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European identity Founding story of Europe could be the rubble of 1945 from which the idea of European unification grew. © dpa By Ofer Waldman – 07/12/2018 What holds Europe together? asks Israeli musician and publicist Ofer Waldman. Democracy and human rights are not enough, because that exists elsewhere, he says, and argues for a genuine European narrative along the lines of the Jewish Haggadah. Why must the German chancellor first seek a European solution in order to be allowed to exercise German sovereignty? Why do the Germans – indeed, all Europeans – subject themselves to the onerous European unification compulsion in the first place? Is it because of common values such as democracy and human rights? Germany also shares these with New Zealand and Canada. Is it to speak with a unified European voice in the global arena? Perhaps. But such realpolitik ideas only emerged much later in the European unification process. Have you already forgotten?

You need constituent stories for a state idea

How do political communities manage to remember their origins? In France, for example, the phrase “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” marks the core of republican history. In the United States, the American civil society was born with the exclamation “I have a dream.” They are words, phrases, constituent stories. Probably the oldest story that has managed to hold a people together for thousands of years is surely the Haggadah, the narrative of the Israelites’ exodus from Egyptian slavery. The Haggadah tells of the moment when a group of freed slaves became a people.

Non-religious Jews also reflect on the Haggadah.

The details are already in the Bible. But in a departure from the biblical text, the Haggadah is structured as an exciting story that any child can understand and quote, peppered with songs and customs. The special feature of the Haggadah as a constituent political text lies in the fact that it is read every year at Passover by all the Jews of the world – religious and secular – in family circles. It also requires no religious belief to be effective. And probably the most important sentence in the Haggadah is this: “In every generation, every person must look at himself as if he himself went out of Egypt and tell his child about it. And the more often one tells about it, the better.” So again, what hour is the birth of Europe? The answer is simply: May 1945, when the Second World War ended. May 1945 is the moment that united all Europeans, whether in London or Berlin, Warsaw or Oradour-sur-Glane. The smoking ruins of European cities, the population that suffered victims in almost every family, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. The European Jewry that was almost wiped out. This was the moment from which Europe found the way to itself.

Europe needs a recurring element of memory

But the last ones who still lived in ruins and buried starving European children are dying out. Memory becomes history, which is forgotten. National egoisms awaken, borders are drawn. The unification process of Europe, the most peaceful project of the bloody 20th century, is threatened with a petty political end. This oblivion alone is the political foundation of the Italian Lega, the Brexit misleaders, the FPÖ and AfD. Instead of compromises that one has to live with, but at least can, they fantasize about national purity, which already once ended in violence and destruction. It is time to write a Haggadah of 1945. In all the languages of Europe, with songs and customs that are read and sung on May 8 or 9 every year in every European family. The most important sentence in this European Haggadah would probably be this: “In every generation, every man must look at himself as if he himself stood in front of the ruins of Europe, and tell about it to his child. And the more often one tells about it, the better.” Ofer Waldman, born in Jerusalem, was a member of the Arab-Israeli West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. In Germany, he played as a horn player with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Nuremberg Philharmonic, among others. In addition to an engagement at the Israeli Opera, he completed a master’s degree in German studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is pursuing a doctorate in German literary history. © Kai von Kotze How did Moses lead his people out of Egypt to Canaan? Scholars argue about this to this day. And also about whether the prophet ever existed at all The Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, is filled to capacity on Sundays. Well-dressed black Americans sit in the pews, their colorfully dressed wives beside them. Briskly, the pastor ends his sermon and intones a song that everyone in attendance enthusiastically joins in. “When Israel Was in Egypt Land” tells of how the Lord God sends his prophet Moses to tell Pharaoh succinctly, “Let my people go!” What is praised just as loudly by New York believers as by congregations in South Africa or Indonesia is one of the archetypes of Christianity: the Exodus, the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, written down in the five books of Moses. It is a dramatic story about how an oppressed people is liberated by its God. The instrument of this liberation is Moses, who persuades the reluctant Pharaoh to allow the people to emigrate. When, nevertheless, the Pharaonic army pursues the Israelites, God parts the sea through which his people flee, then the waters crash over the pursuers. On the way to the Promised Land, the multitude travels through the desert for 40 years. God gives his “chosen people” the Ten Commandments and makes an everlasting covenant with them. © Geo Throughout the years of wandering, Moses is the acknowledged leader. He prevents apostasy when apostates choose a golden calf as their new cult symbol, and leads his people to victory in all battles. He is the only prophet in the Bible who has seen God, and even in death he is privileged: Yahweh buries him personally.

Moses is a key figure

He is considered the founder of monotheism – the first of Yahweh’s commandments, transmitted by him, is “You shall have no other gods besides me” – and thus the founder of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Without him, the state of Israel would lack territorial legitimacy, the claim to Palestine, to the “land of promise” promised by God. And finally, Moses is the lawgiver whose Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, influenced the ethical order of the whole world. Everyone needs Moses. “One would have to invent him if tradition did not tell us about him,” writes Old Testament scholar Rudolf Smend. The religious symbol of hardships and divine trials: the stone desert of Sinai, here at Baraka © Neil Folberg.

But did Moses exist at all?

Everything we know about Moses is found in a single source: the Old Testament. Until the time of the Enlightenment, church teachers were convinced that Moses himself had written it. Today, after 150 years of scientific Bible criticism, this assumption has been rejected. An editorial team of Jewish priests compiled the five books of Moses in the fifth century B.C. – only 800 years after the time when Moses, if he existed, probably lived. The goal of the priests: With the Old Testament – the Torah, the Law, as it is called in Judaism – they wanted to create a basis for their faith that was binding for all. A historical justification for the covenant that Yahweh, the one and only God, had made with the Jewish people. And this covenant required a mediator: Moses, the prophet. Recognized historians consider the Exodus narrative neither a credible factual account nor a pure invention. Rather, the five books of Moses are a concentrate of stories that the tribes of Palestine passed on orally for centuries, from generation to generation. The experiences of foreign peoples were mixed in, others were deliberately embellished. The search for the true core of the Exodus account is therefore still one of the greatest challenges facing Old Testament scholars today. Egypt in the 13th century before Christ. The country is a great power. The pharaohs, above all Ramses II, extended the empire as far north as Syria and as far south as Sudan. The only political rival, the Hittite people, settled far away in the north, in Asia Minor. A peace treaty with their ruler, concluded in 1258 B.C. by Ramses II, demarcates the mutual spheres of influence and guarantees undisturbed trade and traffic flows. The land on the Nile, fertile, rich and well-ordered, is an attractive country. The nomads of the neighboring deserts look enviously at the abundance. Sometimes it opens up to them: “We let people pass as far as the ponds to keep them and their livestock alive through the good will of Pharaoh,” writes an Egyptian border official to his superior. This may have been how the immigration of the children of Israel took place, described in the story of Joseph in the first book of Genesis. In Scotland in 1297, an unknown man becomes a national hero: The outlaw William Wallace defeats the troops of the English king. But afterwards the freedom fighter does not succeed in rallying all the Scots around him. And thus comes to a terrible end

The Israelites, the Pharaoh and the city of Ramses

The subsequent sufferings of the people in Egypt are described in detail in the Bible. But when could all this have taken place? Outside the Bible, there is only one contemporary source for the very existence of the Israelites: on a stele, a memorial stone of Pharaoh Merenptah, there is mention of a tribe called “Israel” living in Palestine. The stele is dated to 1208 BC, according to which the Exodus would have to have taken place before that date. Possibly only shortly before, in the time of the Pharao Ramses II (1279 to 1213 B.C.). Because in the second book of Moses it says: “They had to build the cities Pitom and Ramses for the Pharao as storage camps”. Scientists assume, with the city Ramses the historical Piramesse was meant. And this place had indeed Ramses II expanded to a large city. Since Piramesse was located in the eastern Nile Delta, archaeologists have been searching the rubble for traces of the biblical story. But no inscriptions or papyri mention Moses or his tribe by name. Which doesn’t have to mean that the Children of Israel didn’t exist – perhaps they were just not worth mentioning to the Egyptians, as a small group in the army of foreign workers and prisoners of war. Sinai satellite photo: At the top of the image, the Nile with its delta outflow into the Mediterranean © Corbis 2000 The foreigners brought in to work as fronts had often lived in Egypt for generations, some relatively firmly integrated. This could also apply to the tribe whose leader bore a common Egyptian name: Moses. The Bible endows him with an unusual origin – floating in a rush basket on the Nile – and an unusual youth – educated in the court of Pharaoh. There is no historical evidence for either of these, but there are many examples of how the upbringing of important men in antiquity was mythically exaggerated in a similar way. The story of the ten plagues with which Moses is said to have forced Pharaoh to leave may also have served to consolidate the myth – after all, it impressively demonstrated the power of Moses and his God. The Bible dramatized the departure. In night and fog, the Israelites and other captives, 600,000 in all, set out. So quickly that not even leaven for baking bread could be prepared. The memory of this is revived every year in the highest of all Jewish festivals, the Passover. The forces of nature – like this sandstorm over the rocky cones of Baraka – often made the biblical desert wanderers doubt the sense of their undertaking. © Neil Folberg

The Sinai Peninsula was not a deserted area even then

The biblical scholars assess the process more soberly. For lack of water and food alone, such a large number of people could never have survived in the desert. More than 10,000 nomads could not feed the Sinai Peninsula at any time. Moreover, the desert was not deserted even then, but already populated by other tribes. Researchers consider at best a number of a few thousand Israelites to be realistic, others even assume only a few hundred refugees. From the city of Ramses, the Israelites moved eastward and, when Pharaoh’s chariots caught up with them at the Red Sea, received further proof of their God’s strength: on the shore of the “Sea of Reeds,” its prophet split the waters, the Israelites passed the ford dry-footed, and the pursuing Egyptians were drowned. Even without the “miracle” a defeat of the famous commander Ramses II against a crowd of badly armed nomads sounds unbelievable. Moreover, there would have been evidence for such an event in Egyptian sources. The Moses expert Ernst Knauf, who teaches in Bern, interprets the story in a rather unspectacular way. He suspects that nomads of the Sinai witnessed how Egyptian chariots standing at the end of a wadi were washed into the sea by a sudden torrent after heavy rains in the interior. A song about the event emerged, spreading from camp to camp, embellished with increasing drama. On their march through the desert, the Israelites heard it and adopted it into their own history as the saving act of their God. On which way did Moses lead his entrusted ones through the Sinai? The conjectures about it fill whole libraries, crowds of archaeologists have turned over almost every stone in Sinai. The Bible itself does not facilitate research: it mentions two different escape routes. One, the northern one, led along the great military road connecting Egypt and Palestine along the Mediterranean Sea. The other, the southern one, ran east of the Bitter Lakes, along today’s canal, to the shore of the Gulf of Suez. Common to both is only the starting point: the city of Ramses. Is it conceivable that Moses divided his followers into two groups? And why would one of them have taken the dangerous route via the well-guarded army road? The two routes apparently go back to two different traditions. One tells of a large crowd of emigrants who used the army road because the Egyptians wanted them to: The people were driven out when a plague hit the country. The other group, however, was fleeing, so in order to avoid the Egyptian bases, they had to take the more deprived southern route. A desert road winds through the Sinai Mountains © Corbis 2000

Miracle of the prophet Moses or of nature?

This route is documented in the Bible with a wealth of references. The author Werner Keller used them to precisely map the entire route and wrote the bestseller “Und die Bibel hat doch recht” (“And the Bible is right after all”) about it in 1955. Today, after 45 years of further intensive research, the Kiel historian Herbert Donner draws a sobering conclusion in his “History of the People of Israel”: “It is not possible to reconstruct a route that is even somewhat reasonable and comprehensible.” The most plausible route seems to be one that was based on the need to find water, food and pasture for the cattle. According to this, Moses would probably have chosen the old trade route along the Red Sea, connecting Egypt with the turquoise mines of Serabit el-Chadem in the interior of the Sinai. From there, the Wadi Feiran provided the only viable route for a larger group to reach Moses’ mountain, Gebel Musa. The Israelites were sincerely unprepared for desert life. Again and again, according to the biblical account, they got into trouble, finding neither water nor food. Each time, their leader helped them out of trouble. From a scientific point of view, the “miracles” attributed to Moses prove above all that the prophet knew his way around the desert, better than his followers. Plausible-sounding explanations have been found for most of the miracles. The “manna that covered the ground and satiated the hungry Israelites” had already been recognized in 1823 by the German botanist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg as the secretion of a scale insect settling on the tamarisk. The quails falling from the sky had probably been exhausted migratory birds. And that nomads, like Moses, can beat water out of rock, experienced among others the British governor for the Sinai, C. S. Jarvis, in the thirties.  

True Crime

Crimes of the past – the GEO EPOCHE podcast “Crimes of the past,” GEO EPOCHE’s true-crime podcast, works through the most exciting criminal cases in history Sitting at the tomb of Pope Julius II at San Pietro in Rome is Michelangelo’s enormous Moses. With a patriarchal beard and the tablets of the law, he symbolizes the events at Mount Sinai: the handing over of the Ten Commandments, the proclamation of faith in the one God of whom it is forbidden to make an image. In deliberate contrast to the polytheism of Egypt and the entire Orient, Moses preached his rigid monotheism – for many believers the most historically significant achievement of the prophet. Modern research has put this view of things into perspective. In ancient Israel, at least until the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC, polytheism was still widespread. Yahweh was depicted figuratively and even given a female complement, the goddess Asherah. Only in a long process lasting hundreds of years had the pure form of Jewish monotheism emerged. Probably because it offered the best possibility to separate from the religions of other, politically dominating peoples.

Moses also did not formulate the Ten Commandments

Moses also lost importance in his role as a lawgiver. His cultic precepts, summarized in the third book of Moses, were not formulated by him but came much later. More importantly, even the succinctly formulated Ten Commandments are no longer considered Mosaic today. Neither is it conceivable that Moses would have prescribed the seventh day of the week as a day of rest, the Sabbath, for his band of nomads, nor does it make sense to set up the commandment “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” in the tent camp of a wandering people. It is reasonable to conclude that the Decalogue was formulated only after the land was taken in Palestine among cultivators and city dwellers. A wide variety of mountains have been named in the debate over which peak of Sinai should be considered Moses’ mountain. Most believers adhere to the conviction of the Empress Helena, who in 324 A.D. declared the 2285 meter high Gebel Musa to be the site of the event. However, it would also have been plausible if Moses, in order to be as close to God as possible, had climbed the adjacent Gebel Katarina, which is 350 meters higher. Some researchers, on the other hand, favor the 2070-meter-high Gebel Serbal, which towers above the Feiran oasis: the 40 days of waiting for Moses would have been easier for the Israelites in the oasis than on the barren edge of the other mountains. According to the Bible, those who were waiting took advantage of Moses’ absence to create a “golden calf” in the oasis as a vivid image of God. They chose this animal because it reminded them of the Apis bull, which was worshipped as a deity in Egypt. The heretical act offended Yahweh. As punishment, he did not let the Israelites see the Promised Land until the next generation. The view from Gebel Musa – the “Mount Sinai” – where God is said to have given Moses the Ten Commandments. Many pilgrims want to see the sunrise here © Neil Folberg

Moses, the prohpet between truth and fiction

Quite possibly, there was no Golden Calf. But in the dramaturgical intention with which this narrative could have been later woven into the tradition, scholars once again believe to recognize a historical core: that the Israelites actually did not go straight on to Palestine, for which they would have needed only two weeks, but stayed in the desert for several more decades. Historically, this delay would have made sense. For it was not until the Egyptians withdrew from Palestine as a regulatory power at the beginning of the 12th century that it was easier for the tribes of the desert to advance against the small kingdoms and city-states of Palestine. Moses died before his people reached the Promised Land. The Bible’s claim that he promised the new homeland in Palestine to his followers when they left Egypt does not stand up to source criticism. This link was added to the tradition only later. The life of Moses, the Exodus, the covenant with Yahweh, and the taking of the land are a still not completely deciphered mixture of truth and fiction, which the authors of the Old Testament ordered salvation-historically, not historically. Collective memories from nearly a thousand years merged to create the image of Moses, the hero, prophet and liberator of Israel. The most radical Moses biographer, the highly respected Old Testament scholar Martin Noth, who has picked apart the Moses legends like no other, concludes at the end of his reflections that only one thing is known for certain about Moses: that he is buried on Mount Nebo in what is now Jordan. So he did live. An analysis of ancient genomes suggests that the biblical Philistines were descended from people who migrated across the Mediterranean An international research team led by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Man and the Leon Levy Expedition has for the first time reconstructed and studied the genomes of people who lived in the port city of Ashkelon, one of the most important cities of the Philistines, during the Bronze and Iron Ages (about 3,600 to 2,800 years ago). The analysis revealed that around the time of the presumed arrival of the Philistines, a European gene component also arrived in Ashkelon. This suggests that the ancestors of the Philistines migrated across the Mediterranean and reached Ashkelon in the early Iron Age. These genetic findings are an important contribution to clarifying the long-debated question of the origin of the biblical Philistines. The Philistines are known from the Old Testament as the arch-enemies of the people of Israel. Legendary is the story of the fight of the young Israelite David against Goliath, a giant warrior from the camp of the Philistines. However, the ancient texts tell little about the origin of the people. Only in the Book of Amos it is said that the Philistines came from “Kaphtor” (Bronze Age name for Crete). Already more than 100 years ago Egyptologists put forward the thesis that the biblical Philistines were identical with a group called “Peleset” in texts from the late 12th century BC. And hieroglyphic inscriptions of the Egyptians postulate that the Peleset had arrived from the “islands”. In the process, they would have attacked what is now Cyprus, as well as the Turkish and Syrian coasts, and eventually attempted to take Egypt. This was the first indication that the search for the origin of the Philistines would focus on the late second millennium BC. In 1985, the Leon Levy Expedition, a project of the Semitic Museum at Harvard University, took up the search for Philistine origins in the city of Ashkelon, which, according to the Old Testament, was one of the five capitals of the Philistines. The team discovered that there must have been significant changes in the way of life in Ashkelon in the 12th century B.C., which are likely to be related to the arrival of the Philistines. However, it has been widely argued that the cultural changes occurred only through cultural exchange and an imitation of foreign ways of life, and were not accompanied by a significant influx of people. The new study is based on more than thirty years of archaeological work and genetic research using state-of-the-art methods and technologies. It concludes that the Philistines appeared on the coast of what is now Israel at the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. An immigration of people from the West is also known from this period.

The immigrants came via the Mediterranean Sea

The research team has succeeded in reconstructing and comparing the genetic material of ten people who lived in Ashkelon during the Bronze and Iron Ages. The results showed that throughout the entire period, most of the genetic material came from the local Levantine gene pool. However, people living in Ashkelon during the Early Iron Age exhibited a European ancestry component that was not present in their Bronze Age ancestors. “This genetic difference is due to a gene flow that entered Ashkelon from the west across the Mediterranean Sea at the end of the Bronze Age or the beginning of the Iron Age. This dating is consistent with estimates of the arrival of the Philistines on the Levant coast based on archaeological and written records,” explains Michal Feldman of the Max Planck Institute for Human History, lead author of the study. “While our modeling suggests a southern European gene pool as a plausible source, future sampling may help to more accurately determine the populations that introduced the European component into Ashkelon.”

Short-lived influence of the European component

When DNA from people who lived in Ashkelon in the later Iron Age was analyzed, the European component was no longer detectable. “Within less than two centuries, the genetic footprint introduced in the early Iron Age is no longer detectable and seems to have been absorbed into a local gene pool,” said Choongwon Jeong of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Man, one of the study’s corresponding authors. Daniel M. Master, leader of the Leon Levy Expedition suspects that the newcomers married into ancestral families: “In the ancient texts, the people of Ashkelon in the first millennium B.C. remained “Philistines” to their neighbors – but actually a distinction was no longer present because of their genetic makeup, perhaps due to intermarriage with local populations.” “These data begin to fill a temporal gap in the genetic map of the eastern Mediterranean coast,” explains Johannes Krause, director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Man and leader of the study. “At the same time, through comparative analysis of the human remains from Ashkelon, we find that the unique cultural traits of the early Philistines are reflected in a specific genetic signature.” Disney Forever Stamps.

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