• How Nineteenth-Century German Classicists Wrote the Jews out of Ancient History

    Paul Michael Kurtz (see profile)
    Ancient Jew Review, Ancient Near East, Biblical Studies, Classical Tradition, Historiography
    Judaism, History, Ancient, Germans--Social life and customs, Germany, History, Historiography, Jews, Jews--Study and teaching, Nationalism
    Item Type:
    History of Scholarship, philhellenism, Ancient Judaism, Classics, German culture, German history, Jewish history, Jewish studies
    Permanent URL:
    This essay considers why Jewish antiquity largely fell outside the purview of ancient historians in the Germanies for over half a century, between 1820 and 1880, and examines the nature of those portraits that did, in fact, arise. To do so, it interrogates discussions of Jewish antiquity in this half century against the background of those political and national values that were consolidating across the German states. Ultimately, the paper claims ancient Jewish history did not provide a compelling model for the dominant (Protestant) German scholars of the age, which then prompted the decline of antique Judaism as a field of interest. This investigation into the political and national dimensions of ancient history both supplements previous lines of inquiry and complicates accounts that assign too much explanatory power to a regnant anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism in the period and place. First, the analysis considers those reasons why so little attention was granted to Jewish history by ancient historians in the first place, as opposed to its relative prominence before ca. 1820. Second, the essay examines representations of ancient Judaism as fashioned by those historians who did consider the subject in this period. Surveying works composed not only for the upper echelons of scholarship but also for adolescents, women, and the laity, it scrutinizes a series of arguments advanced and assumptions embedded in universal histories, histories of the ancient world, textbooks of history, and dedicated histories to either Greece or Rome. Finally, the paper asserts the Jewish past did not conform to the values of cultural ascendancy, political autonomy, national identity, and religious liberty increasingly hallowed across the Germanies of the 19th century, on the one hand, and inscribed into the very enterprise of historiography, on the other. The perceived national and political failures of ancient Jews thus made antique Judaism an unattractive object of study in this period.
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    3 years ago
    All Rights Reserved
    Share this:


    Item Name: pdf kurtz-how-nineteenth-century-german-classicists-authors-version.pdf
      Download View in browser
    Activity: Downloads: 660