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Palestine

Where did Palestine come from?

The name 'Palestine' (or Palastina) was given to the land in 135 AD for one reason and one reason only. It was part of a campaign to strip away any association of the land with the Jewish people. By inventing a name derived from one of the Jews' bitterest ancient enemies, the Philistines, the Romans succeeded in needling Jewish people right up to the current day. It was as if England was renamed Lesser France on account of the French invasion in 1066. Or the USA being referred to as Navajoland, in memory of the native American tribe. It rankles and it was designed to rankle.

How had it come to this? Well, read on ...

Jerusalem had never seen such misery in the thousand years or so since David made it his capital. It was 70 AD and the Romans had brutalised the city and its inhabitants with an army three times the size of that needed to invade Britain years earlier, killing 600,000 Jews in the aftermath. Referring to this in 1868, C.H. Spurgeon said "The destruction of Jerusalem was more terrible than anything that the world has ever witnessed, either before or since". The Temple had been utterly destroyed and so, almost, had Judaism itself. A leading Pharisee, Yochanan Ben Zakkai, just managed to escape in a coffin and set up an academy in Yavneh by the coast. This, subsequently, became the centre for the Jewish community in the land and ensured the future of Rabbinic Judaism, the new form of Judaism adapted to function without the Temple sacrifices.

Jews who were followers of the new Christian faith had already fled Jerusalem for Pella, in response to the prophecy of Jesus in Luke 21:20: "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near". After filling in the details with unerring accuracy Jesus uttered the following pronouncement, in verse 24, "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled". Trample they did - for nearly 1900 years. God's covenant land was now to be trampled by nations outside of the covenant He made with Abraham. If we remind ourselves, this covenant may have promised the land as an eternal possession to the Jewish people, but it doesn't give a timetable of events. The Jews now enter an exile, the Galut, that was to last for nearly 1900 years.

The story wasn't quite over for the Jews in the land, but it was the beginning of the end of their majority status. Some zealots had a famous last stand at Masada in 73 AD, preferring suicide to capture by the Romans and serving as an enduring national symbol of defiance for subsequent generations. Others escaped the enemy's clutches and were sufficiently emboldened to organise a second Jewish revolt. They were led by Simon bar Kochba, who was proclaimed Messiah by a leading scholar, Rabbi Akiva, in order to attach an apocryphal element to the struggle. Messianic Jews, believing that the Messiah, Jesus, had already come, found it impossible to follow this man and this cemented the final split between these Christian Jews and their brethren.

This revolt exploded in 132 AD, significantly on the very same day, the 9th of Av, when both the First and the Second Temple had been destroyed! In order to blot out any Jewish associations with the land, the Romans renamed the city of Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina, forbidding any Jew from living there and the land was given the name Palestine.

It is interesting to note that in virtually every current Bible you can mention, maps showing Israel in Biblical times will invariably include the heading 'Palestine', even though this name was unknown until 100 years after the Resurrection. Scholars are fond of the name 'Palestine', perhaps not realising that the very use of the word is a provocation to Jewish people. To them it seems to be an affirmation of Arab claims to the land, giving the mistaken impression that the land has always been Palestinian Arab land, even going back to Biblical times!

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation )

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