When the Romans crucified Jesus, they identified him derisively with a wooden plaque driven into the stony earth. On that plaque were four letters: INRI. Those letters were an acronym for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, which, in Latin, means Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.
We need not speculate about the theology of the most famous crucifixion in history. We need only know that the Roman military always acted decisively, if brutally, in the execution of its orders.
Everyone – from Pontius Pilate, the procurator (governor) of Judea who ordered the crucifixion, to the soldiers of the Roman legion who actually committed the young Judean to his agonizing death, to Jesus’ people, to the ancient historians who recorded the roiling atmosphere and violent events of the time – knew that Jesus was a Jew. Indeed, it is from the name Judea that the term “Jew” derives.
It was therefore breathtaking, shameful and contemptible that Linda Sarsour, an American anti-Israel activist, tweeted last month that, “Jesus was a Palestinian from Nazareth.”
She based her supposition on modern political geography, transposed onto the ancient world. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is today under Palestine Authority control. Therefore, Jesus was a Palestinian, Sarsour reasons.
Sarsour then proceeded to taunt those who took issue with her spurious reasoning. “Why so upset by the truth. Jesus was born in Bethlehem.… Bethlehem is in Palestine. It’s currently militarily occupied by Israel and home to a predominately beautiful Palestinian Christian community. Yes, the birthplace of Jesus is under military occupation,” she tweeted.
Sarsour’s logic is, of course, flawed. It is a string of beaded polemics intended to be used as a sort of viral rosary of jabs toward the Jewish state. If we apply Sarsour’s logic, the Prophet Muhammad was a Saudi Arabian. Perhaps she should tweet that in Iran.
Sarsour’s taunt is offensive precisely because it is a perversion of the very idea of “truth” that she invokes so cynically and so transparently. Her purpose is clear: to associate in the minds of her faithful flock and the exploitable uninformed the image of the unjustly tried and cruelly punished Jesus with today’s Palestinians, and to attach to them the perfect purity of Jesus’ victimization.
Sarsour is only the latest high-profile anti-Israel ideologue to mischievously perpetuate this falsehood. Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat described Jesus as “the first Palestinian fedayeen.” Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor and the current head of the Palestine Authority, recently told a Christmas gathering that, “In Bethlehem, more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ was born – a Palestinian messenger who would become a guiding light for millions around the world.”
Unfortunately for Sarsour, Arafat and Abbas, history contradicts their false representations. It is irrelevant whether Jesus was from Bethlehem or Nazareth, for both places were then part of Judea.
In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple. In 135 CE, more than a century after Jesus lived there, the Romans struck the word Judea from their public discourse by renaming the province Syria Palaestina. They also changed the name of Judea’s capital, Jerusalem, to Aelia Capitolina.
This has embarrassing ramifications for the lies propagated by Arafat, Abbas and others who deny that a Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem and makes the pitiful attempt to wrap the Palestinians in Jesus’ shroud all the more distasteful. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is, after all, pivotal in the Christian canon.
Sarsour and her anti-Israel fellow travellers are intent on spreading this mistruth about Jesus. But she would serve herself and her followers well by heeding the warning of one of his apostles, Matthew, who cautioned: “By your words will you be judged and by your words will you be condemned.”