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An academic background in anthropology and religion along with an intense interest in aspects of my own genealogy has brought me to an acceptance of the utter misunderstanding of this issue that Ms. Bachmann and other Sunday School Christianists must contend with in the formulation of public statements like this one, brought to DKos in a brief diary entry by The Big E (in which the bulk of this diary originally appeared as a badly-timed comment):

When U.S. Representative and possible presidential candidate Michele Bachmann spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition she exposed a profound flaw in the religious right which has virtually unlimited potential for mayhem. She let the world know that she and the religious right believe in such unreasonable nonsense as curses. She said, "I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States . . . [W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel. It is a strong and beautiful principle."

What Bachmann and her coreligionists believe about what constituted "Israel" in that context would scarcely be recognizable at the time. Where it is referred to by archaeological sources such as the Merneptah Stele, "Israel" represents a group of people, rather than a city or city-state. Archaeological investigations of what constitutes "Israelite" artifacts generally conclude that the people of Israel had their origins among the various local populations in what was always a marginal, frontier area between a succession of various empires. They have their origins among the hapiru, people described as such, in the historical record, almost exclusively derisively by neighbors and enemies that did not share their interests. It is unclear whether or not this is the origin of the word "Hebrew"...I tend to think it is, but there are scholars that disagree (though the primary disagreement seems to hinge on the fact that the word "hapiru" refers to a social group, rather than an ethnic group, a point that supports my own understanding rather than detracting from it). The hapiru were, to the surrounding imperial powers, a problematic parasocial underclass whose insistence on autonomy is the stuff of Biblical legend. According to archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, the hapiru were

… outside mainstream Canaanite society, uprooted from their homes by war, famine, or heavy taxation, they are sometimes described as outlaws or brigands, sometimes as soldiers for hire. In one case they are even reported to be present in Egypt itself as hired laborers working on government building projects. In short, they were refugees or rebellious runaways from the system, living on the social fringe of urban society.

They were Canaanite, Edomite, Amalekites...the disposessed and driven out from the indigenous and surrounding populations. This understanding is no great revelation to scholars of the Hebrew fact, it is attributed to none other than the prophet Ezekiel.

Eventually, through a complex history of confederation, tribal alliances, wars, agreements and so on, this underclass eventually attained enough influence and autonomy, under David and Solomon, that the imperial powers were forced to reckon with them, and with some of their particular revolutionary leaders. Add to this the fact that the interests of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah weren't always one and the same, and one begins to question the notions formed in childhood Sunday School of a powerful kingdom of central importance to the Bronze Age world, rather than a cultural backwater at the frontier of a number of competing imperial powers. By 70 C.E., in any event, the reckoning was over and the "people of Israel" were scattered all over the known world, and perhaps the unknown world, as well. Sephardic Jews in Spain and Portugal were, by 1492, compelled to convert to Christianity or be dealt with. Many "converted," many fled to friendlier parts of Europe like the Low Countries, France and particularly Scotland.

Others made their way to the New World and to the fringes of Spanish control as the Inquisition raged against them in the 16th century. They intermarried with Native Americans and free Africans, white indentured servants and so on. Charleston, S.C., in colonial times, was home to some 2,000 Sephardim and was the birthplace of American Reform Judaism. Tennessee Melungeons and dozens of other isolated mixed-race populations from New Mexico to Delaware across the Southern backcountry can trace branches of their family trees to ancestors of Jewish or at least "converso" heritage. Many so-called Scots-Irish, who formed a rugged backbone of backcountry settlement in the building of America, are of demonstrably Jewish heritage. Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, Elvis Pressley, Ava Gardner...each shares in this story. President Obama, himself, can find Melungeons not too far back in his own genealogy. There are similar stories to the tip of South America.

In short, the "people of Israel" are all around us here in America. Many have heard hushed family traditions or, worse, have no idea because their families elected to hide this secret in the face of dire consequences. This is a vast, untold history of Western Civilization. It's as if generation after generation of great masses of the unwanted and dispossessed moved out of Mesopotamia and central Asia and, over the course of the next 3,500 years, moved west across the world, carrying with them a belief in the worth of the common man and an ethical code that came to embody much of the democratic spirit of this country, at least where it applies equally to us all.

So if Ms. Bachmann really wishes to honor "Israel" as her God proscribes, she could start by recognizing that the people of Israel are often right there in front of her here in America, asking her to stand up for them against the established power of the philosophical continuation of the same Empire that has chased them for thirty-five centuries and destroyed the societies, such as Cordoba in Spain, they often were able to develop and inhabit peacefully with the other children of Abraham, the Muslims, along the way.

Israel, as a state, has been in existence since 1948, at which time this nation was 172 years old. The idolization of that geographic reality by Christian Zionists has obscured, as only humans are capable of obscuring, the intent of God in his proscription to honor Israel. Just as Jesus taught, "as you have done to the least of these, so have you done to me."

It's a lesson Ms. Bachmann would do well to learn. As even she seems to recognize, the fate of America depends on it.

Originally posted to Freeborn Man on Thu Jun 02, 2011 at 10:55 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.


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