Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The English and Jewish Nations, Considered

In attempting to characterize the unique, 4-millenia-long survival of the Jewish nation as a comparative failure, JR first contrasted the meagre number of present-day Jews with the comparatively robust population of Christians. I objected that it was not appropriate to compare the population of a small nation with the numbers of adherents of a multi-national, poly-confessional worldwide religion, many members of which are not even in communion with each other.

JR then offered a contrast between what he views as the successful survival strategies of the English, mainly the practice of always seeking allies and the habit of intellectual fuzziness he calls "fudge" and what he sees as the Jewish propensity to discourage political allies.

Before proceeding, I want to take a moment and underscore why I think that the correct designation of the Jews is not a race, not a community of religious believers, but rather a nation.

What is a "nation?" The most convenient, although not necessarily best, way of approaching this question is to turn to the often untrustworthy but widely accessible Wikipedia for a definition. There we learn that:
Nationhood is an ethical and philosophical doctrine and is the starting point for the ideology of nationalism; a nation is a form of self-defined cultural and social community.[2] Members of a "nation" share a common identity, and usually a common origin, in the sense of history, ancestry, parentage or descent. A nation extends across generations, and includes the dead as full members. Past events are framed in this context: for example, by referring to "our soldiers" in conflicts which took place hundreds of years ago. More vaguely, nations are assumed to include future generations.
I think it is unquestionable to observe that the Jews fit this definition to a "T." Across millenia of living both within their borders and in widely dispersed and often persecuted communities across most of the world, the Jews maintained a self-conscious identity, and recognized themselves as a community, with their own language, their own literary traditions, their own schools and systems of education, their own civil and criminal codes of law, their own particular religion, a shared ancestry, and a sense that across the centuries, they were engaged in the same individual and collective struggles.

The Jews were a nation when the present nations of Europe were roving tribal bands on the eastern steppes, very far from from the borders which define their current nation-states. Most of the locations occupied by European populations today derive from no earlier than the great Voelkerwanderungen of the early Middle Ages. To provide only one example, the Magyars did not arrive in present Hungary before a mere 1,000 years ago.

But let us return to our English.

Regarding the English, JR makes these points, here:

What I did, then, was to look at another group that has not only survived for a significant length of time (c. 1500 years) but done so in style -- without having to endure horrendous pogroms, holocausts and decimating wars -- the English. Their influence on the modern world has been immense so I was comparing Jews not with unsuccessful groups but with an outstandingly successful group. The English may well by now have had their day but how they had such a splendid day is surely of interest. For nearly a thousand years their land has not been invaded. Unlike most other countries and groups, foreign soldiers have not tramped through their land, destroying, stealing, killing and raping women. Instead the English have conquered huge slices of the lands of other people and left those lands in the control of their descendants. Biologically, that is hot stuff, awesome, even. It is certainly without precedent. So we see, for instance, that Richmond-upon-Thames, the affluent southwest London borough has given its name to 55 settlements on three continents.
Previously, he had put the case this way:
Again, however, I think the British offer a safer example -- a way of handling others that any target of hostility should find thought-provoking. The Brits are experts at deflecting hostility. They don't succeed entirely at it of course but their historic civility and their ability to find allies shows that they are pretty good at it nonetheless. And their way is what outsiders often condemn as "British hypocrisy". But it is not really hypocrisy. It is just an attempt to respect the sensitivities of others. And the tools for doing that are compromise and the "fudge". You almost have to be British to understand what a fudge is and probably the best way of finding out is to Google "British fudge" and read some examples of it. It it is basically a partial retreat or concession that is disguised as not being a retreat or a concession. So it means something like "an evasive compromise", "handling a dilemma by vagueness" or "concealing what is really going on by vague or misleading words". It might not be too unkind to describe the whole of British politics as one big fudge.
And he also made these points:
As Winston Churchill said, not for a thousand years has Britain seen the campfires of an invader. While the rest of Europe was tearing itself apart with internecine wars, Britain was securing for itself a couple of continents (Australia and most of North America) plus some rather nice Islands (The British Isles and New Zealand, for instance). And their progeny populate those places to this day.

So how did the British do it? Basically through just one strategy: Allies. The British have always sought allies. That has long been the dominant aim of British foreign policy. Britain never goes it alone. They will even enter wars that really concern them little just in order to preserve alliances (WWI and the Iraq war, for instance). So any description of a war in which Britain has been involved has always been between two sides: "The Allies" and the other guy. But to achieve that, you have to be great compromisers and great propagandists. And the British always have been both. Even Hitler admired British WWI propaganda. But above all you have to VALUE potential allies. And as far as I can see, Jews generally don't. They value their enemies instead. The Iranians may get them yet.
So let us un-pack these comparisons between Zion and Albion, and see whether the comparison makes sense, and who comes out where.

First of all, I want to be very clear that I think that the English have been in fact an extraordinarily successful nation. As an American, I enjoy the traditional freedoms of an Englishman, and I am damn' happy about that. The extraordinary range of the English vocabulary, and the power and beauty of the English language as a means for developing and expressing thought are evident in its ever wider acceptance as the lingua franca, as it were, of more and more of mankind.

But although the English appear to be successful today, it is too early to tell if they will appear to be successful 1,000 or 500 or even 100 years from now. If past history is any guide, in a distant or not-so-distant future when the English nation will have disappeared and the English language as we now know it understandable only by an elite of academic specialists, a small remnant of the Jewish people will persist, preserving their language, laws, religion, and customs in continuity with a past that stretches back, in 2008, for something like 4 millenia.

At what point in history did the English nation, as we now know it, emerge? JR grants the English a history of 1500 years, which I agree is a significant survival. I would argue, however, that the English language and the English nation do not really emerge in history until several centuries after the francophone Norman conquest of the kingdom. Any initial date is somewhat arbitrary, but I think JR would agree that Arthur was not an "English" king but a king of Romanized Britons, that Alfred the Great was not an "English" king but a king of Saxons, and that William the Conqueror was a francophone Norman who never, if memory serves, set foot in England after conquering it. Chaucer is recognizably English, and I would say that the English nation emerges as such by 1400. So it has lasted for 600 years, which is still a good run.

For the first two centuries of that 600 years, the English were occupied with subduing the British Isles, and bringing the Scots and Irish into a United Kingdom (the Welsh, Cornish, and other relict "British" populations having been overpowered earlier by the increasingly unified nation of Anglo-Saxons and Normans that we call "English.") Creation of the grand British Empire began, I would say, in the XVIIth century, and reached its apogee in the XIXth century. The empire collapsed in the XXth century, having lasted in its most magnificent form for less than 200 years, and as I briefly argued in the first post in this series, the future survival of England itself is now in doubt.

To me that is a shame. The governance of the British Empire was in large measure superb, and the legacy of the English language and of English law which the English left behind in places as disparate as the United States, Australia, and India was a superb gift from one civilization to others. JR is well aware, and I think most readers of this exchange are well aware, of the disintegration of traditional English society that is currently underway. The abandonment of Christianity by large parts of the population and even large segments of the Anglican hierarchy in Britain has been chronicled on JR's admirable blog, Dissecting Leftism. The increasing influence of Islamst shariah law, and the ever-increasing deference paid by English institutions to Islamist culture and Islamist norms are nearly daily headlined in the English press. The rapid expansion of the (largely Pakistani and Indian origin) Muslim community in England is a demographic challenge unparalleled in English history.

(Let me add, parenthetically, that the Asian Muslim community in England --in contrast, perhaps, to the Jews-- is indeed an example of a highly endogamous population. As many as two-thirds or three-quarters of marriages among Asian Muslims are contracted between first cousins. The problem of "preferential patrilineal cross-cousin marriage" has been discussed by Stanley Kurtz in a series of articles at the National Review Online. They are well worth reading.)

So in essence, I agree that English history provides much that many peoples in the world could with profit learn from and emulate. I agree that it is a good policy to seek allies, and to understand who one's allies really are. As far as "evasive compromise" is concerned, I would suggest that it is a strategy not altogether unknown to the Jews, but that is another matter.

However, as to whether the persistence of the Jews is a survival "success" when compared to the English, it is just too early in English history to tell. 600 years into their history as a nation, the Jews had defined borders, a language, a distinctive national religion, an hereditary monarchy -- and that was still in the First Temple period. A whole lot of history awaited them in the ensuing 3,000 years, including the Babylonian Captivity and return (a phenomenon absolutely unprecedented and unique in ancient history), conquest by Alexander, the overthrow of the (Seleucid) Greeks (also rather unique), Roman occupation, defeat, destruction of their homeland, and exile in many countries, and among many often hostile nations and empires, for 2,000 years, culminating in the re-establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in the same Land they had ruled for over 1,000 years, with the same language they had then spoken.

When and if (and may Heaven prevent it!) the English have been overpowered in England by the Asian Muslim and African populations, when the English have been for a millenium dispersed into exile in Asia, among peoples who respect what they have taken from English culture, but who despise the English people, when the English communities have been harassed and persecuted, with periodic bloodlettings that reduce their population by 50% or more, we will see what the English can preserve of their national traditions, language, culture, and religion, and we can then put it on one side of the balance over against the survival success of the Jews. Do the gedanken-experiment yourself: what would be left?

What started this exchange was JR's correct observation that today's Jews have important allies among Evangelical Christians in America and elsewhere, but that the Jews in America (less so in Israel) mistrust these Evangelical allies, and instead seek to accommodate secular, trans-national elites who are implacably hostile. I agree that is a mistake. But it is not grounded in Jewish political stupidity, but in the American Jewish community's inability to un-learn old lessons. For 2,000 years, Christianity has been the most important ideology responsible for the persecution of Jews in Christendom. Most American Jews are descended from Jewish communities in Christendom, and therefore the American Jewish community has a long historical problem with Christian persecution. Most American Jews are entirely ignorant about the history of Muslim anti-Semitism, and have been erroneously taught that Muslim Spain, for example, was a "golden age" of multi-cultural tolerance. The love that American Evangelical Christians feel for the Jewish people is something that most American Jews find unexpected and disconcerting, although welcome. In addition, the post-modern, multi-culturalist leftists who control many American Jewish institutions find themselves at odds with most of the political concerns of American Evangelical communities, and actively seek to prevent American Jews from achieving a rapprochement with the Evangelicals who, for example, support Israel.

However, in the interest of the complete truth, I think we have to acknowledge that support for Israel and love for the Jewish people are not unanimously espoused by all Evangelical leaders, and Pastor John Hagee, for example, has written eloquently and frankly about the opposition within the Evangelical community to his efforts in support of Israel. Nevertheless, I do agree that the Jews in the XXIst century have many allies in Christendom, and it would be wise for them to seek out, acknowledge, and work with them.

Finally, remember that the goals of the Jewish nation have not been the same as those of the English nation, nor of the Christian religion. The Jewish nation did not seek to dominate the world, did not seek to impose its laws on the entire world, and did not assert that its way was the only way to live or to worship God. The Jews sought, and seek today, only the right and freedom to live peaceably in their own land, and to themselves live according to the way of life in which they were instructed by the Creator who chose them for that purpose.

Parenthetical Aside: the congruence of genealogy and (population) genetics

In comments to the previous entry, JR graciously conceded that he is willing to retreat from his earlier assertion that "no member of the Ashkenazim can trace their ancestry to the Middle East" and that he does "not of course have any difficulty with SOME genetic material in modern Jews being of ME origin. My point is that ME genes are only one part of modern Jewish genetics."

I don't have any argument with that last statement. The point to be made is not that the Jews are an exclusively endogamous population, but rather that over millenia of living as a national community both within their own Land and in an extended diaspora, the Jews have maintained as much of a cultural, historical, and biological continuity as any other nation -- if not more so.

The definition of the Jewish people as a nation, rather than as a community of adherents of a particular religion or as a "race" will be taken up, I hope, in my next posting here. But before tackling the comparisons and contrasts beween "Zion" and "Albion," I want to offer a brief aside regarding an uncanny congruence between the recorded genealogical history of the Jewish nation, and the (population) genetic data regarding our contemporary Jewish population.

In the Wikipedia entry on Ashkenazi Jewish genetic origins I quoted in the previous entry, the following statement appears:

Recent research indicates that a significant portion of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry is also likely of Middle Eastern origin. A 2006 study by Behar et al[1], based on haplotype analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), suggested that about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population is descended matrilineally from just four women, or "founder lineages", that were "likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool" originating in the Near East in the first and second centuries CE. According to the authors, "the observed global pattern of distribution renders very unlikely the possibility that the four aforementioned founder lineages entered the Ashkenazi mtDNA pool via gene flow from a European host population."

In addition, Behar et al have suggested that the rest of Ashkenazi mtDNA is originated from ~150 women, most of those were probably of Middle Eastern origin.

Both the extent and location of the maternal ancestral deme from which the Ashkenazi Jewry arose remain obscure. Here, using complete sequences of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we show that close to one-half of Ashkenazi Jews, estimated at 8,000,000 people, can be traced back to only four women carrying distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations, with the important exception of low frequencies among non-Ashkenazi Jews. We conclude that four founding mtDNAs, likely of Near Eastern ancestry, underwent major expansion(s) in Europe within the past millennium.[1][17]

The interesting part of that discussion concerns the "four founding mtDNAs, likely of near Eastern ancestry." The original paper can be accessed as a pdf, here.

That a significant proportion of contemporary Jews are descended from four Near Eastern women will not surprise students of the Bible, who will also be able to supply their names: Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah.

To be sure, the Jews have never been an exclusively endogamous population, and the genetic stock of the population has been augmented and refreshed by the introduction of exogamous strains, from the time that Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of the Egyptian cleric Potipherah. It is nonetheless striking that in good agreement with the Bible, the Ashkenazi Jewish population still carries the genetic signatures of four founding matriarchs.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Initial Reply to JR's Reply

My TAB co-blogger JR has been kind enough to engage in a thoughtful discussion of the points I raised here in response to his reflections on the prospects for survival of the Jewish people here and here.

In brief, and I trust I do not distort his argument very much, he finds that the survival of the Jews is very much in doubt, and contrasts what he sees as the very poor survival of the Jews to date with what he finds comparatively more successful in the floraison of the Christians in general and of the English in particular. In my reply to his first comparison, I argued that it was inappropriate to contrast the surviving numbers (10 to 15 million) of a small, ancient nation, with the numbers of adherents of a worldwide proselytizing religion.

This difference of opinion appears to be a major stumbling block, for JR, who continues to claim that the "biological success" of the Jews should be measured against the "biological success" of Christendom. He insists on defining Jews as adherents of a religion, and does not accept my definition of the Jews as a nation. He states his objections this way:
Christians are members of a religion and Jews are not? What is Judaism then? Judging by the frequency of blue eyes among Askenazi Jews, Jews often are clearly not geneticaly connected to the Middle East. As far as I am aware, in fact, no member of the Ashkenazim can trace their ancestry to the Middle East. And I gather that it would be a rare Jew who identifies Jews as a race. That would make Jewish pride racist and the number of Jews who would wish to wear that label must be vanishingly small. What makes Jews Jews is their religious heritage, even if most Jews are not these days religious. What irreligious Jews trace back to as the source of their Jewishness is not a place but a forebear who identified himself or herself as a follower of the Jewish religion. So I see no invalidity at all in my comparison between Jews and Christians. Lots of Christians are pretty nominal too. My father never went to church but he would always put himself down on forms as "Church of England".
I would contend, however, that the historical definition of the Jewish people is in fact unique in the world, or nearly unique in the world, and that the notion of "the Jews" transcends several categories. Defining "the Jews" as a nation, however, makes the most sense.

Before undertaking to explain how the Jewish national identity differs from the Christian religious identity, let me pause to examine one of JR's more remarkable assertions. He put it this way:
As far as I am aware, in fact, no member of the Ashkenazim can trace their ancestry to the Middle East.
I must admit that I am astonished at this assertion. I had thought JR far more interested in population genetics than that statement appears to reveal, at least as related to I.Q. And of course the subject of Jewish I.Q. values and Jewish genetics is not exactly esoteric.

In so far as "tracing their ancestry" is concerned, all of the Ashkenazic Jews of course trace their ancestry to the Middle East, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and in the case of the Levites, to Levi, and in the case of the Kohanim, or hereditary priests, to Aaron.

And the population genetic support for that traditional folk-geneaology has certainly been produced in a number of investigations. As noted in the Wikipedia, for example:

A study of haplotypes of the Y chromosome, published in 2000, addressed the paternal origins of Ashkenazi Jews. Hammer et al[15] found that the Y chromosome of some Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews contained mutations that are also common among Middle Eastern peoples, but uncommon in the general European population. This suggested that the male ancestors of the Ashkenazi Jews could be traced mostly to the Middle East. The proportion of male genetic admixture in Ashkenazi Jews amounts to less than 0.5% per generation over an estimated 80 generations, with "relatively minor contribution of European Y chromosomes to the Ashkenazim," and a total admixture estimate "very similar to Motulsky's average estimate of 12.5%." This supported the finding that "Diaspora Jews from Europe, Northwest Africa, and the Near East resemble each other more closely than they resemble their non-Jewish neighbors."

Until recently, geneticists had largely attributed the genesis of most of the world's Jewish populations, including the Ashkenazim of Northern and Central Europe, to a founding act by the males who migrated from the Middle East and "by the women from each local population whom they took as wives and converted to Judaism". David Goldstein, now of Duke University, reported in 2002 that the mitochondrial DNA of women in Jewish communities around the world did not seem to be Middle Eastern, and indeed each community had its own genetic pattern. But in some cases the mitochondrial DNA was closely related to that of the host community. But new studies suggest that in addition to the male founders, significant female founder ancestry may also derive from the Middle East.[16]

Recent research indicates that a significant portion of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry is also likely of Middle Eastern origin. A 2006 study by Behar et al[1], based on haplotype analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), suggested that about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population is descended matrilineally from just four women, or "founder lineages", that were "likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool" originating in the Near East in the first and second centuries CE. According to the authors, "the observed global pattern of distribution renders very unlikely the possibility that the four aforementioned founder lineages entered the Ashkenazi mtDNA pool via gene flow from a European host population."

In addition, Behar et al have suggested that the rest of Ashkenazi mtDNA is originated from ~150 women, most of those were probably of Middle Eastern origin.

Both the extent and location of the maternal ancestral deme from which the Ashkenazi Jewry arose remain obscure. Here, using complete sequences of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we show that close to one-half of Ashkenazi Jews, estimated at 8,000,000 people, can be traced back to only four women carrying distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations, with the important exception of low frequencies among non-Ashkenazi Jews. We conclude that four founding mtDNAs, likely of Near Eastern ancestry, underwent major expansion(s) in Europe within the past millennium.[1][17]

More, different studies have suggested that some high frequency disease alleles in the Ashkenazi population originated before the separation of Jewish communities in the Near East.[18]
For the purposes of this general discussion, I hope that the Wikipedia's quick summary will suffice to demonstrate that JR has been overly confident in his assertion of the absence of genealogical or genetic evidence linking today's Jews to their Biblical ancestors.

But of course he is right that genetics and lineage are not the sole defining features of Jewish identity. The Prophets of the Bible themselves were not shy about reminding the Jews of their times, that the Jewish people were not an autochthonous lineage, but an amalgam of different ancestries, and the Bible is quite evidently clear that Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, was a citizen of Ur in Chaldea. That is to say, the origins of Jewish nationality and cultural identity come out of the historical experience of a unique individual who had been grounded in a previously thriving and fully developed urban civilization.

But at the same time, the Jews define themselves as the descendants of Abraham, and in that sense do define themselves as a biological, genetically linked community, if not a "race" in the modern, scientific sense, then perhaps a "breed" or a "strain." Proselytes, incidentally, are given the patronymic "son of Abraham" or "daughter of Abraham," and ultra-orthodox Jewish authorities accept that cognomen as more than symbolic, and revere sincere proselytes as having a direct connection to Abraham that is many hundreds of generations removed for the majority of Jews today.

The Jews are indeed not a race in the modern scientific sense of the term. But they are not merely adherents of a religion in the same way that Christians are adherents of Christianity. In fact, many orthodox Jewish thinkers would deny that there is such a religion as Judaism at all, and would argue that the Jewish way of life is not a religion in the same way that Christianity and Islam are religions. The Bible of course never refers to the Jews as adherents of a religion, but to the Jewish people and the Jewish nation, the same categories that are used for the "seventy nations" of the world.

In contrast to Pauline Christianity and to Islam, he Jews have not sought the conversion of the entire world. To be sure, the Prophets did envision a messianic era in which all nations would worship and acknowledge God, but they did not foresee that those nations would become Jews; rather they would worship God according to their own traditions.

JR is right in noting that worship of God is an integral part of Jewish nationhood. That is not a surprising phenomenon. In the ancient world, each city-state had its own God and its own ritual or religious exercises, in which it was assumed that all citizens of the city-state would participate. The Jews were no different from the other peoples of the Middle East, each of which was guided and protected by its tutelary deity. Many of these city-states recorded revelations from their deities, and understood themselves to be following the rules laid down by their deities. Where there is a difference, is that the Jews recognized that the God they worshiped was the Creator of all, the One true God of the universe.

And in the West, the recognition by Christians and Muslims that the Jews do indeed worship the Creator of the universe, Whom they also worship, and that the Creator vouchsafed a particular (and peculiar) relationship to the Jewish people, is precisely what contributes so importantly to the unique role of the Jews in Western history, with all of the glory and suffering that role has entailed.

I will comment on JR's contrast between the Jews and the English in another post.

First Response to JR

This was originally posted at The Astute Bloggers on December 28th.

The Jews Will Survive, but Will Europe?
Our esteemed co-blogger JR, an incisive and iconoclastic thinker, recently wondered here if the Jews will survive. He linked to two longer essays on one of his other blogs, Dissecting Leftism, here and here. There was some controversy in the comments, and I don't wish to turn this blog into an internecine circular firing squad, but I think that JR's observations deserve a little further airing out. If Reliapundit, our host, permits.

In his second posting, JR boiled down his main point in raising the question of Jewish survival to this:
My point is that Jews should be cultivating their allies NOW -- while such allies (American fundamentalist Christians) are available. Fundamentalist Christians are strong people in the face of the hostility of the world and have therefore remained supportive of Israel despite the scornful attitude that many Jews seem to have towards them -- but changing churches is an American tradition and church doctrines themselves have undergone a lot of changes even in my lifetime.
That certainly seems like a useful and unobjectionable observation.

Some of the points he used to support that conclusion, however, are subject to varying interpretations, and survival is something I think that many if not most Jews are very sensitive about. After all, how many members of any other group can honestly say that there are hundreds of millions of people who are instructed to solve the world's problems by killing them off?

In his first posting, JR began by challenging the Jewish view that they have succeeded by surviving a hostile world, wondering if the small number of Jews in the world didn't in fact suggest the opposite. He wrote:

Their small numbers reveal Jews as a biological failure. Reproduction is the prime imperative in biology and reproductive fitness has to be judged by reproductive success. I have always admired the wisdom of Gideon but from a biological viewpoint, strength is in numbers. So the roughly 10 million Jews in the world today is not impressive.
Perhaps JR is not impressed. But that number of 10 million (it may be 15 million, but why quibble?) certainly compares well with the number of Danes, Swedes, Finns, and Norwegians in the world, and is well in excess of the number of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians. Not to mention the Navajos, Dakotas, Cherokees, and Zunis. Does Jewish reproductive success really look so bad when compared with other small nations?

Because of course when compared with the Hittites, Jebusites, Amalekites, Midianites, Moabites, Ugarites, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Scythians, Thracians, Medians, not to mention the Goths, Vandals, Alans, Avars, and other nations of the ancient world, the Jews have been fantastically successful; all of those nations are extinct. (And the cultural identities of ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, and ancient Rome are also more or less completely vanished.)

JR's confusion is revealed in his next comparison:
By contrast, there are around one billion Christians in the world. So why have Christians flown so far ahead of Jews in reproductive success? Originally, there were a lot more Jews than Christians.
The problem is that he is comparing the number of members of a nation, with the number of adherents of a religion. How many Christians today are the direct biological descendants of the Christians who were alive in the first century? Not many, I'd say. The vast majority of today's Christians are the descendants of proselytes. The success of Christian proselytism is indeed impressive, although it pales in comparison with the success of the Muslims and the socialists. But to expect the Jews, who are a nation, and not a proselytizing religion, to compete in numbers with doctrines who set themselves the goal of mastering the world does not seem to me to be a fair test.

The test of history, of survival in the face of unrelenting suppression and intermittently murderous persecution over 2,000 years, would seem to indicate that the survival of the Jews is a good bet.

But why so much concern with the survival of this admittedly tiny nation? Why not similar articles on the demographic threats facing the Tutsi and the Hutu, the Aymara and the Chechen? Why do the Jews so exercise such fascination?

The answer to that, I think, lies in the abrogation by both the Christians and the Muslims of key aspects of the Jewish tradition. The Christians acknowledge their origin within that Jewish tradition, although they have through most of their history claimed to have superseded it, by replacing the Jews with the Church. The Muslims absurdly claim that their religion antedates the Jewish tradition, and that the Jewish tradition is an illegitimate version of Islam. But both of these religions are, in a sense, profoundly embarrassed by the persistent survival of the Jews, living exemplars that neither Christianity nor Islam is all-encompassing. In parts of the world untouched by Christianity or Islam, the Jews are not such a preoccupation. To the Indian, the Chinese, or the Japanese, the Jewish nation is just another one of the many tiny barbarian cultures in the world, and does not excite much general interest.

There may be another reason. The pseudonymous columnist, "Spengler," who publishes at the online Asia Times, has written many columns over the past few years on the demographic catastrophe that is overtaking Europe. Many European nationalities are no longer reproducing in numbers sufficient to maintain their populations. Their fertility rates have fallen below the critical number that ensures survival. In 100 years, there may be no Italians, no Spaniards, no Germans, and no Russians. In 50 years, the populations of many European nations will have been reduced 15% to 50% to a geriatric remnant. They will have been replaced by Afro-Arab populations that are moving into Europe in numbers more significant than the great Voelkerwanderung of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

According to "Spengler," it was the European nationalities' self-consciousness of their impending doom that moved them to adopt Christianity, and which colors their reactions to the Jews. He notes that half of the world's known languages are going extinct and observes:
Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction, be it however distant in time. Indeed, the love of the peoples for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death. Love is only surpassing sweet when it is directed toward a mortal object, and the secret of this ultimate sweetness only is defined by the bitterness of death. Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books, and their laws and customs have lost their living power.

A sick cat or dog will crawl into a hole to die. The members of sick cultures do not do anything quite so dramatic, but they cease to have children, dull their senses with alcohol and drugs, become despondent, and too frequently do away with themselves. This is not due to an inborn death-drive, contrary to the odious Freud, but rather a symptom of a culture's mortal illness.

That is why pagans become Christians. That is, individuals embrace Christianity when their pre-Christian culture no longer can transmit their memory as well as their genes to future generations. Christianity, in that sense, succeeds precisely where "natural law" fails. Self-confident and secure pagans do not seek life eternal through belief in Jesus Christ, for they are quite happy to believe in themselves. It is when they have reason to cease to believe in themselves, when the depredations of the empires, or the great tide of globalization, overrun their defenses and expose their mortal fragility.
In another column, "Spengler" notes that the Jewish tradition may be the only traditional culture in the world that expresses a sincere liking for life:
The better one gets to know the Jews, the more peculiar they appear. "Remember us unto life, O King who delights in life," they pray on the solemn occasion of their New Year, which this year fell on September 13. Unfeigned and spontaneous delight in life is uniquely Jewish; the standard Jewish toast states, "To life!" while the most characteristic Jewish gibe admonishes, "Get a life!" We are not dealing here with so-called lust for life that involves a pile of broken dishes and a hangover the next morning. Instead, the Jews evince a liking for life as such. That is not only unusual; it is almost unnatural.

Life as such is not that likable. As Mephistopheles taunted Faust in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's tragedy, life in its totality was fit only for a god, too hard a cracker for ordinary humans to digest. That seems to be the prevalent opinion across epochs and cultures. Socrates told us to despise life and instead to view death as the highest good. Buddhism teaches us to regard it as an illusion to inure ourselves from its attendant pain. From the Spartans to the Vikings, the martial cultures of the pagan world showed contempt for life, for they often fought to the death. Pagans aspired to a glorious death; I can think of not a single instance in the history of the Jews, whose wars of antiquity were frequent and ferocious, of the mention of a "glorious death". The very notion is repulsive to Jewish sensibilities.
He admits that the Chinese also have a life-affirming culture:
Professor David Layman of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, observes that the Jewish outlook is not quite unique. In correspondence with this writer, he notes, "There is one prima facie exception: China. The stereotypical vision of popular religion (the 'folk' customs and traditions that underlay all Chinese practice) is summarized as 'prosperity, progeny, and longevity': wealth, descendants, and long life. But I am not sure that exception carries the full weight of the Jewish formula. In my reading of Chinese religious development, the primal Chinese formula is no different from the Deuteronomic dictum in 30:19: 'This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.'"

Professor Layman adds, "However, at that point [the] Chinese and the Jewish traditions diverge. Deuteronomy 30:20 continues, 'and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.' What intervenes, of course, is the supernatural event of the Covenant.
But why are the Jews so content with life? According to "Spengler," because their survival as a people, as a nation, is not in doubt:
It's easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life. They are quite sure that they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending extinction. It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds uninterrupted through the generations. Mephistopheles is right: life as such, the run-of-the-mill business of being born, having children, growing old and dying, is not an attractive proposition. The desire of all nations is eternal life, to be exalted above this muddy vesture of decay. A people that clearly foresees its own end will crawl into a hole and die like a sick animal, as we observe so tragically among aboriginal populations forced into communication with the modern world.

What makes the Jews different is their unique belief that the Covenant gives them eternal life, a belief grounded, to be sure, by thousands of years of history, and survival against all odds against the depredations of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Alexandrine and Roman empires, not to mention more recent unpleasantness. It is not changing the baby's diapers or changing grandma's bedpan to which the Jews refer when they speak of delight in life, but rather the idealized, perpetual life of a kinship community.
Perhaps JR should worry more about the survival of the Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Spaniards, and Italians than about the survival of the Jews.

Blog Reactivated!

I am reactivating this blog to engage in a discussion with JR. Reliapundit has asked us to take it off The Astute Bloggers, since he does not feel the subject falls within that blog's areas. I am going to re-post my first reply to JR here first, and then I will reply to his latest installment.

You can find his initial discussion here, his second installment here, his third installment (a reply to my comments) here, and a synoptic version here.