Did you know there’s a political component to the question of the literal truth of the Bible? There are people who argue for it being true not just because they want it for a spiritual guide, but also because they want justification for the nation of Israel to be a Jewish nation? Part of the politics of the question of “was there a King David?” and “How much land did he control?” is about whether or not that land should be Jewish now and how much land. I don’t talk about this much in my classes, partly because the situation with Israel is incredibly complex. I want to comment about it here now though.
A lot of people want to believe is that in the Bible God promised that land to the Jewish nation through the man named Abraham, and that it became a kingdom ruled by David and Solomon. (Saul only ruled part of it, and Solomon’s son lost half of it.)
Some people look at modern Israel being a Jewish nation as the fulfillment of God’s promise. Some Jewish people do not believe that, some because they believe that God – not the Israeli government, no the USA, or the UN, or anyone else – should be the ones to control the fate of the area.
Some Christians believe that Israel being Jewish and the temple being rebuilt is a necessary precursor to Jesus returning. Some even hope for a battle near Megiddo in order to bring about end times so the idea of there being fighting in the Middle East sounds good to them, not bad.
I think the nation of Israel was being created as the West’s apology for the Holocaust. We recognized how profoundly guilty all the world was for letting anti-semitism run so rampant and tried to make amends by creating a safe space for Jewish people. In doing so we ignored the injustice we were creating, taking land from others instead of working things out everywhere.
I’m not saying Israel shouldn’t exist now, but there are serious questions. How can a nation call itself a democracy and allow the mistreatment of so many people? What are the motives of our politicians in supporting Israel’s violence towards Palestinians? And most importantly, what can be done to create a solution that respects the rights of all the people who are living there, regardless of their religion or ethnic background?
I don’t have solutions for that. I do think it is important – whether one is a person of faith or not – to learn about the Bible so that we can avoid the misuse of the Bible in justifying what is happening in Israel and it’s occupied territories.
The Bible does tell profound stories about loving the land, about belonging and not belonging, about exile and about trusting in one’s deity. We can learn to read these stories within their historical context, where the people of Israel were one small group struggling to carve out spaces for themselves and their god amongst empires. We can respect the book and learn from it and love it without taking it as literal truth.
I believe that those of us who live in countries – like the United States and Canada – that supplies weapons and resources to Israel need to do more to help make amends to the Palestinian people. Gaza is “the world’s largest open air prison” with strict limits on who can enter and exit, and a shortage of supplies. The West Bank is at risk of being annexed. People have lived generations now under oppression, watching their olive trees being uprooted and their school kids harassed. We cannot make their human rights contingent upon a total absence of violence on the part of the Palestinians, because there is no way in which people there can prevent other people there from acting out. Actions done by individuals are different than actions done by armies and governments.