Focusing on the study of the ancient Orient in fin-de-siècle Germany, this essay argues that “orientalism” had a wider range of cultural consequences than the term usually evokes in studies of Western imperialism and its ideologies. The essay describes the development of a generational movement in German scholarship that was characterized by its vigorous championing of the Orient over and against the dominant tendency to isolate and exalt classical civilizations, and especially ancient Greece, and by its role in destabilizing Western presumptions. It demonstrates that the furor orientalis did contribute to the decentering of the Greeks and the ancient Hebrews, bequeathing to the twentieth century both a much deeper and more diverse picture of the ancient Near East and an obsession with origins that could be mobilized by racist propagandists. The essay offers three case studies of groups which exemplified this furor—the Panbabylonists; the Religious-Historical School; and the iconoclastic mythographer Heinrich Zimmer, who represents a strong strain of Schopenhauerian Indology. It concludes by suggesting the more constructive directions taken by orientalists outside Germany in the 1920s–1940s, and poses the question: how long will the peaceful solutions they promoted last?
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