Was Jesus a Palestinian?
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
It is no secret that Jesus was Jewish. Reliable scholarly sources validate this incontestable fact. Jesus’ genealogies are posted in the books of Matthew and Luke. Whether or not one accepts the historical inerrancy of the entire Bible, the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life are sufficient to corroborate, at the very least, the general authenticity of Jesus’ Jewish lineage through his mother Miriam (Mary).
Archeology and historical geography confirm that the regions of Judea and Samaria are the ancient stomping grounds of the heroes of the Jewish scriptures. In 135 CE, the Romans plowed under the city of Jerusalem and the Emperor Hadrian at that time, renamed it Aelia Capitolina. He subsequently renamed the entire region Syria Palestina. Some scholars suggest he named the area after the dreaded Philistines in order to further humiliate the Jews after they were evicted from Jerusalem. For the following millennia, from the end of the Roman Empire until the end of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1918, the land was overrun by marauding armies of various flavors— Islamic hoards and Christian crusaders. The name Syria Palestinia was buried in the archives of history until it was resurrected in the late 1800’s. There is nothing new to see here.
Something new, however, does crop up when someone like the Reverend Dr. Naim Stifan Ateek attempts to revise thousands of years of ancient Biblical history by creating a Jesus who is, by his account, no longer a Jew but now is claimed to be “a Palestinian”. Dr. Ateek is an Arab Palestinian Anglican priest and founder of Sabeel International Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. While Sabeel is not the only Christian organization to beseige the State of Israel, it is perhaps the most glaring because of its denial of the Biblical descriptions of Jesus. Ateek has, in effect, rewritten Bible history for his own political purposes— to promote Sabeel’s so called “pro peace” Palestinian agenda. In truth, his arguments against Israel simply stir the cauldron of dissention and distrust.
Along with his Christian brethren of Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Reformed Calvinist orientation , Ateek joins the founding fathers of early Christianity, whose writings have stood for centuries falsely claiming that the Christian Church has replaced the Jews as “The New Israel”( also frequently called “The Israel of God.”)[i] Often called “Replacement Theology” this idea undergirds Ateek’s Liberation Theology thesis.
Rewriting history and inventing theology is a popular vocation today. So-called “revisionist” or “new” historians and theologians,[ii] like Ateek, take extreme liberties with facts until they cease to have meaning. Prime examples are the Holocaust denial polemics promoted by contemporary “revisionist” historians who claim that Holocaust never happened or that it is so insignificant that the event is barely a blip on the screen of history. Ateek has an axe to grind; in order to advance Sabeel’s “Christ as Palestinian” agenda, he needs to prevent Israel from intruding in his narrative. In an effort to push his version of Christian dogma, he rewrites the Bible, in effect wiping Israel from the centrality of the Bible story. He fabricates a formidable sounding contemporary “social justice” ideology as if it was birthed directly from the pages of the Holy Scripture. His personal “fish story” is born instead from the caverns of his own vivid anti- Jewish imaginings. If what he is doing weren’t so dangerous, it would be ludicrous.
Ateek’s new religious creedal fiction, which scholars have named “Palestinian Liberation Theology,” pictures Jesus as a suffering “Palestinian,” not at the point of the sword of the Roman Empire, but instead at the hand of the contemporary Jewish state of Israel. Ateek’s reinvented Jesus is born in “Palestine” as a purebred Arab Palestinian.[iii] As a result, today’s Arab Christians are permitted to profess a skewed claim to their own national redeemer and savior by denying a Jewish Jesus connected to his own ancient Jewish homeland. This lie also perpetuates Ateek’s conviction that the Jews don’t belong in the land of Israel, and “Jesus the Palestinian” proves it.
The glaring anachronistic errors of Ateek’s pronouncements defy even the extremes of historical revisionism. As the popular saying goes: “you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts” is a criticism of and serves as a mandate to “revisionist historians,” like Ateek, who ignore any facts that don’t fit the particulars of their distorted narrative.
“Palestinians” historically are a new people group. There were no “Palestinians” roaming around when Jesus was doing his work. Until 130 CE, when Emperor Hadrian renamed the region, the term “Palestine” did not even exist. For the following eighteen hundred years, until after World War I when France and Britain were divvying up the Middle East as a spoil of the war, even the Roman term “Palestine” had fallen into disuse. The land existed simply as a backwater of one or another of the never-ending invading empires the last of which were the Ottoman Turks. For five hundred years, the occupying Ottomans Turks kept the land in a state of perpetual desolation barely capable of sustaining its small, impoverished population of Jews, Arabs and wandering Bedouins.
When Mark Twain visited the area in the area in 1876 he said this:
“[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse....A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action....We never saw a human being on the whole route....There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.” [iv]
After 1918, when the term “Palestine” returned to vogue, the term “Palestinians” referred not to Arabs but to Jews living in “Mandate Palestine” under post war British rule. The Palestinian Post and The Palestinian Symphony and hundreds of other organizations were Jewish entities. At that time the Arab population had not yet sought to become a “nationalized” identity. It was Yasser Arafat, an Egyptian born terrorist, who in 1964-1967, with the help of Soviet Russia, nationalized the Arab population of the area under the name “Palestinians” in a move to ethnically cleanse the Jews and take over the land. Until then, the term Palestinian not only did not refer to Arabs, it most certainly did not refer to Christian Arabs.[v]
What Rev. Naim Ateek exploits as the springboard for his theology, is a manufactured “grievance narrative” initiated by Arafat under the guidance of the avowedly antisemitic Cold War Soviets — the Jews are the cause of all human suffering including the suffering of Jesus. Ateek’s historical inversions and factual infractions serve to stir a never-ending conflict.
Such “ insignificant” factual indiscretions should never interfere with a compelling theological yarn. Or as Mark Twain famously quipped, “Never let truth get in the way of a good story.”
Most alarming, this fictional narrative is now trending in mainline Anglican, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and even in a substantial number of evangelical, non denominational churches in the USA and throughout Europe. Unfortunately, Ateek’s Palestinian grievance narratives reek of anti-Israelism marked with the rot of “antisemitism.” It is the essence of what scholars and commentators call “the new antisemitism.”[vi]
Ateek twists and manipulates bible narratives to suit his bogus claims. He promotes a “Palestinian” Jesus whom he imbues with all of the “universal” sufferings of the contemporary Palestinians. Of course, within the fabric he weaves, he conveniently ignores the “universal” sufferings of the Jews over the centuries and the instigations of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hizbollah and the mullah’s of Iran who call daily for Israel’s annihilation. Ateek’s fabricated Jesus, whose story is nowhere found in any ancient secular or biblical records, is an invention of his warped politicized imagination. His harangues about Israel’s “illegal occupation of Palestine” are undergirded by a twisted theology. In his unrelenting polemics against Israel, he conveniently discounts the Jordanian illegal occupation of “Palestine” from 1948 to 1967, or the occupation of the British after World War I, or the Ottoman Turks for 500 years before that. Were the Ottomans legal or illegal occupiers of “Palestinian” land? Ateek would not dare indulge this discussion.
Ateek and his fellow Christians have elevated name-calling, fakery and falsehood to exalted new heights. When it comes to assaulting Israel, or demonizing Jews, no excuse, reason, rationale or justification is required; there is a virtual cornucopia of low hanging fruit ready for Israel’s enemies to pluck. To select Israel for demonization out of a large international pack of evil dictatorships seems silly to anyone with a normal mind. But antisemitism is not the product of a “normal mind.” The false narratives, fact inversions, geographic and historical fictions are gaining traction in the Christian West and particularly on college campuses. Sabeel and its various anti-Israel, anti Zionist Christian colleagues are leading the way in activating a “Big Lie” based more on their twisted adaptations of Christian theology than on anything that resembles fact. These false accusations are designed to deprive the Jews of any claim to a historic birthright in the land.
Sabeel and Ateek’s Christian friends are fanning the flames of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement along with false accusations against Israel, calling it an “apartheid State.” The increasing cliques of anti-Zionists, Muslim and Christian Palestinian avengers are committed to demonstrating that whatever the circumstances, whatever the crime, the Jews and their State are perpetually guilty for all of it. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustrates how upside down the world can become:
“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first–verdict afterward.” “Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!” “Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple. “I won’t!” said Alice. “Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved. “Who cares for you?” said Alice. (She had grown to her full size by this time.) “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”
Anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in ancient church libraries embody perhaps more substance but no less insanity than the Red Queen’s pack of cards. Hair-curling stories that line the annals of Medieval and Renaissance Europe start with the Christian hope to convert all Jews to Christianity— Inquisitors spying on them to be sure their conversions were real; torturing them to be absolutely sure they weren’t lying, and finally burning them at the stake just because they might be guilty of something.
Sadly, Christian demonization of Jews starts not in Medieval Europe but hundreds of years earlier, spread over the length and breadth of the Roman Empire and later throughout Western Europe. The Early ( Anti-Nicene) Church Fathers, all proficient authors and theologians, started vilifying the Jews[vii] less than 100 years after the death of Paul, the Jewish Apostle to the gentiles. Calls of “Christ killer” and “children of the devil” coined by the venerated John Chrysostom[viii] easily merged into a hybridized Christian thesis of hate.
Many Christians of today who are in agreement with Sabeel[ix] and associates seem happy to stoke those ancient fires of antisemitism, even if they are compelled to kidnap Jesus from the arms of his Jewish mother.
Susan Warner, along with her husband David, are the founders of a Christian group in Delaware that explores the Bible from a Jewish perspective. She has been writing and teaching about antisemitism, Israel and the Middle East for many years and recently has developed an interest in Christian antisemitism as a foundational theological issue. She is currently working on a book called The Yoke of Constantine ©. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org This article has been revised and expanded from an original article entitled Palestinian Liberation Theology Exposed which appeared in Frontpage Magazine 1/19/2015
[i] Hedding, Malcom; https://int.icej.org/media/replacement-theology Hedding discusses the theological errors of Replacement Theology.
[ii] 1)Revisionist Historians rewriting Jewish history. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Historians
2) Sabeel’s Theology of Contempt NGO MONITOR
[iii] Phillips, Melanie; https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/jesus-was-a-palestinian-the-return-of-christian-anti-semitism/ This paper is a thorough examination of the anti-semitic flavor of Christian Palestinianism.
[iv] 1867 (Quoted in Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad. London: 1881) Excerpted from Jewish Virtual Library https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mark-twain-quotations-on-judaism-and-israel
[v] This article is an interesting eulogy of Yasser Arafat.
[vi] The New Antisemitism: Alvin Rosenfeld is one of the current leaders in the study of “the New Antisemitism https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017SJ1266/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
[vii] Christian-Jewish Relations: The Early Church and the Beginnings of Anti-Semitism. There are many articles of this sort explaining the origins of antisemitism within Christianity. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-early-church-and-the-beginnings-of-anti-semitism
[viii] John Chrysostom wrote eight Homilies against the Jews in the mid 4th Century. It is part of a body of early church literature called Adversos Judeos ( Against the Jews). http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/chrysostom_adversus_judaeos_01_homily1.htm
[ix] FOSNA Friends of Sabeel North America homepage