Notebook November 2017
Israel’s founding fictions
On Israel’s three national literatures.
Every people has a national literature, for national literature writes about home. But most national literatures are nothing to write home about, even for the people who live there. National literature is read under duress in the school room. After that, the resources of fiction, like armies and flags, are reserved for ceremonies and emergencies.
The Jews have one national home but three national literatures, written in multiple languages. The ancient Judeans managed to stay on the right side of the Greeks, but they got on the wrong side of the Romans; then as now, relations with the Persians could go either way. So the first Jewish literature, the Bible and Talmud, is in Hebrew of various vintages and Aramaic with Greek, Latin, and Persian accretions. If, that is, it is mere literature. It is read—no literature has been read for so long and...
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