Tag Archives: Israel

The role of Hebrew in the Jewish-Aramaic World

The influence of Aramaic and Hebrew on Jewish life around the first-century.

The goal of any information gleaned from this inquiry is to find a possible connection with Hebrew being a part of the first-century Corinthian liturgy. A subsequent purpose is to confirm or deny an assertion by the fourth-century Bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius, that the mystery tongues of Corinth had its roots in the Hebrew language.

We cannot assume any synagogue outside of Israel, let alone Corinth, used the Hebrew language as part of their religious service. So, it requires digging deeper into the relationship between Hebrew and Aramaic to find answers.

Introduction

This is a difficult investigation given that Aramaic was the standard language of the eastern shores of the Mediteranean all the way to the borders of Afghanistan, and maybe even further. Its influence was so great and its similarity to Hebrew quite close, that it is hard to find where Hebrew fit in.

The investigation unfolds how wide and expansive the Aramaic influence became. Secondly, one discovers about the Hebrew language from the most ancient times, its use and disuse throughout the centuries, and how it became a sacred language.

The Greek language and culture had a similar impact, but this is left for another article.

The topic is full of controversies between various scholars. Because of the large breadth of subject matter, this article tends to go on some interesting tangents. It is hoped the reader doesn’t mind, as this has been a fun research adventure.

The universal power of Aramaic, and later, Greek languages were important contributors to the Jewish faith. Both Aramaic and Greek were universal languages of law and commerce that dominated Jewish life and thought during different and often overlapping epochs. However, because of these influences, Hebrew was pushed aside as the mother tongue in Jewish life. On the other hand, it was still retained as a religious language. Small pockets in southern Israel may have used the language in everyday usage, but this was a minority.

Perhaps the assertion about Hebrew is too great. Scholars are all over the map about the use of Hebrew after 500 BC.

The important part of the Hebrew language narrative is this: the Hebrew language became a vital component in retaining a distinct Jewish identity under occupation and in foreign lands.

The use of Hebrew as the native tongue from 1200 to around 700 BC is considered an acceptable theory. The interchangeability of Hebrew and Aramaic throughout the 600 BC to around 400 AD is highly controversial that contains a variety, if not, opposite arguments. Once Alexander the Great arrived on the scene and conquered a great many regions, ethnic groups, and languages, this changed the linguistic story again. Greek overtook Aramaic as the universal language of commerce, law, and literature in the Middle East, but not entirely. The combination of these three make for a complex relationship.

The fall of Hebrew and the rise of Aramaic.

Hebrew and Aramaic are offshoots of Canaanite family of languages (which includes Phoenician). This fact is forwarded by the revered paleographer Joseph Naveh,(1)Joseph Naveh. Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to the West Semitic epigraphy and paleography. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1982. Pg. 54 the late influential philologist, linguist and member of the Israeli based Academy of the Hebrew Language, Edward Yechezkel Kutscher,(2)E.Y. Kutscher. A History of the Hebrew Language. Raphael Kutscher ed. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 1 and the current professor of the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, at the Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Gad Sarfatti.(3)He doesn’t write Proto-Canaanite as Naveh conveys, he simply calls it Canaanite. https://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/vayigash/sarfati.html

Both Aramaic and Hebrew drew from Phoenician for their respective writing scripts. In fact, from the tenth to ninth-centuries BC, Phoenician held an international status.(4)Joseph Naveh. Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to the West Semitic epigraphy and paleography. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1982. Pg. 54 Phoenician is severely under-represented in historic coverage, but is one of the leading contributors to the writing systems we use today. The Aramaic language remained more closely aligned with the Phoenician writing system until the 700s, where it began to alter its letters.(5)“Aramaic, Phoenician and Hebrew scripts in the 10th century are indistinguishable. 9th century Hebrew is making some changes. mid 8th century, Aramaic begins its own identity.” Joseph Naveh. Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to the West Semitic epigraphy and paleography. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1982. Pg. 89 The Hebrew writing system began this morphosis much earlier.

The patriarch of the Israeli people, Jacob, was firstly called a wandering Aramean in the Book of Deuteronomy.(6)Deuteronomy 26:5 This reference shows how close the Aramean and Hebrew cultures and languages are finely woven together.(7) “The fact that Jacob is called ארמי אבד ‘a fugitive Aramean’ (Deut. 26, 5) probably indicates not only a consciousness of a common ancestry, but also the consciousness of a common linguistic stock with the Arameans.” E.Y. Kutscher. A History of the Hebrew Language. Raphael Kutscher ed. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 73

In fact, the influence of Aramaic is seen weaved throughout the Hebrew language history. After the fall of the Persians to the Greeks, the Jewish scribes adapted the Aramaic script exclusive to their culture and language which is called the Jewish Script. The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are representative of this Jewish script. The ancient Hebrew script did continue, albeit in a minority position. This writing system is best represented today in the Samaritan Pentateuch.

Hebrew was supplanted by Aramaic as early as 740 BC when the Assyrians conquered and controlled Northern Israel. As a result, many Israelites were exiled as slaves throughout the Assyrian empire and those that remained were forced under Assyrian rule.(8)I Chronicles 5:26, II Kings 15:29, II Kings 17:3-6, II Kings 18:11-12 This was the era where the idiom the lost ten tribes was established. These peoples were never allowed to return in any great quantity.

The Hebrew language likely died in northern Israel with all the Israelites who were deported.

The language story is different with the kingdom of Judah. The tribe remained independent until about 600 BC when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and deported a great number of its citizens.

The Hebrew language still remained intact with the kingdom of Judah. A Biblical account about a Babylonian military buildup around Jerusalem showed vibrancy of the Hebrew language here. The Jerusalem leaders requested the Babylonians to only speak in Aramaic when shouting their demands. When the Babylonians openly shouted in Hebrew, the common person understood. If they spoke in Aramaic, only the elite of Jerusalem could comprehend.(9)II Kings 18:26

The Babylonian Empire was overtaken by the Persians, and a new ruler controlled the lands. Aramaic remained the principle language. Around 537 BC, the Persian King, Cyrus, granted exiled remnants of the tribe of Judah to return to Jerusalem. One of the important figures in this re-establishment was Ezra the Scribe.

Not much is known about Ezra, except that he comes from a priestly line and that he was born in Babylon. (10)Nehemiah 8:13; II Kings 25: 18-21; and Ezra 7:ff He was a Levite, not from the tribe of Judah. His aims were to reconstitute the Hebrew faith throughout the Hebrew nation. The center for the Hebrew faith was Jerusalem, and any rebirth or restoration would have to be issued from here.

He came at a critical point of Hebrew history. The nation of Israel, along with the Temple and all its traditions, had collapsed. The people were dispersed and no longer masters of their own destinies. There was an identity crisis. How could a member of the tribe of Judah, or one of the ten tribes, retain their ancient identity? Ezra’s task was for the reconstruction of the ancient Hebrew faith.

The Babylonian influenced Israelites who lived in the more northern reaches of Israel for almost 283 years were totally acculturated. Aramaic customs and language were the norm. Their assimilation into the bigger culture was a great challenge to reverse.

The members of the tribe of Judah were under occupation for over 130 years—a little over three generations. If one uses current immigration stats as a measuring stick, the third generation usually loses the original language in favour of the larger one.(11)https://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2010/06/immigrants_america. Also my experience dealing with multi-generational Mennonites. Ezra himself discovered 50% of Jewish children did not know the language of Judah(12)Nehemiah 13:24 at all during this time. For those 50% that did know the language, Hebrew may have been a second language to them. He did not qualify whether this fluency was beginner or advanced.

Ezra was pragmatic and realized rebuilding the Israelite identity through education and reinstituting the language were two very different but important entities. The following narrative taken from the Book of Nehemiah demonstrates the new direction the Israelite identity was heading:

Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.

Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. . .

They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.(13)Nehemiah 8:2-8. For the Hebrew go to mechon-mamre

Were the people listening in Aramaic or Hebrew?

The text described Ezra the Scribe reading from a podium along with what appears to be a third party explaining what he read in terms the audience could understand.

The word combinations emphasize instructing over translating in either the original or the modern Hebrew sense. The emphasis here was on education, not language.

A shift on understanding this Biblical text happens later on where it is understood more from a language perspective. This is particularly found in later Jewish Babylonian Aramaic writings. The traditional interpretation became this: Ezra read from the Law in the original Hebrew and a translator and/or translators stood by immediately explaining the reading in Aramaic.

The Talmud Babli Sanhedrin 21a and b have an interesting commentary on both the writing script and language employed by Ezra:

Mar Zutra or, as some say, Mar ‘Ukba said: Originally the Torah was given to Israel in Hebrew characters and in the sacred [Hebrew] language; later, in the times of Ezra, the Torah was given in Ashshurith script and Aramaic language. [Finally], they selected for Israel the Ashshurith script and Hebrew language, leaving the Hebrew characters and Aramaic language for the hedyototh. Who are meant by the ‘hedyototh’? — R. Hisda answers: The Cutheans. And what is meant by Hebrew characters? — R. Hisda said: The libuna’ah script.(14)http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_21.html

The Talmud reference infers Ezra transformed the rite from Aramaic only (often referred to as Assyrian) to a new combination that included both Hebrew as a sacred language and Aramaic as the native tongue. The Hebrew script was dropped for an Aramaic one but the underlying text remained in Hebrew while the old Hebrew script was reserved for the Cutheans – otherwise known as the Samaritans. The Samaritans history is a clouded one. They were allegedly a group of Assyrians, either forced or voluntary, that came to northern Israel after the expulsion of the Israelites and mixed in with the northern Hebrew residents that were allowed to remain. The Samaritans believed (and still do) that they adhere to the true religion of the Israelites before the fall to Babylon. Their main literary source is the Samaritan Pentateuch whose script is in old Hebrew. Traditional historic Judaism has always been at arms-length with this group and often openly hostile.(15)Samaritans at American Bible.

What is meant by the libuna’ah script? Rashi is alleged to have explained it as “Large characters as employed in amulets.”(16)Sanhedrin 21 at comeandhear.com. See footnote 50 An amulet is a physical object usually worn by a person that is considered to have magical properties of protection. They were written mostly in Aramaic and sometimes in Hebrew.(17)Ancient Jewish Magic: A History by Gideon Bohak, Pg. 150

Sanhedrin 21a and b show the progression of Hebrew as a religious language and the cross-over into Aramaic. It is not a complete assimilation but a dual relationship.

A graphic example showing the Aramaic influence on the Hebrew writing system.

The above image demonstrates the influence of Aramaic on the Hebrew writing system. The verse is a portion of Deuteronomy 31:24.

  1. The Israelites around King David’s time used paleo-Hebrew as its writing system. The sample here is from the Samaritan Pentetauch which has traditionally maintained the paleo-Hebrew script even until today.(18)University of Cambridge Library MS-ADD-01846

  2. This Dead Sea Scroll example comes from a fragment.(19)Dead Sea Scrolls Library B-475264 It is written in Aramaic script but has a distinct Judaic influence. Some call it the Jewish SScript, while others call it the Square Script. The image has been colourized by me from the black and white original for aesthetic purposes.

  3. This sample is from the Aleppo Codex (10th century AD, copied in Tiberius, Israel).(20)www.aleppocodex.org Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this was one of the oldest Biblical Hebrew texts available. This style and period is called the Masoretic text. It is an advancement of the earlier Aramaic influenced Jewish Script. This has become the standard Hebrew religious script in use today.

Public Reading in Hebrew. Interpreting in the local language.

The references found in Talmud Megillah 9a to 24b, probably written around the fourth-century, have scattered references to the rite of reading the Scripture in the original language of Hebrew and simultaneously being translated into Aramaic. The amount of readers, and the number of interpreters varied according to the sacredness of the text. The Megillah references demonstrate the tensions between the use of Hebrew and its adaptation to the Aramaic Jewish community. In addition, the resolutions are uneven in application but do show some general evolution.

More information on the Jewish custom of reading in Hebrew with an interpreter(s) can be found at The Jewish Reader in the Ancient Liturgy

Instructing in Hebrew. Interpreting in the local language.

An ancient Jewish custom was created about religious instruction outside of Israel. The instructor teaches in Hebrew while a third party simultaneously translates it Aramaic. This custom was expanded to mean instruction in Hebrew while a third party simultaneously translated it in Greek, Latin, or whatever the local language.

For more information see The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church

How invasive was the Aramaic language in the Middle East?

One can see a shift from Biblical Hebrew to Aramaic in many, but not all, pieces of literature after 600 BC. Part of the Book of Daniel was written in Aramaic. The non-canonical books; Tobit, Jubilees, Enoch, the Greek Esther, and the second book of Maccabees were written in Aramaic(21) Bernard Spolsky. Jewish Multilingualism in the First Century. As found in Readings in the Sociology of Jewish Languages. Joshua A. Fishman, ed. Leiden: E. J. Brill. 1985. Pg. 40

Josephus wrote his War of the Jews originally in what is understood to be Aramaic and later translated it into Greek.(22)Wars of the Jews Intro However, Aramaic may be a leap in thought. He stated that his book, the Wars of the Jews, was originally written in his native language (τῇ πατρίῳ and sent to the upper Barbarians. He did not define his native tongue, which could have been Aramaic, or a cross between Aramaic and Hebrew (Galilean). However, Aramaic is strengthened by the statement about upper Barbarians. The upper Barbarians were likely the eastern reaches of the Middle-East who spoke Aramaic.

There are numerous transliterated Semitisms found in the Greek New Testament that are labelled Aramaic. On first glance, this appears correct. On the other hand, some researchers, especially David Bivin and Joshua Tilton, have found this type of conclusion too simplistic. David Bivin has spent most of his adult life studying the intersection of languages in first-century Judea, and he, along with Joshua Tilton manage a website, jerusalemperspective.com, that is focused on better understanding Jesus’ life and teachings. They have constructed a page devoted to the Transliterations of Hebrew, Aramaic and Hebrew/Aramaic Words in the Synoptic Gospels whereby they caution against any quick conclusions. They find that it is hard to distinguish between Aramaic and Hebrew transliterations found in the Greek. Firstly, because Hebrew and Aramaic are close relatives linguistically. Secondly, because there were Greek transliteration traditions borrowed from earlier texts that don’t reflect the current language. Therefore, one should not use transliterations as a tool for discovering what language was spoken during the first-century.

Aramaic is blamed in a Latin church document called the Ambrosiaster text on the problem in the early church of Corinth — Hebrew women speaking Aramaic in the Corinthian assembly unannounced.(23)See verse 19 in the Ambrosiastor link for more information This too could be the solution to the Corinthian tongues controversy, but Epiphanius’ account of it being the problem of instructing in Hebrew and a dispute between different Greek ethnic groups appears a more viable one.

It is inconceivable to believe that the Jewish faith existed without the Hebrew language. The first century Jewish writer, Josephus, related that Hebrew literacy was up again in the first century, “and it is ordered to bring the children up (in) the letters concerning the Laws and to place upon (them) the works of the ancestors.”(24)Translation is mine. “to bring the children up (in) the letters” clearly refers to literacy. The popular William Whiston English translation has “It also commands us to bring those children up in learning, and to exercise them in the laws, and make them acquainted with the acts of their predecessors,” it misses the emphasis on literacy here. This may have been restricted to reading by rote. It does not infer written or spoken fluency.

The picture being developed through all this is one of Aramaic being the dominant language of home and civil affairs, and Hebrew, having pockets of localized usage, and emphasized for religious instruction.

Any savvy reader knowledgeable of Aramaic will realize that the references to Aramaic are general terms. Aramaic, like any international language, had many dialects and localisms which should be noted. For those interested in finding out exactly what the important ones relative to this narrative are, go to Israel’s Dead Sea Scroll website. For a later history of the Aramaic language go to peshitta.org’s website for information. Another good historical reference that includes the state of the Aramaic language today is the article Where Do Languages Go to Die?

The rise of Jewish literature

Jewish-Aramaic literature began to slowly grow in prominence after the destruction of the Temple by Vespasian and Titus in 70 AD. The center of Judaism moved from Jerusalem to a central Israel city called Yavneh. This was directly influenced by the Romans. Yavneh was one of many cities whom the Romans moved those who had surrendered.(25)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. 1980. Pg. 97 This city was of particular interest because this is the place where Johanan Ben Zakkai was placed and began his leadership to rebuild the Jewish identity. His influence was felt both in the Jewish Middle-East and abroad.

Jewish-Greek literature did not follow the same pattern. Publication and distribution of Jewish-Greek literature was hardly existent. Neither is there any indication of a formal Jewish-Greek structure of religious life or leadership hierarchy. This never developed. It is also remarkable that there are so few pieces of Jewish-Greek poetry or literature about the loss of the Temple from the first or second-century.

Why is there so little? It is hard to find substantiated information on this subject from open access sites or books. Perhaps most Jews that lived in the diaspora were slaves from the various revolts against Rome and were not granted privileges or luxuries such as the art of writing – a process usually reserved for the wealthy. Or, as a conquered entity, the diasporan Jews were treated as a third-class residents such as Irish-Catholics in the 1800s under Protestant rule, the Incas under Spanish supervision, natives in North America by colonialists, or the African slaves in U.S. by plantation owners. Life and conditions were so harsh with these groups that no leadership, social, or literary culture was allowed to thrive. These thoughts are just speculations. There has been no documentation found so far that conclusively explains this lack of Jewish-Greek documentation around the first-century.

Did Hebrew completely die as a mother-tongue?

This is a highly-disputed question among academics concerned in these matters. The following shows just how divided scholars are.

Bernard Spolsky, Professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, who is well-regarded for his expertise in applied linguistics, looked into the matter of the use of Hebrew in post-deportation Israel and concluded that Hebrew was utilized more in southern than northern Israel.

It does seem however that Hebrew was better maintained, or at least less influenced by Aramaic and other languages in Judea than in Galilee, an area where a great number of other peoples had been settled during the Babylonian exile.”(26)Bernard Spolsky. Jewish Multilingualism in the First Century. As found in Readings in the Sociology of Jewish Languages. Joshua A. Fishman, ed. Leiden: E.J. Brill. 1985. Pg. 37

Spolsky argues that one should not rule out the use of Hebrew entirely. The Dead Sea Scrolls show Hebrew progressing as a language. He rightly points out the Mishnah was written in a Hebrew form. It could easily have been written in Aramaic if the loss of Hebrew was so dramatic, but it was not. He also does not believe that Hebrew was relegated entirely to the language of academies and rabbis.(27)Bernard Spolsky. Jewish Multilingualism in the First Century. As found in Readings in the Sociology of Jewish Languages. Joshua A. Fishman, ed. Leiden: E.J. Brill. 1985. Pg. 36

The learned professor from the Academy of the Hebrew Language, Edward Yechezkel Kutscher, if he was still alive today, would have argued a slight emendation to Spolsky’s reference to the Mishhah being in Hebrew form. He believed that Mishnaic Hebrew was an evolving form of literature. Mishnaic Hebrew died out somewhere in the second-century AD, and was used only as a literary medium after that period.(28)E.Y. Kutscher. A History of the Hebrew Language. Raphael Kutscher ed. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 148 In fact, the first movement that first composited the Mishnah in written form around 200 AD, did not fully understand the Hebrew words.(29)E.Y. Kutscher. A History of the Hebrew Language. Raphael Kutscher ed. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 116

Catherine Hezser, in her book, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine, believed that prior to 165 BC, Hebrew was restricted only to the priestly class. After 165 BC (The Maccabean period where Israel became an independent state), Hebrew expanded to a greater mass of people.(30)Catherine Hezser. Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck. 2001. Pg. 34 As for education, Greek was preferred because of the economic and business advantages.(31)IBID. Hezser. Pg. 69 Only a passive knowledge of Hebrew was required by elementary school Aramaic students.(32)IBID Hezser. Pg. 72

The book, Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda edited by William Horbury contests that the cultural elite only knew Aramaic, and the peasantry conversed in Hebrew.(33)Hebrew Study from Ezra to Ben-Yehuda William Horbury ed. T & T Clark, 2000. Pg. 17

The late Gedaliah Alon, a very well studied professor at the Hebrew University, contended that Hebrew and Aramaic were well documented and coexisted throughout the Greek diaspora. However, he simply teased the reader and stated that he would not dwell on this in any detail.(34)Gedaliah Alon. The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age. Volume II. Edited and translated by Gershon Levi. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. 1984. Pg. 338

Julio Trebolle Barrera, a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic studies at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, also finds that Hebrew continued.

The linguistic map of Palestine around the turn of the era and at the moment when Christianity was born is marked by great differences in language. In Jerusalem and Judaea, Hebrew was spoken for preference, with Aramaic as a second language. Hebrew underwent a period of renaissance starting from the nationalistic revolt by the Maccabess (mid-2nd cent. BCE). At the same time there was also a true renaissance of Hebrew literature (Ben Sira, Tobit, Jubiless, Testament of Naphtali, writing of the Qumran Community, etc.). The coining of money with Hebrew inscription is further proof of the revival of Hebrew and of its official importance. Jesus of Nazareth definitely spoke Aramaic, but it cannot be excluded that he also used Hebrew and even Greek. In the Mediterranean coastal area and in the Galilee region they preferred to speak Aramaic somewhat more than Greek. In this area Hebrew was only a literary language.(35)Julio C. Trebolle Berrara. The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible: An introduction to the History of the Bible. New York: E. J. Brill. 1998. Pg. 74

According to Irenaeous, Eusebius, and Jerome, the Book of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew.(36)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_Gospel_hypothesis This is a discounted theory today, but it shows that the ancient writers appealed to source Hebrew literature for credibility of the faith.

See Hebrew and the First Language of Mankind for more info on Hebrew considered as a divine language of religion.

A reference from the Sefer Haggada demonstrates how far Aramaic was encroaching on the Hebrew language and there was resistance to it. “And the Lord spoke from Sinai. This is the Hebrew language.”(37)Sefer Haggada (in Hebrew) Tel-Abib: Dvir co. ltd. Book III, 3b. My translation There was a concerted effort to resist the inclusion of foreign languages in their liturgy and prayers. “For R. Johanan declared: if anyone prays for his needs in Aramaic [ie. a foreign tongue] the ministering Angels do not pay attention to him because they do not understand that language.”(38) The Soncino Talmud. Trans. by Epstein I. London: Soncino Press. 1935. Pg. 162

However, not everything was to be done in Hebrew. This was especially noted with the language of prayer. Whatever language the prayer was originally produced in, was allowed to remain in that language. For example, Talmud Babli Megillah established that whatever prayers were originally written in Aramaic, were to remain in Aramaic throughout the diaspora.(39) Talmud Babli Megillah 9a

By the ninth-century AD, Hebrew definitely had been dead for many centuries. The writing system continued to lack vowels. Greek, along with Latin, with their vowels and punctuation, became much easier vehicles for the expansion of literacy. The only way to know how to pronounce a Hebrew or Aramaic word properly was passed on through generations by oral traditions which was easily influenced by localisms. The pressures to adapt the Jewish script had yet another motivation – the transmission of Jewish thought in life was becoming increasingly wrapped in the knowledge of three dead languages – Biblical Hebrew, Mishnaic Hebrew, and Aramaic. This skill was very technical and fewer people had this ability as each generation passed. The loss of pronunciation naturally led to ambiguity of interpretation.

A Jewish group of scholars and Karaite scribes in Tiberius and Jerusalem, called the Masoretes, laboured to retain the ancient pronunciation and speech that existed in the ancient Hebrew text. The tradition set-forth by Ben Asher standardized these additions, called niqqud, in the tenth century. The creation of the niqqud system inserted vowels and alternative vocalizations of consonants in the text. This system became common in the eleventh-century and afterwards as part of the Hebrew text. These were placed above and below the consonants.

For more information see A History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible

What does this all mean?

In general terms, with a few exceptions, we can conclude the following. Hebrew was spoken as a native language in and around Jerusalem during the first-century, but it did not extend much further. Aramaic was the language for the majority of Jews who lived east of the Mediteranean to the borders of modern day Afghanistan. Jewish leadership after the destruction of the Temple moved to Aramaic as the central language of communication but Hebrew still held the role of a sacred language in religious worship and instruction.

The Aramaic language was so influential in Jewish life, it is conceivable that those Jews who immigrated to Greek-dominated lands brought Aramaic with them: Greek for commerce and civil affairs, Aramaic for family life, and Hebrew for religious needs.

The findings show it is plausible that the role of Hebrew as a sacred language was potentially the cause of Paul’s address about tongues in I Corinthians.

———

References   [ + ]

Book Review: The Great War for Civilisation

greatwar

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by the seasoned author and journalist, Robert Fisk is a compilation of his over 30 years of on-field experiences in the various war zones around the Mediterranean and Middle East.

The result is comprehensive portrait that makes this book a definitive work.

It is a very long book and contains over a thousand pages of small print. It takes a seriously committed reader to complete such a long and difficult task. One cannot read this in one, or even two sittings. Nor can it be read for great lengths of time because the dark corners of humanity are ever present in this book. Such imagery requires one to pause repeatedly and escape from such realities.

It is purposely over-detailed and over-documented. There is no other choice for the author to do this as detractors, especially those of government, military and enforcement institutions, would like to refute such findings and discredit him personally. The greatest strength of his book is the documentation that takes it out of the realm of his personal opinion and into the place of factual history. It is a work that has been sorely lacking in this genre.

This is not a book for those who like clichés or black and white answers. Fisk avoids both which causes the reader to wonder initially if one ever will arrive at a some conclusion amid the vast amount of information he uncovers. He seldom takes enough time to reflect or philosophize about the lessons learned from all these experiences. It is a constant barrage of facts with few references connecting these behaviors into a larger narrative. The lack in this area may be why he has succeeded in fact finding so long. Trying to figure it out would invite cynicism, and throwing in the white towel.

The book has a liberal dose of history throughout but is not history for the sake of history. It is the necessary building of a plot to explain the present.

The following quote is one of his few philosophical moments in the book:

Soldier and civilian, they died in their tens of thousands because death has been concocted for them, morality hitched like a halter round the warhorse so that we could talk about ‘target-rich environments’ and ‘collateral damage’ – that most infantile of attempts to shake off the crime of killing – and report the victory parades, the tearing down of statues and the importance of peace.

Governments like it that way. They want their people to see war as a drama of opposites, good and evil, ‘them’ and ‘us’, victory or defeat. However, war is primarily not about victory or defeat but death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit. [Pg. XIX]

Humanity and inhumanity is the core of his observations and message. He finds inhumanity everywhere in the vestibules of power that he has observed. It is found in the semantics where ‘collateral damage’ is replaced for the killing of innocent civilians. It is in attaching the word ‘terrorist’ to enemies of a state which strips them of human status and consequently these people can be tortured, abused, neglected and discarded without any rights.[Pg. 464] Over and over again, Fisk brings names to those who have been or are key characters in the conflict. He constantly refers to the regular person off the street who suffered or died as a result of the inhumanities involuntarily forced upon them. He does not restrict this analysis to a few despots or exceptions; it is found in almost every political entity involved in the Middle East.

He has a strong criticism towards Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who sees Palestinians a people who cannot manage their affairs and in need of an overseer such as Israel. [Pg. 535] He is highly critical of George Bush’s war on terror, and even harsher tones for Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld; who at one time was on good terms with Saddam Hussein. He derided President Clinton for using Iraq as a prop to deflect the Monica Lewinsky affair, and Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, also falls under his critical scrutiny. Saddam Hussein painted as an evil despot, and Yasser Arafat, as a defeated warrior who made too many compromises at the Oslo accords. No government leader, opposition, or foreign policy comes out looking right under his critical microscope. The only signs of mercy shown are his portraits of everyday people.

The overarching narrative is rarely directly addressed. It leaves readers to fill in the blanks. What do his experiences about all these conflicts have in common? Fisk would likely say it started with Western European colonialism that improperly sliced-up the Ottoman Empire.

A narrative begins to appear a third of the way in the book when he covers the massive detainment, torture, executions and rapings of Algerians sponsored by the Algerian government in the early 1990s. A conflict that was a tit-for-tat tussle between government and reactionist forces, prompting an unending cycle of provocation and retribution resulting in the loss of untold innocent civilian lives. This cycle of provocation is a thesis throughout the book applied to almost every other conflict. These governments or despots have appeased their American sponsors and avoided world scrutiny by terming their behavior as a war on ‘terrorism’. Terrorism is an arbitrary word at the best of times and often left for the lowest members of police or security forces to define.

Torture and execution become a staple diet within the confines of the book because of this.

He demonstrates the double-sided American policy with the Armenian Genocide. An event where the U.S. government has agreed to call the slaughter of a complete ethnic group by the Turks as a dispute rather than genocide to secure good relations with Turkey. Fisk displays here the U.S. government putting political aims more important than truth.

He firmly believes one of the greatest errors of the United States foreign policy is ignoring the United Nations resolution 242. A text that calls for the nation of Israel to return to their pre-1967 borders. The resolution allows forced-out Palestinians back to their land; a land that was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. A matter no longer referenced as occupied territory by the United States, but as ‘territories in dispute’. A semantic which gives Israel more credence for ownership.[Pg. 539] Fisk believes that Israel’s acceptance of 242 would be a strong step for peace in the Middle East but finds it unattainable in the Israeli psyche. It is so far from the Israeli mindset that when he conversed with a young Israeli immigration officer she did not even know that the resolution existed.[Pg. 550]

The 1991 liberation of Kuwait, and the 2003 war on Iraq move strengthens his thesis. The United States singular desire to take down Saddam Hussein at the expense of the civilian population paid a hefty future price of disrespect. The severe sanctions against any imported items into Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait was an act of inhumanity according to Fisk. He details the problem of much needed medical supplies for hospitals badly required for treating the higher than the average number of children acquiring leukemia. A condition that is much greater than world standards and arguably through contact with depleted uranium shells used by the American and British forces. The American administration would not allow for import of these medicines for fear that they convert them for weapons of mass destruction. Fisk himself performed a donation drive in Britain, convincing both the Americans and Iraqi Government to the rightness of his cause, and personally delivered medical supplies to these children in several Iraqi hospitals.

The semantics is found in the words collateral damage. Fisk documents the cluster bombs being thrust on civilian populations and indiscriminate bombings of civilian homes to which the American Government never apologized. The U.S. simply stated that this was collateral damage. A term that dehumanized and ignored the innocent victims. This arrogant behavior intensified the anger within the Iraqi populace. He puts the reader into a paradox. If the United States was only interested in taking down Saddam and his regime why were the average citizens of Iraq being punished? The Iraqis felt like the overthrow of one regime was simply supplanted by another foreign one that didn’t care about their welfare at all. Worst of all, a non-Muslim one. These sanctions fostered a negative reaction to the West. Fisk chose to quote Margaret Hassan, a British woman married to an Iraqi, and who also who ran the CARE office in Baghdad, on how negative the sentiment was;

They think that we will be so broken, so shattered by this suffering that we will do anything – even give our lives – to get rid of Saddam. The uprising against the Baath party failed in 1991, so now they are using cruder methods. But they are wrong. These people have been reduced to penury. They live in shit. And you have no money and no food, you don’t worry about democracy or who your leaders are.[Pg. 867]

There are some references to religious conflict between Muslim and Christians, Muslim vs. Muslim, and Muslim vs. secular Muslim, but this is mostly tertiary according to Fisk. He believes these are internal and foreign government policy failures expressed in the brutality, executions, and torture. These have fomented a great part of the current Middle-Eastern scenario today. This leads the reader to think that the failure of government and international communities to bring about justice and root out brutality has led many civilians and organizations to turn to Islam as a better alternative.

Fisk does not believe religion is the most important catalyst in these conflicts. There are two exceptions to this which are traced to the U.S. and Britain’s participation in the liberation of Kuwait. The first one relates to the military staging area of Saudi Arabia which contains the two holiest places of the Muslim religion; Mecca and Medina. The Americans and the British, perceived as Christian nations, underestimated the religious backlash of militarily building up a strong presence in Saudi Arabia. Fisk quoted Ali Mahmoud, the Associated Press chief in Bahrain, to explain this repercussion which now appears prophetic, “The fact that the theocratic and nationalist regimes have invited the United States to the Middle East will long be resented and never will be condoned. When the crisis is over, [Iraq’s invasion into Kuwait] the worst is yet to come.” [Pg. 725] The Western Christian forces should never have assembled in Saudi Arabia.

The second one was in promoting an insurrection in Iraq during the 1991 war. George Bush authorized the broadcast and air-dropping of millions of leaflets in Iraq, encouraging the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam and his regime. An act that prompted the Shia Muslim minority in the south, and the Kurds in the north, to rebel. It was a strategy that ended in a bloody response by the Iraqi Republican Guard while the U.S. stood aside and did nothing to protect them. Both these groups, especially the Shiite Muslims felt betrayed.

These injustices to the Arab peoples throughout the Middle East were expressed in the destruction in the World Trade Centers in New York which Fisk believed, “represented not just a terrible crime but a terrible failure, the collapse of decades of maimed, hopeless, selfish policies in the Middle East, which we would at last recognize – if we were wise – or which, more likely, we would now bury beneath the rubble of New York, an undiscussible subject whose mere mention would indicate support for America’s enemies”, [Pg. 1027] and then further added, “No, Israel was not blame for what happened on September 11th, 2001. The culprit were Arabs, not Israelis. But America’s failure to act with honour in the Middle East, its promiscuous sale of missiles to those who use them against civilians, its blithe disregard for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children under sanctions of which Washington was the principal supporter – all these were intimately related to the society that produced Arabs who plunged New York into an apocalypse of fire.”[Pg. 1037]

After reading the book, and spending a considerable amount of time reviewing his videos, he does not have a political agenda. His purpose follows the historical pillars of journalism. He believes that the role of a journalist is to “challenge authority – all authority – especially so when governments and politicians take us to war, when they have decided that they will kill and others will die.” [Pg. XXIII] His task is to uncover truth, and convey it to the public – a truth that is often purposely obscured, misappropriated, or spun by those who possess such power to tell.

Fisk is sprinting to get this message out about Arab injustice and how to rectify it. It may also be a form of catharsis for him.

I haven’t read a historical account that takes in such a comprehensive listing of forces, influences, corruption, power and revolt since Josephus’ War on the Jews written almost 2000 years ago. The geographic location is almost the same, with Rome being replaced by the United States. It is a repeat of a similar story.

This book answers for me one of the most difficult questions that I have asked for almost thirty years, who are the Arabs, and why are they so angry?

This work explains the Middle Eastern psyche for the Western reader without spin from either a religious or government perspective. Such coverage is a rarity.

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, by Robert Fisk, answers that question in great detail, and much more. The book has an incredible amount of information about the Arab world, its psyche, and their place in the Middle East. He also focuses on the universal problems of war, corruption, lies, betrayal, and deceits. His historical record is fresh and is not the same as the typical Western accounts eschewed by Governments and pundits. In fact, he expansively wrote to rewrite history properly without the spin that is considerably different.

One thing he leaves out entirely, and maybe purposely is the role of corruption in this whole process. A factor that may be too subjective that cannot be so easily documented or proven, except on petty levels with taxis or lower government agents.

There is so much more that I would write about Fisk’s book, but it overruns the limit for standard book reviews.

If anyone wants to think about or understand the Middle East, this should be one of the primary source books for the Western reader. It is mandatory reading for anyone interested in this genre.

—————-

For further reading see :

The Jews In Their Land During the Talmudic Age

JewsInTheirLand

Book Review: The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age by Gadaliah Alon.

A magnificent piece of scholarly work that touches on life in Israel from 70 to 640 A.D.

His retelling of the story of Middle-East mankind during this period draws from classical Greek, Roman, Patristic, and Rabbinic sources that is simply astounding. He combines religion, culture, language, economic systems, leadership structures both in the Jewish community and in context of Roman occupation, historical analysis, and social perspectives into an intelligent and cohesive narrative. He especially excels covering the change in religious, social and leadership structures after the destruction of the Temple, and the traditions that underlies the development and establishment of the Mishnah and Talmud.

The work is ascribed to Gedaliah Alon, who is an enigma. There are no photos in any popular biography of him, and those bios are normally only a paragraph long. He never wrote a book, but yet there is one. In Israel, where he was a teacher at the Hebrew University, there is a street in Jerusalem named after him, but this is a quiet reminder. He was the first recipient of the Israel Prize, the highest honor given by the State of Israel for excellence, but this only extends to the modern Israeli conscience, not to the English speaking world. His name was never echoed in the halls of the Hebrew University while I was there, nor were there any statues or busts found. He was married to a Mina Alon, and had at least one child, Nahi Alon, who is a clinical psychologist, but the information is sparse.

It was chance that I picked up the book at the Hebrew University’s Akademon book store back in the 1980s. The cover looked interesting and thought it would be worth the risk. It was packed in my to be looked at later file, which took a couple of years to turn the cover. Ever since that first page was turned, it changed my approach to historical critique. This unknown man has had a deep influence on my own approach to the narratives that surround the Christian narrative.

This book is a must-read for anyone trying to develop an idea of how the Middle East world operated during this period, especially for Jews living in the land of Israel.

Alon suddenly died of a heart attack at 49 years of age back in 1950. Admirers of Alon who were deeply impressed by his teachings, collated the many monographs that he previously published, and combined them with his lecture notes to make a posthumous book dedicated to him. Shmuel Safrai, one of his students and later a professor at the Hebrew University, was instrumental in the process. The book was originally written in modern Hebrew, but later translated by Gershon Levi into English, and so the The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age was born.

His story begins in Russian controlled Kobryn, Belarus, where he excelled in his Talmudic studies, and then went to the Unversity of Berlin for a year, which likely broadened his mind to other disciplines outside of Judaism. He then immigrated to Israel and completed his studies at the Hebrew University, and remained there as a teacher for the rest of his life. The foreward in his book claims that he refined the system of interpretation set out by Adolf Büchler(1)Pg. IX an “Austro – Hungarian rabbi, historian and theologian” who wrote distinguished works on the Jews during the Second Temple period. (2)http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3787-buchler-adolf

He was a historical chronographer, not a theologian by any means, though he does greatly draw from these resources to add to his narrative, they are rarely central to any of his themes. This is what sets him apart, and likely makes him so indistinguished. He appeals neither to the practicing Jew, nor to the ardent Christian, or to those uninterested in religion. This makes his audience quite small, but to those who are looking for coverage of this period from a comprehensive historical literature perspective, this is a veritable gold mine.

The eminent teacher has not escaped criticism. Doron Mendels, a present full-time professor at the Hebrew University, claims that Alon reflected the age that he lived in. Mendels claims that Alon’s background of Orthodox to enlightened Jew, and then European nationalist reflected a writing that wished to redefine Judaism both in historic and modern terms – a “fragmetized type of memory”,(3)Doron Mendels. Memory in Jewish, Pagan and Christian Societies of the Graeco-Roman World, New York: T & T Clark International. 2004. Pg. 131 and another recent book, Judaism and Crisis: Crisis as a Catalyst in Jewish Cultural History, states that Alon wrote with Zionistic sympathies.(4)Armin Lange, K. F. Diethard Romheld, Matthias Weigold. Judaism and Crisis: Crisis as a Catalyst in Jewish Cultural History. Schriften des Institutum Judaicum Delitzschianum. Vol. 9. Vandehoek & Ruprecht. 2011. Pg. 189

The greatest drawback to Alon is price. The work was originally published in Jerusalem by Magnes Press, which the picture above is from. It was two volumes and has long been out-of-print by them. Harvard University Press has reprinted a paperback version, combining both original volumes into one for under $65.00 US. It may be in your local library, but it is one of those books that you want to keep near your desk. It is a handy resource.

References   [ + ]

Book Review: My Promised Land

My Promised Land Cover

My Promised Land is a controversial, thought provoking and important read for those wanting to understand the Middle East from an Israeli perspective.

The well known Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit, weaves a delicate story of the ever changing doctrine of Zionism from its utopian non-sectarian, communist vision of the early 1900s to its current identity of self-preservation. He shows a modern Israel stripped of its stereotypes and what it really is — a country mired in an identity crisis. A place that is part-libertarian, hedonist, Orthodox, Western European, Middle Eastern, and everything inbetween. These competing forces along with the ominous threat of a much larger Arab community around them leads Shavit to be cynical of Israel’s future.

The story of the forced expulsion of the Arabs from the city of Lydda is the shocking highlight of this book. This may be the most controversial as well. Shavit claims that Israeli based soldiers massacred Arabs and caused further deaths during the forced exodus of the residents. The homes, cars, businesses and all that the Arab residents owned were confiscated and pillaged by the Israeli conquerors. The people of Lydda were never allowed to return. Martin Kramer refutes this in an article entitled, What Happened at Lydda for the Jewish based Mosaic. However, Kramer omits any recognition on the death march or expulsion of the Arabs from their community, nor address that they were never allowed to return.

Lydda is just one example among many others shown in his book. Shavit offers these historical travesties unapologetically. He doesn’t like this history but never goes beyond being trite. He takes the role of an intimate narrator and offers little solutions or apologies. This attitude can be understood later on in his works when he outlines the Israeli mantra of self-preservation. This appears central to the Israeli psyche even if it is often irrational.

My Promised Land is a story of the oppressed turned to oppressor. It is puzzling how this reversal occurred. Shavit often touches on this, and teases the reader, but does not adequately tie this part of the plot together.

The book begins to lose momentum after the historical portrayal of Zionism and shifts into contemporary observations. This is the same problem found in Michael B. Oren’s bestseller, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present, whose factual accounts and writing style were very engaging until he reached the history relating to the formation of Israel from 1948 until the present.

The romantic stereotype of the modern Israeli and their Masada mentality is also broken by Sharit. It is not the religious symbolism, or the prophetic voice that has integrated Masada into the Israeli psyche, as most Evangelicals or Christian Zionists are led to believe, but an alternate identity based on the recent past, not the historic religious one. Zionism is charting its own identity regardless of external stereotypes or expectations and seeks to define itself on its own terms. Shmaryahu Gutman, according to Sharit, observed in the early 1940s that Zionism was losing its mission and needed to redefine itself. Masada was the answer Gutman was looking for.

”He knows that Zionism is on the brink and need a poignant symbol that will be a substitute for church and theology and mythology. In Masada he finds this symbol that will unite and Inspire Zionism’s followers. He finds a pillar for Zionist identity that is at once concrete, mythic, and sublime. In Masada, Gutman finds both the narrative and the image that will give the young Hebrews the depth they lack.”

Gutman succeeded in instilling this image within the Israeli soul — a perception that many non-Jewish readers may easily overlook. My Promised Land fortunately covers this important aspect in a comprehensive and modern way.

Hope is not found in this book, rather it is one of skepticism. The current roadmap to him is more war, not negotiation — not that he entirely subscribes to this, he simply believes it is inevitable. The rise of Iran’s nuclear program is one of his greatest fears for the future of Israel.

He neither makes any moral call for repatriation of the Arabs forced out of their homes by gunpoint, nor of compensation to their losses, or dismantling illegal settlements.

It is also a tale told from an isolationist perspective. When Shavit outlines the Israeli nightlife along with its sexual and hedonistic offerings, he thinks it an internal reaction to the problems Israel faces rather than recognizing the external forces that have molded the modern Israeli identity. Neither does he recognize the historical political and religious effect of Evangelical belief that played an integral part of Zionist dreams. Unlike Sharit’s caricature, it wasn’t Jewish Zionism or hardiness alone that succeeded in their settlement of Israel. It was cooperative effort that included a variety of foreign sources that made it happen.

This self-determination that Shavit describes may be the source of the Israeli success over such great odds, and can easily be titled modern miracles, but this can also be a serious weakness. This is something that the author failed to take a close look at.

He also believes that the introduction of Hebrew as the primary language in Israel has significance in stripping Jewish immigrants of their past identity and forcing the formation of a new Israeli based one.

My Promised Land slightly picks up some momentum towards the end but much of the second half of this book could have been significantly reduced in length.

This book is especially recommended for the Evangelical reader who has many default stereotypes about Israel and its people. This book will help build a proper modern understanding.

The Alliance between Israel and Evangelicals.

  • Is Middle East News Coverage Balanced?
  • Anti-Semitism in the Ancient Church
  • The Journey out of Christian Zionism

    Why I am no longer pro-Israel, nor pro-Arab, but pro-human.

    Hopefully the Evangelical Church will soon take this position too. It would be a factor in bringing resolution to the Arab–Israeli conflict.

    My own change of mind began with a scholarship to attend the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1984. The stay in Israel was after three years of Bible College training. It was exciting to live and study in the actual place where most of the Biblical writings took place.

    Like many other Bible believing Christians, my mind stopped at 33 AD; full of antiquated stereotypes and assumptions about modern Israel. Before the trip began, I didn’t know what Israel geographically looked like, nor was personally familiar with anyone of Jewish heritage, and absolutely ignorant of contemporary Middle East affairs. I was ideologically a Christian Zionist — a person who supported the State of Israel because of the numerous historical and apocalyptic references to this nation found in the Bible. The Arab community hardly figured into this initial picture.

    My departure from Christian Zionism and the movement to a more balanced perspective began after a conversation with a man who called himself Brother David. He was living on the Mount of Olives as part of a controversial group that was waiting, praying and encouraging the end of the world to come. They called themselves the House of Prayer. While waiting for a Jerusalem Christian Assembly Church(1) Now known as King of Kings Community Jerusalem service to begin, I asked Brother David “Did you hear about the Arab riot?” This was in regards to a violent riot in Bethlehem that had ended with military intervention the day before. He replied with a sudden look of happiness and emphatically stated, “soon they won’t be with us anymore”. His words alluded to an assumption many evangelical circles hold that any opposition to the modern State of Israel are enemies to God. These enemies are pre-ordained to be destroyed.

    I was of the same opinion at the time, but when he verbalized these beliefs, It shocked and deeply troubled me by what those words really meant. In Canada, these thoughts were a combination of my active imagination, a heavy dose of apocalyptic literature, and over-simplification. Israel is thousands of miles away. The black and white belief of a righteous Israel with unrighteous enemies poised to destroy the chosen people never seemed to hurt anyone, but now it was apparent these ideas did serious harm. To imagine saying to an Arab that his opposition to Israeli policies is a foretold doom and thus already write him off, or to not care when their homes were demolished by an Israeli edict of some form, or to see a Palestinian child sleep alone under a desolate tree, or catch a glimpse of an Arab family living in poverty and not care because “soon they are going to be gone anyways” was not right. On the contrary, my beliefs were fostering injustice, hatred and prejudice.

    Looking out the window of the transit bus on my daily excursions and seeing both Israelis and Arabs going about the regular busyness of their days, my apocalyptic anticipations became quieter. Perhaps the end is coming and the formation of the State of Israel and the opposition against them are definite signs, but the fulfillment of prophecy is God’s job, not mine or anyone else’s. To do it ourselves invites many to freely perform criminal acts, to engage in hate and ignorant of real consequences. There are misplaced priorities where the cost of human life and the related quality of life, especially one of an Arab or Palestinian, is almost viewed as a necessary sacrifice, or ignored, in light of this fervor.

    Having been surrounded by an Arab populace, my preconceptions were challenged. These were real people. It forced me to change, and I wondered about myself and evangelicals as a whole. How have we gotten this so wrong?

    This was a hard topic to work through and likely one of the biggest lessons I learned while hitchhiking and busing in Israel; discovering that one of the greatest sins is the person or society being convinced they are doing and propagating a good, such as those trying to manufacture events to encourage fulfillment of perceived end-time prophecies, but instead are bearers of ignorance, hatred, and injustice.

    References   [ + ]

    Pentecostals and Israel

    The connection between Pentecostals, Christian Zionism, Judaism and the State of Israel.

    Many people do not realize that Pentecostalism is the fastest growing Christian religion in the world with an estimated 497 million followers world-wide and expected to top 1 billion by 2025.(1) This is according to noted Pentecostal statistician David Barrett as found in http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/pentecostalism_polomaart1.html, The Spirit Bade Me Go: Pentecostalism and Global Religion by Margaret M. Poloma. The University of Akron. August, 2000 This is a sharp contrast to the 13 million people who call themselves fundamentalists.

    It hasn’t gone unnoticed in Israel, who have wanted their share of this Pentecostal growth in their country. They see it as a serious economic contributor and a powerful political alliance.

    Pentecostals have inherited and modernized the fundamentalist end-time system that believes a number of prerequisites must occur before the end of the world: the establishment of Israel as a geographical entity with borders very similar to what was outlined in the Bible, the return of the Jews from exile, and Armageddon — a final war between Israel and all its enemies.

    Pentecostals and Christian Zionism

    Persons of Jewish heritage that support the formation and expansion of Israel on religious grounds are called Zionists. Most media outlets define Christians who align with the Zionist movement as Christian Zionists. The greater Evangelical community, Pentecostals in particular, do not use the term themselves. The majority, if asked directly whether they are Christian Zionists, would not even know what the speaker is talking about and would categorically say no, though the overwhelming majority do fit within the definition. Some Pentecostals may even feel insulted with them being identified this way. Most would simply think they are following what the Bible tells them to do.

    The difference between Pentecostalism and fundamentalism.

    Pentecostalism has a major doctrinal difference over fundamentalism that is important to understand: it promotes personal involvement rather than being a third party observer.

    This may seem trivial, but it has serious ramifications.

    The Fundamentalists who previously monopolized the Evangelical perspective on Israel do not believe Christians can personally intervene in the events and circumstances that will ultimately unfold into the end of the world. Their support is done en masse with visible spokespersons such as Hal Lindsey, Bob Jones or John Walvoord.

    The role of prophecy, dreams, and prayer for Israel.

    Pentecostals understand the future events from a prophetic perspective. Prophetic can mean God speaking directly to a person to complete an objective. The cause does not necessarily need to be rational, predictable or major.

    This could be a financial commitment, planting trees, political involvement, volunteering, helping in immigration, all night prayer vigils, fasting, raising specialized cattle, evangelism, etc.

    For example, some have heard God call them to help Jews return to the Holy Land. One of the better known Christian organizations, Ebenezer Emergency Fund’s Operation Exodus, was started by a prophetic vision to the South African Steve Lightle.(2) http://www.ebenezer-ef.org/UK/frameset.htm “In 1974 God showed Steve Lightle in a vision that it was His plan for the Jews to return to Israel from Russia, as prophesied in Jeremiah 16:14-16. When Gustav Scheller heard of this vision in 1982 he went to Jerusalem in search of Steve. From that time on they worked together to bring this message to the Church, and to pray together with others, for its fulfilment. During an Intercessory Prayer Conference in Jerusalem in 1991 Gustav heard God say ‘Now you can begin helping my people to go home’ – and this was confirmed by others, including Johannes Facius, international speaker and bible teacher.”

    Dreams facilitate some to unusual acts. Like Bruce Balfour, a Canadian affiliated with the pentecostal based Maranatha Evangelistic Association. He believed he was called of God in dreams to plant trees in Lebanon.(3) http://www.christianweek.org/Stories/vol17/no11/story3.html in an email sent to Christian Week, Canada’s National Christian Newspaper, Balfour stated, “Months before I came on this journey, my Master showed me through many dreams that I would be imprisoned for His sake so He could mold and shape me into a vessel of His choosing, to accomplish His purpose here. I did not rejoice over this.” I asked him in a phone- conversation to confirm this, but he refused.

    Others feel called to expedite God’s plan for the end. Clyde Lott, a cattle rancher and an ordained National Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ Minister in the United States, had an epiphany from God to raise red heifers according to Old Testament requirements for the new Temple.(4) http://www.aasfe.org/morrison.html, Believers, breeder await sacred cow. By Kara G. Morrison, Lincoln Journal Star. Lincoln, NE

    It can be financial giving. Maoz Israel Ministries — a messianic Jewish ministry in Israel relates on their website about a 9 year old boy, Christian, who believed God had called him to send his $10.00 of birthday money for Israel.(5) http://www.maozisrael.org/site/PageServer?pagename=maoz_partners_say This may not seem like much, but this is a grassroots event that Christians are doing all over the world. One Jewish fundraiser, Yechiel Eckstein, has raised over $250 million dollars from roughly 400,000 Christian donors(6) http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/24/magazine/24RABBI.html alone. This market is seen as a veritable gold mine by the Israeli Government.

    Some may feel inspired to accelerate armageddon. In 1969, Dennis Michael Rohan, an Australian sheep shearer and Pentecostalist, “acting upon divine instructions”(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Dennis_Rohan attempted to and almost succeeded in burning down the Al-Aksa Mosque situated on the Temple Mount.(8)Kate Miriam Loewenthal. Religion, Culture and Mental Health: Cambridge University Press, 2007. pg. 18. http://books.google.com/books?id=jbhbK-ypBHYC&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&dq=denis+rohan+israel&source=web&ots=k9_GH8w9mG&sig=DhTPlZ5C2QiNDfd8Es3P7IOE23g&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=7&ct=result

    The call to prayer for Israel is big with Pentecostals. Robert Stearns, who grew up in an Assemblies of God Church, the world’s largest pentecostal denomination, helped organize the annual Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, “instituted with the endorsement of hundreds of Christian leaders from around the world, representing tens of millions of Christians.”(9) http://ew.us.churchinsight.com/Groups/1000002767/Eagles_Wings/DaytoPray/Day_of_Prayer.aspx It is arguably the biggest annual protestant rite held in the world.

    The mystic side of Pentecostalism exists as a doctrine that transcends denominations and religious institutions — even parts of the Catholic Church. It is also a physical entity as expressed in Churches like the Assemblies of God in the US, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. There are hundreds, if not tens of thousands, independent Pentecostal Churches around the world with little or no denominational affiliation. Jack Hayford, Jimmy Swaggart, T.D. Jakes, and Pat Robertson are leading Pentecostals.

    Pentecostal organizations and leaders in Israel.

    The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, one of the largest and few growing denominations in Canada, founded a Church in Jerusalem. It was originally called Jerusalem Christian Assembly, but is now known as the King of King’s Community Jerusalem.(10)http://www.kkcj.org/ The Senior Pastor of King of King’s, Wayne Hilsden, is an ordained Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada minister.

    Wayne Hilsden is an important key in the administration of Christian Zionist causes. He describes himself as a pastor, and preacher, and one who, “travels the world sharing with the nations about the restoration of Israel.”(11) http://www.kkcj.org/people/info/wayne-hilsden/ He was also in charge of Aliyah Ministries Network, a logistical centre for other Christian Zionist based Jewish immigration agencies that existed at least until 2001, (12) Jerusalem Post, “On Wings of Faith”, December 14, 2001. By Patricia Golan. There has been no mention in any recent literature that this organization exists today. and a board member for the Ebenezer Emergency Fund — a Christian organization with the expressed aim of helping Jewish people abroad emigrate to Israel.(13) He was a board member in 2007, as listed on Ebenezer’s UK website at that time, along with a photo. It has since been removed and there is no mention that he has continued or discontinued in any documents. The Sector.ca records him in 2011 serving on the Canadian board of Bridges for Peace(14) http://thesector.ca/cyclopedia/charity/9433 a large, well-known Christian organization who “. . . are giving Christians the opportunity to actively express their biblical responsibility before God to be faithful to Israel and the Jewish community.”(15) http://national.bridgesforpeace.com/index.php?page=canada.

    The King of King’s Community Jerusalem is the largest evangelical Church in Israel and has the strongest pro-Christian Zionist sentiments as a Church body in Israel. The PAOC was asked by the Israeli Government to come.(16) http://www.visionledd.com/about-visionledd/our-team/ Jim Cantelon was the founder of Jerusalem Christian Assembly and has this bio on his website: “In 1981, at the invitation of the Israeli government, Jim, Kathy and their three children moved to Israel where they helped pioneer the Jerusalem Christian Assembly, now called King of Kings, which is the largest evangelical congregation in Israel.”

    The International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, one of the largest and most prominent pro-Israel Christian organization in the world, is a world-wide non-profit Christian group that supports Israel. Stephen Sizer, a researcher and writer on Christian Zionism, described it as a self-regulated entity that “draws its support almost exclusively from charismatic, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians particularly in the USA, Canada and South Africa.”(17) http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/icejmelisende.htm A look at the leadership list substantiates Pentecostal and Charismatic leanings. The present executive director, Jürgen Bühler, is a licensed minister with the German Pentecostal Federation.(18) http://int.icej.org/dr-jürgen-bühler Juha Ketola, the ICEJ’s International Director, has both credentials with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and Finland.(19) http://int.icej.org/rev-juha-ketola-0 The previous executive director was South African born Malcom Hedding. He, along with his Dutch predecessor, Bill van der Hoewen, are also from the Pentecostal/Charismatic realm.(20) Malcolm was the pastor for my Hebrew University Bible study group in 1985. He is from the South African Assemblies of God http://www.uptozion.com/hedding.htm. Bill van der Hoeven’s is based on personally witnessing his public acts of piety, which are consistent within the P/C community. The ICEJ, has an annual Feast of Tabernacles held in Jerusalem, which is attended predominately by Pentecostals and Charismatics.(21) This was my observation from attending the ICEJ’s Feast of Tabernacles in 1986.

    Problems related to Pentecostal fervor.

    The problem of Pentecostal prophecy is unpredictability. Mainline Pentecostal Churches are quite conservative on prophetic impulses and inspiration. However, it does suffer from a great amount of denominational and independent fragmentation and these elements can especially lead to concern. For example, it is not out of the question that one of these independent Pentecostal groups or individuals could be prophetically inspired to actively participate or encourage the destruction of the present artifices of the Temple Mount.

    On the other hand this prophetic impulse is a financial and political bonanza for the State of Israel, but as the Pentecostal community grows, extreme expressions may become more commonplace.■

    For further reading see, The Alliance Between Israel and Evangelicals.

    This article was originally published on ScribD, Edocr and WordPress.com websites in 2007. It is republished here with some major changes.

    References   [ + ]

    The Alliance between Israel and Evangelicals

    The financial, political, social and religious connections between the nation of Israel and Evangelical groups abroad.

    The growing relationship between Israel and Evangelicals is largely due to domestic problems inside Israel and the greater Jewish community. The Jewish liberal monetary support has been declining, partly in protest to the encroaching rhetoric of Jewish fundamentalism into mainstream Israeli politics, such as the transfer of power to a Likud based party, the redefinition of the Jewish identity by a stricter set of rules,(1)http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week122/cover.html “Israeli Alliance with American Evangelicals” January 30th, 1998 Episode no. 122. An interview with Benjamin Natanyahu by Paul Miller, Religion and Ethics and the religious fervour of Westbank community settlements.

    The Evangelical alliance also gives the Israeli Government political insurance if there is potential fallout of goodwill within many of its western democratic government allies.

    The initial passion for the restoration of Israel can be found in the Evangelical movement over 100 years ago and was so pervasive that Dr. Stephen Sizer, an Anglican Minister and one of the foremost authorities on Christian Zionism, believes that this was a key force in allowing the reformation of the physical entity of Israel in 1948.(2) Stephen Sizer. Christian Zionism: Fueling the Arab-Israeli Conflict. CD pre-release version. Chapter 5: pg. 305. No Date Given but is the rough manuscript to the final print version, “Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armaggedon?”

    This zeal has heavily influenced political decision making. For example, in the 1980s the then President Ronald Reagan along with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Jesse Helms, were openly known to hold evangelical end-time aspirations in dealings with Israel. George Bush Jr. is also noted to hold this faith position, more so than his father.(3) American Jews and Israel: A 54-Year Retrospective University of Judaism, http://www.uj.edu/content/ContentUnit.asp?CID=1200&u=3025&t=0

    Josh Pollack noted in the Jewish World Review that a significant chunk of donations to the United Jewish Appeal are from Christians(4) http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0298/evewar.html “The dance of symbols” by Josh Pollack, Jan. 21. 1998 . Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, director of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a Chicago-based organization, consisting mainly of Evangelical Christians donors, have contributed over $5 million dollars to the United Jewish appeal in 1997 and in 2006 the yearly donations skyrocketed to $39 million dollars.(5) http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/08/17/jews.christians/index.html The Jerusalem Post wrote that he claimed his organization to be the largest single donor to the United Jewish Appeal.(6) Evangelical Christians Supply Major Source of UJA Donations. The Jerusalem Post Thursday, November 13, 1997 By Aryeh Dean Cohen. Rabbi Yechiel’s statement may be hyperbole but it demonstrates how important Christian financial contributions are becoming in Israeli fund-raising activities.

    There are other examples as well which demonstrate how widespread financial support from Christian communities have become:

    • The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported that television evangelists raised over $20 million dollars to help Jewish immigration to Israel in 1997.(7) U.S. Christians paid for summer airlift of Ethiopian Jews. By Catherine Cohen , Ha’aretz. Friday, December 31, 1999. No link to this file

    • Ann Lolordo of the Baltimore Sun found that financial help for Jewish settlements could be found in the Christian Zionist community, and ironically not found from western Jewish ones. She detailed a number of Christian Churches and organizations funding endeavors such as the $5,000 dollars raised by Judy Campbell and the New Life Church in Colorado, or Ted Beckett, a Colorado developer, who started the Adopt-a-settlement program and contributed over $50,000 dollars over a two-year period. The Fellowship Church of Castleberry, Florida, donated over $100,000 dollars for a dormitory and conference center at a West-Bank settlement called Kiryat-Arba.(8) Israeli settlers find staunch friends in Christians, By Ann LoLordo, Baltimore Sun. July 27, 1997.

    • Vicki Hearst, daughter of the late wealthy businessman, Randolph Hearst, has given an undisclosed significant amount of money for facilities on the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel.(9) IBID. Israeli Settlers. LoLordo.

    • Pastor John Hagee’s Cornerstone Christian Church in Texas donated over $1.5 million dollars to the United Jewish Communities for “Israel-related causes”.(10) http://www.ujc.org/page.html?ArticleID=36411 United Jewish Communities “News: As Evangelical Christians Cheer, Preacher Gives Money to Back Israel” by Barbara Richmond. And in 2006 it is alleged he raised over $7 million for Jewish groups.(11) http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14013 Growing Acceptance seen of fiery Pastor by James D. Besser, Thursday, Aug. 23rd, 2007 He also founded on February 7, 2006, Christians United For Israel an Evangelical equivalent of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to lobby the American congress to support Israel.(12) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hagee In that same year, Hagee was the recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award by B’nai B’rith.(13) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/07b/yoffie.html Leader of Reform Judaism discourages cooperation with Christians United for Israel. May 29th, 2007.

    • The amount of money from many of these groups may seem insignificant, but there are Churches and organizations all over the world doing the same thing, cumulatively adding to Israel’s economy.

    • There are so many pro-Israel Christian groups that if one does a Google search, it will bring up over 250 organizations. It is difficult to assess the yearly economic contributions to Israel, but four of the larger well known ones, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, and Chosen People Ministries, collectively receive donations over $33 million US every year.(14) This was based on studying financial reports given on the internet for the year 2000.

    This Christian zeal enters directly into modern-day Israeli politics. I was at the International Christian Embassy Feast of Tabernacles celebration held in Jerusalem in 1986, where the then Prime Minister Yitzhaq Shamir was given a standing ovation by a thousand or more Christians as a sign of prophetic allegiance. The annual rite that occurred in 2007 consisted of an estimated 7,000 Christian pilgrims from 90 nations.(15) http://www.icej.org/article/feast_pilgrims_ready_for_jerusalem_march

    Benyamin Netanyahu, a former Israeli UN representative and current Prime Minister, has frequently spoken in Churches.(16) http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4951.htm “The Interregnum: Christian Zionism In The Clinton Years” by Donald Wagner.  He is a cherished idol in the Evangelical community, as reflected by this blogger on Netanyahu when he announced participation in a previous Likud leadership race, “I believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is the chosen man of God to help lead Israel through this very difficult time.”(17) http://www.onenewsnow.com/2007/07/bibi_netanyahu_the_great_commu.php A posting by Steve Wenge, July 11th, 2007

    The Knesset has formed the Christian Allies Caucus because of the decades of warm political, economic and social relationships between the Evangelical Christian Community and Israel.(18) http://cac.org.il/. http://www.israelnn.com/news.php3?id=69672 Christian Allies in Day of Prayer for Jerusalem. See also http://www.knesset.gov.il/lobby/eng/LobbyPage_eng.asp?lobby=41

    The European Coalition for Israel: the brainchild of a number of major Christian Zionist groups was founded to promote the welfare of Israel before the European Parliament.(19) http://www.europeancoalitionforisrael.org/ “A Christian initiative Promoting European-Israeli Cooperation.”

    The Israeli political ethos has warmed to these Christian communities since the times of Menachem Begin, who oversaw the transition of a liberal based Israeli government to that of a Likud based one — a party influenced by orthodox Judaism — the Christian equivalent of a fundamentalist group.

    The Biblical imagery and geographical rhetoric that the Likud party espouses is easily understood by the Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, which makes the attraction between the Likud and these Christians a natural one.

    The Israeli Government feels comfortable with this arrangement because money donated comes with what appears few strings attached. An Op-Ed by Abraham H. Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League detailed this in Time Magazine, “The support comes voluntarily, and we welcome it, as long as it comes without a quid pro quo.”(20) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/howjewsseefp.html How Jews See it: Foreign Policy and Christian Zionists: Time Magazine, January 16th, 2007

    The Christian organizations that offer material support believe the country and its politicians are mandated by God, and their assistance is to accelerate modern Israel’s self-determined course to Armaggedon. They feel direct intervention on how and where the money should be used would be counter-productive to the unfolding of the events leading to the end of the world.

    Much of the closeness between Evangelicals and the Israeli Government can be traced to the late American Evangelist, Jerry Falwell, and his close relationship with Israeli leader Menachem Begin. It has been asserted the relationship was so close, that Falwell was loaned a Lear jet by the Israeli government. A deeper look reveals this to be false, according to the Israeli-American writer, Zev Chafets.(21) Zev Chafets. A Match Made in Heaven. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 2007. pg. 66

    Falwell once stated that the Israeli government can be confident that he could mobilize over 70 million Christians in support of Israel.(22) Donald Wagner. Evangelicals and Israel: Theological roots of a political alliance. Christian Century. Nov. 4. 1998 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_1998_Nov_4/ai_53227143/pg_4

    Little is said or written about what the average Israeli perceives the Christian Zionist in a one-to-one conversation. Zev Chafets appreciates such enthusiasm to support the Israeli cause. He turns a blind eye to their religious fervour and is simply in favour of anybody who defends Israel from being taken off the map.(23) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/howjewsseefp.html On Fresh Air: Chafets shrugs off Christian Right Agenda, Israeli attack on Iran. Terry Gross interviews Chafets on Fresh Air, January 18th, 2007.

    Chafets explores the modern Israeli relationship with Christian Zionism in his book, A Matchmade in Heaven. He described this association through an experience touring with a Christian Zionist couple in Israel. While they were in a store, he was talking with an Israeli clerk about his touring friends. In English, they are appreciated, but in a short Hebrew dialogue between Chafets and the clerk, they find them weird(24) IBID Chafets. Pg. 41. . When he worked in the Israeli government, he found “…that Christian Zionists were politically useful, even if their hypersincerity was a bit off-putting.”(25) IBID Chafets. Pg. 10.

    This relationship is a gamble that the religious observant Jew or modern liberal Israeli has made with much trepidation. Ira Rifkin wrote in Jewish Week that he is concerned about the long-term consequences of using the Christian Zionists for the Israeli national agenda. A variety of issues could rise that deeply split the Christian from the Jewish communities and cause a new wave of anti-Semitism.(26) http://www.thejewishweek.com/top/editletcontent.php3?artid=2389 The Jewish Week: Beware of Christian Zionists by Ira Rifkin. Nov. 22, 2002. Gershom Gorenberg echoed this same sentiment in an on-line New Republic article, stating that Reverend Jerry Falwell believed the anti-Christ was alive today and was male and Jewish. This type of religious vernacular indicated to Mr. Gorenberg that Christian fanaticism could quickly turn against the Jews.(27) Tribulations: Jerusalem’s Y2K problem by Gershom Gorenberg. The New Republic: a journal of politics and the arts. JUNE 14, 1999 ISSUE

    John Hagee and his organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has especially brought the relationship of Christian Zionism with mainstream American Judaism to a head. Hagee’s invitation to have a forum at a convention held by the powerful lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and CUFI’s ‘Nights to Honor Israel’, at local Churches has especially increased discussion.(28) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/07b/yoffie.html Rabbi Moline, an ultra-conservative Rabbi who fiercely crusades against intermarriage and the religious right, is a known sponsor of Hagee’s fundraisers even though he doesn’t like his theology or politics, “…we live in a time when friends of Israel are few and far between. We have to recognize that we are receiving support from the Evangelical community that we are not receiving from our traditional friends.”(29) http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14013 Growing Acceptance seen of fiery Pastor by James D. Besser, Thursday, Aug. 23rd, 2007

    The problem has been addressed by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. They called on Jews to shun the annual International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem’s 2007 Feast of Tabernacles celebration held in Jerusalem. The Rabbinate cannot comprehend the modern Evangelical end-fervor and could only logically conclude that this was a plot to convert Jews to Christianity.(30) http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/World/2007/09/23/4520803-ap.html, Evangelicals disturbed by Israel rabbis’ call for Jews to shun holiday event. By Amy Teibel, The Associated Press, September 23rd, 2007.

    What would happen if the Evangelical community discovered that they have been used by the Israeli Government and Jewish allies for their own political means? This scenario would likely never happen as the Pentecostal/Evangelical mindset on end-times is so deeply set, that it could not reach this state of consciousness.

    Could the Evangelical support switch into a deep form of anti-Semitism? Contrary to the fears of many Rabbis and Jewish religious pundits, this is not going to happen. If anything, the new problem is that of Philo-Semitism, and the expectations that come with it.

    What could be the potential turning point? A worst-case scenario is the election of a majority Labor government, who in turn would legislate and destroy illegal settlements, outlaw expansionism, and begin to introduce more liberal laws into Israel such as universal abortion on demand, recognition of same-sex marriages, and a significantly re-drawn two-state solution with Palestinians. The Christian Zionist organizations then would react two-fold: first, Christian Zionist money and political leverage would substantially shift from the Israeli Government to the territories and radical religious Jewish groups. Secondly, the Christian Zionist movement would become politically silent on military offences or defences for or against Israel, believing it to be a punishment on a government that has lost its God given mandate and in need of spiritual correction.■

    For more information:

    This article was originally published on the ScribD website in 2007. It is republished here with some changes.

    References   [ + ]

    Is Middle East News Coverage Balanced?

    Western readers should put their critical thinking hats on and be very careful when reading or viewing Middle East affairs — looks can be deceiving.

    For example, take the Israeli-Hezballah conflict that happened in the summer of 2006. Three different Hebrew editions of the same article on Haaretz’s website appeared over 48 hours, with each subsequent one including less definitive information.

    This is exactly what happened with Joav Stern’s article published on Haaretz’s Hebrew online website on July 29, 2006.

    In the original version Stern included Hassan Nasrallah’s speech made on the Lebanese Television station, Al-Manar as the lead-off paragraph. He cited Nasrallah’s conditions for a ceasefire, the return of prisoners, restoration of the geographical area of the Shebat Farms from Israel and more… This can’t be verified any longer because within 12 hours this statement was removed from Stern’s article.

    The new header paragraph copy was posted by July 29 on or before 10:00 pm with Nasrallah’s conditions of ceasefire removed. After this paragraph, the rest of the body copy remained virtually the same.

    Then within another 12 hours it changed for the third time, and this time it appeared to be the final copy. The header paragraph related to Lebanese protesters in Beirut exhorting Hassan to bomb Tel-Aviv.

    After the new header paragraph, the body copy is virtually the same.

    The final copy is a big shift from the original. It changed from an article covering a political problem of prisoner exchange, and historic territorial rights between Israel and its neighbors to one where Israel was under attack. The first one could potentially inspire the international community to broker a deal on land between the disputing parties. The final copy emphasized Israel defending its existence. The western world normally sides with Israel when its sovereignty is threatened, and it worked. Nasrallah’s demand for land repatriation was permanently erased from the western mindset.

    There were no instructions or digital signature identifying that this article had been revised or modified. Haaretz was contacted by email to give a detailed account of why this occurred without notification but never replied.

    I was not looking for this outcome at all, being a slow Hebrew reader and interrupted often, I had to go to this page frequently over a 24 hour time-frame to complete reading it. This is why I discovered it was changing. It was completely by chance.

    Also, this discovery cannot be substantiated, and only remains in the realm of opinion. The article was not saved at the key periods of the changes by me.

    Definitive answers on why this article changed three times and switched its emphasis are hard to come by. One can only hypothesize.

    It could be that this is an acceptable practice to change an article without notice within the Israeli community. However, this argument is weak. Haaretz is well known for sticking to professional international journalist standards.

    Another option is that the military censor requested it be changed. The military censor has a lot of power in Israel and this is not out of the question.

    The English edition of the article in Haaretz never went through this same evolution. It was a general summary article that was not based on the Hebrew edition.

    It is not fair to only exemplify Israel as marketing their own brand of stories to win international attention. It is certain that newspapers throughout the Arabic speaking world do the same thing. I don’t know Arabic and can’t pinpoint any specific case. This is a problem of human nature that transcends all races, societies and religions.

    This example should warn any readers or viewers of Middle East affairs, that whatever coverage is made on the issues of the day, don’t be gullible. It may be rhetoric, marketing of a sovereign brand, or misdirecting from the real issues.