Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a Christmas message in Bethlehem last month in which he called Jesus “a Palestinian messenger.” As a Muslim, Abbas used the term “messenger” which is in keeping with Islam’s view of Jesus as a prophet. But, to describe him as “Palestinian” is a very cunning twist of facts in an attempt to rewrite history and deny the Jews’ historical connection to the land of Israel.
In this distorted scenario, Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah but is a Palestinian revolutionary who lived under occupation and died a martyr for Allah when he was murdered by the Jews.
As ridiculous as it may sound, this imagery has not just been used by Palestinian political leaders like Yasser Arafat and Abbas, but has also been used by Palestinian church leaders such as Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican and former canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. He called Jesus a “Palestinian living under occupation,” implying that the Jews occupied Palestinian land at the time of Jesus just as they do again today.
Ateek also has sought to redefine God so he was no longer the God of Israel but a God who favored the Palestinian Arabs and had written off Israel. To do this, Ateek has to disregard whole portions of scripture, so he rejected the validity of any scripture that disagreed with his de-Zionized view of God, championing what is known as Palestinian Liberation Theology.
While Naim Ateek has found a number of fellow Anglicans and mainline Protestant leaders appreciative of his anti-Israel message, any sympathetic Evangelicals had to distance themselves due to his disregard for the Bible. But, a second generation of more temperate advocates is having an impact and, today, one can hear voices in the Christian world referring to Jesus as a “Palestinian Jew” or a “Palestinian Rabbi.”
Was Jesus a Palestinian?
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which today is located in territory where a majority of inhabitants are Palestinian Arab Muslims. But in the time of Jesus, the vast majority of inhabitants of Bethlehem and the Holy Land were Jewish. Palestinian sympathizers must rewrite history in order to deny this.
They ignore the fact that Jesus’ mother was Jewish, and that his parents raised him religiously Jewish, or else, he could not have taught in synagogues and participated in discussions in the Temple. In background, race, culture, language and religion, Jesus was Jewish.
Who are the Palestinians?
Today, the term Palestinian refers to a population of people with a vast majority being Arab Muslims and a small percentage of them being Arab Christians. At the time of Jesus, the land was a majority Jewish, with a small percentage of Greeks, Romans and descendants of ancient peoples such as the Samaritans and Assyrians.
While there is some historic evidence that, before the time of Christ, the Greeks may have called the larger region Syria-Palestine, in 63 BC the Romans designated Syria as a province separate from a “Judaean” province. One hundred years after the life of Christ, the Romans put down the Jewish Bar-Kokhba revolt and Hadrian renamed the province of Judea as “Syria Palestina,” possibly in an attempt to remove all traces of Jewish history.
Cartographers throughout the centuries continued to label the region Palestine and considered it part of larger Syria. In the early 20th century, as the modern states of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon were formed, the name Palestine referred to a progressively smaller area. The people living in that area were both Jews and Arabs, therefore in 1947, the UN passed a resolution to divide the area left of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
The Jews accepted the plan and declared statehood, so the Jewish inhabitants of the land became “Israeli,” leaving the designation “Palestinian” to the Arab inhabitants. Hence, today, the term Palestinian describes an Arab Muslim people with a small minority of Arab Christians.
What does the Bible say?
The New Testament gospels describe in fascinating detail the Jewish lineage of Jesus as well as that of his relatives, the family of John the Baptist. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was from the royal lineage of King David.
The gospels also describe Bethlehem as the city of David, in the region of Judea. While Bethlehem was within the realm of the Roman Empire, nowhere in scripture was Jesus ever considered Roman. Nor was he ever referred to as Syrian or as Palestinian. To force an identity on Jesus, based on modern geo-political labels, is a gross manipulation of the facts.
Jesus was a Jew. He did not die for the modern Palestinian political cause but was the sacrificial lamb, according to Jewish sacramental law, who died for the sins of the world. In Revelation 22:16-17, Jesus affirms his eternal Jewish lineage when he says of himself, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star …. let him who thirsts come.”
Susan Michael is US Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem www.icejusa.org, creator of IsraelAnswers.com.