A longtime friend of prof bug named Matt ... --- a prominent Lutheran Pastor who knew Martin Luther King and marched with him in demonstrations against prejudice --- asked in a recent email sent to bug whether the word "Semite" refers to Jews only or to others as well.
THE ANSWER: YES AND NO
THE TERM SEMITE MEANS WHAT?
In their origins, "Semitic" and "Semite" are strictly linguistic term developed by European and American linguists and anthropologists in the 19th and early 20th century that referred to a family of somewhat similar languages originating about 3000 to 3500 years ago in the Middle East.
That linguistic family and its varieties --- like, say, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French all considered a family of Romance languages --- were used by disparate ancient peoples in the Saudi Peninsula and nearby regions, though there were other peoples in the Middle East who didn't speak or write in those Semitic languages.
The most historically prominent of those diverse peoples sharing family-like languages were the Jews, Akkadians, Phoenicians, and possibly Arabs who lived in disparate tribal groups for centuries in the Saudi region. And so, if Semites is a term referring to a loosely shared set of languages, the answer to Matt's query is --- YES, there were different peoples other than the ancient Jews who spoke different variations of the shared Semitic language-family.
BUT "NO" OTHERWISE
Overwhelmingly, the original cultures and languages of those non-Jewish peoples sharing Semitic languages thousands of years ago disappeared over time. Yep disappeared, not just changed.
This was especially the case after 632 with the death of Mohammed . . . followed immediately by the rapid spread out of Saudi Arabia of conquering Islamic militaries and, no less important, the subsequent adoption by the conquered peoples of the Arabic language and Arabic culture all over the Middle East and North Africa. At most, over time, there have been some minor differences of shared Arab or Persian cultures . . . plus, of course, the two major competitive hate-filled religious sects of Islam: mainly Sunni (about 86% of all Muslims) vs. Shiites (about 12%) --- both sects persecuting, torturing, or killing off one another with glaring glee. With both major sects persecuting, torturing, or killing off some minor sub-branches such as Sufis (mystical Muslims), Druze, Baha'is, Alevis, and Alawis. All these latter are regarded by mainstream Sunnis and Shiites as horendous heretical-sects, usually in need of blazing punishment for their religious sins.
Something to stress here: just how quickly Arab conquests were achieved once they were on the jihadi warpath. The initial vanquished "non-believers" (Kafir in Arabic) were the legendary Byzantine and Persian armies ---the first Orthodox Catholic in religion and the latter mainly Zoroastrian (dualist believers in a bad-guy God and a higher-level good-guy God at battle with one another, the dualism shared by Gnostic Manichaeism). Persia was entirely conquered in the 630's C.E., with Islam imposed more or less on them if they knew what was "good" for them.
As for the Byzantine Orthodox Christian Empire, in the 630's C.E., Arab militaries drove it swiftly out of the Levant --- roughly, in today's terms, the areas of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel --- but it remained a very powerful Greek-speaking Empire elsewhere for hundreds of more years, during which it was at war repeatedly with Muslim Arabs, or the vast Muslim Persian Empire, or eventually the Muslim Ottoman Turks from the middle 14th century on. In 1453, the Ottomans destroyed once and for all the remnants that remained of the 10-century old Byzantine Empire. By then, the Ottoman Empire was already vast in scope and then went on to conquer much of Southern and Eastern Europe in the centuries to follow 1453.
Back to conquered Persia.
In the 16th century, the new Persian Emperor (the 1st in the Safavid dynasty) shifted Islam in his country and the larger empire away from Sunny to Shia Muslim worship and laws. His motive? Mainly to ensure that the age-old Persian language and age-old impressive culture distinguished Persia and its vast empire from the hated Sunni Arabs and Ottomans (and for a while the Turkish-Uzbek Muslims). Large massacres and wholesale torture and slaughter then followed in Persia for the Sunni clerics, scholars, and average people who wouldn't convert to Shia Islam or exile themselves.
As you can easily grasp, lots of crackling hatreds and violence have marked historically the interactions of various branches and subbranches of Islam. Is it different today in the religion of peace?
Ha!Ha! - If You Guessed Wrong. No Different at All. Gory Internecine Wars Galore.
In the various wars between different kinds of Islam, Muslims have been persecuting or outrightly massacring one another for 1400 years, and almost non-stop with glee. Why should it be different in 2015? [Might as well ask the Spaniards to stop tormenting and killing bulls; or the British to stop drinking coffee and switch back to mainly tea again; or the French to bring back their great culinary traditions, now tattered beyond recognition (70% of all French restaurants were found by the French government in 2013 to mainly heating up processed food in microwave ovens and only 20% have received a formal endorsement from the government for using slightly more than 60% fresh food.]
The latest wars in the Middle East these days are found everywhere among Sunni countries, often led or attacked by frothing half-crazed Sunni jihadists --- their on-the-warpath-minds full of murderous fantasies on behalf of Allah's wish for Islam to conquer the world, Sunni dark-age version of course. With, needless to add, there'll be all those mind-frenzied mainstream Shias --- joined by heretical and non-heretical Shias all over the Saudi Peninsula and some from Persia: their eyes hard and deranged-looking, --- on-the-hunt to kill Sunnis for the sake of Shiite martyrdom and the 72 gorgeous virgins all panting and waiting for the brave martyrs to go skyhooting directly to paradise. Be assured though. Sooner or later, like all exhausted massacre-mongering killers, both Sunni and Shia liquidators will need to take some R&R away from their slaughter-house warring with one another and resort to some effortless fun by torturing and butchering as many Muslim Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Jews, Bahai, Buddhists, Gnostic Zoroastrians and Gnostic Mandaeians as they can find in their path.
Not to worry, all ye armchair aficianodos of atrocious wars!
After a couple of days of torturing, raping, and gruesome luiquidating the defenseless minorities, the brave Shia and Sunni- warriors --- nicely rested and their heavenly visions flaring with renewed hatred --- will continue their irresistible bloodbath carnage of one another.
A Key Question Prompts Itself Here: Is Islam, Then, More HISTORICALLY Bloodthirsty than Christianity?
The answer: Another Yes and No. It depends on the motivations for the wars we're talking about.
If the answer focuses strictly on religion motives for warfare among Muslims and also against non-believing "infidels" for a good 1400 years now, then clearly the judgment has to be NO . . . Islamic-warfare has been no more murderous than Christian warfare for 1600 years. Historically, going back to the early 4th century when Constantine the Great, the Emperor of the Roman Empire, converted the Empire to Christian religion, religious motives have animated all forms of brutal wars against Christian "heretics" over and again, and against Jews, Muslims, "pagans", and of course between Protestants and Catholics in the 16th and early 17th centuries.
But YES, Islam has been more bloodthirsty than Christianity if we focus strictly on religious motivations again --- and, more to the point, blood-thirstier since the middle of the 17th century. How so? In 1648, after more than a century of raging wars between Protestants and Catholics, the various leaders of European countries and principalities met and agreed to abide by what has been known as the Treaty of Westphalia. By signing it, the Kings and Princes would leave it up to one another to decide which version of Christianity would dominate over their peoples.
Click on the continue button
By contrast, Muslim-wars among themselves for religious motives have been and remain rabidly frenzied right down to today. Don't misunderstand the yes-and-no claims here. The end of religious-inspired wars among Christians or of Christians against non-Christians, to repeat, didn't stop vast butchery and carnage among Christian countries and Empires for secular reasons or against overseas countries and continents they colonized before and after 1648.
Like it or not, for another 3 centuries ( down to the end of WWII), raging warfare among European countries --- including at times the English-speaking countries overseas--- obviously continued. In WWI and WWII, about 60 to 70 million Europeans alone perished (ignoring for the moment the 30 million Asians the rabid Japanese conquerors caused in WWII). Only . . . well, a crux-point, the motives for the wars between Christian countries and with non-Christian ones for 300 to 350 years now have NOT been markedly motivated by religious fervor: rather, by some combinations of greed, glory, colliding political ideologies, boundary disputes, and psychopathic leaders in power like Hitler or Napoleon . . . not to forget those same secular motives at work among competing European empire-builders in the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Those vast historical European slaughterhouse wars with one another for secular reasons didn't stop, to repeat, until the end of WWII in 1945. Since then, the Cold War between the American-led NATO and the Soviet Communists managed to end peacefully, and the wars between Europeans since 1990 have been much smaller . . . such as in the Balkans in the 1990s and in Georgia and Ukraine more recently, both courtesy of Putin's Russian aggression.
That said, furious hot-lit wars for religious reasons continue even today all over the Islamic world, and not just in the Middle East and North Africa.
BACK TO THE MEANING OF TERM SEMITE: WHAT FOLLOWS?
Over the last 1500 years, to clarify again, the term "Arabs" now refers to the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa who speak Arabic and are fully adapted to Islamic cultures, again with some very small cultural variations across the 22 Arab countries in existence today. (The biggest difference is between dominant Sunni Islam and the small minorities inside those countries who are Shia, with Iraq the big exception. Shias are by far the majority of Arabs there.) In those 15 centuries, the various Semitic-languages and disparate cultures once used for thousands of years have noticeably disappeared. The same is true for any other ancient languages among Arab peoples today.
Enter Genetic Studies of the Arab peoples
Genetically analyzed, the original Semitic-speaking peoples of Mesopotamia and the rest of the Fertile Crescent (including Turkey and ancient Hebrew-speakers) turn out, not surprisingly, to have some shared genes in common --- going back, obviously, to the same small groups of homo-sapiens who began to move out of Africa into the Mesopotamian and Fertile Crescent regions not long after 50,000 BC.E. That date is more or less what anthropology and archaeology now agree on. Obviously, over the next 40-45,000 years, the small group of homo-sapiens who moved out of Africa into those new regions underwent Otherwise, they have had increasingly different histories and distinctive group-specific cultures and languages. Consider this statement summarizing lots of genetic studies of the early human-sapiens:
"Genetic studies indicate that modern Jews (Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi specifically), Levantine Arabs, Assyrians, Samaritans, Syriacs-Arameans, Maronites, Druze, Mandaeans, and Mhallami, all have an ancient indigenous common Near Eastern heritage which can be genetically mapped back to the ancient Fertile Crescent, but often also display genetic profiles distinct from one another, indicating the different histories of these people." Click for Source:
The key point to remember here:
After 1500 years of adopting Islam as a religion and living with Arab-based cultural life (with some minor differences across the 22 Arab countries), the originally distinct Arab peoples have far more in common linguistically and culturally with one another --- yes, all 400 million of them --- to the point they aren't aware of different origins several thousand years ago. That's the case despite the domestic furies now at work within the 22 Arab countries and fully raging as well across their borders. And so . . . if you were to ask the average Arab-speaking persons these days whether they are Semitic in origin, chances are you would draw a total blank. Or they would then say, after the huh and the lifted-eyebrow-quizzical-look, "No, I am an Arab living in Egypt, or Morocco, or the West Bank, or Iraq (etc)."
ENTER THE ONE EXCEPTION: JEWS
For about 30 centuries now, Jews not only remain genetically similar in some key DNA findings --- this, despite out-marriages and very different regions of the world where they have lived since their Diaspora (1900 years ago) --- but also, despite the different regions and language usage by Jews for 19 centuries, share a sense of identified ancient culture and common ethnic ancestry. Needless to add, they are the only ancient Semitic-speaking people who have these commonalities in 2015.
They have adapted their shared religion to different circumstances since 1500 B.C.E. --- explained below and again a little later in this posted article --- but they have never accepted continuous efforts to force them to change their religion to the conquerors who ruled over them.
THE DATA HERE FOR THESE CLAIMS: GENETIC STUDIES
Recent genetic studies based on DNA testing show close genetic relations among Jewish populations around the globe whether or not they have been isolated from one since the start of their Diaspora starting in the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E. Source: click here
- "Genetic studies indicate that modern Jews (Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi specifically), Levantine Arabs, Assyrians, Samaritans, Syriacs-Arameans, Maronites, Druze, Mandaeans, and Mhallami, all have an ancient indigenous common Near Eastern heritage which can be genetically mapped back to the ancient Fertile Crescent, but often also display genetic profiles distinct from one another, indicating the different histories of these people."
- "Studies of autosomal DNA, which look at the entire DNA mixture, have become increasingly important as the technology develops. They show that Jewish populations have tended to form relatively closely related groups in independent communities, with most in a community sharing significant ancestry in common. For Jewish populations of the Diaspora, the genetic composition of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jewish populations show a predominant amount of shared Middle Eastern ancestry. According to Behar, the most parsimonious explanation for this shared Middle Eastern ancestry is that it is 'consistent with the historical formulation of the Jewish people as descending from ancient Hebrew and Israelite residents of the Levant" and "the dispersion of the people of ancient Israel throughout the Old World.'
- "North African, Italian and others of Iberian origin show variable frequencies of admixture with non-Jewish historical host populations among the maternal lines. In the case of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews (in particular Moroccan Jews), who are apparently closely related, the non-Jewish component is mainly southern European. The studies show that therein and Black Cochin Jews of India, Beta Israel of Ethiopia, and a portion of the Lemba people of southern Africa, while more closely resembling the local populations of their native countries, have some ancient Jewish descent."
Actually, there had been several Diaspora-migrations similar to the one that the Romans forced on the defeated Jews in two huge wars in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries C.E. --- whether forced or voluntary.
Forced thanks to the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Later on, in the Middle Ages, forced out of Britain twice, out of France three time, German states several times, Spain totally (1492, never to return), and on and on . And voluntary during the Greek and Roman Empires, with Jews moving to the great city areas of Anatolia ---(roughly modern Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria ---Egypt, Greece, and Italy itself; and later on, in the middle and late 19th centuries very voluntarily and happily to Britain and above all to the USA, plus some other New World countries open to them. Not to forget again, before WWII in the 1930s and after 1945 for the survivors out of lethally death-dealing, not more Diaspora-exiles, rather a happy return after 1900 years of Jews to their original homeland.
Jews, it's worth noting, to return to the final Roman destruction of Jerusalem twice and much of the rest of Judea --- in the 60s C.E. and later in the 130s C.E. ---were the largest minority group in the Roman Empire at the start of the 1st century C.E. --- Jews 7 million in number, with the entire Roman Empire about 50 million in population.
The result of these genetic similarities across the 15 million Jews worldwide these days? Those shared DNA help underpin a strong sense of shared history, a common religious culture, and a similar history among Jews found everywhere on the globe these days. All this to repeat, despite how Jews have lived in different areas of the world for more than 1800 years (the start of the last and biggest Diaspora) . . . and how, too, they use different national languages and have lived for almost 2 millennia under different national cultures.
JUST AS A MATTER OF INTEREST,
Consider the Major Varieties of Jewish Observation Nowadays in the USA
- Orthodox (Judaism for thousands of years),
- Reform (almost 200 years old, created in Germany, with none of the rituals that mark out Orthodoxy),
- Conservative (some minor ritual observations out of choice),
- Hassidic (think of the Amish as equivalents, except in urban areas and very small in number), and a couple of small and fairly new off-the-wall varieties. Hassidic Jews are well known for their other-worldly life and constant study of the hard-to-crack mysteries of the Kaballah.
- Jews finally, especially in the USA and parts of Western Europe, who say they are ethnically Jewish and are proud of it, but are strictly secular and non-religious in orientation
In more concrete terms, to focus still on American Jews, 35% of the 6-7 million in the USA were found in a 2013 survey to identify themselves as Reform. 18% as Conservative (some minor ritual stuff); 10% as Orthodox; and 6% some off-the-wall oddities. That leaves 30% of self-identified Jews in the survey who do not identify with any denomination or feel religious despite feeling Jewish.
Despite these different religious practices, including the large number of Jewish totally secular, the 2013 survey, by The Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project, found that despite the declines in religious identity and participation, American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish and have a "strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people." Source: click here
THE ARAB TEST APPLIED TO THE JEWS THESE DAYS
Remember how buggy said that if you were to ask the average Arab among the numbering 400 million in population whether he or she identifies with Semites, you would likely draw a blank huh? Note quickly now: ask the same question of almost any Jews, you would also draw a similar response --- but for a different reason. Namely: "Don't you mean, 'Anti-Semite?' Of course I'm not Anti-Semite. Anti-Semites are Jew-haters."
Sidebar Fun: Hassidic Jews, the Kaballah, and Non-Jewish Hollywood Students of That Mystic, Hard-to-Understand Gnostic-Book
Hassidic Jews, please note, did not create Jewish mysticism and its spiritual magic uses, let alone the Kaballah itself, when Hassidim arose in the mid-18th century in Europe. Such mysticism goes back several hundred years earlier in Europe --- and thousands of years earlier than that back to the ancient Jewish homeland and nearby cities like Alexandria Egypt. Note finally that the founder of Hassidism and (the extensive use of the Kaballah besides Jewish philosophers and a few rabbis) was Baal Shem Tov, "Master of the Good Name," His real name was Israel ben-Eliezer (1698‑1760), and he lived in the Ukraine. His whole life, like the Kaballah itself, is shrouded in hard-to-crack mystery. Sources: Click here ; And here ; And finally here.
Since the mid-18th century, Hassidics --- along with a tiny handful of other mystic Jewish offshoots --- have been and are the most prominent believers in the intensive, never-agreed-upon study of the Gnostic-like mysteries of the Kaballah and its complex and mystic spiritual practices and revelations.
With, of course, one recent and media-covered exception.
Enter center-stage, ladies and gentlemen! the semi-conversions to Kaballah studies by all sorts of prominent actors, producers, directors, and other non-Jews who flock to Kaballah halls in Los Angeles, New York, Son Francisco, and other big cities to seek deep meaning in their lives by studying with Kaballah mystic-wizards. For all prof bug knows, many of these long lost-souls also live in summer caves in the Rocky mountains except when, even in the summer, they're shooting movies or have singing engagements around the world or are harassing their agents to get them into next month's TV series.
Many of these non-Jewish adult-students, it's true, convert to Judaism (but not normally to Hassidism . . . way too otherworldly). Why, though, all the intensive study of the mystic Kaballah by so many notables, wealthy or otherwise? Well, consider that great mystic philosopher Madonna and what she said when interviewed about her Kaballah studies. "Kaballah helps you think outside the box!". Wow! Did Madonna think that up herself? (She is, in fairness, a very good singer and actress . . . her great performance in the operatic film Evita a great non-Kaballah revelation to prof bug, believe you me.
MOVE ON NOW TO THE LINGUISTIC USES OF THE JEWS SINCE 1500 B.C.E.
To be continued, please note, in Part 2 of this series on Semitic language and ancient peoples