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A Fascinating Discovery

Ways of Knowing

A Fascinating Discovery
Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Those of us who live in the West and experience the privilege of being white tend to gloss over the important fact that Jesus lived in an occupied territory. He was not part of the dominant culture. Rather, his familial and cultural land was occupied by a powerful adversary. This is essential to understanding his teachings and the Gospel. Text without context is dangerous! Imagine how different Christianity would look today if we had acknowledged this truth. Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian Christian, author, and Lutheran pastor who lives and works in Bethlehem. This context offers him a unique way of knowing and interpreting the Gospel, one that we in the West can certainly learn from. 

As a Palestinian Christian, Palestine is the land of both my physical and my spiritual forefathers and foremothers. The biblical story is thus part and parcel of my nation’s history, a history of continuous occupation by succeeding empires. In fact, the biblical story can best be understood as a response to the geo-political history of the region. . . .

Jesus was a Middle Eastern Palestinian Jew. If he were to travel through Western countries today, he would be “randomly” pulled aside and his person and papers would be checked. The Bible is a Middle Eastern book. It is a product of that region with all of its complexities. While it might seem that I am stating the obvious, I firmly believe that this notion has not been given enough attention. In fact and in spite of being a Middle Easterner, I have come to discover the importance of the geo-politics of the region only in the last ten years. I began to sense that it was not merely by chance that the three monotheistic religions and their sacred scriptures, for good or for bad, hailed from the same region. . . . For me, as a Palestinian Christian, the realization of this fact made for a fascinating discovery.

This discovery did not come to light in an academic setting somewhere in the West, and it was not the outcome of a study I undertook in a research center. It was, instead, the gradual accumulation of knowledge I gained “in the field” by observing the movements and processes occurring in Palestine over a prolonged period. In short, I was observing, analyzing, and trying to understand what was happening around me. . . .

Empires create their own theologies to justify their occupation. [Just as the early American empires chose to overlook its mistreatment of the Native tribes who already lived here and then justified a slave holder form of Christianity in much of the Americas. —RR] Such oppression generates a number of important questions among the occupied: “Where are you, God?” and “Why doesn’t God interfere to rescue [God’s] people?” When, under various regimes, diverse identities emerge in different parts of Palestine, the question arises, “Who is my neighbor?” And finally, “How can liberation be achieved?” is a constant question. . . . These questions and the differing responses can be found in the Bible, just as they are found in Palestine today. . . .

As a pastor I refuse to separate the reality of this world from the reality of the Bible by preaching a “cheap gospel” that neither challenges reality nor is challenged by it.

Reference:

Adapted from Mitri Raheb, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes (Orbis Books: 2014), 1-2, 3.

Image credit: Anna Washington Derry (detail), Laura Wheeler Waring, 1927, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, Washington, DC.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: One of my images of God is that of Grandmother, the wise . . . woman with gray hair and eyes as ancient as the Earth. — Steven Charleston
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