Middle East studies in the News
Ethnohistory, Ideology, and Modern Politics
by Tony Badran
You may or may not have heard about the most recent stink up involving Rashid Khalidi. To make a long story short, Khalidi lent his byline to this bad polemical history of Jerusalem. Turns out, large segments of it were swiped from an equally bad polemical article by Kamil Asali. So the question was raised whether that constituted plagiarism. Khalidi denied it claiming he didn't write the article, and that a web article doesn't really qualify as a "publication" in any "real sense of the word."
But then came the bizarre cover-up. Khalidi, as mentioned right above, denied writing the article and said that it was "wrongly attributed to him" by someone at a "defunct organization." Of course, he didn't mention that he was the president of that organization at the time the article was published! Anyway, the "defunct organization" changed the byline to read "compiled by ACJ from a variety of sources." But, Khalidi's byline was still accessible through Wayback Machine, as evident from the second link above! Like I said, the whole thing stinks of fish!
But I'm not particularly interested in the plagiarism charge. I'm more interested in some of the claims the article makes, such as:
The two quotes above, however, are telling in more ways than one. In fact, the ideological line and its "facts" seem to be something of a conventional wisdom for some of the leading lights of ME Studies, including Khalidi's compadre Joseph Massad, and MESA president Juan Cole. You may remember my posts on Cole (see also the note on the 14 centuries of Islamic rule in the Khalidi/Asali piece) and Massad ("the Ancient Palestinian Hebrews") and their journeys to the Ancient Near East. Compare those to the article that carried Khalidi's byline (with which arguments, I think it's fair to assume, Khalidi agrees).
The first quote contains one of the most prevalent myths of Arabist revisionism, and that is that the "Arab" origin of the Canaanites. Readers might've come across this theory in reference to the Phoenicians. Helen Sader comments on the theory of Arab invasion: "First of all, there's no proof of an early invasion from either the Arab peninsula or the Sinai. Of course, there has always been a certain interaction and fusion between people in the region, but the whole concept of invasion is but a projection of the 7th-century Arab invasion onto earlier times." There are variants on this theory, in terms of population movement etc., but the whole thing is outdated and faulty.
But the whole handling of the term "Canaanites" and the idea of Amorites as "offshoots" really reflects poor scholarship, historically and ethnohistorically. The terms have separate layered histories and their referents change across time. For instance, in the Late Bronze Age Canaan and Amurru were two separate geopolitical entities, with Amurru being a kingdom in south western Syria/northern Lebanon. In other words, it was north of the district of Canaan, which was a whole other area! An earlier (Middle Bronze Age) kingdom by the name of Amurru also existed in the west, perhaps on the Mediterranean, that may have been the ancestor (in name) of the LB Age one. But that too was north of Canaan.
The term Amurru itself is older, and in Akkadian amurrû (Sumerian MAR.TU) simply means "Westerners," that is, from the vantage point of people in Mesopotamia. They appear especially in late 3rd millenium-2nd millenium texts as tribal pastoral groups that become integrated with the populations of Mesopotamian cities and assimilated into the Sumero-Babylonian culture. Then in the 2nd millenium, "Amorites" (people with "Amorite names") become leaders of the major cities of Mesopotamia (for a handy brief history, see Robert Whiting's article "Amorite Tribes and Nations of Second Millenium Western Asia" in Jack Sasson (ed.) Civilizations of the Ancient Near East vol. 2 [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000] pp. 1231-1242. See also, Kathryn Kamp and Norman Yoffee, "Ethnicity in Ancient Western Asia during the Early Second Millennium B.C.: Archaeological Assessments and Ethnoarchaeological Prospectives." Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 237 :85-103.) Here is a paragraph from the introduction that should give you an idea about the complexity of the matter:
Furthermore, these "Amorites" didn't call themselves that. For instance, as Whiting writes, "rather than calling themselves 'Amorites,' the tribal elements around Mari were known as Khaneans. The earliest record of an Amorite ruling Mari comes from an inscription of Yakhdun-Lim, son of Yaggid-Lim, who calls himself 'King of Mari, Tuttul, and the land of Khana'." (p. 1235). "Khana" actually means "tent dwellers". A comprehensive study of the tribal, pastoralist, and political terminology used in the Mari letters is Daniel Fleming's excellent 2004 book, Democracy's Ancient Ancestors: Mari and Early Collective Governance. The link allows you to search within the book. Here are the instances where Fleming discusses "Amorrites." See especially p. 39 (through 43, esp. 42):
I won't dwell on the term Canaanite. Those interested can consult Anson Rainey's article "Who is a Canaanite? A Review of the Textual Evidence" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 304 (1996): 1-15. Rainey's survey however deals only with the Late Bronze Age material. The article is a critical response to Niels Peter Lemche's 1991 volume, The Canaanites and their Land: The Tradition of the Canaanites.
I'm more interested in the term "Jebusites." Clearly, this term is at the heart of the argument. This Palestinian identity advocated (or, created) by the Khalidi/Asali article is built around the Jebusites' possession of Jerusalem prior to David's takeover of the city. But there are interesting implications in picking this particular term/group.
The article identifies the Jebusites as a Canaanite tribe. Here's the problem. The only place where the term Jebusite appears is the Bible. II Samuel 5:6 recounts the episode of David's takeover of Jerusalem. There, the Jebusites are simply called "the inhabitants of the land." They are mentioned in the "table of nations" in Gen 10 and Gen 15. They are listed among the various peoples of the land in Exod 3:8 (along with the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, and Hivites). Elsewhere, Jebus (Yebus) is equated with Jerusalem (Judg 19:10-11; I Chron 11:4-5). However, Jerusalem is not known by that name outside the Bible (for an excellent article on Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age Jerusalem, see Nadav Na'aman's "The Contribution of the Amarna Letters to the Debate on Jerusalem's Political Position in the Tenth Century B. C. E., Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 304 (1996): 17-27). But other than this, absolutely nothing is known of this group (and, on a related note, the fact that they're listed alongside the Canaanites would lead one to believe that they were a separate group, also from the Amorites for that matter, but it's not clear whether they were an ethnic group, or whether they themselves used the term Jebusite, etc.). How can anyone build any theory whatsoever on such poor evidence?!
Here's where a whole set of interesting questions can be raised. In recent years, Palestinian nationalist scholars like Said, Khalidi and Massad, found wonderful allies in a group of biblical scholars/historians like Keith Whitelam, Thomas Thompson and others like them. Keith Whitelam for instance, wrote a book called The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History. The book was given a glowing review by Said in the Times Literary Supplement, and dubbed a "courageous" book. Said was also returning a favor, so to speak, as he was the singlemost cited reference in Whitelam's book. Needless to say, the book became the Bible of Palestinian nationalists. It was translated into Arabic, and is hailed as the "real story" that the imperial West sought to hide (as evident from the subtitle of the book itself). In fact, if you do a Google search for Keith Whitelam, you'll see the book pop up on several Palestinian websites, along with similar characterizations as the ones I mentioned. For reviews, you could also do a search for some that are available online. A short review in MEQ can be found here (scroll down). Another review in a more "sympathetic" journal (though the review isn't by any means laudatory) is the one by Edward Fox in the Journal for Palestine Studies 26.2 (1997):102-103.
One of the ironies of the book is that Whitelam accuses 19th c. and early-mid 20th c. biblical scholars of thinking about Ancient Israel in terms of the modern state of Israel (alongside their own religious beliefs). Yet in conflating all the other non-Israelite ancient peoples of the region with the term "Palestinian" he commits the exact same error, only from the other side! But here you can see where Massad's "Ancient Palestinian Hebrews" comes from, even if it mixes up even Whitelam's thesis! But hey, that's Massad after all, so don't be harsh! He also thought the Hebrews spoke Aramaic and not Hebrew, and that dhimmi was an Orientalist racist trope.
Whitelam's book is an offshoot (excuse the pun) of Edward Said's Orientalism. In fact, a veritable industry of how archaeology in Israel is another form of colonialism (etc.) has come to life in recent years. Correlative to that is the rise of Palestinian archaeology. An excellent article on these matters is Alexander Joffe and Rachel Hallote's "The Politics of Israeli Archaeology: Between 'Nationalism' and 'Science' in the Age of the Second Republic," Israel Studies 7.3 (2002): 84-116. Joffe himself has reviewed many a volume dealing with archaeology and politics in several academic journals, mostly in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Here's a quick relevant quote from a footnote in the article co-authored with Hallote:
The title reflects a crucial point. The entire premise of Whitelam's book (and indeed Thompson's and other so-called minimalists) is the historical unreliability of the Bible as a source for writing the history of Canaan. For online essays on the debate, see here.
This premise is behind Cole's statement (see link above):
But here's the screaming paradox as far as the Khalidi/Asali article, and the whole Jebusites-as-Palestinians theory are concerned: the only historical mention of the Jebusites comes exclusively from the Bible! So, David's historicity is unreliable, but the Jebusites' is!? Furthermore, as noted before, the Bible does not elaborate at all on the Jebusites. How can we speak of an ethnic identity if we know absolutely nothing about the Jebusites!? What exactly is it that ties the Palestinians to the Jebusites, besides of course, the claim to Jerusalem? What is the narrative (see this volume edited by Spickard and Burroughs, esp. Stephen Cornell's article and Spickard and Burroughs' concluding essay)? As Joffe and Hallote noted, and as the Cole post and the Khalidi/Asali article indicate, the narrative void (and that's what it is) is filled with Arab-Islamic history. That's why both Cole and Khalidi/Asali end up making the same remark about the 13-14 centuries of Islamic rule over Jerusalem.
Another delicious paradox lies in the list of scholars Khalidi/Asali rely on: Frazer and Albright. In other words, they (esp. Albright) are the hated "Orientalists" who are mercilessly attacked by Thompson, Whitelam, et al.! But by creating the Jebusite identity, Khalidi/Asali are falling back on the same premises, only with infinitely poorer scholarship!
Far more interesting scholarship was written in the early 20th c. by the giant orientalist Gustav Dalman, whose multi-volume magnum opus Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina remains a classic and an invaluable enormous source of information on the customs and language of Palestinian peasants. Dalman's philological work on the similarity in the language used in the Talmud and the Bible and by Palestinian peasants is fascinating, and at one point in my graduate career I wrote several papers on weather terminology and its usage in biblical mythology and popular proverbs. The works of the Palestinian Toufic Canaan (German-trained orientalist) on the folk-religions of Palestinians were used by Albright and others. His works mirror similar endeavors in Lebanon by people like Msgr. Michel Feghali or Anis Frayha. Even the 18th-19th c. travel literature such as the work of W. M. Thompson, viciously attacked by the Said acolytes today as part of the colonization of Palestine (or, as a marriage of missionary activity and empire, see, e.g., this article on Edward Robinson. No one by the way, is denying these guys' biases or what have you.), is far more useful than this Jebusites-as-Palestinians political stuff.
That brings up yet another hypocrisy, which is something I noted in my post on Cole. If it is Palestinian nationalism, it's ok. Israeli nationalism however, is another story. In fact, one may add Phoenicianism here. Phoenicianism, though built on much, much more than what the Jebusite theory is built on (we have texts, artifacts, sites, etc.), is brutally ridiculed by those same Arab nationalists. Yet somehow, if the Palestinians concoct a Jebusite identity based on little more than thin air, it's solid. The funny part is that this identity is completely alien to most Palestinians, as noted by Joffe and Hallote. Unlike Lebanon, (but also Egypt and Iraq in varying degrees. On Assyrian identity, see this excellent article by noted Assyrianist Simo Parpola [PDF]) there is no well-established and pervasive pre-Arabo-Islamic narrative. On that, see Asher Kaufman's excellent Reviving Phoenicia. I must bring up once more Kaufman's deliciously ironic remark on As'ad AbuKhalil's horrible introduction to his Historical Dictionary (which I posted on here). Kaufman noted that the fact that AbuKhalil is at pains to ridicule and minimize or eliminate any validity to Lebanon's Phoenician heritage and the Phoenicianist narrative, proves just how pervasive it really is. Furthermore, AbuKhalil ends up beginning Lebanese history with the Canaanites!!
At the end of the day, is all this another variation on "Palestine-first"? Who knows. But as far as Khalidi's article is concerned, nevermind the plagiarism charge. The substance is far fishier.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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