Israel, the Palestinians, and an Invented People – Part 1

In a previous post, An Invented People: Israel or the Palestinians?, I discussed Newt Gingrich’s statement that the Palestinians are Arabs and that they are “an invented people.”

In that post I quoted two writers who claimed that there was no Palestinian Arab state prior to the 20th century.  I also quoted another writer who claimed that Israel was an invented state and that the “Palestinians predated the Israelites by thousands of years.”

In a comment left on my post, a reader asked me what was my position on this issue.  In that post I had avoided giving my view on this controversy, but I promised that I would do so at a later date.  Because of the holidays and because I was grading papers, I did not have an opportunity to write a post on this controversy.  Now  that the holidays are over, I have decided to explain where I stand on this issue.

Any person who desires to understand the Israeli/Palestinian situation must be acquainted with the history of the territory that has served as the land where the ancestors of the Jewish people lived.

From a geographic perspective, the name given to the area of the Jordan valley that was the home of biblical and modern Israel was Canaan.  In the Old Testament, Canaan was used as a geographical term to designate the land of the Canaanites.  The word “Canaan” also appears in the Old Testament as an ethnic appellation to designate the original inhabitants of the land.

According to the book of Genesis (Genesis 9:18; 10:15-18), Canaan was the son of Ham, one of the three sons of Noah, and the father of the Sidonians, the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. These names appear in Exodus 3:17, Deuteronomy 7:1 and Joshua 3:10 to designate the nations that occupied the land prior to the arrival of the Hebrew people in the days of Joshua.  Thus, the Old Testament indicates that the Canaanites were composed of several nations.  The word “Canaanites” then, was used to designate all of the original inhabitants of the land that eventually became know as Israel.

The land where Israel lived was also known as Palestine.  The name Palestine derives from the name Philistines (Hebrew pelisthim).  The Philistines were one of the Peoples of the Sea, a group of people whose country of origin is still unknown.  The Philistines invaded Egypt in the eighth year of Ramses III, king of Egypt (ca. 1188 B.C.).

Although the Philistines were unsuccessful in their attempt to conquer Egypt, by common agreement with the Egyptians, the Philistines settled on the Mediterranean coast in the area called “the land of the Philistines” (Genesis 21: 32, 34; Exodus 13:17) or “Philistia” (Exodus 15:14).  The Philistine pentapolis (five cities) was along the southern coastal plain.  These five major centers of  Philistine culture were: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath (Joshua 12:3).

The name Palestine was first applied to the land of Canaan by the Greek historian Herodotus.  By the time of Josephus, the Jewish historian, the use of the name Palestine to designate the land of Israel was already common.  It was the Roman emperor Hadrian who officially called the Roman province of Judea Provincia Palestina.  By the end of the 4th century A.D., Palestine had become the official designation for the land that once belonged to Israel.

When the Hebrew people left Egypt in the days of Moses, they marched toward Canaan.  After the death of Moses, Joshua, his successor, conquered the land of Canaan and made it the home of the twelve tribes of Israel. Many years after the conquest, in the days of Samuel, the land of Canaan was already known as “the land of Israel” (1 Samuel 13:19).

After the death of Solomon in 922 B.C., the united kingdom that David had forged by his political savvy, was divided into two independent nations.  The name Israel was used to designate the Northern Kingdom.  The Northern Kingdom was composed of the ten tribes. Judah became the southern kingdom.

In reality, the Southern Kingdom was composed of two tribes, Judah and Simeon, since Judah had assimilated the tribe of Simeon many years before the reign of David. Only the Southern Kingdom maintained a descendant of David on the throne. The Davidic dynasty remained in Judah until the end of the Southern Kingdom in 587 B.C., when the nation was destroyed and the people taken into exile in Babylon.

The northern tribes kept the old charismatic idea of leadership.  For this reason, the Northern Kingdom had an unstable form of government that changed leadership every few years.  This division of Israel into two kingdoms lasted until 722 B.C., when the Northern Kingdom and its capital Samaria were conquered by Sargon II, king of Assyria.

Samaria became an Assyrian province, but Judah remained independent.  It was with the fall of Samaria and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom that the name Israel was once again used to describe the whole people of God, although the name Judah continued to be used to designate the Southern Kingdom.

The people of Israel believed that Yahweh their God had given them a special land.  According to Exodus 3:8, when God called Moses and sent him to Egypt to deliver his people from Egyptian bondage, he said to Moses: So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

The expression “Promised Land” derives from the promise of Yahweh to give Abraham and his descendants the land where the Canaanites lived (Genesis  12:4-7; Deuteronomy 9:28).  Only twice in the Old Testament is the land of Canaan designated “The Holy Land.”

In Psalm 78:54 the Psalmist said: Thus he brought them to the border of his holy land, to the hill country his right hand had taken.  In Zechariah 2:12, the prophet said: The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem.

In my next post I will discuss the issues that led to the establishment of the modern-day nation of Israel, the claims by both the Israelis and the Palestinian to the land, and where I stand on whether or not the Palestinians are an invented people.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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One Response to Israel, the Palestinians, and an Invented People – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Israel, the Palestinians, and an Invented People – Part 2 | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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