Well, here's the come-back:
The Jewish ‘natio’
Sir, – Shlomo Sand’s response (Letters, March 12) to my review of the parody of historical scholarship he presents in his book illustrates perfectly the accuracy of my critique (February 26). In his letter, as in the book, he substitutes belligerence for argument, and misrepresents the research by others which he quarries. His letter is replete with irrelevance, innuendo and inaccuracy, but I shall confine myself here to a refutation of the personal attack he has chosen to make on my honesty as a reviewer. It would have been self-indulgent in a review of a book which includes so many untruths about other historians to have used the space to demolish his claims about me, since he refers explicitly to my work only in two footnotes (six lines in one footnote, and two lines in the other). But since he has now been foolish enough to challenge my integrity on the grounds that I did not discuss these references in my review of his book, I am more than happy to oblige here.
Sand asserts in his book and repeats in his letter the claim that my book Mission and Conversion (1994) betrays an “ethnocentric” approach to Jewish history, and that this approach arises from my having written part of it in Jerusalem, “the eternally united capital city of the Jewish ‘natio’”. Such geographical determinism would be weird in any case, but it is exceptionally bizarre in this instance. Sand has no evidence about my views on the present and future status of Jerusalem, but how he comes to claim that any of my work was carried out in Jerusalem is not difficult to guess, since on the first page of the preface I express thanks for hospitality, during the final stages of checking the typescript in 1993, to the Institute for Advanced Studies, which is based in Jerusalem. But if Sand had looked two paragraphs up on the same page, to the first lines of the preface, he would have seen that the book contains the “Wilde Lectures in Natural and Comparative Religion” as delivered in Oxford between January and March 1992, long before I was at the Institute. Does he want to say that, in the process of checking the final typescript, aberrant ideology must have crept into my interpretation of ancient history like an infection? Or that anyone prepared in 1992 to accept an invitation to take up a visiting fellowship in 1993 at Israel’s National Institute for Advanced Studies must already have been infected from afar?
Sand has also failed to notice that there is nothing whatever “ethnocentric” about the rest of the book, which is (unsurprisingly, given its title) a study of religious conversion. His assertion in his book that I attempt “to deny entirely the missionary aspect of Judaism” is a particularly breathtaking falsehood, since Chapter Seven of my book is devoted to tracing in some detail the evidence for the emergence of strong missionary ideas in rabbinic texts in late antiquity.
Oriental Institute, Pusey Lane, Oxford.
Literary disputes are so intellectually stimulating.