions suméro-cashshites, mes remarques dans la Revue critique N. 25, p. 483 s’accordent avec ce que vous dites à la page 3-4, mais j’en tire d’autres conclusions que vous. La sortie contre les anti-accadistes (p. 5), comme elle n’est (seulement) appuyée par une réfutation scientifique est une simple injure et injure n’est pas raison. Quant au petit nombre des dissidents, j’ai été longtemps seul, aujourd’hui nous sommes trois, un beau jour nous serons quatre ou cinq ce qui fera à peu près la moitié des assyriologues existants.

Votre bien dévoué,

J. Halévy51

plate iii
plate iii

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

courtesy of irving l. finkel.

Citation: Philological Encounters 2, 3-4 (2017) ; 10.1163/24519197-12340033

Halévy’s prediction was not fulfilled. Some important scholars, like Friedrich Delitzsch and François Thureau-Dangin, who sided at first with Halévy, joined the side of the “Accadists” or “Sumerists”.52 As additional tablets in Sumerian were dug up in the excavations of ancient Lagash and Nippur, more evidence was accumulating against Halévy’s theory. By the late 1890’s, most scholars accepted that a non-Semitic language must have been spoken in ancient Babylonia and, as a consequence of this reasoning, Oppert’s term “Sumerian” became generally accepted. In 1897, the Assyriologists participating in the Oriental Congress in Paris were asked to vote for or against the “Sumerians”. Only two other participants sided with Halévy, and they too had changed their minds by the turn of the century. The polemic became more personal and aggressive, especially between Halévy and Oppert. The rivalry between the two men, according to one anecdote, even turned to a physical clash involving the use of umbrellas.53

But none of these events managed to change Halévy’s opinion, and he was fully determined to hold his position until the end of his days. As late as 1912, he continued to assert the “Semitism” of cuneiform. In his Précis D’allographie Assyro-Babylonienne he wrote that the differentiation between Sumer and Akkad was nothing but a geographical one between south and north, and that it was impossible to imagine the invention of writing and of cuneiform literature without its “Sémitisms”: “… les sémitismes sont à la base même du syllabaire cunéiforme et par conséquent de toute la littérature dite “sumérienne”, et que sans les sémitismes la création de cette écriture et de cette littérature est absolument inimaginable.”54

What, then, were the reasons for this over-heated polemic? Why was the ethnic and linguistic identity of some group of people in western Asia some 5000 years ago so emotionally charged for these nineteenth-century scholars, and for Halévy in particular? Was it only the young age of the Assyriological science and the lack of documents that led Halévy to keep his opinion so stubbornly?

Race, Language and Culture in Science: The Background of Joseph Halévy’s “Anti-Sumerian” Approach

At first glance, it could seem that it was simply Joseph Halévy’s “Semitic pride” that confused him and made him lose his academic integrity, as suggested by Polotsky in his article in the Encyclopedia Judaica.55 But a deeper analysis of Halévy’s environment suggests that this Semitic pride was a reaction to the academic atmosphere in which he acted. Jerrold S. Cooper has elaborated important aspects of Halévy’s motivations for his thesis, and for his passionate adherence to it. He suggested that Halévy was simply reacting to antisemitism in the Parisian academic discourse of the second half of the nineteenth-century. The current study will demonstrate an additional aspect of this controversy. It will show that Halévy not only responded to the racial discourse, but also acted as an agent, taking a part, although an unusual one, in the construction of racial discourse.

In order to re-evaluate Halévy’s role, it is first important to examine the cultural and political background of that point in history. In contrast to the attitude prevalent in the European universities, racism and antisemitism were not very important tendencies in the French politics of the time. Jews continued to hold fully equal political rights despite the crises related to France’s bloody transition from the “Second Empire” to the “Third Republic”. In contrast to contemporary Russia, turbulent events such as the French-Prussian war and the uprising of the Parisian Commune were not used, at this time, as pretenses to deny Jews the political equality granted to them almost a century earlier. Moreover, in the 1880s, committees to support victims of the pogroms in Russia were founded in France, evidence of the fact that antisemitism was a less important element of the French political life prior to the “Dreyfus Affair”.56

Nevertheless, in academic and cultural life, racist and anti-Semitic tendencies became more and more important, preparing the grounds for future political events. During the years 1853-1855, the Count Arthur de Gobineau published his Essai sur l’Inégalité des races Humaines,57 an essay that connects the concept of race and culture to the rise and fall of human civilization.58 Moreover, in the same period, the belief in the so-called “Aryan Myth” began to gain more and more influence. This belief viewed the Aryan race as an essence responsible for all the achievement of human civilization, and tied these achievements to blood and genealogy. Even physical anthropology of the time saw itself as tied to, and even dependent on, philology.59 Hence, we find that Hippolyte Taine described the ancient peoples as represented, first and for all, by their languages, religions, literature and philosophy, all of which he sees as branches of a “community of blood and spirit”. In a very similar manner, Friedrich Nietzsche, in his The Birth of Tragedy, differentiated between a “Semitic” essence and an “Aryan” essence.60 They were not alone. As mentioned in the introduction to this article, many intellectuals followed the same line of thinking, pursuing the tradition set out by previous scholarship. All were in search of origins, and in this time, these were found in the form of two opposing races, one “Aryan” and the other “Semite”.61

Ernest Renan, an important academic figure in Paris at the time, was involved in this very quest. He is known, perhaps more so than any other figure, for having given a detailed description of the properties that made the Semites a race.62 It is important to stress that Renan was highly influential at the time, and that his books were sold in tens of thousands of copies.63 For him, languages were an important scale according to which a race was measured. For Renan, the language was the factor to which the other characteristics of a civilization were subjected. He understood it to be a: “merveilleux instrument, créé par l’instinct d’hommes primitifs”, which “contenait en germe toute la métaphysique que devaient développer plus tard le génie hindou, le génie grec, le génie allemand.”64 The Semitic languages, on the other hand, have mistakenly “… adopté pour la manière de traiter le verbe un mécanisme si mesquin, que l’expression des temps et modes a toujours été pour elle imparfaite et embarrassée”,65 the result of which was that “Aujourd’hui encore, l’Arabe lutte en vain contre la faute linguistique que commirent ses ancêtres, il y a dix ou quinze mille ans.”66

Language was indeed a very important element of civilization for Renan. As well noted by Olender, Renan mainly understood language to be the skeleton that allowed the spirit of a race to take form, a mold to which the important elements of civilization were poured.67 If language was the skeleton of civilization, then literature, mythology, science, technology, commerce, and politics were its flesh and blood. These, indeed, were the topics discussed in his famous inaugural lecture at the College de France, titled De la Part des Peuples Sémitiques dans l’Histoire de la Civilisation, given only a few years before Halévy’s arrival in Paris.68 A closer examination of Renan’s lecture can therefore serve to elucidate the intellectual background for Halévy’s position.69

In his lecture, Renan claimed that he could clearly characterize an “Aryan culture” as opposed to a “Semitic culture”. He divided this characterization into several categories. In the field of mythology, he finds that the Semitic peoples are monotheistic as a result of their dogmatic and stiff character. On the other hand, the Aryans’ pantheism results from their connection to nature and their strong dynamic sense of imagination, as he finds according to his method of “comparative mythology”.70 Renan is able to characterize an “Aryan politic” that aims for the “freedom of the individual” as opposed to the “Semitic politic”, which leads only to total anarchy or “bloody despotism”.71 In discussing poetry, Renan finds that the “Semites” know it only in its primitive form. From his point of view, all the arts originated from Greco-Roman civilization. The Semites have only a narrow sense of the moral, a stiff and egoistic one. As for philosophy and science, in Renan’s view, Semites were only able to copy what they learned from the Greeks, as he understood them to be anti-scientific by nature.72 In the field of commerce, Renan finds that the Semites had much more success throughout human history. He mentions that the Phoenicians were the ones to develop the naval trade and that during the Middle-Ages commerce was controlled by Arabs and Jews.73 To sum up Renan’s view, his perspective was that there is a primordial link between race, language, religion, nation, commerce, science and arts. All these elements are intertwined and are simply different expressions of the essence of a certain race.

When examining the arguments used in debating the “Sumerian Problem”, one can note that the exact same categories discussed by Renan are also addressed by Halévy. This can be demonstrated by the analysis of his article La Nouvelle Evolution de L’Accadisme from 1876. In the field of poetry and literature, Halévy sought to confront Oppert’s attempt to translate a Sumerian hymn into Sanskrit in order to find some linguistic correlations.74 In addition, Halévy contested the claim made by Schrader, according to which the Arabs (considered Semites) knew nothing about poetry.75 In the field of religion, Halévy claimed that polytheism in Mesopotamia was originally Semitic. In his opinion, the religion was transferred from one race to another.76 He stressed the fact that there was polytheism among Semites in Mesopotamia, just as there were such beliefs in Ethiopia, a proof for which he found in Ge’ez writings. Their Semitism could not be contested because Ethiopians were “pure Semites”, stressed Halévy.77

In the field of science and commerce, Halévy contested Schrader’s argument claiming that Semites used the decimal system of counting. He claimed that the fact that a sexagesimal system of counting existed in Mesopotamia does not refute the Semitic nature of the system.78 Halévy also rejected Schrader’s opinion about the Semites not developing their own weight measures, and trade and commerce in general.79 To sum up, Halévy saw the Semites, and the abilities he attributed to the Semitic race, as responsible for the establishment of the cradle of civilization: “Les monuments exhumés à Ninive et à Babylone ont prouvé au contraire que les populations sémitiques de ces comtés possédaient au plus haut degré les facultés qu’on refusait à la race entière”80

The comparison of Halévy’s writings to Renan’s is interesting because some basic common assumptions can be found in both of them. Although Renan and Halévy did not confront each other directly, it is still possible to see that they held conflicting racial perspectives regarding Semites. The former praised the “Aryan” race and emphasized the inferiority of the “Semites” while the latter insisted rather on the brilliance of the “Semitic” race. Nonetheless, despite their conflicting opinions, both shared important common underlying assumptions. These assumptions can be summarized to three:

  1. There is a strong and eminent tie between culture, race, literature, science, politics and language.81

  2. The concept of race motivates all these categories, which are, in fact, the various elements underlying the concept of Civilization.

  3. There is an obvious, inherent and unbridgeable gap between races that exists since the dawn of history down to present times.

It is the fact that Halévy adopted these assumptions that led him to his mistaken theory and motivated him to defend it until the end of his life.

Concluding Remark: Anti-Sumerism as Pro-Semitism

Halévy’s theory is no longer accepted in contemporary Assyriology. Indeed, the scientific tools that were available to Halévy and his colleagues were still underdeveloped in comparison to modern tools. Today, multivolume dictionaries and 150 years of text publications are available for the conducting of research. In the nineteenth-century, the pioneers in the field had mainly what they managed to collect and study on their own, along with good talents and intuition. But, as demonstrated above, whatever the knowledge available at the time, common scientific belief had an important impact on it. The essentialist approach that presumes the bond between language, race and culture, played there a crucial role. In fact, a theory of the kind presented by Halévy could only have been elaborated with the assumption of an unbridgeable gap between “Semites” and “non-Semites”, a gap that never existed in the third and second millennia bce, the time when Sumerian and Akkadian were spoken side by side.

In attacking the “Sumerists”, Halévy was in fact trying to reject the anti-Semitic approaches such as that of Renan. The fact, however, that he did not reject racist assumptions, but tried to act from within a racialist discourse, led him to elaborate his unusual theory. Accepting this essentialist and racist discourse caused him also to identify himself as part of the “Semitic” race and to go against anyone who asserted the inferiority of “Semites”. Cooper mentions that Halévy “trapped himself by the racial assumptions of his times” and that “it is unfair to accuse Halévy of being a Jewish chauvinist”.82 But Halévy was hardly an object of anti-Semitic attacks. He was an important and active agent in the racist discourse. It is as part of his Semitic identity that he chose to research Semitic languages and gave the title “Revue Sémitique” to the journal under his direction. His Jewish identity also certainly played a role in his pan-Semitic views, because whether in Ethiopia, Yemen, or in Europe, his aim was never purely scholarly. He always made connections with Jewish communities wherever he went, in order to create and enable cultural and political collaboration. For him, Hebrew was the connection, and reviving Hebrew was his task.83 So high was his reputation in the field, that the Jewish community in Palestine saw him as having the ultimate authority regarding questions of the Hebrew language.84

Halévy himself lived in an extremely multilingual environment: his mother tongue was Ladino and he grew up within the borders of the Ottoman Empire, and knew its official language very well. Hebrew was the language he wrote in Hamagid and Halevanon, but he published his academic work in French. He was a philologist of Semitic languages and, as an academic, he had to know how to communicate in the main languages of Europe. Despite all this, he was not able to imagine a multilingual culture in Mesopotamia. It was the racial and essentialist perceptions he adopted that made him ignore the possibility of cultural mergence. Halévy perceived himself as a “Semite” and it was this identity that he tried to protect. He did so by rejecting anti-Semitism, but did this from within the boundaries of the racial discourse.

1 For this difference in reception, see:

נתן וסרמן, "מדוע לא נסע טין-טין לבבל? אשורולוגיה ,פוליטיקה ותרבות במאה ה-19 ובמהלך .המאה ה-20" קשת החדשה 13 (סתיו 2005): 149-163

2 For the process of alienation of non-Western roots in the modern perception of the Classical world, see Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1987). See especially Ibid., 281-336, for the period under discussion in the current study. See also Ibid., 189-280, which discusses the complexity of the process that first included hostility towards Egypt, then, mixed emotions, and fascination, only later leading to alienation driven by racial world views.

3 Edward Said, Orientalism (New-York: Pantheon Books, 1978), 42.

4 For more information about this polemic, see Reinhard G. Lehmann, Friedrich Delitzsch und der Babel-Bibel-Streit (Freiburg (Schweitz): Universitäts Verlag Freiburg Schweitz, 1994). For the impact of this controversy within Jewish scholarship see Yaacov Shavit and Mordechai Eran, 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 (Berlin, New-York: Walter De Gruyter, 2007).

5 Maurice Olender, Les langues du Paradis: Aryens et Sémites, un couple providentiel (Paris: Le Seuil, 1989), 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.

7 Olender, Les langues du Paradis.

8 There have actually been two ‘Sumerian Problems’. The first, that of the nineteenth-century, is discussed here. After this ‘Sumerian Problem’ was solved, and no doubts remained about the fact that a non-Semitic language was spoken in Mesopotamia and that speakers of this language developed the cuneiform script, a second question was raised, namely: “where did Sumerian come to Mesopotamia from?”. This question, however, is beyond the topic of this article.

9 See, for example: Micheal Roaf, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East (Oxford: Andromeda, 1990), 152-153.

10 The actual existence of the cuneiform script was already known in the West for some time. At the beginning, it was thought to be a type of decoration, but by the 18th century it was already quite clear that it was a writing system. Around the year 1800 a Danish scholar and bishop of Copenhagen, Friedrich Münter, started deciphering a writing system that was based on cuneiform and that was used to write old Persian, one of the languages of the Behistun inscription. By 1802, this script was almost completely deciphered by a high-school teacher named Georg Friedrich Grotefend. In other words, regarding the old-Persian column of the Behistun inscription, Rawlinson in fact only elaborated what was already known. See Tom B. Jones, The Sumerian Problem (New-York: Wiley, 1969), 3.

11 Recent studies show that Rawlinson was very much “inspired” by Grotefend’s previous work, though he did not mention this. See, recently, Kevin J. Cathcart, “The Earliest Contributions to the Decipherment of Sumerian and Akkadian” Cuneiform Digital Library Journal 2011:1, http://www.cdli.ucla.edu/pubs/cdlj/2011/cdlj2011_001.html.

12 For a recent account on how Sumerian was perceived in the age of decipherment, see Phillipe Abrahami, “Un système d’idéogrammes: ‘Sumérien ou rien?’,” in Hisoires de déchiffrements ed. Brigitte Lyon et al. (Édition Errance: Paris, 2009), 111-128.

13 For a recent historical account of the decipherment of Akkadian, see Cathcart, “The Earliest Contributions.” This study is especially useful concerning the role of Edward Hincks in this enterprise. It also contains a list of Hincks’s publications and his correspondence with Rawlinson.

14 For a recent publication about Oppert, concerning, in particular, his role as one of the founding fathers of Assyriology, see Jean Baumgarten, “Jules Oppert et la naissance de l’assyriologie,” Histoire Épistémologie Langage 23: 2, (2001): 77-99.

15 Larsen, and especially Chathcart, stress the role of Hincks in this enterprise. According to Chathcart, it is Hincks who was able to decipher Akkadian, but Rawlinson who got the glory from the Royal Society for the achievement. Rivalry clearly existed between the two and, it appears Rawlinson kept information from Hincks. For this, see Mogens Trolle Larsen, The Conquest of Assyria: Excavations in an Antique Land, 1840-1860 (London: Routledge, 1996): 185.

16 Hincks mentions 21/07/1852 as the date Rawlinson informed him about this discovery. See Abrahami, “Sumérien ou rien”, 111.

17 Ibid. See also table ii. The term “Turanian” was commonly used in the nineteenth century to designate the currently disputed term “Uralo-Altaic.” The idea behind these terms is the existence of an affinity between all the languages of Euro-Asia that are not Indo-European, Semitic or Chinese. Today, however, the idea that the Hungro-Finish, Turkish, Mongolian and even Japanese and Korean languages have one common origin is considered highly unorthodox.

18 Edward Hincks, “On the Khorsabad Inscriptions”, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 22 (1850): 57, 65.

19 Ibid.: 26. This etymological affiliation is not currently accepted.

20 “That the employment of the cuneiform character originated in Assyria, while the system of writing to which it was adapted was borrowed from Egypt, will hardly admit of question … the whole structure of the Assyrian graphic system evidently betrays an Egyptian origin,” cited in Cathcart, “The Earliest Contributions”, 6 (§5.3). For a more detailed description of Hincks’ opinion as well as the representation of the languages in the script, see Jones, The Sumerian Problem, 5-9.

21 On this tendency of Rawlinson, see Omar Carena, History of the Near Eastern Historiography and its Problems: 1852-1985, Part One: 1852-1945 (Kavelaer: Butzon u. Bercker, 1989), 83.

22 Abrahami, “Sumérien ou rien”, 113.

23 François Lenormant, Études Accadiennes (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1873). 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.

24 This matter was still heavily discussed by him as late as 1912. See the introduction in Joseph Halévy, Précis d’allographie Assyro-Babylonienne (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1912).

25 There are differing opinions about Halévy’s place of birth. Ya’ir Adiel brings the different conflicting sources, but does not seek to determine whether he was born in Edirne or in Hungary. I see, however, no reason to question Halévy’s own testimony on the matter, which names Edirne as his place of birth. Adiel himself noticed that the sources stating that he was born in Hungary are very few and are actually based on the same ambiguous source. See: יאיר עדיאל, "עיצוב זכרו של יוסף הלוי", פעמים 100 (תשס"ד): 75.

26 On Halévy’s biography, see Hans Jakob Polotsky, “Halevy, Joseph” In: Encyclopedia Judaica Vol. 7 (Jerusalem: Keter, 1971): 1185-1186.

27 For a detailed article about Halevy’s expedition to Ethiopia see:

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

28 An interesting account of this journey was made by the Rabi Hayyim ibn Yahya Habshush, who assisted Halévy in his journey in the area. Following his own testimony, Habshush was also involved in collecting and copying the old Arabic inscriptions. On this, see Habshush’s own testimony, written both in Hebrew and in Arabic (but in a Hebrew script):

חיים בן יחיא חבשוש, מסעות חבשוש: חזיון תימן, רויא אלימן תרגום עברי ומקור ערבי (ההדיר, תרגם והקדים מבוא: שלמה דב גויטיין) (ירושלים: הוצאת מכון בן-צבי לחקר קהילות ישראל במזרח: תשמ"ג).

For a recent publication about Halévy’s journey to Yemen, including the publication of relevant parts of his journal, see:

יוסף טובי, "יוסף הלוי וחקר יהודי תימן", פעמים 100 (תשס"ד): עמ' 73-89.

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.

32 Halévy, in his above-mentioned Observations critiques, did not mention the name of any of his rivals, nor did he bring the exact citations of the quotes he gave there. He only confronted “les assyriologues” as those holding rival position and explained it, in footnote 1, 466, as a manner of keeping the polemic impersonal. Oppert already complained about this attitude in his first reaction to Halévy’s article. On this, see Jules Oppert, “Sumérien ou rien?”, Journal Asiatique 7:5 (Mai-June 1875): 445. Nevertheless, the identity of Halévy’s opponents was clear from the beginning. As pointed out by Cooper, the main scholars against whom Halévy actually directed his arguments were Lenormant, Oppert and, Eberhad Schrader; see Jerrold S. Cooper, “Posing the Sumerian Question: Race and Scholarship in the Early History of Assyriology”, Aula Orientalis 9 (1991), 54.

33 François Lenormant, La langue primitive de la Chaldée et les idiomes touraniens: étude de philologie et d’histoire suivie d’un glossaire accadien (Paris: Maisonneuve 1875). Note in particular the introduction to his essay, where he openly confronts Halévy and his arguments.

34 Joseph Halévy, La prétendue langue d’Accad: est-elle touranienne? (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1875).

35 Ibid., 13.

36 See especially Ibid., 15.

37 Ibid., 31.

38 Ibid., 31.

39 For a recent account of the role of Schrader as the founding father of German Assyriology, see Suzanne L. Marchand, German Orientalism in the Age of Empire: Religion, Race, and Scholarship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 200-202. See Ibid., 202, for the position of German Scholars in the debate concerning Sumerian.

40 For a recent description of the establishment of German Assyriology, see Sabine Mangold, „Eine weltbürgerliche Wissenschaft“ Die deutsche Orientalistik im 19. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004), 164-169.

41 This post-script appeared in Halévy, Observations critiques, 535-536.

42 Eberhard Schrader, Höllenfahrt der Istar: Ein altbabylonisches Epos (Giessen: J. Rickersche Buchhandlung, 1874), 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.

44 Oppert, “Sumérien ou rien?”

45 Ibid.: 444. This important citation is also presented in Cooper, “Posing the Sumerian Question”, 55, and Abrahami “Sumérien ou rien”, 117.

46 Joseph Halévy, La nouvelle évolution de l’Accadisme (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1875).

47 Ibid., 3.

48 Ibid.

49 The Hebrew characters create an obstacle in the notation of vowels. Hence the Latin alphabet, which includes letters for vowels, is much more efficient when preparing the transliteration of a cuneiform sign. For an example where this less efficient method is applied, see Halévy’s edition of the incantation against evil demons ‘udug hul’. Joseph Halévy, Documents Religieux de l’Assyrie et de la Babylonie (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1882).

50 Joseph Halévy, Précis, 2.

51 A postcard addressed to Theo Pinches, dated August 2nd, 1884, in the private collection of Dr. Irving Finkel, assistant keeper at the British Museum. I take this opportunity to thank Dr. Finkel for kindly sending me this copy of the postcard and for allowing its publication here. See plate iii for an image of the postcard.

52 On the tendency to misinterpret the new textual material from the land of Sumer in the 1880’s and Delitszch’s and Thureau-Dangin’s positions, see Cooper, “Posing the Sumerian Question”: 58-60. See also Ibid., 60-63, for an interesting Kuhnian analysis of the Sumerian Problem in the 1880s and 1890s. According to Cooper, Halévy’s anti-Sumerism in this period can serve as example for a case of deviancy that follows a paradigm shift.

53 Ibid.: 58.

54 See Halévy, Précis: 2.

55 Polotsky, Halevy.

56 Robert Francis Byrnes, Antisemitism in Modern France, Volume I: The prologue to the Dreyfus Affair (New Brunswick, n.j.: Rutgers University Press, 1950): 110.

57 This translates literally as: “Essay on the Inequality of Human Races”, but was translated by Henty Hotze as: “The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of Races”.

58 George L. Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 52 ff.

59 Léon Poliakov, Le mythe aryen: essai sur les sources du racisme et des nationalismes (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1971), 266.

60 Ibid., 264.

61 Olender, Les langues du Paradis.

62 On the description of his role in constructing the idea of Semites, see Ibid., 75-109, especially 82-89, “portraits de races”. On the importance of Renan as an Orientalist, see Edward Said, Orientalism (New-York: Pantheon Books, 1978), 130-149. As Said noted, “What matters is not only the things that Renan said but also how he said them”, see Ibid., p. 130.

63 Byrnes, Antisemitism, 48-49, 191.

64 Ernest Renan, Histoire du peuple d’Israël (Paris: Calmann Lévy 1887): Vol. i, p. 9.

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid.

67 Olender, Les langues du Paradis, 79-80.

68 Ernest Renan, De la part des peuples sémitiques dans l’histoire de la civilisation (Paris: Michel Lévy, frères, 1862).

69 Note that Copper also points to Renan as “the dominant figure in Semitic philology in France” during Halévy’s presence to Europe. On this, see Cooper, “Posing the Sumerian Question”: 51. Cooper claims that Halévy only reacted to the racial scholarship led by Renan. As will be shown below, Halévy not only reacted, but also adopted some of Renan’s views, and then developed them for his own agenda.

70 Renan, De la part des peuples sémitiques, 10-12.

71 Ibid., 14-16.

72 Ibid.: 16-18.

73 Ibid.: 19-20.

74 Joseph Halévy, La nouvelle évolution de l’Accadisme (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1876): 4.

75 Ibid.: 13.

76 Ibid.: 7.

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”.

78 Ibid.: 7.

79 Ibid.: 13.

80 See Ibid., 10.

81 The tie between race and language was even stronger, since the different language groups and races shared the same set of names.

82 Cooper, “Posing the Sumerian Question”, 66.

83 Shlomo Haramati considers him to be one of three revivalists of Hebrew preceding Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. On this, see his book:

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

84 See:

עדיאל, עיצוב זכרו: 75-76.

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  • Olender Maurice Les langues du Paradis: Aryens et Sémites, un couple providentiel 1989 Paris Le Seuil

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

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  • 3

    Edward Said, Orientalism (New-York: Pantheon Books, 1978), 42.

  • 5

    Maurice Olender, Les langues du Paradis: Aryens et Sémites, un couple providentiel (Paris: Le Seuil, 1989), 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 Roaf, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East (Oxford: Andromeda, 1990), 152-153.

  • 18

    Edward Hincks, “On the Khorsabad Inscriptions”, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 22 (1850): 57, 65.

  • 22

    Abrahami, “Sumérien ou rien”, 113.

  • 23

    François Lenormant, Études Accadiennes (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1873). 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.

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  • 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 Halévy, La prétendue langue d’Accad: est-elle touranienne? (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1875).

  • 35

    Ibid., 13.

  • 37

    Ibid., 31.

  • 38

    Ibid., 31.

  • 42

    Eberhard Schrader, Höllenfahrt der Istar: Ein altbabylonisches Epos (Giessen: J. Rickersche Buchhandlung, 1874), 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 Halévy, La nouvelle évolution de l’Accadisme (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1875).

  • 47

    Ibid., 3.

  • 50

    Joseph Halévy, Précis, 2.

  • 58

    George L. Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 52 ff.

  • 59

    Léon Poliakov, Le mythe aryen: essai sur les sources du racisme et des nationalismes (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1971), 266.

  • 60

    Ibid., 264.

  • 63

    Byrnes, Antisemitism, 48-49, 191.

  • 67

    Olender, Les langues du Paradis, 79-80.

  • 68

    Ernest Renan, De la part des peuples sémitiques dans l’histoire de la civilisation (Paris: Michel Lévy, frères, 1862).

  • 70

    Renan, De la part des peuples sémitiques, 10-12.

  • 71

    Ibid., 14-16.

  • 74

    Joseph Halévy, La nouvelle évolution de l’Accadisme (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1876): 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.

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