The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is the senior pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, Palestine. During our study tour in Israel and Palestine we visited his church, worshiped with them on Sunday morning, and enjoyed a fabulous meal. Rev. Raheb only had a few minutes to greet our team before leaving on an international trip. But his new book has been compelling and powerful; it may be one of the most important books I have studied this year. This book, and especially his understanding of history, challenges me, and our church.
Mitri Raheb, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes , (2014).
Quoted from Chapter 1: History and the Biblical Story
“As a Palestinian, the history of my country can be traced from primeval times until the present. For Palestinians, the Romans were not the last empire. Our history continued after the Romans with the Byzantines (332), Arabs (637), Tartars (1040), Crusaders (1099), Ayyubides (1187), Tartars (1244), Mamluks (1291), Mongols (1401), Ottomans (1516), British (1914) and Israelis (1948/ 1967), to name just the main occupiers. . .
. . . In looking at the myriad works on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all start at some point in the late nineteenth century with the beginning of the Zionist movement. Scholars have studied every conceivable aspect of this conflict. And yet all of these studies are done in historic isolation. They lack that historic depth of the centuries and, while they focus on the uniqueness of the current conflict, they fail to see it as part of an ongoing pattern. This historic disconnect leads to false political analyses, for which the Palestinians are paying a high price. . . .
. . . Yet, I also see how the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, struggles to find a faithful response to various and recurring empires. I understand sacred history to be one response to the secular histories of brutal empires. As powerful empires continue to be a recurrent theme in the history of Palestine, the question of God remains crucial, and faith is both challenged and engaged.”
Mitri Raheb offers a compelling understanding of history, and the study of history, which takes into account the full chronological sweep of the generations.
But this understanding of history is directly opposed to an understanding of history which supposes a bold, theological connection between the Genesis covenant with Abraham and modern Israel’s status as a nation-state, indeed, an expanding nation-state which increasingly includes the Palestinian’s land. This understanding of history jumps from the biblical narrative of Genesis to the modern state of Israel. This conceptual jump, in Mitri Raheb’s opinion, makes the Palestinians “theologically invisible.”
In this example, a commitment to mutual forbearance , a foundational Presbyterian doctrine, completely breaks down. Both of these different views of history, and the consequences of these views, cannot be legitimate and acceptable.
Yet, these opposing views co-exist in our church. How should we respond?