Friday, January 15, 2010


"Diaspora is a Greek word for a Jewish condition". Thus begins Dan Diner's foreword (alas, in German) to Doron Mendeles and Arye Edrei's very important new book Zweierlie Diaspora: Zur Spaltung der antiken juedischen Welt. I'll talk about the book someday, but that first sentence is arresting on its own. Back in the Helenic world, people lived where they were supposed to live; a nation living in dispersal while remaining a nation was odd enough to require a word be invented to contain the thought.

Later the word took on many additional meanings, of course, but that initial condition is of great significance. More than 2,000 years ago the Jews were already doing things differently from everybody else.

Old habits die hard. Ancient ones, it seems, don't die at all.


Anonymous said...

Back in the Helenic world, people lived where they were supposed to live

I doubt that very much - the ancient Greeks before the Romans took over lived all over the Mediterranean coast
Whenever I start a new history book I am amazed at how mobile people were and also how much sovereigns liked to uproot "disobedient" populations and settle them elsewhere.

maybe the Jews had whenever they established "clusters" elsewhere (voluntary or forced ones) a different style of doing it but that the others tended to stay in one place I will take a lot of convincing.

Yaacov said...

You're right, of course, Silke, in that the entire Hellenic world was based upon Greeks going to live with others and the cultures mashing. I think Diner's point is that it was only the Jews who were doing their best to preserve the separateness of their culture, and thus a word was needed for this groups that preserved its special identity even in dispersal.