Traveling through Israel & Palestine it is not difficult to find division. It is not hard to hear the antipathy. It is not tough to sense the tension.
While there is much that is beautiful and awe-inspiring about “the Holy Land” there are also serious matters to consider when it comes to travelers from the U.S. who visit. Issues of politics and empire, rights and religion.
The second post in my series on my recent trip to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan features the work of Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb — a writer, pastor, and the president of Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem. Specifically, we will focus on his recent book Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes and I will share a short conversation between us to reflect on.
Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes is a theo-political book that seeks to situate the current political and social crisis of Palestine in the longue durée of history. Thus, it spans a long range of ancient and contemporary Palestinian history in order to provide insight into not only Scripture but the current cultural and socio-political climate. Raheb is pointed in his analysis and rigorous in both his scriptural exegesis and cultural interpretation. He does well to call out misconceptions by those on the outside looking in, rallying both biblical text and historical precedent to make the point that one cannot understand the Bible nor the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without conceptualizing the long legacy of empire in Palestine and the peoples’ response to almost continuous occupation for 7,000 years.
Certainly, the book emerges out of Raheb’s context and his heart, therefore it is most certainly biased, but it may be an angle you have not heard before, but should be careful to listen to above the din of spin that often swirls around the hostilities in Palestine. If one is to lean into what Raheb has to say, he offers up new ways of seeing the world and changing our viewpoint, which may in turn lead to a change in our posture toward the contemporary conflict. It is a stirring invitation and a well-stated proposition of liberation from empire in light of the Gospel.
The book is short, but stimulating. If anything, it is too brief to fully explore his demanding revelations and it begs further wrestling and conversation. To that end, I invite you to read his book, use it for a small group or book club discussion, and wrestle with what he has to say. Also, check out this short interview with the esteemed Rev. Dr. Raheb below:
Since the book’s release, what kind of reception and reaction have you received for your perspective on religion and empire, Christianity and the situation in Palestine?
The reception of the book was, and continues to be, overwhelmingly positive. The book got a starred review with Publishers Weekly identifying it as a book of outstanding quality. It also made it on Amazon as a #1 best-seller in the category of “liberation theology” books and one of the best 10 best sellers among books on the Middle East. It has been translated into 7 languages and was discussed at all major schools in the U.S. And beyond, like Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Chicago etc. Only Christians Zionists attacked the book.
What would be the number one thing you would recommend that Christians from the U.S. (my primary audience) do in the face of empire? What about those who embark on “Holy Land pilgrimages?”
To listen to the voices of those who are crushed by the empire and by the Israeli occupation especially to the voices of Palestinian Christians visiting them and connecting when they embark on a pilgrimage. A true pilgrimage is not "to run where Jesus walked", but rather to meet his followers there, God is not in the ruins, he is risen, and can be experienced among his community.
Why must we turn our thoughts to re-evaluating “faith in the face of empire” at this historical moment?
The international community have been providing the hardware for Israel to continue its occupation of Palestine, while the seminaries were providing the software, a theological framework that gives a Divine overcoat over the human rights violations in Palestine. This needs to change now as to bring justice to the people in Palestine, Israel and the people in the Middle East. This will help the relations between the western world and the Islamic world and it will ease many tensions world wide.
*Listen to Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb speak at Yale Divinity School: