Joseph Farah took umbrage at the use of a Biblical verse at the Democratic National Convention. Farah wrote in a column Friday that, “Maybe I should rejoice that scripture was read at all at the Democratic National Convention. Unfortunately, it was misread, misunderstood and misrepresented by the Rev. William Barber II of North Carolina on the last night.”
Barber is the president of the North Carolina NAACP and the victor in the battle over the recent North Carolina Voter ID law. His speech at the DNC was very well received and has been viewed tens of thousands of times on YouTube. What Barber was speaking of, in his own words, was “the desperate need for a moral revival in this country.”
But not the sort of moral revival embraced by the so-called Religious Right.
The passage in question, Farah says, “is one of my favorite passages” – Isaiah 58:1-12. Farah of course, uses the least accurate translations of the Bible to make his point, the King James Version. If you want an accurate reading, always use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Farah complains that “Barber cited it as biblical justification for, among other things, special privileges for homosexuals and transgenders and forcible redistribution of wealth by government,” and that “Where he gets such ideas is hard to see.”
It is indeed difficult to see where Farah gets this reading of Barber’s speech, since equal rights are hardly to be equated to “special privilege.” To make matters worse for Farah, who does demand special privileges for his own religious beliefs, he wants to use the government to disenfranchise Americans.
Isaiah in fact makes the point very well (Isaiah 58:6):
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?”
And that’s right: the guy who claims again and again that the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which make no reference to God, are full of God, claims Barber’s meaning is nowhere to be found in the Bible:
“His response to the poor is not a personal responsibility, it’s a government responsibility. You will not find a hint of that notion anywhere in the Bible – and, believe me, I’ve searched for it. You won’t find it Isaiah. You won’t find it in the Old Testament. You won’t find it in the gospels. You won’t find it anywhere in the New Testament.”
Worse, Farah claims,
“Neither will you find another assertion made by Rev. Barber – that “Jesus was a brown-skinned Jewish Palestinian.” He may have been brown-skinned. He was certainly Jewish. But He was certainly not a Palestinian. He was an Israeli. There was no such land known as “Palestine” in the time of Jesus.
“The word was invented by the Romans decades after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 by a Roman emperor Hadrian following the Bar-Kokhba revolt in A.D. 135, so that history would not remember Israel.
“Jesus a Palestinian? Don’t think so.”
Actually, the word “Palestine” predates the Romans. It comes from “Peleset,” which was the ancient name of the Philistines, who appear in the Bible as bad guys. The Assyrians, who ruled the region, called it “Palashtu/Palastu” or “Pilistu” and it is easy to see there the origins of the term Palestine.
Contrary to Farah’s claims, the term Palestine was used by Herodotus in his Histories, written in the fifth century BCE. It was also used by Aristotle in the fourth century BCE.
If you do the math, the United States has been around only half the time the word Palestine had already existed by the time the Romans created a province with that name, and it was not, as Farah says, after the revolt of 70 AD, but after the second revolt, that of Bar Kokhba in 132 AD, that the name was attached to the old province of Judaea.
At the time of the Roman occupation, there was no longer an Israel. And in fact, a whole slew of Roman writers, from Pliny the Elder to the Jewish Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, who was a general in the revolt of 70 AD, referred to Palestine before it became the name of a province. Philo wrote in his Life of Moses that,
“[Moses] conducted his people as a colony into Phoenicia, and into the Coele-Syria, and Palestine, which was at that time called the land of the Canaanites, the borders of which country were three days’ journey distant from Egypt.”
In his Against Apion, Josephus writes,
“Herodotus says, that ‘the Syrians that are in Palestine are circumcised.’ But there are no inhabitants of Palestine that are circumcised excepting the Jews; and, therefore, it must be his knowledge of them that enabled him to speak so much concerning them.”
So Even Jews tell us that the Jews lived in Palestine. Oops, Joseph Farah. You are wrong. So sad.
Joseph Farah is guilty of yet another misuse of the Bible of the sort so often seen at the hands of Religious Right figures, and perhaps reads too much David Barton, or like Barton, simply feels that making things up is preferable to reporting what actually is.
Obviously, the term “Palestinian” has become a very loaded term and it carries a meaning not present in Jesus’ day. Farah will have to get past that if he wants to appeal to history. But he does not want to get past his preconceptions. Not at all.
It does very little good to have a book you claim to follow, to claim your Bible and your religion is historical and then reject the history that forms its very context. And this is what Farah has done. Even in the terms of his time, both among Romans and educated Jews, Jesus was a Palestinian.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.