Assimilating to Power in Two Different World-Systems: An Analysis of Paul and Herzl

Khaldoun Samman

Abstract


This essay concerns two Jewish men from different historical formations: the Apostle Paul, a Jew living in the Roman Empire in the first century and one of the founding figures of Christianity, and Theodor Herzl, a Jew living in late-nineteenth-century Austria and the founding father of Zionism, a Jewish nationalist movement. My central argument is that both men employed an assimilationist strategy that linked their identity to powerful social forces of their time, strategically restructuring their identity so that they could move into the most powerful centers of their social systemPaul navigating himself towards Rome and Herzl setting his gaze west even while physically moving east. My objective here is to demonstrate how these two Jewish figures used Christianity and Zionism, respectively, to assimilate towards those who hold real power, each of them appropriating the ideology of his movement in order to join the most powerful sector of his world. Yet I also intend to demonstrate that, while they both shared a desire to assimilate to power, the strategies they implemented to reach their goals were radically different: Paul using a universalistic discourse, what I shall call Israel in the spirit, whereas Herzl chose the particularistic discourse of Israel in the flesh. This is due, I argue, to the fact that both of these great historical figures were reacting to the social and political forces of their times, Paul to the centripetal forces of ancient world-empires and Herzl to the centrifugal forces of the modern world-system.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2006.382

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