The Land is Not Palestine
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 10 November 2008; Revised 11 September 2014
Grammar: The meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB."
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament) and incorporate other appropriate Hebrew and Jewish terms. (See the glossary.) The abbreviation LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C.
The Lie of Palestine
A grievous, if not willful, mistake frequently occurring in Christian publications is labeling the Land given by divine covenant to Jacob and his posterity as "Palestine." The English word translates the Greek Palaistinē and the Hebrew Palestina, neither of which occurs anywhere in Scripture. The original Bible term is Píleshet (LXX Phulistieim), which occurs eight times in the Tanakh (Ex 15:14, Ps 60:8; 83:7; 87:4;108:9; Isa 14:29, 31; Joel 3:4), always referring to Mediterranean coastal region of Israel, called Philistia, occupied by the Philistines (pílishti) (BDB 814). Philistia was a confederation of five city states: Gaza, Ashkelon and Ashdod on the coast, and Ekron and Gath inland.
The venerable King James Version inexplicably renders p'leshet as "Palestina" at Exodus 15:14; Isaiah 14:29, and 31, and yet in the rest of the occurrences of p'leshet translates the word as Philistia or Philistines. Christians have substituted "Palestine" for Israel, especially the titles of Bible maps or on the geographical boundaries shown on Bible maps, on the assumption that "Palestine" is a neutral term without political connotations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Calling biblical Israel or the present State of Israel "Palestine" is not simply inaccurate, but demeans God's choice of the name "Israel."
Historically the name Palestine reflected extreme hostility toward Jews. After the Assyrian conquest of the northern Kingdom of Israel, the Assyrian emperor Sargon II called the region the Palashtu in his Annals. A century later the Babylonian invasion effectively ended the history of the Philistine people, yet the name of the Philistines continued to live on as the identification of the region.
In the 5th century B.C., the Greek historian and geographer Herodotus wrote of the coast of "Palestine-Syria" (The Histories, Book IV). Similarly, in the first century A.D., the Roman writer Pliny the Elder mentions a region of Syria that was "formerly called Palaestina" among the areas of the Eastern Mediterranean (The Natural History, 5.14). In these ancient records the geographical location is rather imprecise, but they had no reason to use the name of a conquered people. The Jewish historian Josephus used the name Palaistinē for the smaller coastal area which most of his contemporaries still preferred to call Philistia (Antiquities of the Jews, I, 6:2, 4; 12:1).
Before A.D. 135 Roman rule had divided the Land into the provinces of Judaea, Galilee, Samaria and Idumaea (Edom). After the second Jewish rebellion in 135 under Bar Kokhba Caesar Hadrian set about to blot out the name of Israel and destroy the Jewish people. He changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitalina and applied the Latinized term "Palestine" to the combined provinces of Judea and Galilee. It no doubt gave him immense pleasure to rename the land after the ancient enemy of Israel.
"Palestine" was accepted without demur by the Christian church fathers, a number of whom were named as bishops in Palestine, including the famous church historian Eusebius. This is not surprising since condescending attitudes, inflammatory rhetoric and prejudicial pronouncements against Jews litter the writings of Ignatius, Justin, Mathetes, Irenaeus, Origen, Cyprian, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Chrysostom, and Augustine. Their diatribes were used by the Church to justify and then enforce institutional discrimination and even persecution of Jews.
See Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham, Chapter Seven, for the sordid history of anti-Judaism. Malachi Martin, a Jesuit scholar, also provides shocking details of papal murders and campaigns of terror in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church.
Bible Names of the Land
The Land is never called Palestine in Scripture. Bible maps never mislabel the pre-Israelite peoples (Hittites, Phoenicians, etc.) or the later empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece or Rome that are mentioned in the Bible. The only land that is mislabeled is Israel. Such a practice deliberately ignores the names of the land actually used in the Bible.
∑ The Land of Canaan - occurs in 62 verses in the Tanakh, principally in every book of the Torah, Joshua and Judges. It first occurs in Genesis 11:31 as the original destination of Terah and his family, including Abram and Sarai.
∑ Land of the Hebrews - occurs only in Genesis 40:15 on the lips of Joseph identifying his home. Since the term "Hebrew" was first applied to Abraham (Gen 14:13), he no doubt renamed the land in honor of his ancestor Eber, one of Shemís sons (Genesis 10:21:11:14, 16). Canaan was a son of Ham (Gen 9:18) and a curse rested on that family line because of what Ham did to his father Noah (Gen 9:25). Changing the name would lift the curse from the land.
∑ Land of the sons of Israel - occurs only in Joshua 11:22, but dramatically proclaims that ownership of the land had been rightfully claimed by the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob as their promised inheritance from God.
∑ Land of Israel - occurs in 29 verses of the Tanakh, principally in 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles and Ezekiel. "Land of Israel" first occurs in 1 Samuel 13:19. The apostolic writers identified the land with Israel even though the Romans only used the province names of Idumea, Judaea, Samaria and Galilee (Matt 2:20-21; 10:23; Luke 4:27; 7:9; Eph 2:12). The nationís name "Israel" also occurs almost 2,000 times in the Tanakh outside the Torah. As a nation Israel was inseparable from the land, just as any other countryís name would be associated with its political boundaries.
∑ Land of the Lord - occurs in Isaiah 14:12. The Land belongs to the God of Israel, not Allah.
Land of Covenant
The Land was promised by an everlasting covenant to Jacob and his biological descendants (Gen 12:7; 15:18; 17:8; Ex 32:13; Jud 20:6). The apostle Paul affirmed that Godís covenant and promises had not been canceled, but remain in force (Rom 9:4). None of the Land belongs to any non-Jewish people. This truth is further emphasized by the constant reminder that the Lord swore to give the Land to the people of Israel. The solemn divine oath is mentioned 35 times in the Tanakh - Exodus 6:8; 13:5, 11; 33:1; Numbers 14:23, 30; 32:11; Deuteronomy 1:8, 35; 6:10, 18; 7:13; 8:1; 9:5; 10:11; 11:9, 21; 26:3, 15; 28:11; 30:20; 31:20-21, 23; 34:4; Joshua 1:6; 14:9; Nehemiah 9:15; Jeremiah 11:5; 32:22; Ezekiel 20:6, 15, 28; 47:14.
The Land is now Israel. The resurrection of the nation of Israel, fulfilling many Tanakh prophecies (Isa 11:11-12), is one of the greatest miracles of history. God determines the appointed place for every nation (Acts 17:26) and he has spoken clearly about the Land of Israel. Moreover, God has continued to demonstrate his faithfulness to his covenant with Israel in spite of Islamic terrorism, fickle political support of Western nations and replacement theology that still infects Christianity. The passionate appeal of Dr. McCall of Zola Levitt Ministries needs to be heeded.
"The use of the term Palestine was biblically inaccurate and wrong throughout the Church age. However, it is more than just wrong, it is devastating in our time, when the term Palestine is the cornerstone of the propaganda war against Israel and the Jewish people. Do we want to use terms invented by those who hate Christ, the Bible and Israel? Do we want to utilize terms used by the enemies of Israel who desire to accomplish nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish people? I think not.
"Christians should use the terminology of the Bible wherever possible. Why not go back to the terms used in the New Testament? The Gospel writers used the term Israel to refer to the Land. Why should we use any other term when referring to the Land, especially now that the Jews are back in the Land and have reestablished the nation of Israel among the family of nations?
"As we draw closer to the Second Coming of Christ, we should understand that Satanís fury against the Church and Israel will grow exponentially. Satan hates the Gospel of the crucified and risen Messiah, and he hates the reality of the restoration of Israel as the nation that will ultimately receive Jesus as the Messiah at His return, and the nation that will be Christís earthly headquarters. The only term we should use for the Land is Israel, or its subdivisions of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. We should make every effort to remove the term Palestine from our Bible maps and textbooks, and use only biblical terms with reference to the Holy Land of Israel." (Thomas S. McCall, Palestine vs. Israel as the Name of the Holy Land, Zola Levitt Ministries, Inc., 1997)
As Dr. McCall has urged, let disciples of Yeshua be accurate in how we speak of the Land of Israel. Take a look at the maps in the back of your Bible. Feel free to write in your own changes to correct mislabeling.
Copyright © 2008-2014 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.