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Bible scholars: Zionists have 'weaponized' scripture

Nov. 22, 2013 12:27 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 2, 2013 12:09 A.M.)
By: Graham Liddell
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- "Anti-Palestinianism" has become a theological issue, Palestinian Bible scholar Yohanna Katanacho said at an international conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Hundreds of participants from all over the world gathered this week for Sabeel's ninth international conference, where theologians spoke about the Bible's role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The conference marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Sabeel, an ecumenical Christian community center that promotes Palestinian liberation theology.

"How do we really deal with the Bible when people are using it to justify the oppression of the Palestinians?" Sabeel founder Naim Ateek asks.

The conference, held Nov. 19-24 at Jerusalem's Notre Dame Center, is an attempt to answer Ateek's question.

"One bad (theological) interpreter is worse than 100 terrorists," Katanacho said during a panel discussion.

He said that some Israeli theologians "strive to establish a particular reading of biblical history in order to gain political advantage."

"Such reading strategies put (Palestinians) at a disadvantage. They are perceived as the Canaanites or Philistines," he said, referring to enemies of the biblical Israelites.

"Some Palestinians are tempted to play this history game and argue they were in the land before the ancient children of Israel, as if an ancient historical presence is the basis for contemporary human rights, including the right to own your own home that you inherited from your grandfather or grandmother."

Also speaking Wednesday was American Evangelical scholar Gary Burge.

"When we have a conversation about the Christian church and the land, we have to be adept at how we use the Bible," Burge said at a panel discussion on biblical authority.

"Here in Israel-Palestine," Burge said, "the Bible consistently serves special interests."

Burge stressed that all readers of the Bible "look at these scriptures through a lens, and that lens will bring distortion."

"I think this explains the frequent abuse and misuse of the Bible throughout history," he said. "Perhaps the Bible has been weaponized."

Rethinking Christian Zionism

Christian Zionism, the belief that the modern State of Israel is a manifestation of God's biblical promise to the Jews, is a powerful force in American politics. The largest pro-Israel lobbying group in the US is not a Jewish but Christian organization: Christians United for Israel.

Among a community typically characterized by Christian Zionism and unconditional support for Israel, Burge is one of Israel's most prominent Evangelical critics.

"For centuries we've been reading the Bible quite differently," Burge told Ma'an. "And we have suddenly in America inherited a perspective on Israel and the Bible that is truly foreign to the history of the church tradition."

Burge said that while not all Christian Zionists weaponize scripture, some do.

"Rather than being a book of life and hope," he said the Bible "becomes a book of privilege and entitlement."

It is difficult for Evangelicals to look at the Israel-Palestine issue differently than from the "Zionist" perspective they've "inherited," Burge said.

"It's the David and Goliath paradigm," he said. "What if somebody came along and said that actually David was Goliath, and Goliath was David? And if you reverse that paradigm, that takes courage. You're upsetting someone's worldview."

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