The Bible and Zionism

The Bible and Zionism: Invented Traditions, Archaeology, and Post-Colonialism in Israel-Palestine

by Nur Masalha

Zed Books Ltd, 384 pages, ISBN978-1842777619        - RRP £19.99


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Mary Grey is the Professorial Research Fellow at St. Mary’s University College Twickenham, her review shows that some use of Scripture is abuse.

The Bible & Zionism book coverThis challenging book is really three books. It charts the history of Zionism in its different phases; the history of the Nakba (the catastrophe of 1948) and subsequent Israeli occupation; and, thirdly, the use and abuse of the Bible in justifying this oppression.

The last two hopeful chapters evaluate the contribution of Professor Michael Prior, Masalha’s colleague and cofounder of Holy Land Studies, and the legacy of Edward Said whose death deprived the Palestinians of a trenchant critique against injustice.

The first strand narrates how Zionism began as a Protestant, post-Reformation movement about the importance of the restoration of the Jews to Palestine as preparation for the Second Coming. This idea was important for such 19th century reformers as Lord Shaftesbury. As a specifically Jewish phenomenon what began as a secular political movement evolved into a religious movement of Jewish Messianism and orthodoxy inspiring the settler movement in the West Bank. Masalha then shows how the Bible was used systematically from the beginning by David Ben Gurion (first prime minister of Israel) to justify the conquest of the land. The Bible as a historical document was crucial, especially the books of Exodus, Joshua and Deuteronomy, Joshua in particular acting as incitement to biblical messianic militarism. The conviction that the land was Jewish by right was given credence by re-naming Arabic place-names (especially shrines) by Jewish names.

This same ideology underpins the second strand: the worsening oppressive policies against the Palestinians all relied on the myth of the empty land and the invoking of ideas similar to apartheid, even to the Third Reich. The latest phase of messianic Zionism and the rise of the theocratic state inspired the idea of maximalist territorial expansion.

The third strand offers hope: not only the Zionist government but Christian theologians and archaeologists are implicated in endorsing “biblical archaeology” projects, excavating sites such as Jericho and Masada to give authenticity to the Bible’s historicity. Generations of Christians have bought into the idea of the hostile Philistine and the innocent Israelite, partly because the Bible has been regarded as the only historical source for Palestinian history. But if the history of Palestine is explored from a wider base a different picture emerges.

Furthermore, classical liberation theology, as developed in Latin America, fails the Palestinian situation, because of its heavy reliance on the Exodus/Promised Land motifs, as Michael Prior declared. Edward Said argued cogently for a secular, unified Palestine: disillusioned with the PLO and the PA (Palestinian Authority) he explains why the twostate solution has run out of steam. These final chapters are more pointers in the direction of a solution that must be multi-faceted. Masalha hopes that, given the fact that the discoveries of New Archaeology are being taught in Israeli universities, there is a chance they will permeate the wider society and challenge politics.


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