King's Evangelical Divinity School

13 June 2012


Bethlehem: The Jewish city of David, Israel's greatest King, and also birthplace of the Jewish Messiah, who is the Son of David and also King of the Jews. 

Yet at this very moment in time Bethlehem is at the heart of a Palestinian/UNESCO effort to promote a Christian site in a process which, ultimately, is all about delegitimising Israel and promoting a rival statehood (incidentally free from Jews). Yet we hear constantly of Israel's "Judaisation" of their own ancestral homeland (including, it must be said, from several well-known Christian anti-Zionists).

Something doesn't quite square up here.


It appears Abbas may have politically miscalculated in claiming the Church of the Nativity was in imminent danger (HT James M).


Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin you wrote - "Bethlehem: The Jewish city of David, Israel's greatest King, and also birthplace of the Jewish Messiah, who is the Son of David and also King of the Jews."

Yes, Jesus King of the Jews - But the Messiah is also the King of Israel - David's throne ruled over a United Kingdom of Israel. Isaiah 9:7 "He will reign on David’s throne and over his Kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever." But I might ask, where in the Bible does God recognise a Republic of Israel?

The question of de-legitimising Israel is an interesting one - there are some of us who believe and pray that what is needed is a single state solution where Jesus, the King of Israel, is recognised by both Jews and Palestinians for who he is.

Calvin L. Smith said...

You seem to have ignored the word "forever" in the verse you cite, cf Acts 1:6-7 and the Jesus as Conquering King eschatological motif (or doesn't that bit square up with your theology?)

And in typical fashion you've missed the point: historic Jewish town being used to delegitimise the Jewish state, this while Christians cry "Judaisation" over Jewish management of their ancestral lands. Do keep up, Andrew.

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin – I believe that the Church is the Kingdom of God on Earth now, the Messiah already reigning on David’s throne, even though not yet come in fullness.

My interpretation of Acts 1:6-7 - the apostles’ question was not stupid as some suggest because they knew their Scripture, that the Messiah would come and restore Israel. Jesus did not answer with a no, but cryptically directed them not to worry about dates, but to do what he commands, and what they asked would come about. So they waited, then Peter preached on the day of Pentecost and 3000 Jews and Israelites were converted. The start of the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel under the Messiah. Peter suggests Jesus fulfilled the prophets on Acts 3:24.

In Acts 15:16 we see James, the leader of the Jerusalem Church quote from Amos, that the Messiah would return and rebuild ‘David’s fallen tent’ - and the gentiles would be included. The Jerusalem Church, through God’s work, was restoring David’s fallen tent in their own time – and including gentiles.

Furthermore, I think one can make a case that the Palestinian Christian community is ethnically related to first and second century Jewish Christians. After AD135 no Jew was allowed to see Jerusalem – I would suggest that many Jewish Christians hid their Jewish identity and lived as gentiles from that time.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Thanks, we know pretty clearly by now the theological outworking of your allegorised interpretation.

Concerning your last para, Jews lived throughout the land despite not having access to Jerusalem. Indeed, Jews and Samaritans were a majority in the land at the time of the Arab invasion.

BTW, you're still missing the irony of the point made.

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin - I would of course dispute that my interpretation is allegorical. Jesus and the Jewish Disciples were very real, and Jesus did not replace Israel, but transferred leadership of Israel from the old order (Matt 21:43) to Peter and the disciples (Matt 16:19). For me, the irony is not so sharp.

Anonymous said...

Hi Calvin,
Colin here, I am in Aus for a few weeks holiday, looking forward to being being able to comment more freely! Some will be taken from my musings and dropped in where it seems appropriate - hope thats OK!!

Palestinian church leaders constantly proclaim that the present Palestinian church is the direct descendant of the original church in Jerusalem, as found in Acts. This idea is simply false. The question should be of only minor academic interest (surely all Christians and churches are equally precious), but it is repeatedly stated to claim special status and authority for the Palestinian church. So...

After the defeat of Bar-Kochbar, Hadrian expelled the entire Jewish population from Jerusalem (including the Jewish Christians who lived there). Eusebius of Caesarea states; “And thus, when the city had been emptied of the Jewish nation and had suffered the total destruction of its ancient inhabitants, it was colonized by a different race, and the Roman city which subsequently arose changed its name and was called Aelia, in honor of the emperor Aelius Adrian. And as the church there was now composed of gentiles, the first one to assume the government of it after the bishops of the circumcision was Marcus” (The Church History Of Eusebius, 4, 6, 4.). This new gentile church was aggressively anti-Jewish, and it was their decision to celebrate Easter according to the western practice which ignited the Quartodeciman controversy. As J.B. Lightfoot puts it, “In the Paschal controversy of the second century the bishops of Jerusalem, Caesarea, Tyre and Ptolemais ranged themselves not with Asia Minor, which regulated the Easter festival by the Jewish Passover, but with Rome and Alexandria, thus avoiding even the semblance of Judaism” (J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 1885, II part I, 88., see also Theophilus, Bishop of Caesarea; “The Palestinian bishops, after the Jewish downfall”

Epiphanius also states that the controversy “arose after the time of the exodus of the bishops of the circumcision” (Adversus haereses 70:10). Equally, when a few Jewish Christians tried to return to Jerusalem sixty years later the then bishop of Jerusalem, Narcissus, appealed to Clement of Alexandria for help against “opposition from the Quartodecimans” (see Bacchiocchi, 1975:162, 200. Note also his comment, “After AD 135, when Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan Roman colony, it lost its political and religious prestige”).
So, the Jewish church was utterly expelled, gentile Christians replaced them and opposed the few who tried to return 60 years later. It is from this gentile and explicitly anti-Jewish church that the present Palestinians can (at best) claim descent. A church which ignited the Quartodeciman controversy by breaking ranks with the eastern churches, due to their desire to totally separate themselves from anything Jewish. The same church which opposed and asked for help to confront any return of Jewish believers. The Palestinian Christians are not the descendants of the oldest Christian church – that church was Jewish, and sent missionaries to welcome in the gentiles. When the Romans destroyed it, that kindness was not returned by the new immigrant gentile church. They publically and explicitly disowned the earliest church, and continued in their opposition to it. When Mitri Raheb says, “The only thing that Palestine was able to export so successfully was Christianity” he is in error. Mitri can claim cultural descent from an imported gentile church which hated Jews and opposed the return to Jerusalem of even Christian Jews. Hopefully, however, he would not wish to do so.

Andrew Sibley said...

Colin - that is an interesting item, although I don't pretend to have studied it in much depth - perhaps I ought to. It is also regrettable if the gentile dominance of the 2nd century church excluded Jewish Christians. But there is still a question that needs answering. What happened to the Jewish Christians living in the Holy Land in the 2nd century? The standard response is that they lost their faith and assimilated with the prevailing population. Personally I don't hold to that because their faith was too deeply held. Some may have migrated to other areas, but I would suggest that many simply accepted gentile hegemony and lived as gentile Christians by hiding their Jewish identity. But either way it suggests at least some Jewish Christians remained in the Holy Land and are, in part, ancestors of today's Palestinian Christian community.