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Authors: Barbara W. Tuchman

Bible and Sword

BOOK: Bible and Sword
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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.” [
, 1937]


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, confidence, 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
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.

BOOK: Bible and Sword
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