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Adeel Hamza and John Gannon

Abstract

This introduces the first English translation of Marcel Mauss’s article, ‘Critique interne de la “Légende de l’Abraham”’, published in 1926 in the Revue des études juives. In suggesting ways in which the translation offers anglophone scholars new perspectives on Mauss’s thought, it explains how his sophisticated textual exegesis of the Legend of Abraham drew on nineteenth-century scholars such as Salomon Munk, but also how it above all involved a critique of deeply racist currents of European social thought. In particular, Mauss challenged a racist anthropology of African societies that became known as the ‘Hamitic hypothesis’ and linked it with the agitation over the ‘Jewish Question’ that continued to persist and was even growing in the world around him. A fundamental argument of his essay is that the social category of ‘race’ is not a category that denotes civility, but a system of categorization that stems from an analysis he deems ‘wanton’.