Babur [right] and Humayun with Courtiers (Detail), Late Shahjahan Period, ca. 1650.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Observations on Jewish History/History-writing

The topic I discussed in the last Medieval History Session was on the concept of medieval amongst the Jewish diaspora, and Jewish historiography. I wish to further the discussion with this short post.

Most scholars aren't in a consensus as to when to fix the date of Jewish Medieval Period. One view suggests that it began with the discriminate laws of Constantine in 315 CE, and another view holds that it began when the community was exiled from Spain. Therefore there is a scamper to fit the Jewish history into the tripartite division for convenience. But it seems to be a difficult task.

Since the development of modern history writing in Western Europe had a Christian background, it has thus been difficult to wriggle in the Jewish community into this setting. Of course, one might argue that history writing deals not only with religion but with a larger context of economic, social and political scenario. It is here that one needs to be pointed out that the Jewish diaspora has surprisingly behaved as a nation even though they were scattered in different parts of the world. One might wonder if it is the promise of Israel in the Old Testament that has worked so strongly as to achieve this end. Their deep faith in their religion's political ends (something which has been taken as a trump card by many nations) makes the study of Jewish history even more interesting. Their historical journey is often written in a cyclic format of exploitation and resurrection, in tune with, say, the captivity in Egypt and their miraculous return to Canaan, in what is known as the Exodus in the Old Testament. The Holocaust also strengthened this concept.

Therefore the question which comes to the mind, if I consider that the marked separation of theology from history writing marks modernity in history writing itself, is whether the Jewish diaspora has really managed to separate theology from history writing or not. I don't know the answer to this as I have hardly read much about Jewish history writing, but I'm keen to know.