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Was Jesus a Palestinian?

Recently, political activist Linda Sarsour set Twitter on fire with her tweet, saying “Jesus was a Palestinian.” She supported this idea by noting that the Quran says Jesus was “copper skinned with wooly hair.” Additionally, she maintained that since Jesus was born in Bethlehem (what she considers a Palestinian city) it indicated that the Jesus was a Palestinian. Moreover, she contended that the Jewish people are not a people or ethnic group at all but adherents of a particular religion, Judaism.

Sarsour’s assertions are not new. Last spring, congresswoman Ilhan Omar made the same claim by promoting an article that identified Jesus as a Palestinian. Palestinian leaders, such as Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hanan Ashwari have made the same claim going back for years. What’s the point of this line of argument?

Its primary purpose is to deny the longstanding association of the Jewish people with the land of Israel. This allegation is a way to negate the  continued Jewish presence in the Holy Land from ancient times to the present. In fact, the ultimate goal is to delegitimize the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. But there are a multitude of biblical problems with Sarsour’s claim that Jesus was a Palestinian.

First, it’s historically anachronistic. In the first century, when Jesus was born, Bethlehem was in Judea—just read Matthew 2:5. When the Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem seeking the King of the Jews, the Jewish scholars identified the Messiah’s birthplace as “Bethlehem of Judea.” There was no such place as Palestine. After the failed Jewish revolt against the Romans in AD 135, the Roman emporor Hadrian renamed the land of Israel. He wanted to eliminate the land of Israel’s connection with the Jewish people. So he chose the ancient enemies of the Jewish people, the Philistines, and renamed Judea, “Syria Palestina.”

Second, it is sociologically incorrect. To say that Jewish people are not a people but merely adherents of a religion is to misunderstand Jewishness according to the Bible. God promised Abraham that He would make Him “a great nation” (Gen 12:2). Of course, Judaism has always been associated with that nation. Yet there are many Jewish people who are clearly Jewish but don’t practice Judaism. Jewishness is an ethnicity not simply a religion.

Third, the assertion that Jesus had copper skin and wooly hair is historically suspect. Sarsour’s source for this claim is the Quran—a book filled with historical errors that was written at least 700 years after the gospels. And even if this description is true, that would not disqualify the Jewishness of Jesus. If you compared the Jewish citizens of Israel and the Palestinians there is little to no distinction in appearance. There are dark skinned Jewish people with wooly hair and there are fair skinned Palestinians with straight hair. Moreover, the Quran also associates Jesus with the Jewish people, calling Him a descendant of Abraham and also the Son of David. Even the Quran recognizes that Jesus is Jewish.

Most importantly, the New Testament plainly asserts that Jesus is Jewish. It opens with the statement that He is the descendant of Abraham and David (Matt 1:1). He is repeatedly called the Son of David (Rom 1:3 and 2 Tim 2:8). And most importantly, Paul lists the many gifts God gave the Jewish people, and the ultimate blessing He gave them was that “from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9:5).

The most surprising aspect of this Twitter tempest is the way the Jewish community reacted. For example the American Jewish Committee tweeted: “Mentions of Judea in the NT-48. Mentions of Palestine-0.” The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs called Sarsour’s claim “Fiction, Fairytales, and Lies.” Even Yair Netanyahu, the son of the Israeli Prime Minister reminded Sarsour that “On the cross above Jesus’ head was the sign . . . ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.’”

The best part of Sarsour’s false claim is the Jewish reclamation of Jesus. Now, if only the Jewish leadership would examine the biblical claims that not only is Jesus Jewish, but He is also the King of the Jews and the Messiah of Israel.

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