It is not just Islam and the Left that are responsible for anti-Zionism and the rise of anti-Semitism. Christians who have embraced Palestinian replacement theology (which has disturbing echoes of the Nazis’ depiction of Jesus-as-Aryan) must also be held to account for the propagation of anti-Jewish hatred.
By Richard Mather
In recent decades, the quest to revive Jesus’ Jewish identity has yielded much fruit. Geza Vermes, Hugh Schonfield, Robert Eisenman, E.P Sanders, James Tabor, R. T. Herford, George Foot Moor and Hyam Maccoby are among those who have highlighted Jesus’ Jewish identity and origins. Combined with the shared interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jews and Christians have found common ground in the exploration of the Jewish roots of Christianity.
As most people know, Jesus was born of a Jewish woman in the Judean town of Bethlehem, and was given the Jewish name of “Yeshua,” literally “Joshua.” He was circumcised, attended synagogue services and the Temple, wore tzitzit, was referred to as “Rabbi,” and observed the Sabbath, Passover and Sukkot. He quoted from the Tanakh and reiterated the importance of the Shema (“Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”). He also made it clear that he had “come for the lost sheep of Israel” and that “Salvation is of the Jews.”
The historical exploration of the Jewish Jesus has helped many Christians understand the Hebrew origins of their faith, and in so doing, has helped heal the rift between Judaism and Christianity, which led to the genocide of six million Jews in the 1940s. But there are some Christians (and Muslims) who, for highly questionable political and theological reasons, want to bury Jesus’ Jewish identity and resurrect him as a Palestinian martyr.
Jesus was not a Palestinian. There is no reference to Palestine in the New Testament for the simple reason that the land of Israel was generally known as Judea and Galilee until 135 CE. The Gospel of Matthew, which was written around 80 CE does, however, mention “the land of Israel” and the “cities of Israel.” The term Palestine is rarely used in the Tanakh, and when it is, it refers specifically to the southwestern coastal area of Israel occupied by the Philistines who had disappeared as a distinct people by the time of the Babylonian Captivity in 586 BCE.
Christians throughout the centuries have tended to imagine Jesus according to their peculiar prejudices. One of the most outlandish was the Jesus-as-Aryan theory. During the Third Reich, some German Protestant theologians redefined Jesus as an Aryan and Christianity as a religion at war with Judaism. The Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence published books defaming Judaism (including a dejudaized version of the New Testament) and a catechism proclaiming Jesus as the saviour of the Aryans.
Since the 1960s, a number of Christians (and Muslims) have revived and revised the Aryan Jesus myth as a tool for propagating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist propaganda. Jesus the Aryan is now Jesus the Palestinian martyr living “under occupation.” The Jews are depicted as a cruel and oppressive people who have merited everlasting exile. And the Hebrew Bible is “de-Zionised” and/or radically reinterpreted by writers and teachers in order to downplay what they say is Jewish “exclusivity” in the Tanakh (the words “Zion” or “Israel” are removed from the Psalms, for example).
The founding document of Christian Palestinianism is the 1967 Arab-Christian memorandum entitled “What is Required of the Christian Faith Concerning the Palestine Problem.” The document, which had the blessing of Catholic and Orthodox clergy, declares that it is “a total misunderstanding of the story of salvation and a perversion of God’s plan for a Christian to want to re-establish a Jewish nation as a political entity.”
In one of its most audacious passages, the memorandum reads: “The Christian conscience should always discern what is the authentic vocation of the Jewish people and what is the other side of the coin, that is, the racist State of Israel.” In fact, the memorandum calls for a permanent exile of the Jews on the grounds that “the Jewish race was chosen to serve the salvation of humanity and not to establish itself in any particular religious or racial way.”
The Christian Palestinianist movement was given a fresh impetus in 2009 with the publication of the Kairos Palestine Document. Subtitled “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering,” the paper claims to speak on behalf of Christian and Muslim Palestinians, who apparently share a “deeply rooted” history and a “natural right” to the land.
In contrast, the State of Israel is viewed as an alien entity, and only exists because of Western guilt over the Holocaust. Israel is even associated with the words “evil” and “sin.” According to the text, the so-called Israeli occupation “distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier.”
One of the most vocal Christian Palestinianists is Naim Ateek, who was born in Beth She’an in what is now northern Israel. He was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in 1967 and was (until recently) a cleric in St. George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem.
In 1989, Ateek published Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, which drew much of its strength from South American liberation theology. Five years later, Ateek founded an organisation called Sabeel – the Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center.
Ateek reinterprets the account of King Ahab and Naboth in 1 Kings 21 to underpin his replacement theology. Ateek teaches how King Ahab (the State of Israel) murders Naboth (the Palestinians) in order to take Naboth’s land, and how the Lord sent Elijah to pronounce judgment on them. According to Ateek, the day is coming when God will judge and punish Israel.
The version of liberation theology espoused by Ateek is that of Jesus as “a Palestinian living under an occupation.” In his 2001 Easter message, Ateek spoke of Jesus as “the powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint” and he used anti-Semitic language to evoke the image of Jews as Christ-killers:
“In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge Golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.”
Yasser Arafat also played on the theme of Jesus as a Palestinian martyr. When he made his first Christmas appearance in Bethlehem in 1995, he invoked the Christian nativity by crying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” To which the crowd responded, “In spirit and blood we will redeem thee, O Palestine!”
Bethlehem obviously held a special place in Arafat’s heart. Not because he had any special love for Jesus and Christianity but because it was a political rallying point. Bethlehem, according to Arafat, was the “birthplace of the first Palestinian Christian, Jesus Christ.”
Other times, Jesus is referred to as a Shahid, a holy martyr of Islam. Arafat often referred to Jesus as the first Palestinian martyr, which is not only historically incorrect, it is at odds with Islamic tradition. There are no references to Jesus as a Shahid in Islamic works, and it is impossible for Jesus to be a martyr if he did not die on the cross, which is the view of the Quran.
Of all the anti-Israel discourses that exist today, Christian Palestinianism is perhaps one of the most disturbing because it resurrects the notion of Jews as accursed Christ-killers who deserve permanent exile. As with all anti-Semitic ideas, Christian Palestinianism is about resentment. It is a projection of a sense of inferiority onto an external scapegoat –the Jews.
Egyptian Jewish writer Bat Ye’or believes that the concept of Jesus the Palestinian is symbolic of a growing religious trend – Palestinian replacement theology and the gradual Islamisation of Christianity. Christian Palestinianists, according to Ye’or interpret the Bible from an Islamic point of view and “do not admit to any historical or theological link between the biblical Israel, the Jewish people and the modern State of Israel.”
Ye’or also points to the similarity between Palestinian replacement theology and Marcion gnosticism, which was a second century Christian heresy. Marcion gnostics rejected the Hebrew Bible and believed that the God of Israel was inferior to the God of the New Testament. Likewise, Christian Palestinianists want to “de-Zionise” the Tanakh, strip Jesus of his Jewish heritage and neutralise prophetic statements relating to Jews and the land of Israel.
As well as being politically motivated, Christian Palestinianism is a religious assault on Judaism and should be seen in the context of centuries of anti-Jewish persecution and ridicule by both Christians and Muslims who are embarrassed and frustrated by the continued existence of the Jewish people.
Make no mistake. The cultural-economic boycott of the Jewish state draws a great deal of strength from Christianity. Much of the anti-Zionism emanating from West can be traced back to faith-based organisations who are either ambivalent about Israel or downright hostile. Christian Aid, the Quakers, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterians are among those who are guilty of demonising Israel.
And then there are individuals such as Reverend Dr. Stephen Sizer (a prominent and notorious Anglican vicar in England) who believes that Jerusalem and the land of Israel “have been made irrelevant to God’s redemptive purposes,” and that Jews were expelled from the land because “they were more interested in money and power.”
In other words, it is not just Islam and the Left that are responsible for the ostracism and demonisation of the Jewish state. Many Christians, especially those who have embraced the new anti-Semitic replacement theology known as Christian Palestinianism, should be held to account for rekindling the same anti-Jewish prejudices and hatreds that resulted in the Holocaust.
[For information about Jewish and Christian campus initiatives that have been hoodwinked by the Palestinianist narrative – including Palestinian replacement theology – check out this article on Jewish Media Agency: Enough! No more brainwashing on campuses ]