Friday, January 25, 2013

Zion in Context

Zion is a hill or mount on the north-western edge of Jerusalem. It derives from a fortification what existed on top of it, probably built by a Canaan tribe called the Jebusites. Its Hebrew origin is tzion or siyyon, meaning “castle,” echoed in the Arabic word sana, meaning “citadel.” King David took hold of that fortification in consolidating his power after the death of King Saul—and declared it as the City of David. And since then the Zion has been used to refer to Israel as a people as well as to Jerusalem as a city.

Zionism is a certifiably modern formation dating to about 1896 and to a newspaper called Selbstemazipation (Self-Empancipation) the editor of which, the coiner of the word, in German first, as Zionismus, was one Nathan Birnbaum (1864-1937) then writing as Matthias Acher. Birnbaum was an Austrian. In that same year one Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian, wrote Der Judenstaat (State of the Jews — state here meaning sovereign administration), another major influence on the Zionist movement.

I’ve consulted Google’s ngram (which tracks word usage over time in hundreds of publications). The ngram shows Zion suddenly shooting up and peaking in 1902, dropping again thereafter. Zionism begins to climb—although never as high as Zion—beginning just before 1900.

Zion is ancient, Zionism is today. Both are rooted in conquest—more or less by force.
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An earlier post centered on the modern process was “That Peculiar Relationship” (link).

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