The key to a durable secular narrative of Jewish history is a correct understanding of the origins of the Hebrews. The main reason for the power and appeal of the religious narrative is that it answers the question: why is the history of the Jewish people so unusual or even unique? Why have two religions, Christianity and Islam, that dominate a large part of the world, been derived from Judaism? Why has the Jewish people been so persecuted and oppressed? The religious answer is that the Jewish people was chosen by God to spread His message around the world and that all the difficulties and accomplishments of the Jewish people derive from this fact. By definition, secular narratives reject this answer, but for the most part they have nothing to put in its place. They generally either deny the uniqueness of Jewish history or ignore it and concentrate on details. This approach has resulted in a wealth of information about all aspects of Jewish history but not in a coherent narrative that can be summarized, condensed and handed down from one generation to another.
From Habiru to Hebrews: The Roots of the Jewish Tradition
I come from a secular Jewish background, the son of Jewish parents who belonged to the Communist Party during the 1930s. They left the Party in 1939, around the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and also left each other, getting divorced when I was about two years old.
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Despite the proliferation of departments of Jewish Studies in colleges and universities in the United States in recent decades, Jewish history is still almost totally excluded from standard academic treatments of world history. The main reasons for this state of affairs are as follows:
(1) In most colleges and universities, the first thousand years of Jewish history are generally treated as a subset of “Biblical” studies. Characteristic of all forms of “Biblical” scholarship is a tendency to either credit the various religious versions of early Jewish history (whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim) or else avoid any analysis of that history which might conflict too sharply with a religious version. Since most historians approach the subject of world history in a strictly secular spirit, they are understandably reluctant to rely too heavily on a “Biblical” narrative which they rightly suspect to be tinged with a religious point of view.
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