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Joseph Halévy, Racial Scholarship and the “Sumerian Problem”

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This article deals with the different racial approaches that influenced the academic debate known as “The Sumerian problem”. The so-called “problem” under discussion was the racial affiliation of the inventors of the first writing system, the cuneiform script. The notion of ‘race’, which tied religion, language and culture into one essence, played a key role here. Some scholars were eager to prove the “non-Semitic character” of such a major invention. Others were convinced that only “Semites” inhabited ancient Babylonia and thus were the only possible inventors of writing. The focus of this paper is Joseph Halévy, who was the determined leader of the “anti-Sumerist” camp. This article will show that Halévy shared many essentialist views with his anti-Semitic protagonists. He did this by applying a ‘pro-Semitic’ approach to the ‘Sumerian-problem’.

Affiliations: 1: Freie Universität Berlin


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