Monday, November 14, 2011

The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions

Tiberiu Weisz has written an interesting book about the stone inscriptions of the Kaifeng Jews that is not without some problems, both at the level of terminology, and his wider theories of the Jewish dispersion.

There is no doubt that a fresh English translation of the inscriptions is necessary.  Weisz provides one, and shows us some of the problems with White’s translation of some forty years ago.  

Weisz main contention is that the Kaifeng Jews were not recent arrivals in China, but returning.  He rests this theory on one particular word in one of the stone inscriptions.  This is fine in and of itself, but it has two problems.  First, one must trust that the stone inscriptions are pure history, and not the pious fictions of the Kaifeng Jewish community. Second, you must posit a much earlier date for the entry of Jews into China, and there is simply no evidence of this at all.

To this end, Weisz uses the term “Israelite” a great deal, a specific term denoting the tribal era of the history of Israel as a people.  Here, he implies that Jews entered China when they were Israelites, a conclusion with no compelling evidence.  He even confuses terms a great deal, using the word “Jew” and “Israelite” in the same sentence.  In religious Judaism this is often the same thing, but in scholarly studies, the two terms connote two very different sets of peoples at different times.

Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough rigor in this study to be convincing.  The good points that Weisz makes get overshadowed by his baseless theories and sloppy use of terminology.

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