Professor Gribetz has done us all an enormous service. Learning that two scholars failed to write a collaborative history of Israel-Palestine speaks volumes. Every nation has its own self-serving origins myth, such as what American children were once taught about the New World being populated only by a small number of “savages” before it was “discovered” by Europeans. Historians have been advised not to specialize in the history of their own country, so they will be more objective. As a remarkable new book, The Dawn of Everything, explains, European missionaries who got to know the native Americans well had to admit they were superior in many ways, including in their use of rhetoric, and their accounts were avidly read back in Europe, contributing to the Enlightenment.

We can be grateful that three other scholars — Egyptian, Israeli, and Palestinian — succeeded in a joint narrative of the relevant history. Peace cannot be achieved without a shared understanding of the region’s history.

It’s fascinating to learn that Zionism began in the 19th century, and that it had so many contrasting goals. I heard long ago that it was galvanized by two opposite fears — that European Jews weren’t safe; and, in Germany, that they were in danger of being assimilated so fully that they would lose their distinct identity. I also heard a scholar speculate that widespread loss of belief in G-d among Jews as a result of the Holocaust led to belief in Israel unconsciously becoming a substitute unifying core tenet in the diaspora.

Enough said. Yet I can’t resist adding that a Jewish scholar I spoke with years ago told me Judaism did not become fully monotheistic until early in the Christian era. For centuries, it was instead “monolatrous,” meaning that the Jews respected other Canaanite deities and their worshippers, but made a covenant with their G-d. The Torah’s various names for G-d may be remnants of that earlier history.

The much maligned “pagans” respected their neighbors’ spiritual beliefs. They did not go to war over religions.

Richard M. Waugaman ’70
Potomac, Md.