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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars

on 2 April 2014
Fayiz Suyyagh – Tarjuman

A narrative of a genuine David facing a more brutal Goliath

In this magnificent book, Mitri Raheb, an unswerving Palestinian Cristian, looks at history as a longue dureé, and challenges a multitude of assumptions and pseudo-biblical myths. Inspired by a new interpretation of the Gospel and his unwavering identification with his homeland, he provides a new perspective and a re-vision of Palestine that has been witnessing and often defying 2500 years of occupation by successive empires. The author revisits the ‘land of the real meek who will inherit the earth’, those who are now confronting a new occupying empire; a genuine David facing a more brutal Goliath. He views the Bible through Palestinian eyes – or is it the other way around? In much the same way that the Jerusalemite Jeremiah was able to envisage and hope for a future beyond the destruction around him, Raheb argues, “Hope is faith in action in the face of empire … This was the prophetic tradition that came out of Palestine, a tradition that we must keep alive”.
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on 12 October 2014

What is told and taught about the place so often identified as the ‘Holy Land’ tends to fall into two distinct strands. For Christian theologians and historians, the approach is essentially that of ‘sacred historiography’; either biblical history, which generally ends in the 2nd century AD, or church history, which, apart from the first two centuries AD and the Crusades, pays little attention to Palestine. For modern secular scholars, whether historians or political scientists, interest begins in the late 19th century with the beginning of the Zionist movement, with no connection to preceding history. Biblical history and colonial history are studied within separate disciplines, and the two do not inform or interrogate each other, or even connect. But for a Palestinian, biblical history is personal, ancestral, geographic –‘biblical history happens to a great extent to be the history of my country’- and the lived reality of present-day Palestinians under occupation cannot be extracted and abstracted from European colonial history.

Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian Christian, born in Bethlehem in the West Bank, and his book is an eloquent and thoughtful corrective to these disconnects, which have so greatly shaped our perceptions of the current conflict. It advocates a longue duree lens through which to consider the history of the people of the land as a continuum, and the pattern of appropriation and occupation by successive empires which have characterised it. His own father, born in Bethlehem in 1905, was given four different identity papers in 70 years; for none of them was his agreement sought, and yet as the same person, he had to adjust to changing political and colonial realities. He himself has lived through nine wars in his lifetime. This has been the continued experience of the Am Haaretz, the native ‘People of the Land’, who have had to contend with and adjust to the coming and going of empires. Over 2500 years, ‘they are the native peoples, who survived those empires and occupations, and they are also the remnant of those invading armies and settlers who decided to remain in the land to integrate rather than to return to their original homelands. The Palestinians are the accumulated outcome of this incredible dynamic history and these massive geo-political developments.’
We take this longue duree lens for granted in thinking about most countries; Raheb challenges his readers, including Western liberals, to apply it with reference to Palestine, and to question the dominant Western discourse which has demonized the Palestinians and failed to listen to or hear Palestinian voices. But Faith in the face of Empire is not just a post-colonial revisionist narrative. It is also a committed and pastoral exploration of how sacred history is one response to the secular histories of brutal empires, and of how Palestinian Christians can faithfully read the Bible as a prophetic and liberating narrative of hope. ‘Hope is faith in action in the face of empire. Hope is what we do today. Only that which we do today as people of faith and as engaged citizens can change the course of history and lay the foundation for a different future. This was the prophetic tradition that came out of Palestine, a tradition that we must keep alive.’
This lucid and accessible book, in its vision and its commitment to creative and nonviolent strategies for resistance to the abuse of power, is a genuinely prophetic testimony to authentic discipleship in the face of empire. It deserves to be widely read and heard.

Kathy Galloway
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on 7 May 2014
This is an excellent read from someone who lives and works in the heart of Bethlehem. He puts the current occupation and dispossession of Palestinians within a much wider and longer historical context. The local inhabitants have had a succession of empires trampling over them through millennia. He uses this insight to point to a different horizon however distant it seems now. Injustice will not last forever.
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VINE VOICEon 30 September 2014
At last year’s launch of veteran travel writer Dervla Murphy’s remarkable book, A Month by the Sea – Encounters in Gaza, she made a simple but telling point. “The Palestinians’ predicament is that they are the victims’ victims”. Of course, in Faith in the Face of Empire, an equally remarkable book by a Palestinian Christian pastor, victimhood (despite its postmodern attractions) is a dangerous mantle. As Mitri Raheb says:
It is both reassuring and comfortable to feel oneself a victim, because then one is neither responsible for the situation nor accountable. But even the weakest victim is also an actor who has to make choices and decisions – and assume responsibility. Simply blaming the empire doesn’t help. In fact, it makes the victim feel more depressed, more helpless, and more hopeless. Playing the role of victim might assist those who are oppressed gain some sympathy but not necessarily respect. (p114)

Raheb seeks the precise opposite. He does not write to elicit sympathy but respect:

informed respect for genuine realities (on both sides of Israel’s wall) masked by propaganda and geopolitical necessities;
inspired respect for those treading the radically counter-cultural path of taking up Christ’s cross in the face of Empire.
Mitri Raheb - Faith in Face of EmpireAs Raheb points out, this tiny eastern mediterranean corridor has been devoured/controlled by almost every notorious empire going: Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman, British, and now (effectively) American. The heart of this book, then, provoked from both his birth into a Bethlehem family of countless generations’ standing and his pastoral ministry to believers there, is how to live out authentic Christian discipleship in that context. But despite its specificity, there are many lessons for the wider church.

Unsurprisingly, his insights are far removed from the platitudes and shibboleths of western politics or theology.
- I was very struck by his take on familiar passages, such as his legitimate translation of Jesus’ beatitude as “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the land.” For ironically, aren’t those regarded by empires as social dregs usually those left behind by imperial brain drains? (p99)
- I was also very challenged by the call to creative resistance to power abuse, rather than violence or acquiescence.
- Above all, I felt strongly that this is an urgent appeal to western Christians to listen to one of the most marginalised minorities on earth: Palestinian Christians are minorities within an oppressed minority.
For do we not have a biblical, dare I say prophetic, imperative to do that? After all, they really are our brothers and sisters in the faith. So regardless of your politics or theology, this is a voice that deserves to be heard and respected.

This review was originally written for the excellent Wazala.org - a really important hub for understanding and discovering more about the Middle East. Especially recommend signing up to their monthly Middle East news bulletin.
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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:

Claim #1:

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.

Claim #2:

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.

Claim #3:

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.
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on 16 August 2014
Nothing to add.
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