This article assumes that the Old Testament was compiled after the fall of the Northern Kingdom, with the bulk of its composition taking place after the fall of the Southern Kingdom.
The purpose of this article is to answer the question whether or not it is possible to duplicate the process of sculpting national identity through a complete redaction and reinterpretation of one’s history on the heels of a traumatic defeat. Would this redaction be successful? Or was the biblical redaction simply an anomaly?
In this answer, I will make the case that it can be duplicated—and, more than likely, is currently being duplicated—even in our modern society.
Let’s begin by reflecting on our recent history and one of the world’s most famous tyrants: Adolf Hitler. Hitler was a disgruntled art student from Austria. Rejected from serving in the Austrian forces due to his failing the physical exam, and desperate to fight in the Great War, Hitler volunteered—and was granted permission—to fight for the Bavarian (pro-German) army. During his service as a message runner on the Western Front, Hitler was part of major historical battles including the “Massacre of the Innocents” at Ypres, and the Battle of the Somme. He was injured twice (once due to artillery; once due to chemical weapons) and decorated for bravery twice.
While recovering from his mustard gas injury (which had temporarily blinded him), Hitler learned the news of Germany’s defeat. This was devastating news to the injured soldier, and it was during his recovery time he made a plan. He said, “When I was confined to bed, the idea came to me that I would liberate Germany, that I would make it great. I knew immediately that it would be realized” (Langer, p. 37). After his recovery, he went on to work out his plan which was published in his two-volume manifesto, Mein Kampf, which became like a “bible” to the Nazis.
The punishment invoked on the Germans, thanks to the Treaty of Versailles, was more than they could handle. Their money was worth nothing: some used it as wallpaper, while others burned it to stay warm. Their territory was dramatically decreased, their forces decimated, and their troops were forced out of the Rhineland. Bankrupt, humiliated, and desperate for a new sense of national identity, the German people were easily manipulated by a charismatic young leader who had a plan, offered new hope, and more than anything else, redefined what it meant to be German.
Space will not allow for the documentation of the conditions that made Hitler’s ascension to the highest position in the German government possible or his multitudinous accomplishments while in power; however, I would like to make a few.
First, Hitler began by redacting and revising the written history of the Great
War by presenting those who signed the Armistice as traitors.
The stab-in-the-back myth (Dolchstoßlegende) is the notion, widely believed in right-wing circles in Germany after 1918, that the German Army did not lose World War I but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front, especially the
republicans who overthrew the monarchy. Advocates denounced the German government leaders who signed the Armistice on November 11, 1918, as the ‘November Criminals.’ The myth was widespread, and upon seizing power, they wrote the legend into their official history.” (Wikipedia, “Stab-in-the-back myth”)
By rewriting history, Hitler kindled the flames of anti-semitism and reignited a sense of national pride and hope for a better future.
Second, Hitler believed that the key to Germany’s future laid with its youngest members of society.
In Hitler’s Germany, education would be the key that ensured that he had ‘the youth’ of Germany. Hitler’s view on education was that it served a sole purpose – to ensure that a child was loyal to the Nazi state to ensure that the Third Reich lasted for 1000 years.” (HistoryLearningSite.com)
The first book a German child would read upon entering Kindergarten was a
primer—the cover of which was extremely antisemitic. The title of the book is,
Trust No Fox on His Green Health, and No Jew on His Oath.
Hitler worked very hard to make sure the children were trained to be physically fit, to detest Jews, and to have a very ingrained sense of national pride.
Third, although Hitler was the mastermind of his “empire,” he could not have achieved what he did without the help of his Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Together Hitler and Goebbels used every means possible to spread their doctrine of Aryan supremacy and anti-Semitism. He organized book burnings, boycotts, and pogroms. Each of these, in its own way, contributed to the sense of a national identity as “other” and “special” and “superior” to others.
Censorship, propaganda, revised history, community events—Hitler (with the help of Goebbels) used all of these tactics to sway hundreds of thousands of Germans to see the world as he saw it, seek his approval for their actions, and follow his leadership. Hitler even rewrote the Bible!
Now that we have reflected on some of Hitler’s accomplishments, I would like to suggest that—even in these modern times with the internet at our fingertips—this same ability to create a sense of national identity after utter defeat by redacting and revising written history exists today, although a society’s instant access to information makes it much more difficult to do this on a national level. But it can be done.
Countries under tyrannical rule are the most vulnerable. Current possibilities include the people of North Korea under Kim Jong Un, the people of Russia under Vladimir Putin, and honestly, some of it is even happening here in America right now under the current leadership. Although the United States has not “lost” a war recently, some might argue that 9/11 generated the same reactionary behavior and identity crisis that a loss would have created–history is being rewritten, freedoms are being withdrawn, and in some cases, even the news is being filtered.
When a people who were previously united with a loose sense of self become utterly defeated, there is a great need for reinterpretation of past events, reflection on the current situation, and re-envisioning of the future. What the Biblical writers were able to accomplish for the Jewish people is truly incredible and, one could argue, supernaturally inspired. It will never be duplicated, because it happened at the perfect time and under specific circumstances in history. It will definitely be imitated whenever there is utter defeat.
“Adolf Hitler and Education”. HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2012. Web.
Langer, Walter C. The Mind of Adolf Hitler: The Secret Wartime Report. New York: Basic Books, 1943.
Wikipedia contributors, ‘Stab-in-the-back myth’, Wikipedia, The Free
Encyclopedia, 13 June 2014, 20:17 UTC, <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Stab-in-the-back_myth&oldid=612808911> [accessed 3 July 2014]