Baker Academic

Monday, April 15, 2013

Does Assmann's Mnemohistory Program Have Antisemitic Undertones? - Le Donne

If you've been following this blog for any time at all, you know that we talk about "memory" here and there. Much of this interest stems from Jens Schroeter's use of Maurice Halbwachs via Jan Assmann. Assmann's Moses the Egyptian was intriguing enough to give Halbwachs second and third lives in religious studies.

In this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Richard Wolin suggests that Assmann might be contributing to antisemitic sentiments.



  1. Anthony, I don't know if it's possible to comment meaningfully on anything this complex. So I'll limit my comment to the things I can say simply. In response to the question you posed in the title of this post, I think the answer is "no", except to the extent that anything related to Jews and Judaism has undertones for those who see things in a particular way. I am reading "Moses the Egyptian", and so far I've seen nothing I find offensive.

    Is there anything good to say about paganism? Of course. Is there a dark side to monotheism? Of course. Is it inherently anti-Semitic to point this out, even if one also points out that Jews played a role in the rise of monotheism and the decline of paganism? I don't think so.

    In today's world, I find anti-Semitic undertones in the argument that there's something flawed, violent and particularistic in Jewish monotheism that was fixed by the peaceful, loving and universal brand of monotheism introduced by Christianity. But I haven't seen Assmann make this argument. Assmann's take on monotheism seems applicable to Judaism and Christianity in equal measure.

  2. Does Jens use Halbwachs a lot? I know he appeals to Assmann now and again, but I can't remember him citing Halbwachs a whole lot. Regardless, that article was a fascinating read, especially because it dealt with much of Assmann's program that I have not engaged.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. My impression is that very few folks who adapt Social Memory do more than provide a passing homage to Halbwachs. I often wonder whether (if he were alive today) he would even recognize his ideas in the works under this heading. This was one of the reasons for my essay in /The Fourth Gospel in First-Century Media Culture/.