Home > Am Echad Blog > The Politics of Biblical History

A couple of weeks ago when I prepared for the class in Jewish History that I teach to our fourth grade religious school students, I included something about the Palestinian’s view of Jewish history and what they label the “lies” of the Israeli government about ancient Israel. As I was teaching I realized that the kids really don’t know who the Palestinians are, so I quickly skipped that and went on to something else. However, the whole idea of the politics of biblical history and what others think is a fascinating issue, and it deserves some discussion.

Why has biblical history become a political issue? The reason is very close to the Jewish heart. When the Zionists decided that historical Israel should be the location of the new Jewish homeland, this immediately raised a political issue. At the time, Palestine (which included today’s Israel) was ruled by the Muslim
Ottoman Empire, and the majority of the population was of Arab descent. Yet based on historical Israel, many Zionists felt that Jews had the ancestral rights to the land of Israel, not the Muslim occupants. For these Zionists, the Hebrew Bible (TANACH) established a claim for territorial sovereignty by the Jewish people. Of course, over the years, the Palestinians and their supporters have handed this political claim back in spades. For instance not long ago, some archeologists hypothesized that the water tunnels underneath Jerusalem predated David’s City, and these tunnels had supported a large Canaanite city. Since the Palestinians claim that they are the ancestors of these Canaanite people from 3500 years ago, this dig proved to them that Israel had no historical right to Jerusalem as it was really built by the Canaanites. As it happened, subsequent findings about the water tunnels and discussions among the archeology community tended to discredit this particular “scientific” claim. But this example does show that almost any discussion about history in the land of Israel can become immediately political.

by Carter Brown