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Maxime Rodinson

Maxime Rodinson (1915–2004) was the child of Jewish Communists who fled Tsarist Russia for France at the end of the nineteenth century. Rodinson left school at twelve to support his struggling family by working as an errand boy, but he continued his education in his spare time and in 1932 passed the entrance exam for the École des Langues Orientales Vivantes in Paris, where he studied Arabic, Turkish, and Amharic in preparation for a diplomatic career. During the Second World War, Rodinson worked for the Institut Français in Syria and in the French Department of Antiquities in Lebanon, where he remained until 1947; in 1944, he learned of his parents’ deaths at Auschwitz the year before. Returning to France, he oversaw the Islamic section of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. In 1955, Rodinson became the director of studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne, where he was subsequently a professor of Old Ethiopic and South Arabian languages, a post he held until his retirement in 1983. He joined the Communist Party in 1937 and was expelled in 1958, in the aftermath of Khrushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalin’s rule, but remained a Marxist. Among his works are Islam and Capitalism; Marxism and the Muslim World; and Cult, Ghetto, and State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question.