The Jewish Conundrum in World History

The Jewish Conundrum in World History


Alexander Militarev

Series: Reference Library of Jewish Intellectual History
ISBN: 9781934843437 (hardcover)
Pages: 306 pp.
Publication Date: July 2010

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Following what may be conventionally called the Jewish ethno-cultural model and tracing its performance throughout history, Alexander Militarev’s book is the first scholarly attempt to apply a synthetic, comprehensive approach to the Jewish phenomenon—an alternative to the metaphysical and religious ones—and to evaluate it in a comparative context. In highlighting the unique and disproportionately great Jewish contributions, and the recent Russian Jewish contribution in particular, to human civilization, it poses as its main question: “Why the Jews?” Militarev dedicates his book to the analysis of the Jewish phenomenon, its manifold reasons and consequences. Laying bare the “kitchen” of scholarly research, Militarev embarks on a scholarly adventure akin to a film-noir who-dunnit, complete with intrigue, the need for stringent self-control, inexorable doubts, and the thrill of the chase after the enigma’s solution.

Alexander Militarev is a linguist and cultural anthropologist specialized in Semitic, Jewish, Biblical, Near Eastern and African studies, Professor of History and Philology of the Ancient East at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, ex-president of the Jewish University in Moscow, and member of the American-Russian Project "Evolution of Human Languages" at the Santa Fe Institute (Santa Fe, NM).

This remarkable and thought-provoking work, by one of the leading figures in the scholarly revival of Jewish studies in the former Soviet Union is a sustained reflection on the course of Jewish history and of the impact of the Jews over the past millennia on wider developments. It is one of the most fascinating reflections on this vital topic to appear in recent times.
— Antony Polonsky, Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies, Brandeis University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
A Russian-educated linguist and cultural anthropologist, Alexander Militarev offers in this elegantly written study a novel approach to address the ‘conundrum’ posed by the prominence of the Jews in the unfolding of humanistic cosmopolitan culture. With prodigious erudition, yet with manifest humanity and no small measure of humor, he probes the deep structures of what he calls the ‘Adamic universalism’ inscribed in the biblical lexicon and worldview and which, he argues, continue to inform the cognitive reflexes and ethical sensibilities of Jewish intellectuals.
— Paul Mendes-Flohr, Professor of Modern Jewish Thought, Divinity School, The University of Chicago; Professor Emeritus, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Table of Contents

List of illustrations
Foreword and Acknowledgements

The Crisis of Modern Jewry
Being Jewish: Religion or Nationality?
Jewish Identity in Russia
Jews and the Russian Intelligentsia
“Universal Values” and Their Biblical Roots
Common Task
Life After Death and the Biblical “Agnosticism” 
Foundation of Ethics
The Principle of Personal Responsibility and Freedom of Choice
“Feel of History” and the Concept of Progress
Canon as the Foundation for “Cultural Construction” 
Cognition as a Value and Claims to “Theo-Parity” 
Antinomy as a Tool of Cognition
The Categories of the Abstract and Absolute
How Deep are the Biblical Roots and How Old are the Jews?
The Unique Nature of the Jewish Phenomenon in History
Why the Jews? 
Persecution of the Jews and Anti-Semitism
Tradition of the Book
The Factor of Genetics
The Jewry as a Civilization and the Debatable Issue of Jewish Uniqueness
The Diaspora
The Myth of the Chosen People and Its Mission
The Myth of the Eternal Exile and the Promised Land
Common Semitic and Afrasian Cultural Legacy
The Random Factor: Etymopoesis
A Chain of Random Events or a Pattern of Historical Behavior? 
The Jews and the Strategy of the Species’ Survival
A Chance Congruence of Factors or a Design of Mother Nature?
The Meaning of the Holocaust?

Appendix 1: Etymology of Selected Hebrew Terms Related to Intellectual/Spiritual Culture
Appendix 2: The Significance of Etymology for the Interpretation of
Ancient Writings: From the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament
Appendix 3: The Genealogical Tree of World Languages
Conventional Signs
Appendix 4: The Genealogical Tree of Afrasian (Afroasiatic) Languages
Transcription Signs and Conventions

Bibliographic Abbreviations
Index of Subjects
Index of Names


The Genealogical Tree of World Languages compiled by the author basing on research and evaluation as of the early 3rd millennium by the Sergei Starostin Moscow School of Comparative Linguistics
The Genealogical Tree of Afrasian (Afroasiatic) Languages compiled by Alexander Militarev mainly basing on Starostin’s method in lexicostatistics and glottochronology