Kafka’s Antizionism through a Comparative Analysis of ‘Jackals and Arabs’ with Judeo-Christian Texts, the Alexander Romance, and the Qur’an

Kafka’s Antizionism through a Comparative Analysis of ‘Jackals and Arabs’ with Judeo-Christian Texts, the Alexander Romance, and the Qur’an

Published in 1917, Franz Kafka’s ‘Jackals and Arabs’ featured as the first of a pair of ‘two animal stories’ (zwei Tiergeschichten) in Der Jude, a monthly magazine founded by Martin Buber and Salman Schocken. It tells of a man from the north traveling through the desert with a caravan of Arabs. As they rest for the night in an oasis and the Arabs sleep, the man suddenly realises that jackals have surrounded him. The oldest of them addresses the man and tells him that his coming was foretold long ago. He elaborates that they are exiled among the Arabs and he bids him to cleanse the land of impure Arabs who do not eat dead meat, and only eat animals they have sacrificed. At this point, a pair of rusty scissors are brought that are supposed to achieve the task of slitting the throats of the Arabs. The leader of the caravan then appears and whips the jackals, forcing them to retreat. To the surprise of the narrator, the Arab leader is familiar with the jackals’ plot and ridicules the jackals’ plea, which is apparently made to every European traveller. He then exposes the hypocrisy of the jackals by having a rotting camel carcass placed in front of them. The jackals cannot resist the meat and begin to devour it, even as the leader whips them. The narrator holds back the Arab chief from whipping the jackals further as they eat, and he departs with them.
This story has been interpreted in many ways. Some see it as a commentary on the incommensurability between the exoteric and esoteric, or the essential dichotomy between the inexorableness of the external world order and the vain internal yearnings of the disenfranchised, while others regard it as an indictment of messianic hope that is cherished by the downtrodden. This study argues that ‘Jackals and Arabs’ is Kafka’s critical assessment of the nascent Zionist movement. Kafka’s criticism becomes apparent when the narrative is read through the lens of the history of Alexander the Great, with whom Kafka was very familiar from an early age, and for whom he had a deep admiration. Through a comparative analysis of Kafka’s work with the Alexander Romance by Pseudo-Callisthenes—a largely fictional and corrupted, but very popular, retelling of Alexander the Great’s exploits—and the story of Dhu’l-Qarnayn in the Qur’an, who was believed to be Alexander the Great, and his interaction with Gog and Magog, as well as the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is argued that Kafka commentates on what he deemed to be the fundamental shortcomings of Zionism.
Kafka rejects Zionist exceptionalism and separatism through the rejection of the narrator when the jackals proclaim their purity and superiority, and try to enlist him to their cause. If the jackals are Gog and Magog, then their declaration of superiority rings even more hollow since they are portrayed as unequivocal corruptors of the land in the Alexander Romance and the Qur’an. The categorisation of corruptors of the land is important because it reverses Zionist claims of a profound connection to the land, which Kafka, likewise, reverses when the jackals claim that the desert is their home, which needs to be cleansed of the Arabs. Zionist avowals of Arab backwardness are countered by Kafka as he makes the Arabs superior, which is also how the indigenous population are depicted in the Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions since they are contrasted with the barbarity of Gog and Magog. Finally, the Zionist trope of the European Jewish hero who flees persecution is inverted by Kafka who confers on the narrator a quasi-prophetic/royal status similar to that of Dhu’l-Qarnayn and Alexander the Great.
Lala, Ismail. 2024. ‘Kafka’s Antizionism through a Comparative Analysis of ‘Jackals and Arabs’ with Judeo-Christian Texts, the Alexander Romance, and the Qur’an’. Religions 15, no. 3, 282.
Regions: Middle East, Kuwait
Keywords: Humanities, Religion, Education, Policy - Humanities, Public Dialogue - Humanities, History


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