Campbell and Rumors of Anti-semitism

Who was Joseph Campbell? What is a myth? What does "Follow Your Bliss" mean? If you are new to the work of Joseph Campbell, this forum is a good place to start.

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Post by Fin » Sun Jan 26, 2003 12:00 am

Has anyone else been told of the rumors that Campbell was anti-semetic? I can't imagine how they could hold water, but I wonder how they got started? I've met some very educated people (professors) who shy away from discussing him because of these rumors. Doesn't make any sense to me.

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Post by 11/17/08 » Thu Feb 06, 2003 1:46 pm

I have heard that as well. I have even seen that it is "well documented" and I know there are several papers on it, I know Robert Segal has one on that exact topic but I don't know if he was defendong or accusing him because the paper is in response to someone else accusing Campbell of being anti-semetic. The name of the article is :

"Joseph Campbell as antisemite and as theorist of myth: a response to Maurice Friedman" Segal, Robert Alan. Journal of the American Academy of Religion v. 67 no2 (June 1999) p. 461-7

Other articles I have found (looking for while I am typing this) are:

"Why Joseph Campbell's psychologizing of myth precludes the Holocaust as touchstone of reality." Friedman, Maurice. Journal of the American Academy of Religion v. 66 no2 (Summer 1998) p. 385-401


"Joseph Campbell on Jews and Judaism." Segal, Robert Alan. Religion v. 22 (Apr. 1992) p. 151-70

"The myth of Joseph Campbell." Lefkowitz, Mary R. The American Scholar v. 59 (Summer 1990) p. 429-34 (I don't know what this is about I found it in the same search.)

These are all peer-reviewed publications not National Enquirer stuff. I haven't read any of them though If I find online versions I'll let you know. Hope this helps.

I wanted to add that I have heard this charge against him bu I have never read any of these articles so I don't have an opinion on it.

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Post by Cranky Scientist » Tue Feb 18, 2003 3:33 am



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Post by Martin_Weyers » Sat Mar 01, 2003 5:20 pm

Fin,

I appreciate Segal's book Joseph Campbell. An introduction, but in my opinion those accusations are nothing but stupid. In the book Segal announces to "note a few darker features of Campbell's personality" and continues with mentioning Campbell's "hostility toward Judaism, which in almost antisemitic fashion he caricatures as chauvinistic and literalistic" (pp. 23-24)

I have looked up some of the Segal's footnotes. None of it was antisemitic. Campbell in general criticizes religions which are based on social identification which, in his opinion ,is typical for monotheism. He prefers religions which are emphasizing mythic identification. (Please have a look at the closing chapter of Flight of the Wild Gander!)

In my opinion it's not very wise to defame everybody who criticizes Jewish culture or Israeli politics. It's convenient, but avails real antisemitism.

I think what we can blame Campbell for maybe is a lack of interest in Jewish mysticism. It's probably not less great than Buddhist or Hinduist mysticism. But it was less successful in history. Maybe Campbell was biased at this point because of his tendency to simplify, but not antisemitic. I think there's a difference between those two, and it is not fair not to make that difference.

Maybe it's more interesting, what David Kudler thinks about it. He has Jewish origins and is someone who is able to differentiate...

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Post by Martin_Weyers » Thu Mar 13, 2003 7:06 am

Thanks, TH, for your much longer and much more funded reply which was written at the same time and probably with the same time exposure! :grin:
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Post by 11/17/08 » Mon Mar 24, 2003 8:53 pm

Actually those aren't the only reasons accusations were made against him some of the people who made these accusations are not even Jewish A lot of these rumors were confirmed by people close to him even though his wife defended him. I wish this would die other thanhave more accusations against him or have people blindly defend him. You don't know how many times I have read author biographies and had them change my views on that author. I haven't read any of those articles on Campbell and I don't plan on it, i could care less at this point if the guy was anti-semetic or not. If that is the type of thing you base your opinion on the actul merit of his work then you should look that closely at everyone you read or everyone that you admire. Churchill was a huge racist and Abraham Lincoln defended slave owners aginst slave laws when he was a lwayer and I'm sure there are other examples. Now, I am not saying I believe these accusations one way or another, and like I said I doubt if I'll look into it, but you should get the whole story before you defend <i>or</i> accuse him further.
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Post by Cranky Scientist » Sat Apr 05, 2003 10:40 am



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Post by Martin_Weyers » Thu Apr 17, 2003 12:26 am

:lol: TH, I appreciate Martin Buber because of an anthology of mystical texts he has edited. I don't know much about Buber, but I suppose he was an honorable theologist.

(Edit: That laughing face and the comment above do probably not make much sense anymore, after TH has edited her message.)
On 2003-05-19 16:58, november17 wrote:
Now, I am not saying I believe these accusations one way or another, and like I said I doubt if I'll look into it, but you should get the whole story before you defend <i>or</i> accuse him further.
November, I defend everybody as long as the whole story is not known (including Martin Buber :wink: ).

Those people who are making accusations have to prove their point of view, not the defenders. And Segal has done a bad job. The biggest amount of footnotes does not help, if the footnotes are daunting only as long as you do not look them up.


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Post by Clemsy » Mon Apr 28, 2003 2:13 pm

The 'faithful' tend to be very defensive. I can only imagine that such accusations stem from Campbell's unrelenting dismissal of Biblical literalism, as TH said.

It really pisses people off. Oh well. For example:
Today we turn to science for our imagery of the past and of the structure of the world, and what the spinning demons of the atom and the galaxies of the telescope's eye reveal is a wonder that makes the babel of the Bible seem a toyland dream of the dear childhood of our brain.
Ouch! A few short centuries ago he would have been the centerpiece of the village bonfire for saying that! There are those who yearn for those days. They can't burn him for real so they toast him with words. Let them. Nothing like a good condemnation to increase the Foundations book sales.

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Post by David_Kudler » Sat May 10, 2003 4:00 am

Every Passover, my uncle begins the festivities by asking me if I still work for "that anti-Semitic organization."

:sigh:

I didn't know Joe personally, so I can't really say, with conviction, that he wasn't an anti-Semite, however you want to define that. I have to say that I haven't seen anything that the man said that makes me believe that particular accusation to be true, however.

Here are some data I can throw out there:
  • Joe wasn't terribly impressed with religions that stressed the sociological over the mystical. He aimed jabs at Hinduism and Catholicism that centered on similar issues, but Judaism is the archetypal tribal religion. Joe didn't have much to say about the Kaballah, the mystical side of the religion, but the more legalistic and historical end of it really turned him off.
  • Joe wasn't terribly impressed with Jahweh, a deity who interposed himself between the transcendent and the celebrant. Again, Campbell's problem in this regard doesn't limit itself to Judaism--he had similar objections to the behavior of Allah and God the Father. You can get Freudian here if you want to, or you could look at what it was that drove Campbell away from the Church in which he was raised--I think this was a deep-seated sense in Campbell of how a deity should act. He had a much more sympathetic take on God the Son than on God the Father.
  • The work of many of Campbell's inspirations--Bastian, Jung, Frobenius, Nietzche, even Schopenhauer--was co-opted by the Nazis, through no fault of theirs (aside from Jung, who lived in Switzerland, they were all dead by the time Hitler came along) or Campbell's. But there is a certain guilt by association. I mean, all that talk about swastikas, its gotta MEAN something, right? :wink:
  • Campbell was, before the beginning of World War II, fairly pro-German, due to his very positive experience studying in Munich in 1929. Even after war broke out in Europe, he was against our entry. In fairness, he was hardly alone in this stance--America was profoundly isolationist at the time.
  • Campbell taught, from before WWII until after Watergate, at a college whose student body was heavily Jewish. I can't imagine a rabid anti-Semite lasting that long. But I could be wrong.
I haven't read Mr. Segal's work, or most of the other articles that November mentions. However, based on my own analysis, here's my conclusion: Campbell didn't have a whole lot positive to say about Judaism; aside from Martin Buber, he doesn't seem to have had anything terribly negative to say about Jews. There's a distinction to be made between the Jews as a race and Judaism as a religion. It seems to me that prejudice such as anti-Semitism is a form of racial discrimination. Campbell's objections to the religion were based on a real set of studied and deeply-felt assumptions on his part--and he talks about them throughout his work--about what a religion (or mythology) should do.

I think that part of my problem is that, like Joe, I'm deeply ambivalent about Judaism as a religion. When I was being bar mitzvahed, I read Genesis and Exodus with interest leavened (if I may use the word) by a certain moral uncertainty--what's with all the younger brothers ripping off their older brothers? Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers were mind-numbing. And Joshua and the rest were horrific--a historical account of us-against-them bloodshed and submission to authority. The Song of Songs I liked, but that was about it. My religious education in my own faith never really got past that point.

Now, I've learned to love parts of the Old Testament, and I've learned that there is a whole other side to the religion. And Joe knew about it too. But I honestly think that old-style, main-line Judaism represented just what Campbell hoped new myths would turn away from--the closed horizon of the tribe.

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Post by Liminal » Wed May 21, 2003 5:46 pm

This thread is the first I've heard on this topic. It left me fairly unsettled, so I did a lot of digging around on the 'Net to see what I could come up with on the subject. What I found wasn't very convincing.

The vast majority of references I could find were simple statements of the "fact" that Campbell was an anti-semite without any mention of sources or evidence. To me, this prevalent lack of interest by those making the claim in lending any credence to their statements is pretty telling all by itself. It amounts to nothing more than name-calling.

The few mentions I could find of sources or evidence were mostly references to an article by Brendan Gill and an accusation by a former student. As for Gill, I haven't read the article (it is available here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/article ... le_id=3906 , but I personally don't feel it's worth the $4), but I'm quite leery of the fact that he knew Campbell personally yet waited until after he was dead to launch his assault. As for the student, she claimed that Campbell verbally assaulted and flunked her for being Jewish. All things considered, I think it far more likely that he flunked her for being a poor student and she decided to get back at him.

So, was Campbell an anti-semite? I won't claim to know the answer for certain, but from what I know of the man and of the accusations, I think it seems highly unlikely.

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Post by David_Kudler » Mon Jun 02, 2003 7:33 am

I just wanted to add one thing to what I said, by way of clarification: It seems to me that finding fault with the theology of Judaism does not necessarilly make one anti-Semitic, any more than objecting to the policies of one's head-of-state makes one un-patriotic.

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Post by Susie » Fri Jun 13, 2003 9:20 pm

I was going to post the same thing David, before I read what you wrote.
Having been exposed quite frequently to the pentecostal religious movement as a child, I would say that I was totally "anti-christian"-for want of a better term. Now that did not mean I did not like Christians, I just was force fed so much hell-fire and brimstone crap that I really disliked the religion. I remember being scared to death of God and hoping that the cast of Star Trek would come to save us like they did other cultures. Ha!
I would like to say that Joseph Campbell's work made me appreciate the Bible as an interesting and valuable mythological tool again. Not everyone that practices the Christian religion is as dismal as the ones I grew up with. I still don't want to go to their churches though.

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Post by Manuel_Otto » Wed Jun 25, 2003 11:06 am

Dear All,

In my judgement, the accusation of Anti-Semitism is one capable of rendering in the mind of the unconscious listener a simultaneous verdict of guilty. I can think of no more effective way in our current society to instantly discredit an individual's reputation, aside from accusing him with the mistreatment of children, than to levy the brand of "Anti-Semitic."

I have well acquainted myself with both sides of this argument and, for myself, have found the accusations against Joseph Campbell to be completely ungrounded in anything that remotely resembles proof.

Joseph Campbell has left a legacy of writings and recorded lectures that communicate exactly how he felt about the mythos of the Jewish tribe. As already noted in this thread, his objections have always been focused on the ability of the many--including those in the later development of Christianity--to render a spiritually rich tradition devoid of divine radiance by focusing on the literal and historical reference of its symbols.

I am always open to the truth. But for me, Campbell is innocent of even the hint of anti-semitism until proven guilty.

My best to you all . . . Manny Otto
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Post by Ted » Mon Jul 07, 2003 12:53 am

If I remember correctly, the charge of anti-semitism was also leveled at Jung, for the same reasons. It's all a bunch of BS, of course, hardly worth discussing, simply a matter of non-knowers yakking away.

Alternatively, seems to me, all great minds, even ours, get accused of the most atrocious things. I smell Jealousy, big time!
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