Jesus of Palestine?

By Clifford May

The members of the American Studies Association care deeply about historical truth, which is why they protested so strenuously when, over Christmas, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas called Jesus "a Palestinian messenger."

Actually, they didn't. Why not? Perhaps the 5,000 members of the ASA - an old if not venerable "academic organization" - are so busy boycotting Israeli educational institutions that they have no time to object to propagandistic falsifications of history - in this case, the denial of the Jewish past in the Middle East as a not-so-subtle way of threatening the Jewish future in the region.

As war is too important to leave to generals, so scholarship is too important to leave to professors - or at least to the sizeable cohort that prioritizes moral posturing and trendy political activism over such mundane concerns as research, learning, and teaching. So let's quickly review the historical record, with which ASA members may be unfamiliar - and which, we may assume, Abbas distorts out of enmity rather than ignorance.

In 130 A.D., about a century after the crucifixion of Jesus, there was a Jewish rebellion against Roman imperialism. Successful it was not. Simon Sebag Montefiore, in his masterful tome Jerusalem: The Biography writes that hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed in battles with Roman forces and "so many Jews were enslaved that at the Hebron slave market they fetched less than a horse."

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The Roman emperor, Hadrian, was not satisfied. He determined to wipe "Judaea off the map, deliberately renaming it Palaestina, after the Jews' ancient enemies, the Philistines." And who were the Philistines? They were "Sea People, who originated in the Aegean" and sailed to the eastern Mediterranean, where they "conquered the coast of Canaan."

In other words, Jesus was born a century before the region was renamed Palestine. That makes calling him a Palestinian akin to calling a 15th-century Algonquin a New Englander. And Jesus was certainly no Philistine. Based on all the evidence, he was a Jew born into an already ancient Jewish community.

It was not until the seventh century that warriors from the Arabian Peninsula, adherents of a new religion known as Islam, conquered Palestine and many other lands - creating an empire as large as Rome's had been at its height.

Over the centuries that followed, one foreign conqueror after another - e.g. Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Crusaders, Mamluks - ruled Palestine. The territory never became an independent country. Nor did it even become a separate province under the centuries of Ottoman rule that ended with the collapse of that empire/caliphate after World War I. In 1922, the League of Nations confirmed the Mandate for Palestine, authorizing Britain to rule the territories that would later be known as Jordan, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.

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Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security. This article originally appeared in National Review Online and has been republished with the author's permission.

(AP Photo)

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