Thursday, August 13, 2009

Linguistics of the Jewish diaspora

Our knowledge of Jewish life in the second century B.C.E. comes mainly from Flavius Josephus (37/38-95/100 C.E.), the great Jewish-Roman historian who wrote in Greek, the scholarly language of his time. The hellenization of the Jews had been thorough.The King of Judea and the High Priest of Yahweh had Greek names. (page 240).

During the third century B.C.E., the Tobiads were the principal advocates of hellenization among the Jews (Grayzel 1969:49). The Jewish family called the Tobiads (the sons of Tobias) traced their ancestry to Tobias the Ammonite, governor of the Persian province of Ammon (now Jordan), east of Jordan River, during the tenure of Nehemiah in Judea in the fifth century B.C.E. One of them, Joseph ben Tobias, became very prominent during the second half of that century. (page 219).

By the beginning of the third century B.C.E. the Jews were being hellenized rapidly. They no longer spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, but Greek. Their religious services were conducted in Greek. Their personal Hebrew names were hellenized: Honio became Onias, Ezra became Esdras, Yeshua became Iesous (Jesus), and Joshua became Jason. Some Jews had Greek names only, such as Antigonus, Hyrkanos, Aristobolus, or Philon (Philo).The choice of such names by Jews for their children indicated the degree of their hellenization. (page 219).

During the reign of Ptolemaios Philadelphos (Ptolemy II, 308-246 B.C.E.), the Torah and other Jewish holy scriptures were translated into Greek by a synod of scholars. (page 215).

During the years that he was the High Priest and ethnarch (175-171 B.C.E.) Jason promoted Greek sports at the expense of Temple worship. Jason did not last long in the office of High Priest. He was unseated in 171 B.C.E. by Menelaos, a member of the noble Jewish Tobiads and a more extreme Hellenizer than Jason himself.(page 224-225).

By the first century, Greek had become the language of the Jews in the”diaspora”. The Jews of the Hellenic world spoke Greek the way present-day American Jews speak English. During the Greco-Roman and the Byzantine periods, from the late fourth century B.C.E., to the early seventh century C.E. most Jews were thoroughly Hellenized.(page 454).

By the third century B.C.E the Jews of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt had become thoroughly hellenized. They worshipped Zeus, Hera, and the rest of the Greek pantheon. There were images of Greek sun god Helios, the wine god Dionysos, and the demigod Heracles on Jewish synagogue floor mosaics at Sepphori an other Gallilean cities as late as the sixth century C.E. But the Orthodox Jews violently resisted Hellenism. The conflict between Helenism and Judaism, or rather between hellenized and Orthodox Jews, was to lead to major trouble in the second century BCE, after Palestine was captured from Egypt by the Seleucid Greeks of Syria. (page 215).

Just as in modern America most Jews use English rather than Hebrew in their religious services and rituals, so Greek was used by the Jews of Egypt, including Judea, in their religion (page 215).

Hellenic culture was much more attractive to the young Jews of Judea than the rigid strictures of their own religion. The Greek myths and deities, projections of the deepest infantile conflicts and family relations, etched into the unconscious mind of every person, deeply appealed to the people, just as the Canaanites myths had to their ancestors. The Tobiads led the wave of hellenization among the Jews. (page 220)

Jews always spoke the language of the land which was their home. When expulsions and persecutions eventually brought about a wider separation between the Jews and the non-Jews, the result was a growing dissimilarity between the intimate languages spoken by each group.(Grayzel quoted on page 458).

in the early fourth century, the Jews were divided into three main groupings. Those living in the Western Roman Empire of Italy, which comprised much of Western Europe, spoke mainly Latin, the lingua franca of the West, and the native European languages of the ethnic groups amongst whom they lived. The Jews of the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium, with its capital at Constantinople spoke mainly Greek, the language of the East. The Jews living in Sassanian Neo-Persian empire east of the Euphrates spoke mainly Aramaic. Hebrew continued to be spoken by Jewish scholars and by the people in their prayers. (page 337).

During the seventh and eighth centuries the lands inhabited by Jew in the Middle East and North Africa were conquered by the Muslim Arabs. Arabic became the language of the these Jews. (page 454).

Text extracts from A psychoanalytic history of the Jews By Avner Falk.

Judaism – an existential challenge

The Jewish population, followers of one of the oldest religions in the world, across countries and in Israel, today faces an existential challenge. With 0.25% of world population, i.e. less than 1.5 crore Jews left, in a world of more than 600 crore people, they have made enemies of their neighbours around their country.

The Jewish state, dependent on US largesse, hangs by a thin thread. Without Hitler, the world population of Jews would possibly have been not much better. Maybe 2.5 crores instead of 1.5 crores (at the risk of sounding insensitive). Maybe 0.5% of world population, instead of 0.25%. Also, must be remembered that Jewish studies in the modern context are affected by the ‘Jews as the eternal victims’ syndrome.

Genetic analysis of the Jewish populations

So, what is the reason for this fragile position of the Jewish population? One recent study states that

Admixture analysis based on binary and Y-STR haplotypes indicates a high mean proportion of ancestry from North African (10.6%) and Sephardic Jewish (19.8%) sources. Despite alternative possible sources for lineages ascribed a Sephardic Jewish origin, these proportions attest to a high level of religious conversion (whether voluntary or enforced), driven by historical episodes of social and religious intolerance, that ultimately led to the integration of descendants.

(from The Genetic Legacy of Religious Diversity and Intolerance: Paternal Lineages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula by Susan M. Adams,Elena Bosch,Patricia L. Balaresque,Stéphane J. Ballereau,Andrew C. Lee,Eduardo Arroyo,Ana M. López-Parra,Mercedes Aler,Marina S. Gisbert Grifo,Maria Brion,Angel Carracedo,João Lavinha,Begoña Martínez-Jarreta,Lluis Quintana-Murci,Antònia Picornell,Misericordia Ramon,Karl Skorecki,Doron M. Behar,Francesc Calafell andMark A. Jobling, Copyright 2008 The American Society of Human Genetics, The American Journal of Human Genetics, Volume 83, Issue 6, 725-736, 04 December 2008).

Another study concludes that the Jewish population shares a high level of common paternal similarities.

Several lines of evidence support the hypothesis that Diaspora Jews from Europe, Northwest Africa, and the Near East resemble each other more closely than they resemble their non-Jewish neighbors. The only exception was the Ethiopian Jews, who were affiliated more closely with non-Jewish Ethiopians and other North Africans.

Second, despite their high degree of geographic dispersion, Jewish populations from Europe, North Africa, and the Near East were less diverged genetically from each other than any other group of populations in this study. At the most basic level, the genetic distances observed among Jewish and non-Jewish populations can be interpreted as reflecting common ancestry, genetic drift, and gene flow. The latter two processes will tend to increase genetic distances among Jewish populations, whereas admixture will also have the effect of decreasing genetic distances between Jewish and non-Jewish populations.

Our results suggest that common ancestry is the major determinant of the genetic distances observed among Jewish communities, with admixture playing a secondary role. (from Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes By M. F. Hammer, A. J. Redd, E. T. Wood, M. R. Bonner, H. Jarjanazi, T. Karafet*, S. Santachiara-Benerecetti, A. Oppenheim, M. A. Jobling, T. Jenkins, H. Ostrer, and B. Bonné-Tamir)

Of course, it begs the question, was the Jewish population ever a significant part of global population? One writer who has addressed this question is James Carroll, in his book, Constantine’s sword. He estimates,

Jews accounted for 10 percent of the total population of the Roman Empire. By that ratio, if other factors had not intervened, there would be 200 million Jews in the world today, instead of something like 13 million. (He goes onto recount that the) potential demographic crisis facing the Jewish people is defined by the loss of the murdered millions, not only in the twentieth century, but in all others. (from Constantine’s sword By James Carroll, page 26-27, texts in brackets, mine).

Population growth and changes (of not just the Jews) are subject to interplay of complex demographic factors – like assimilation, disease, migration, reproduction rates and proselytization. Since these factors affect all human populations, further analysis of these factors may just reinforce current red herring theories.

Jews – the eternal victims?

Of course, Jews have not been the only population group in the world who have had to face the problems of epidemics, migration, assimilation, and conversion. What could have been a significant reason for the decline in the Jewish population over the centuries?

A 2ndlook at history points out (extracts above) that the Jewish populations gave up their language and culture ab initio. Within a few centuries of its foundation, they were giving up on their culture.

Interestingly, and apparently, language plays an important and crucial role in the expansion and growth of populations – as the Jewish case seems to suggest.

Those who don’t learn from history …

The Jewish history has invaluable lessons for Indians. For one, all those who think that English is God’s special gift to India (and mankind), should look at the eclipse of the Greek language. I am yet to discover the logic which shows that English will fare better than Greek, Spanish, Persian or Urdu.

Reducing the role of the Indian State

The massive subsidy given by the Indian state towards English language education needs to be phased out. Indian languages (all of them) should start getting back on their feet. The people of India, each individual will choose their language. No bureaucrat, politician, ‘intellectual’ will decide that. Finito. Completo. Terminato. Endlich. Eindig. ändlig.

The Indian language basket also calls for diversification. India needs to learn more foreign languages. The great ’software success story is actually two countries – US and UK who give between 70%-80% of Indian software business? This is coolie labour! We are missing out on the massive Japanese, French and the Spanish markets because we have not invested in those foreign languages. And we have missed out on computing in Indian languages, because we have not invested there either.

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