Yosef Klausner in Translation: Zionism and Christianity

The literary critic, historian, and Hebrew writer Yosef Klausner has never been as widely known and as celebrated as some of his mentors and interlocutors in the Zionist movement. His competing alliances may explain this. He aligned himself with Jabotinsky’s brand of Zionism, admired Herzl, and owed his career as an influential editor to Ahad Ha’am. He also published, in the early 1920s, a controversial Hebrew study of the life and times of Jesus Christ, based on his German-language doctoral dissertation. This presentation will tell the story behind this English translation and revisit some of Klausner’s ideas about Jewish history, the Hebrew language, and monotheism. It will suggest that the translation of Klausner’s Yeshu ha-notsri, executed by an Anglican priest in Jerusalem shortly after the Hebrew book’s publication, allows for reassessing some of the foundational tensions that shaped early Zionist thought: between Semitic and European languages, the Jewish “diaspora” and Jerusalem, and Jews and Christians.

Danielle Drori teaches modern Hebrew literature at Oxford University. She holds a PhD in Hebrew and Judaic Studies from New York University, and has taught at the City University of New York and the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. Her research focuses on the ties between literary translation and nationalism, bringing together contemporary theories of cultural transfer and the study of modern Hebrew literature. Her writing has appeared in several academic and popular publications, including Prooftexts: a Journal of Jewish Literary History, Dibur: a Literary Journal, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.