Monday, April 22, 2013

Eran Shalev's "American Zion"

Eran Shalev is a senior lecturer in the History Department at Haifa University, Israel, and the author of Rome Reborn on Western Shores: Historical Imagination and the Creation of the American Republic.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Zion introduces us to the rich biblical imagination of antebellum Americans, who consistently understood themselves as the New Israel, a nation favored by God and guided by providence. The page examines a long-winded History of the Late War (1819), an account of the War of 1812 against Britain, which was thoroughly written as a biblical text: the language, diction, rhythm and verses are all recognizably biblical, while the content of that history is, of course, American. That patriotic tract was not a parody or satire. In referring to modern inventions such as cannons as “battering rams” who “cast forth weapons of destruction, which were not known in the days of [biblical] Jehoshophat,” The History of the Late War rendered a biblical-American chronicle, which was intended to manipulate readers into understanding their nation as a latter day Israel set to inherit the American Promised Land. The significance of this pseudo-biblical style is evident when recognizing the abundance of similar texts that are detailed and contextualized in the pages surrounding 99. This distinct pseudobiblicism compelled Americans to articulate their history and present it as if it belonged to a sacred historical dimension. It provides a good example of the other now alien manifestations that demonstrate the centrality of the Old Testament as a political text. That eccentric biblical imagination, exemplified by The History of the Late War, stand at the core of American Zion and constitutes an important aspect of the formation of American nationalism. Test 99 prevails!
Learn more about the book and author at Eran Shalev's website.

--Marshal Zeringue