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Bible and Sword

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Bible and Sword

  By Barbara W. Tuchman











  A Ballantine Books Trade Paperback Edition

  Copyright © 1956 by New York University Press. Copyright renewed 1984 by Barbara W. Tuchman

  Preface copyright © 1984 by Barbara W. Tuchman

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  Preface originally published in German in Bibel und Schwert: Palästina und der Westen vom frühen Mittelalter bis zur Balfour-Declaration 1917 by S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt. Copyright © 1983 by S. Fischer Verlag GmbH.

  Reprinted from the original edition of 1956

  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 83-91154

  eISBN: 978-0-307-79799-5

  This edition published by arrangement with the author.


  In Memory of my Parents

  Alma Morgenthau and

  Maurice Wertheim

  “No other problem of our time is rooted so deeply in the past.” [REPORT OF THE ROYAL PALESTINE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY, 1937]



  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page





  I ORIGINS: A Fable Agreed Upon 1. Search for an Ancestor

  2. The Phoenicians in Albion

  3. Roman Judaea and Roman Britain

  II APOSTLE TO THE BRITONS: Joseph of Arimathea





  VII ON THE EDGE OF PROPHECY: Puritan England and the Hope of Israel

  VIII ECLIPSE OF THE BIBLE: The Reign of Mr. Worldly Wiseman

  IX THE EASTERN QUESTION: Clash of Empires in Syria



  XII ENTER THE JEWS: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”


  XIV CLOSING IN: Disraeli, Suez, and Cyprus

  XV THE EAGLES GATHER: The Sultan’s Dilemma

  XVI HERZL AND CHAMBERLAIN: The First Territorial Offer

  XVII CULMINATION: The Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate 1. Mr. Balfour and Dr. Weizmann

  2. The Balfour Declaration: ACETONE OR CONSCIENCE?

  3. In the Trap of History: THE MANDATE

  POSTSCRIPT: End of the Vision


  About the Author


  Inspired by the re-creation of the state of Israel, work on this book was begun thirty-five years ago in 1948 and it was originally published eight years later in 1956. The prolonged gestation was owed partly to the necessity of dividing my time with three young children, the youngest born in 1948, and partly, after the book was finished, to the reluctance of publishers to take a chance on an unknown author and a rather eccentric subject. The unknown and untried do not commonly find publishers eagerly waiting to invest in their efforts. Eventually, New York University Press decided to make the venture and I am happy to record here my thanks to them for the confidence that resulted in my first published book.

  The reestablishment of the state of Israel in the same land with the same people and same language after 1900 years of exile seemed to me a unique historical event. I could not think of anything comparable. The history of the Jews is in any case intensely peculiar in the fact of having given the Western world its concept of origins and monotheism, its ethical traditions, and the founder of its prevailing religion, yet suffering dispersion, statelessness, and ceaseless persecution, and finally in our times nearly successful genocide, dramatically followed by fulfillment of the never-relinquished dream of return to the homeland. Viewing this strange and singular history one cannot escape the impression that it must contain some special significance for the history of mankind, that in some way, whether one believes in divine purpose or inscrutable circumstance, the Jews have been singled out to carry the tale of human fate.

  As a person with primary interest in history since childhood, and a belief since childhood that the most glorious accomplishment was to write a book, now I suddenly had my subject. It would not be a history of Zionism, since I was not equipped with the languages and background to tackle that; but the origins of the Balfour Declaration which officially reopened Palestine to the Jews was something I felt I could manage. Being reasonably familiar with British history, and at least initially acquainted with the sources, this aspect of the story was within my scope. That more experienced scholars might hesitate to take on a stretch of time that, as it developed, reached from the Bronze Age to Balfour did not occur to me. I simply plunged in with the fearlessness, as a critic was later to remark, of the autodidact.

  What should perhaps be explained is why the narrative was not carried on through the thirty year period of the Mandate to the birth of the state in 1948, and why now, after another thirty year period of turbulent history I have not added a supplement bringing the story up to date. The reason is basic to the function of historian, as I see it. In the writing of history one cannot be cooly objective, for that would be to renounce opinion, feeling, and judgment. But at the least one should be as far as possible detached. As regards the fortunes of the Jews and of Israel, I am not detached but emotionally involved. That may be permissible—or unavoidable—to a journalist who tends to become advocate or adversary on strongly felt issues but it invalidates the work of a historian. I found this out when, at the request of the original publisher, I tried indeed to carry the narrative through the Mandate to 1948. It turned into polemic. The British betrayal of their own impulse in establishing the national home, the White Paper policy, the collusion with the Arabs, the ramming of the Exodus and detention of Jewish refugees from Hitler in new concentration camps on Cyprus, and finally the encouragement of the Arab offensive on the heels of Britain’s departure was all impossible to relate without outrage. This is not a suitable condition for a historian. The pages I produced were out of keeping with the rest of the book and would have impaired its value. I tore them up and let the book terminate as originally planned, in 1918.

  Since 1948, statehood and territory have accomplished two transformations in the condition of the Jewish people. For the first time since 70 A.D. they are no longer wanderers, exiles, aliens in other peoples’ lands. They have their own land and they have sovereignty, and this has made the difference. They are in a position to speak for themselves, to define their own goals and policies, and if not entirely in command of their fate, as no nation now is in this globally interconnected world, they are at least their own masters as they once were from Moses to the Maccabees.

  The change is reflected in the position of the Jews of the diaspora, not so much in the attitude of non-Jews toward them as in their attitude toward themselves, which is the important thing. Sovereignty in Israel has imparted dignity, co
nfidence, self-respect and a straighter stature to Jews wherever they live. They cannot be the same convenient butt for persecution as during the vulnerable twenty centuries of statelessness, not because anti-Semitism will disappear—it is too useful a vent when for one reason or another societies become disturbed and vengeful—but because Jews will no longer feel like victims. It is the vulnerable and the helpless who invite persecution, but since re-acquiring sovereignty, Jews outside as well as inside Israel have gained the courage and confidence for self-defense.

  The second transformation has been negative in that a consequence of nationhood has been to make the Jews like other nations. To sustain and defend their state, they have had to use the world’s methods, and to have recourse to force that their neighbors have used against them. The dream of a fruitful, peaceful nation that drew the early Zionists has not been allowed realization. Subjected to attack, Israel has had to make itself stronger and more effective in the use of force than its surrounding enemies. This has aroused cries of moral outrage abroad as if Israel had introduced something new and horrid into the relations of states and into the affairs of men. Israeli settlements in occupied territory have been virtuously denounced by Americans with short memories of how Texas was settled and then annexed when no question of survival was at stake.

  Survival has been the strongest Jewish principle since the dispersion of the ten tribes, the first fall of the Temple, the Babylonian exile, the Roman conquest, the second exile, and through the long centuries of Christianity’s odium and its injuries. With Israel reconstituted at long last, the principle is not likely to be abandoned now, regardless of the breast-beating of Jacobo Timerman. To become like other nations has been the tragedy of statehood, the price of avoiding the greater tragedy of disappearance.


  Cos Cob, Connecticut

  June 1983


  The origins of Britain’s role in the restoration of Israel, which is the subject of the following pages, are to be found in two motives, religious and political. One was a debt of conscience owed to the people of the Bible, the other was the strategy of empire which required possession of their land. In 1917 in the course of battle against the Turks, Britain found herself faced with the most delicate conquest in all imperial history. She could have taken Palestine without bothering about its ancient proprietors. Instead, before Allenby entered Jerusalem, Britain, in an odd gesture known as the Balfour Declaration, declared that the country would be open to resettlement by the Jews. As a voluntary assumption of an obligation by a conqueror to a stateless people, the Declaration was something new in the pattern of protectorates. Although later repudiated by its sponsors, it led to an event unique in history, the recreation of a state after a lapse of sovereignty more than two thousand years long.

  Palestine, the Holy Land, the source of the Judaeo-Christian civilization of the Western world, had too much history to be conquered in that fit of absence of mind in which Britain, according to a celebrated epigram, had managed her other conquests. It had been the battleground of Hebrews and Assyrians, Greeks and Persians, Romans and Syrians, Saracens and Franks, Turks and Europeans. More blood has been shed for Palestine than for any other spot on earth. To Protestant England it was not only, as Lord Curzon said, the “holiest space of ground on the face of the globe,” the land of the Scriptures, the land of the Crusades, the land “to which all our faces are turned when we are finally laid in our graves in the churchyard.” It was also the geographical junction between East and West, the bridgehead between three continents, the focal point in the strategy of empire, the area necessary to the defense of the Suez Canal, the road to India and the oil fields of Mosul.

  Obviously Palestine was scheduled for inclusion in the British Empire. But why, when the moment was at hand, did England add on the Balfour Declaration? Reasons of empire do not explain it. But long before Britain was an empire or even a maritime power an attachment to Palestine had been developing for spiritual or sentimental or moral or religious reasons or what might be called collectively cultural reasons. Among these the English Bible and its prophecies was the most important single factor. For the Bible, which was a history of the Hebrews and of the prophet they rejected, came to be adopted, in Thomas Huxley’s phrase, as “the national epic of Britain.” Thereafter England had, so to speak, one foot in Palestine. The other foot was brought in by the requirements of empire that began to be apparent during the Eastern Crisis of the 1830’s and were epitomized by a writer in 1917 as “the insistent logic of the military situation on the banks of the Suez Canal.”

  This book is an attempt to trace up from its beginnings the development of the twin motives, the cultural and imperial, the moral and material, in short to follow Bible and sword until they lead to the Mandate. The power motive is easy to trace, being based on the hard facts of geography, of dates, battles, treaties, and the stuff of power politics. The other is rooted in spongier ground: myths, legends, traditions, ideas. These are, however, of equal importance in the fabric of history and in motivating the behavior of governments and nations. For, as Professor Turner has pointed out, “history originated as myth” and becomes a “social memory” to which men can appeal, “knowing it will provide justification for their present actions or convictions.”

  If it were not for the conventions of chronology this book would have been told backwards, like a detective story which starts with the denouement and traces clues back to the original motive. That method would have avoided the possible impression that the circumstances of the early chapters necessarily predicated the outcome. They do not form an inevitable progression. Other lands shared with England many of the same ties with Palestine. France played a greater role in the Crusades, Germany underwent a Reformation and Old Testament indoctrination as profound, Holland had a greater trade with the Levant and sheltered the Jews when there were none in England. To put into one narrative various episodes, strains, and influences in England’s history that are connected with Palestine is not to argue that each led inevitably to the next but rather that all played some part in the “social memory” behind the eventual sponsorship of Israel’s return. Before 1830 this final outcome was at no time inevitable. Lord Shaftesbury’s adventure marks the point when events began leading logically toward the Mandate. Probably Disraeli’s acquisition of the Suez Canal and Cyprus, 1874–78, made the physical conquest of Palestine inevitable. This was the point of no return.

  And so General Allenby entered Jerusalem in 1918, succeeding where Richard the Lion-Hearted had failed. But for that victory the restoration of Israel might not yet be an accomplished fact. Nor would Allenby have succeeded if Richard had not tried; that is to say, if Christianity had not originally supplied the basis for the attachment to the Holy Land. It is a curious irony that the Jews retrieved their home partly through the operation of the religion they gave the Gentiles.

  If in our times Bevin did his best to cancel out Balfour, that was one of those tragic twists of history that can never be erased. But in view of the ultimate result that the Jews won for themselves they can perhaps afford to apply to Israel Sir Horace Plunkett’s dictum on his own country’s history: that it was one “for Englishmen to remember and Irishmen to forget.”

  Historically the occupier of Palestine has always met disaster, beginning with the Jews themselves. The country’s political geography has conquered its rulers. But now that the original occupant has returned, perhaps the curse will run its course, and the most famous land in history may some day find peace.



  A Fable Agreed Upon

  1. Search for an Ancestor

  “Our reason for turning to Palestine is that Palestine is our country. I have used that expression before and I refuse to adopt any other.”

  The speaker was an Englishman, Dr. William Thomson, Archbishop of York, who was addressing the Palestine Exploration Fund in the year 1875. He went on to explain that Palestine was
his country because it had given him the “laws by which I try to live” and the “best knowledge I possess.” He was referring of course to the Bible, the book of the Hebrew nation and its prophets that came in time to be, as Thomas Huxley said, the “national epic” of England.

  For thousands of years already the English had turned toward Palestine in search of their antecedents as the salmon swims back from the sea to the headwaters of its birth. Long before modern archaeology provided a scientific answer, some dim race memory had drawn their thoughts eastward. Man’s earliest instinct has always been to find his ancestor—his Creator first, perhaps, and then his ancestor. He has been speculating about him, creating images of him, spinning tales about him, ever since he first began to think. The ancestor image evolved by the English was a dual personality compounded of Brutus, grandson of the Trojan Aeneas, and Gomer, grandson of Noah. He was, in short, a product of the classical legends of Greece and Rome and the Hebrew legends of Palestine; an emigrant from Asia Minor, the cradle of civilization.

  In a sense the image-makers were right without knowing it. Centuries later the image of the first inhabitant of Britain evolved by the anthropologists from the accumulated data of head shapes, hair colorings, and flint fragments turns out, curiously enough, to have come from the same part of the world. Without going into the anthropological reasons for believing so, it may be said that the pre-Celt in Britain is considered to have been of Mediterranean if not actually Middle Eastern origin. This shadowy Stone Age figure whose curled-up skeleton lies so mutely, so nakedly in the unearthed burial chambers is the end product so far in the scientific search for a British ancestor.

  But who was he, and where did he come from? Tradition, anticipating archaeology, had traced this British ancestor back to Asia Minor, to that remote, uncertain spot where Noah and his family began the repopulation of the world after the Flood. Tradition is, of course, not scientific fact, but scientific fact is not always available. When the truth—that is, verifiable fact—is unobtainable, then tradition must substitute. One historian, Sir John Morris-Jones, has defined tradition as “a popular account of what once took place.” It thus becomes, he adds, “one of our data to be accounted for and interpreted.” As such it usually has more influence than actual fact over the behavior of nations. A nation’s past history governs its present actions–but only in terms of what its citizens believe their past history to have been. For history, as Napoleon so succinctly put it, “is a fable agreed upon.”

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