• Defining Hellenistic Jews in Nineteenth-Century Germany: The Case of Jacob Bernays and Jacob Freudenthal

    Paul Michael Kurtz (see profile)
    Ancient Jew Review, Biblical Studies, German Literature and Culture, Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, Religious Studies
    Culture, History, Jews, Germany, Historiography, Intellectual life, Judaism, Europe, History, Modern
    Item Type:
    Eupolemus, Hellenism, Pseudo-Phocylides, Cultural history, German Jewish history, Intellectual history, Modern European history, Reception of the classical tradition
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    Hellenic language and culture occupy a deeply ambivalent place in the mapping of Jewish history. If the entanglement of the Jewish and the Greek became especially conflicted for modern Jews in philhellenic Europe, nowhere was it more vexed than in the German-speaking lands of the long nineteenth century. Amidst the modern redefinition of what it meant to be Jewish as well as doubts about the genuine Jewishness of Hellenistic Judaism, how did scholars identify Jewish authorship behind ambiguous, fragmented, and interpolated texts – all the more with much of the Hebraic allegedly deprived by the Hellenic? This article not only argues for the contingency of diagnostic features deployed to define the Jewish amidst the Greek but also maintains the embeddedness of those features in nineteenth-century Germany. It scrutinizes the criteria deployed to establish Jewish texts and authors of the Hellenistic period: the claims and qualities assumedly suggestive of Judaism. First, the inquiry investigates which characteristics German Jewish scholars expected to see in Greek-speaking Jewish writers of antiquity, interrogating their procedures and their verdicts. Second, it examines how these expectations of antiquity corresponded to those scholars’ own modern world. The analysis centers on Jacob Bernays (1824–1881) and Jacob Freudenthal (1839–1907), two savants who helped establish the modern study of Hellenistic Judaism. Each overturned centuries of learned consensus by establishing an ancient author – Pseudo-Phocylides and Eupolemus, respectively – as Jewish, rather than Christian or pagan. This article ultimately reveals the subtle entanglements as well as the mutually conditioning forces not only of antiquity and modernity but also of the personal and academic, manifest both in the philological analysis of ancient texts and in the larger historiography of antique Judaism in the Graecophone world.
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    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    3 years ago
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