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The Passion of Max von Oppenheim: Archaeology and Intrigue in the Middle East from Wilhelm II to Hitler

The Passion of Max von Oppenheim: Archaeology and Intrigue in the Middle East from Wilhelm II to Hitler Lionel Gossman
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-909254-20-6 £15.95
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[...] Gossman has chosen a particularly interesting biographical subject. More importantly, he has succeeded in writing both a readable and scholarly work, clearly based on thorough and intensive research, as the copious but invariably useful footnotes testify.

Max von Oppenheim (1860-1946) must assuredly be counted among the most colourful figures in early twentieth-century German Middle East politics and archaeology. [...] Comparing him with his supposed British counterpart Thomas Edward Lawrence ("of Arabia”) and refashioning him into a prototypical archaeologist-adventurer [. . .], however, have often obscured the political context of his activity or even elevated it into a kind of colonial romanticism. The inglorious high point of this idealisation was the special exhibition of "The Rescued Gods from the Palace at Tel Halaf” which opened at Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum in 2011. The study of this colourful figure by the well-known American cultural historian Lionel Gossman is thus especially welcome. His book is not a classic biography; it does not aim to explore and open up an entire life. Gossman focusses rather on the links in the
first half of the twentieth century between the scholarly study of the ancient Middle East and contemporary Middle East policy. The book’s exposure of the complexity of these links thus extends well beyond the case of a single individual.Gossman’s thoroughgoing contextualisation is especially valuable in his detailed discussion of Oppenheim’s role in the First World War. [. . .] Gossman emphasizes that, as a dedicated German nationalist, Oppenheim was pursuing no romantic, let alone emancipatory agenda [with respect to the people of the Middle East]. His guiding principle was always the expansion of German power and influence in the region.
—Felix Wiedemann, Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 62/11 (2014), pp. 956-58

One of the finest books on this period and topic. The research is thorough, the analysis careful and moderate, and the range of the book is broad. It will appeal to scholars in a variety of fields. The biographical sections on Oppenheim, a fascinating figure, are superb, and the many complexities of his life are contextualized beautifully as are those on Oppenheim's pamphlets during WWI concerning Jihad. A learned book of the highest caliber.
—Prof Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College

Gossman's book unrolls fascinating threads in the network of relationships that Max von Oppenheim had woven.
— Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, 'Akteur für Kaiser und Hitler', explizit.net, 4 March 2013

An excellent biography of Max von Oppenheim showing sovereign mastery of the sources and fairness in his approach.
— Walter Laqueur, 'Hitler’s Jews: Max Von Oppenheim and the Myth of German Jewish Guilt', Tablet, 21 August 2013

An absorbing study.
— Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Common Knowledge, vol. 19.3, 2013, p. 571

Both a readable and scholarly work, clearly based on thorough and intensive research.
— Stuart Parkes, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, vol. 22.1, 2014, pp. 69-70

Born into a prominent German Jewish banking family, Baron Max von Oppenheim (1860-1946) was a keen amateur archaeologist and ethnologist. His discovery and excavation of Tell Halaf in Syria marked an important contribution to knowledge of the ancient Middle East, while his massive study of the Bedouins is still consulted by scholars today. He was also an ardent German patriot, eager to support his country's pursuit of its "place in the sun".

Excluded by his part-Jewish ancestry from the regular diplomatic service, Oppenheim earned a reputation as "the Kaiser's spy" because of his intriguing against the British in Cairo, as well as his plan, at the start of the First World War, to incite Muslims under British, French and Russian rule to a jihad against the colonial powers. After 1933, despite being half-Jewish according to the Nuremberg Laws, Oppenheim was not persecuted by the Nazis. In fact, he placed his knowledge of the Middle East and his connections with Muslim leaders at the service of the regime.

Ranging widely over many fieldsfrom war studies to archaeology and banking historyThe Passion of Max von Oppenheim tells the gripping and at times unsettling story of one part-Jewish man's passion for his country in the face of persistent and, in his later years, genocidal anti-Semitism.

Click here to listen to Lionel Gossman talking about The Passion of Max von Oppenheim, in the second episode of the three-part series World War One Through Arab Eyes broadcast by Al Jazeera.

The Passion of Max von Oppenheim: Archaeology and Intrigue in the Middle East from Wilhelm II to Hitler
Lionel Gossman | February 2013
416 | 19 illustrations | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781909254206
ISBN Hardback: 9781909254213
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781909254220
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781909254237
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781909254244
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0030
BIC subject codes: JFSR1 (Jewish studies), JPFQ (Fascism and Nazism), HBJF1 (Middle-Eastern history), HBJD (European history), HDDC (Middle and Near Eastern archaeology); BISAC subject codes: HMC (Social and cultural anthropology, ethnography), SOC024000 (SOCIAL SCIENCE / Research); OCLC Number: 1086428080.


1. The Oppenheims
2. The Charm of the Orient
3. Attaché in Cairo. "The Kaiser’s Spy"
4. The Spectre of Pan-Islamism and Jihad. The Background of Oppenheim’s 1914 Denkschrift betreffend die Revolutionierung der islamischen Gebiete Unserer Feinde
5. Oppenheim’s 1914 Denkschrift
6. Promoter of German Economic Expansion and the Berlin-Baghdad Railway

7. Discovery and Excavation, Publications and Critical Reception
8. Financial Difficulties. The Fate of the Tell Halaf Finds

9. Questions
10. The Oppenheims and their Bank under National Socialism
11. Waldemar and Friedrich Carl von Oppenheim, so-called "Quarter-Jews", during the National Socialist Regime: Work for the Abwehr (German Counter-Intelligence) and Association with the Conservative "Widerstand" (German Resistance)
12. Max von Oppenheim, "Half-Jew," during the National Socialist Regime
(i) Oppenheim and the Race Question
(ii) Support of the Regime
13. Plotting for Nazi Germany. Oppenheim’s Role in the Middle East
14. Max von Oppenheim’s Last Years

15. Two Jewish Organizations: the Verband nationaldeutscher Juden (Association of German National Jews) and the Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten (Jewish War Veterans Association)
16. Some Individuals: Schoeps, Pevsner, Kantorowicz, Landmann
17. By Way of Conclusion

APPENDIX of originals and translations of passages quoted



Lionel Gossman was M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Romance Languages (Emeritus) at Princeton University. Most of his work revolved around seventeenth and eighteenth-century French literature, nineteenth-century European cultural history, and the theory and practice of historiography. His publications include Men and Masks: A Study of Molière; Medievalism and the Ideologies of the Enlightenment; French Society and Culture: Background for 18th Century Literature; The Empire Unpossess’d: An Essay on Gibbon’s "Decline and Fall”; Between History and Literature; Basel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in Unseasonable Ideas; The Making of a Romantic Icon: The Religious Context of Friedrich Overbeck’s "Italia und Germania”; and several edited volumes: The Charles Sanders Peirce Symposium on Semiotics and the Arts; Building a Profession: Autobiographical Perspectives on the Beginnings of Comparative Literature in the United States (with Mihai Spariosu); Geneva-Zurich-Basel: History, Culture, and National Identity, and Begegnungen mit Jacob Burckhardt (with Andreas Cesana). He is also author of  Brownshirt Princess: A Study of the 'Nazi Conscience', and editor and translator of The Red Countess: Select Autobiographical and Fictional Writing of Hermynia Zur Mühlen (1883-1951) by Hermynia Zur Mühlen and On History by Jules Michelet, all published by OBP.
Lionel's obituary is available at https://www.princeton.edu/news/2021/01/15/lionel-gossman-specialist-french-literature-and-history-and-one-great-humanists-and

Taking Oppenheim’s life in its totality from his ancestors and the founding of their family bank in the eighteenth century all the way to the end of his life just after the demise of the Nazi regime, Gossman’s The Passion is probably the best biography on Oppenheim so far in the English language.
— Mehmet Yerçil, German History

An interesting book about a very interesting individual. There has been a surge of interest in recent years in German efforts to foment jihad across the British and French Empires, but this will be the first deeply resourced, three-dimensional account of Oppenheim, and the first to make sense of his role as an assimilated Jew (German of Jewish descent might be a closer fit) who saw service to the German state and German scholarship as the highest possible calling.
— Anonymous reviewer