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Racial supersessionism

To recapitulate, the relationship between this oriental spirit and that of the Christian West came in the nineteenth century to be associated to a large extent (though never exclusively) with the relationship between an alleged Semitic and an alleged Aryan race. The development of the race concept here and elsewhere is closely tied to the development in the West of various forms of evolutionary thought. Within human society, evolutionist schemes represented the civilization of the ascendant West, with its Christian heritage, as the pinnacle of lawful historical processes. A new concept of time took hold, dubbed “mundane time” by Johannes Fabian. The term refers to a revised concept of time not as an abstract entity independent of cultural content, but as a sequence of “ages and stages,” one following the other.16

Arabizing the Bible 181

Figure 10.1

Gustave Dore, The Ascension, woodblock engraving (Figure 223,

Dore Bible Illustrations, ed. by Millicent Rose, New York, Dover, 1974)

Figure 10.2

Gustave Dore, The Descent of the Spirit, woodblock engraving (Figure 224, Dore Bible Illustrations, ed. by Millicent Rose, New York, Dover, 1974)

The weightiest example is the evolutionary scheme propounded by Hegel. Hegel posited several stages of religious civilization, each the property of a distinctive population. He classified Judaism and Islam together as “religions of the sublime”: sublime in his view because they subordinated all reality to the concept of an external One God.17 This was not a complement. Hegel explained that in the Jewish religion consciousness of the self was no more than an element of being conscious of divine power, i.e.

my consciousness knows itself through and through as dependent, as unfree. The relationship [is that] of the servant to a Lord; the fear of the lord is what defines it. In any religion, such as Judaism or Islam, where God is comprehended only under the abstract category of the one, this human lack of freedom is the real basis, and humanity’s relationship to God takes the form of a heavy yoke, of onerous service. True liberation is to be found in Christianity, in the Trinity.18

Elsewhere Hegel suggests that the proposition that there is only one God and “he is a jealous God who will have no other gods before him” is “the great thesis of the Jewish, of overall Arab religion of the western Orient and Africa.”19 Notice that Hegel speaks here of “Arab,” not “Islamic” religion. He may be conceptualizing “Jewish” as an instance of “Arab,” a usage that notably occurs, though some decades later, in Benjamin Disraeli’s fiction.20 At any rate, in Hegel’s conception of history as one tremendous dialectic, major stages chart the evolution from self-alienating slavery to self-realizing citizenship, and the Jewish-Islamic stage occupies a stage lower than that of western Christianity.

Hegel’s writing on the progress of the Geist from “Arabic” Judaism and Islam to Christian and “Germanic” Protestantism is racist in the cultural but not yet the biological sense. However, he was writing at a time when cultural racism and biological racism were already allied in contemporary debates about slavery, which connected skin color to one’s cultural capacity to live free.21 His evolutionary scheme of civilizations is implicitly a part of an effort to find independent justification for Northern European imperialism, which was on the surge during his lifetime.

Looked at specifically in the context of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, Hegel’s scheme was also a sort of secularization of the classic Christian attitude to the difference between the two religions, and between the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New: supersessionism. A supersessionist attitude does not reject the earlier stage as worthless. On the contrary, it sees it as essential, and may even romanticize it as glorious.

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