The Bible and Israeli Identity

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ldquo;In our two thousand years of exile, we have not totally lost our creativity, but the sheen of the Bible dulled in exile, as did the sheen of the Jewish people. Only with the renewal of the homeland and Hebrew independence have we been able to reassess the Bible in its true, full light,” Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote in 1953. This statement illustrates several core attitudes of the Jewish national renaissance movement towards the Bible. Ben-Gurion depicted a direct relationship between the state of the Jewish people and the status of the Bible: The two rose and fell together. His words are reminiscent of philosopher Martin Buber, Revisionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky, and others, all of whom postulated a symbiotic relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel: “Just as the Jewish people need the land to live a full life, so the land needs the Jewish people to be complete” wrote Buber. The Bible, according to Ben-Gurion, was the third component of the Jewish “holy trinity” of people, land, and book. It served as testimony of Jewish national life in the land of Israel in former times, as a blueprint for reestablishing this way of life, as proof of a glorious past and promise for the future. It nurtured a national romanticism and both inspired and buttressed universal ideas; it was the bedrock of myth and epos, of earthliness and valor, and also of a system of ethics and faith that rein in and restrain muscle and brawn. It was paradoxical proof of both Jewish uniqueness and Jewish similitude, “like all the nations” (I Samuel 8:5); “materialism” and “spirituality”; historical continuity and historical severance between the people and the land.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-41
Number of pages31
JournalAJS Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2004


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