Dani Ishai Behan

Jesus Was Not A Palestinian, Or Even An Arab

Last week was Christmas, a holiday when billions of gentiles* all over the world congregate under a Christmas tree, unwrap presents, and spend a not insignificant amount of time whining that they didn’t get what they wanted. All of this is done in reverence of a long dead Jewish rabbi, making it all the more ironic that these same people (or at least a good chunk of them) absolutely despise Jews. This visceral hatred has even caused them to deny a core part of their own religious texts, which they claim are inerrant.

From the 1960s onward, traditional Christian supersessionism took on a new form. Although the claim that Jesus was a Palestinian will seem absurd to anyone with a cursory knowledge of history, there are an astonishing number of people who actually believe it. In fact, it is gaining serious traction in Christian (and non-Christian) communities throughout the West and the Arab world. But alas, it is not supported by any reliable sources, or even the Christian Bible itself. See the Book of Matthew, Chapter 2, Verses 1-7:

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

I see no mention of Palestine or Arabs here, but I do see plenty of references to Jews, Judea/Judah, and Israel. I also see an affirmation that Jesus was a Jew, and Bethlehem a part of Judah/Judea. In fact, taking both the New and Old Testaments together, there is only one notable Arab mentioned: Geshem, an enemy of the Jews who appears in the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah. You’ll also find a few passing references to Arabians, but that’s about it.

Likewise, there is no mention of the West Bank in either the New or Old Testament — just Israel/Judah, and later Judea and Samaria. The Old Testament does, however, contain scattered references to two separate “Philistine” peoples, neither of whom had anything to do with today’s Palestinians. The first of these Philistine populations can be found in Genesis, where they are identified with Egypt. The second can be found in Deuteronomy, and were (by all accounts, religious or otherwise) not even Middle Eastern. They were an Aegean sea people who established colonies on the coast of what is now Gaza. Neither of these populations exists any longer, nor are they mentioned at any point in the Bible after 700 BCE.

Coming back to Jesus himself, it is also known that he was circumcised on the 8th day, visited the Jewish Temple every year, and made extensive references to kosher laws. Furthermore, the land hadn’t been named Palestine until 70+ years after Jesus walked the Earth. The fact that a strident, religion bashing, atheist Jew like me knows more about this than these antisemitic “Christians” is unbelievably funny, but I digress. I’d like to focus now on non-Biblical evidence, as that is even more telling.

Firstly, the land hadn’t been renamed Palestine until 70+ years after he died. As we can see in this map (pictured below), the land was called Judaea and Samaria all throughout the 1st century CE. Jesus was born in BCE and crucified in 27-29 CE.

Oh look, it's that Jewish country we've been told never existed

For those who are unaware, Judaea is the Roman/Latin cognate of Judah, which is itself the Anglicized version of the Hebrew name for the land: ‘Yehudah’. We are called Jews/Yehudim because we come from Judea/Judah. The languages spoken there – Hebrew and Aramaic – formed part of the basis for diaspora tongues such as Yiddish.

Judea and Samaria were renamed “Syria-Palaestina” in the aftermath of the failed Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE. This name was chosen in an attempt to remove all association of the land with Jews, who mourn this tragedy each year on Tisha B’Av.

In an effort to wipe out all memory of the bond between the Jews and the land, Hadrian changed the name of the province from Iudea to Syria-Palestina, a name that became common in non-Jewish literature.” H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, page 334

“It seems clear that by choosing a seemingly neutral name – one juxtaposing that of a neighboring province with the revived name of an ancient geographical entity (Palestine), already known from the writings of Herodotus – Hadrian was intending to suppress any connection between the Jewish people and that land.” Ariel Lewin. The archaeology of Ancient Judea and Palestine. Getty Publications, 2005 p. 33.

Lastly, he could not have been an Arab because, as mentioned previously, there was no significant Arab presence there (if any at all) when he was alive. This would not change until the Ghassanid invasion of the 3rd century AD, and the later Arab colonial conquest of Israel in the 7th century AD under Caliph Umar. The Islamist claim that he was “an Arab shaheed” is even more ridiculous, for that very reason. In fact, Islam didn’t even exist in Jesus’ time.

* Yes, I am well aware that some Jews (mostly secular, some Christianized) celebrate Christmas.

About the Author
Half-Irish/half-Jewish American activist, musician, and writer.