“I have a real issue with the Old Testament” and the “mixing up” of ancient and modern Israel, the late Edward Said’s sister Grace stated during the November 8-9, 2013, Waging Peace in Palestine & Israel conference in Washington, DC. As previously analyzed, this event of self-professed Christians castigated modern Israel’s entire existence as unjust, yet, as Said indicated, Israel’s Biblical past did not go unscathed at the conference either. The conference’s revisionist history delegitimized Israel with a transformation of the Bible’s Jewish heritage into the inheritance of a Palestinian people who in turn appeared unified across centuries and cultural divides.
Mitri Rehab, a Palestinian Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem, set a Biblically jarring, anachronistic tone in a keynote address on the morning of November 9, the conference’s single full day of events. As a “Palestinian Arab Christian” born in Bethlehem five years before the 1967 Six Day War, Rehab spoke of the Bible as “our story,” the “story of my forefathers.” The “Bible did not originate in the Bible Belt,” Rehab analyzed, but “actually in Palestine.” When discussing Jeremiah in the Old Testament, Rehab praised this prophet’s faith in God “to invest in Palestine” (Jeremiah 32:6-15).
Rehab thereby appeared to advocate the theses of individuals like the leftwing Israeli Jew Schlomo Sand, author of the The Invention of the Jewish People. Available for purchase at the conference, this 2010 book argued in a discredited thesis (see here and here) that ancient Jews assimilated over time following Roman subjugation to successive inhabitants of the Holy Land like the Arabs. Rather than the descendants of diaspora exiles, meanwhile, modern Jews in Europe and elsewhere largely descended from Jewish converts.
Thus Palestinian Arabs like Rehab, and not Jews who have settled modern Israel, have a far superior ancestral claim to what Rehab called without exception “Palestine,” central scene of the Bible’s narrative. Astonishingly, Rehab believes that the Jewish Old Testament and the New Testament narrative of how various Jews spread the Gospel of the Jew Jesus as messiah are part of his “Palestinian” history. Accordingly, Rehab criticized that Israeli Jews “should not be able to confiscate” the Biblical story along with the Holy Land and denounced “myths” of Jews coming home to Israel. Palestinians lost “our narrative” in 1948 with Israel’s establishment and are now “aliens in the Holy Land.”
Yet the name Palestine for the Holy Land derives from Roman Emperor Hadrian’s designation of Israel as such in 135 AD using a Latinized version of Philistines, a Hellenistic people who in ancient times lived along the Mediterranean coast around Gaza. Roman reference to the “arch-enemies of the Israelites” was not accidental, as Emmy Award-winning journalist Simcha Jacobovici notes. Following the failed 132-135 AD Jewish Bar Kochba revolt, the Romans wanted “to erase the Jewish presence from Judea and to designate their homeland with reference to their Biblical enemies.”
Hadrian also changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitalina in honor of his clan name. During this period the Romans intentionally violated Jewish law with the placement of pagan deity statues in Jerusalem’s ruins. By contrast, a Roman coin marking the capture of Jerusalem during the failed Jewish revolt of 70 AD bore the Latin inscription “Judaea Capta [Judea captured].”
Similarly, the Bible speaks a geographical language completely different from Rehab’s strained invocations of “Palestine.” Philip Farah of thePalestinian Christian Alliance for Palestine (PCAP) unintentionally recalled this truth while reading during the November 8 opening service from Isaiah 2:1-4. This passage’s famed reference to peoples who “will beat their swords into plowshares” presupposes that the “law will go out from Zion.” Rehab’s Prophet Jeremiah, meanwhile, spoke of a “God of Israel” common throughout the Bible.
With respect to modern Judaism therefore, the Gentile Rehab seems to reject the Apostle Paul’s injunction to “not be arrogant, but tremble” (Romans 11:20) before Judaism given Jesus’ statement that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Unlike other Christians, Rehab draws apparently no affinity for Jews from the Old Testament’s original revelation of the one true “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Acts 3:13) completed in the New Testament. Rehab sees no connection between the “Jewish flesh” in which Jesus became God incarnate, now remembered or indeed transubstantiated in the Eucharist, as the late Catholic priest and scholar Richard John Neuhaus noted, and modern Jews. If anything, these Jews owe a theological debt to Rehab’s “Palestine.”
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