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Based on a flawed Palestinian Christian narrative
on 29 August 2014
Mitri Raheb, the pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, spoke at the Greenbelt Festival in August 2014. He was sharing 7 key points from his latest book, 'Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes'. I am just going to comment on three of Mitri Raheb's claims which I find to be fundamentally flawed:
Mitri Raheb claims that what he and Jesus shared in common is that they were both born in Bethlehem in Palestine. He said "in fact, I was born across the street from where Jesus was born." Well, Jesus would never have called that land "Palestine". The Bible (old and new testaments) always call it "Israel" or "the land of Israel". For example, in Matthew 2:19 - 21, it says:
"19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the LAND OF ISRAEL, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the LAND OF ISRAEL."
According to Mitri Raheb, "Palestine" existed for three thousand years. He ignores an inconvenient historical reality - that there has never been a nation of Palestine governed by "Palestinians". Ever since the Romans renamed Judea 2000 years ago in their attempt to erase Jewish history, the land of Palestine has been a geographic designation, not a political identity or nationality. The people now known as Palestinians were not a unique people group with a distinct language, religion, or culture that is different from Arabs throughout the Middle East, and in particular, Jordan and Syria.
In fact, until the 20th century, the people who now self-identify as Palestinian not only acknowledge this reality but vehemently protested any identity other than Arab.
In his article, "The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine" (Middle East Review, Vol XXI, No. 4), Daniel Pipe writes:
"The idea of an Arab state resting between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is, rather, a twentieth-century concept. Indeed, its origins can be traced with surprising precision to a single year - 1920. In January 1920, Palestinian nationalism hardly existed; by December of that critical year, it had been born."
That fact that Palestinian nationalism has its origins in the 20th century is testified to by Arab sources. In the time period surrounding the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Arab nationalists objected to the use of the name "Palestine" or the adjective "Palestinian" to distinguish them as a people or a nation other than Arabs in the region.
Mitri Raheb claims that "Palestinian" Christians are the descendants of the early Christians. When he mentions "our forefathers", he is referring to the Israelites of biblical times as well as the first Christians at Pentecost. Does Mitri Raheb actually intend to suggest that the ethnicity of the first disciples, the early Christians and those present on the Day of Pentecost was Arab? If so, he demonstrates a conscious willingness to disregard specific information given in the Scriptures most Christians claim as authoritative.
The first and second chapters of the New Testament book titled The Acts of the Apostles make it clear that Jesus's disciples and the crowd assembled in Jerusalem for that first Pentecost were Jewish. Those who heard the disciples speak identified them as "Galileans" (Acts 2:7), which in that context also identified them as Jews. Furthermore, what the Church calls the Day of Pentecost was the Jewish festival of Shavuot, one of these festivals in the year in which all Jews went to Jerusalem to observe the holiday. Acts 2:5 states that devout Jews from every nation were in Jerusalem at this time.
Therefore, it is clear from the biblical account that it was a Jewish crowd who heard Jewish disciples of Jesus speak in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.
The obvious implication behind the claim that "Palestinian" Christians are the descendants of the early Christians and that they are the straightest line to original Christianity is that the ethnic identity of Jesus and His disciples must also be Palestinian Arab. Mitri Raheb's racial theory also implies that Jews are not the true people of the Land of Israel. From his viewpoint, the Palestinians are the indigenous people of the land, and Jesus was a Palestinian.
This is reminiscent of other attempts to justify virulent anti-Semitism through racial theories and the de-Judaizing of everything related to Christianity.
In the 1930s and 1940s as part of the theological justification for the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people, German theologians working on behalf of the Nazis identified Jesus as an Aryan and removed all Jewish content from the Bible.
Whether it is Aryans who mold Jesus into their image as an Aryan, or Palestinian Arabs who mold Jesus into their image as a Palestinian, the result is the same. Jesus loses his Jewish identity - an identity the New Testament makes explicitly clear.
Matthew 1 and Luke 3 provide Jesus's Jewish genealogy in great detail. The Gospel of Luke reports that the infant Jesus was presented in the Temple "according to the law of Moses" (2:22) and that his parents went to Jerusalem every year for the festival of Passover (2:41). According to Luke 4:16, when Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth "on the Sabbath day as was his custom," he read from prophet Isaiah.
In short, Jesus and His parents were observant Jews.
Furthermore, the fact that most of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are either direct quotations from, or interpretations of, teachings found in the Hebrew Bible demonstrates that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament had a thorough knowledge of, and belief in, the Jewish Scriptures.
Any denial of the Jewish identity of Jesus and His disciples reveals a lack of integrity in interpretation of Scripture, severs Christianity from its Jewish roots, and contributes to yet another theological justification of anti-Semitism, this time thinly veiled as anti-Zionism.
Mitri Raheb claims that the Bible is a "Palestinian" book. Yet the word "Palestine" is never mentioned in the Bible, not once ! This is an attempt to de-Judaize a Jewish book, in which every author of the 66 books in the Bible is Jewish.
The "Palestinian" Christian narrative delegitimizes Jewish history in the Holy Land through the de-Judaization of Jesus, his disciples and the Land in which they walked.
The use of this methodology for the purported pursuit of peace will not contribute to peace. Rather, through the promotion of racial theories and the de-Judaizing of the roots of Christianity, the fires of anti-Semitism will be once again be fanned by those who claim to follow Jesus, the Jew.
And ultimately, this misguided effort may contribute to a new form of Christianity that resembles a biblical Christian faith in name only.