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Sunday, January 29, 2017
After the fall of the Herodian kingdom in southern Syria, I am aware of two serious attempts to revive a "Jewish state". One is the sixth-century state in the Yemen, where the Sasanians were supporting a friendly regime against - mainly - the Ethiopians. The other is the eighth-century Khazaristan.
In neither case do I see a self-consciously Hebrew state. The languages and the peoples are wrong. I do see a state that sets itself as non-Christian and monotheist. But then, the Sasanian state was all that too, especially in the late sixth century. The Sasanians did make concessions to Biblical legend, like Nimrod; but they never accepted the Torah's myths. So what made Yemen and Khazaria stand out? and why didn't they just go Zoroastrian?
Yemen went for a monotheism that extolled "Rahman-an", the Merciful in a calque probably from Syriac. The Khazars issued coins saying "Moses is the prophet of God", which can include Islam's prophet, but definitely demotes him. So what I see here are states that invite Jews into their reigning orthodoxy. Yemen was at least "Noachide", maybe even "Israelite". Khazaria was self-consciously Mosaic holding the Torah as something of a royal-charter.
They were still not Jewish states, though. Even Dhu Nuwas, even if he was a Jew himself, probably didn't try to build a new Zion in the Yemen. (Good luck with that.) The Zoroastrian experience did show that the Bible was a difficult text to avoid. So these new non-Christian states went back to that.
So, let's talk about Islam. Pseudo-Sebeos claimed that a Jewish conspiracy started it up, and so do modern European antiSemites. Fred Donner proposed that Islam was at the least a community of "Believers" united in a common mission, among whom some Jews enrolled themselves. I developed this thought in House of War back in 2012. Several essays now in A Garden for the Poets note themes of early Islam which were parodies of Christianity. Could Muhammad's Madina be another statelet that started out as a Rahmanite sanctuary for Jews? Perhaps it was but then it went out of hand, losing Jewish support. The Doctrina Jacobi suggests that this Parting Of The Ways had already happened in the Prophet's lifetime, and so does Ibn Ishaq's Mab'ath / Maghazi corpus. But both of these are propaganda works (albeit from different sects).
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