Jesus was a Palestinian and similar claims that often cloud Middle East reporting

Jesus was a Palestinian and similar claims that often cloud Middle East reporting

In 2014, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israel, proclaimed himself a direct descendant of the ancient Canaanites, one of the tribes believed to have inhabited what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories prior to the Israelites’ arrival. Erekat did so while rejecting Israeli government insistence that Israel be recognized as a Jewish nation.

Erekat’s obvious point -- which he's made repeatedly, along with other Palestinian, Arab and Muslim political and religious leaders, as well as some Christian leaders who favor the Palestinian side -- is that Israel has no real claim to call itself a Jewish state. Moreover, goes this line of reasoning, Israel is, in fact, a purely colonial enterprise because the people we call Palestinians are descendants of the land’s true indigenous population.

According to this logic, it's not only today’s Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which Palestinians claim as part of their hoped-for nation state, who are colonizers. Rather it's all Jews, no matter where they live in Israel, because the Canaanite-Palestinian historical connection predates Israelite-Jewish claims on the land.

If you read Arabic, look at this piece from the Palestine Press for clarification of Erekat’s position. If not, here’s an English-language piece refuting Erekat from The Algemeiner, a right-leaning, New York-based Jewish print and web publication.

Western news media reports often pass along the Canaanite-Palestinian linkage claim unchallenged. This happens more often in opinion pieces than hard news stories. However, on occasion the claim makes its way into a bare bones, dueling assertions piece presented without clarifying context or background.

So here’s some context and background that religion-beat writers would do well to keep in mind.

To begin, biblical and archeological claims are difficult if not impossible to unequivocally substantiate historically.

The former is often a matter of interpretation rooted in faith, reason, culture -- or the rejection of all or any of them. This is true no matter whose faith claims are at issue.

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An issue lurking in some news stories: In Old Testament, was God guilty of 'genocide'?

An issue lurking in some news stories: In Old Testament, was God guilty of 'genocide'?

The Religion Guy poses this complex historical question himself instead of the customary answer to an item posted via “Send Your Questions In” -- new submissions very much welcomed.

There’s been important debate on this issue recently, and a new book proposes sweeping reinterpretation of the Old Testament depiction of Israel’s “Conquest” of the Holy Land under Joshua. More on that below.

Richard Dawkins, a fervent foe of religion, indicts the biblical God for inciting “genocide” in the Bible’s conquest passages and verses like Deuteronomy 20:16-18 that direct believers to wipe out neighboring populations. Many U.S. Jews and Christians frankly admit this material is troubling.

Let’s begin with three standard Jewish commentaries on those Deuteronomy verses.

“Pentateuch & Haftorahs,” a classic Orthodox compilation by J.H. Hertz, Britain’s longtime chief rabbi, observes that Joshua informed Canaanites before the invasion so they could flee bloodshed, offered peace to all, and only waged combat if they insisted on it. (That was relatively humane for violent times 3,000 years ago.)

The quest for a homeland, the commentary observes, is part of all human history including most European nations. Israel added to that the “ethical justification” of countering Canaan’s “depravity,” for instance human sacrifice. Moreover, “the whole moral and spiritual future of mankind was involved.”

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MZ for the win: Before taking shots at the Bible, journalists need to do their homework

MZ for the win: Before taking shots at the Bible, journalists need to do their homework

Every newspaper that I worked for had several shelves of reference books or an entire library of them, often backed with other pre-Internet reference materials.

In each case, there was large and somewhat intimidating Bible, often placed near a library-sized edition of a Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The whole idea (especially in a city like Charlotte, N.C.) was that journalists needed to be able to look up "Bible stuff" when religious people dared to mention religion in public.

That was how it was supposed to work. In reality, people used to swing by my desk and ask about "Bible stuff" and other religious questions. This was, at The Rocky Mountain News, the reason that people gave me a nickname that stuck -- "Monsignor Mattingly."

I would say that nine time out of 10, my newsroom colleagues found out that the Bible didn't actually say what people thought it said, or just as common, what newsroom people thought that it said. I also had to tell them that it was rarely enough to quote one Bible verse, often out of context, and then call it a day. I used to say over and over: The Bible is an adult book and it needs to be treated that way.

This brings me to another example of M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway of The Federalist having a bit of a GetReligion flashback when confronted with one or more examples of mainstream journalists tripping over a fact or two when covering a religious issue. It really sets her off when people mess up when talking about the Bible or Christian doctrines that have been around for 2,000 years or so.

Thus, here is a piece of "Classic MZ," offered as this weekend's think piece. The lesson this time around is a familiar one: If journalists are going to take shots at the Bible, or promote the work of people doing so, it really helps to do some homework (or call up scholars who can provide another point of view on the issue being discussed).

Take it away, Mollie. The headline: "Media Falsely Claim DNA Evidence Refutes Scripture." We pick things up a few lines into the piece:

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Has the United Nations become a tool for advancing Muslim nations' religious agenda?

Has the United Nations become a tool for advancing Muslim nations' religious agenda?

It's a journalistic truism that mixing biblical archeology and religious claims with contemporary Middle East politics generally condemns a story to a tar pit of irreconcilability. But of course it's done all the time by all involved parties, with deadly consequences. It's standard fare in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some Palestinians argue that they're indigenous -- and hence the rightful political heirs -- to what today is Israel/Palestine. Their claim -- dubious, I'dsay, given the scarcity of provable evidence -- is that they descend directly from the ancient Canaanite tribes that once roamed the area. That, despite the region's thousands of years of history involving marauding armies and cultural upheaval -- not the least of which was the 7th Century C.E. Arab Muslim conquest of the Levant.

Most traditional Jews (supported by some Christians but not by some anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects) point to the biblical Book of Genesis that says God promised Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) to the patriarch Abraham, making Israel the rightful political power.

This takes us into the realm of theology; either you believe it or or you don't.

Islam, of course, has its own narrative about the land -- and in particular Jerusalem -- further complicating the picture.

Get the United Nations involved and it becomes even more of a briar patch -- which is what's happened of late with the UN's chief cultural agency, the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organizational (UNESCO).

I'm referring to the recent series of votes by UNESCO and its World Heritage Committee that referred to what Jews -- and, hence, Israel -- call (in English) the Temple Mount, and what Muslims -- and, therefore, the Palestinians -- call the Noble Sanctuary. In addition to criticizing Israeli actions there, the resolutions referred to the sites using only their Muslim names.

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