On the April 6, 2016 edition of the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff invited Dr. Gary Burge onto the broadcast for an interview. Gary is a professor of New Testament at Wheaton. He holds a PhD in New Testament studies from Aberdeen University in Scotland. He’s the author of two incredible books; one is entitled Whose Land Whose Promise, and the other Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to Holy Land Theology.
Hank Hanegraaff: Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending some time with Dr. Gary Burge in the West Bank and I am delighted to have you on the broadcast.
Gary Burge: Thanks Hank. It’s really great to be with you again.
Hank: I want to quote from your book Whose Land Whose Promise and get your reaction. I saw this up close and personal once again a couple of weeks ago but the quote from Bethlehem pastor Mitri Raheb. He says,
I am a Palestinian [Christian] living under Israeli occupation. My captor daily seeks ways to make life harder for me. He encircles my people with barbed wire; he builds walls around us, and his army sets many boundaries around us. He succeeds in keeping thousands of us in camps and prisons. Yet despite all these efforts, he has not succeeded in taking my dreams from me. I have a dream that one day I will wake up and see two equal peoples living next to each other, coexisting in the land of Palestine, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan.
The reason I bring up this quote is I want to start by asking you whether this is simply a vain dream in light of the strong Zionist predilection to completely cleanse the land of everyone but those who can legitimately say they are Jews and that based on a theology, a theology called Christian Zionism.
Gary: Yeah, Hank, thanks for that, that is a marvelous quote from Mitri Raheb. Mitri Raheb is one of the most famous Palestinian pastors who reside in Bethlehem, of course, and your listeners may not know, but, he’s an amazing pastor and theologian, prolific writer as well. I don’t think it’s a vain dream at all. I think that what’s unfortunately happening today is that too much of the politics of both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side are conducted by sort of outspoken extreme voices, and moderate voices, like Mitri’s, and there are many moderate voices inside of Israel as well, understand that this land, this country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan intimately will have to be shared. This idea of building what we call an ethnocracy—rule by a race—is just simply not going to be sustainable. So, I mean today, for instance, 49% of the population of greater Israel between Mediterranean and the Jordan is Palestinian, and they have a really high birth rate. So everyone knows that in 50 or 60 years the population will be majority Palestinian. Minorities cannot rule majorities and have a sustainable future. It just doesn’t work that way. It didn’t work in South Africa, it won’t work here. So I tell my friends who really do love Israel, and I think we all should, you know, love both peoples in this conflict, it seems to me that the only future that Israel has is to become what I call a bi-national state, that is to say, two nations, two peoples, learning how to share this world together. Otherwise, if you simply have a policy of containment, like Mitri describes—right now Palestinians of the West Bank, over 2 ½ million of them, live behind a 30 foot wall, electrified fences, check points everywhere, regular shootings—this experience just makes a population explode., and I don’t believe there’s a future for that at all.
Hank: You contributed to the Christian Research Journal a Summary Critique Review, a review of the book Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948. It’s a book by Noga Kadman. An important book in that the story of what happen to the Palestinians in the birth of modern Israel in 1948 is not well known to most Christian intellectuals in the West. I would say most Christians period.
Gary: No. Most Christians don’t know this part of the story. Actually I think, I’m really, really glad that the Journal had us review this book because most American listeners that I meet and speak to when I’m out on the road at conferences is they don’t realize that when Israel became a nation in 1948, the Jews were actually in a strong minority in the country. They did a British census in 1948; there were 1.3 million Palestinians and 600,000 Jews. So, therefore, the Israelis knew as they began their state, they had to do a couple things: they had to move out a huge population—we call it ethnic cleansing—and that they destroyed the villages that these people came from or they gave their homes and properties to incoming Jewish settlers. But what Noga Kadman has done is she has written the definitive book telling about how this ethnic cleansing worked like, just like machines, it was just incredible. Then what she does is she quantifies exactly what happens in all these villages. So, she did case studies of how villages were cleansed, how populations were moved, and at the end of the book, she actually gives you a catalogue of all four hundred some odd villages, and what was there, what’s left today. If you go to Israel as a tourist, you’ll never be shown this stuff. This is the dark secret. I think of it as the dark hidden secret which is in Israel and every Israeli knows it but they can barely talk about it. To build the state they had to cleanse the land, they felt, and this led to enormous suffering for three quarter of a million people, about 750,000 people were essentially affected by this. So, yeah, Kadman’s book is really, really important indisputable evidence of the cleansing of the land.
Hank: You are a New Testament theologian, and ideas have consequences, you think about the Christian Zionist notion that the cleansing, the ethnic cleansing of the land is a divine command. For Zionists, secular Zionists, this is a defensible cruelty, but for Christians it’s a divine command. And this gets down to a hermeneutical issue doesn’t it?
Gary: Oh, it does. It really does, because, in fact Hank that’s exactly right, because what they do is they read the land promise to Abraham, say in Genesis 12, and what they do is they jump from that to the Book of Joshua, and see how Joshua then used military violence to cleanse the land of Canaanites, and then they jump from there to the twentieth century, and they think that those models for land promise and land reclamation, these all ought to be in play today. What they have jumped over are the prophets of the Old Testament and they jumped right over the New Testament and that’s why I wrote that book Jesus and the Land because I think that as Christians we need to think theologically about land promise and what we believe as Christians about territory and God’s presence in the Holy Land.
Hank: A couple of weeks ago I was speaking in the West Bank and talking about the gospel in the face of religious extremism. Now I pointed out that two fault lines run through the Zionist landscape: one is the promises God made to Abraham were not fulfilled in the past, and, therefore, they must be fulfilled in the present or the future, and the second thing is that God has two distinct people; your comments.
Gary: Well, I think the issue here is that—I think in the Old Testament they understand that that promise of land was actually fulfilled in the arrival of Joshua, the establishment of the tribal lands under judges, and the establishment of the monarchy in the Old Testament. I think the important thing for us to remember is the New Testament is reconfiguring what it means to understand land in God’s providence. What the New Testament has done is it says, look even though Judaism is territorial, we as Christians do not embrace that territorialism. In other words, God’s interest, God’s project today is a different project that He had in the days of Joshua. God’s project today is the reclamation not of the Holy Land from one people, but it is the reclamation of the entire world for all people. So you have a kind of universalizing of the message, a universal embrace of all cultures and nations, and of all lands. That is why the church has always had a worldwide mission because we believe that God does love all cultures and places. So there is no hint inside of the New Testament of the construction of you might say an empire, a nation, a kingdom in the Holy Land, there is instead a charge to go out broadly into all lands. You can actually, Hank, I believe you can find that kind of Christian Zionist impulse right in the Book of Acts. In Acts 1:6 when Jesus arrives in His resurrected glory, the first question that the apostles have for Him is Lord are you now at last in all of your power going to restore Israel’s kingdom. It’s a political question they have. So they have fallen to that low point of thinking God’s interest is in the reconstruction of American political sort of kingdoms. And Jesus deflects the question entirely as, no you are supposed to go to the ends of the earth. So, in other words, the providence, sort of the location of God’s interest is not in the Holy Land; the location of God’s interest is in all lands and therefore go out.
Hank: I’m talking to Gary Burge, he is a professor of New Testament, contributor to the Christian Research Journal, and we’re talking about a review that Gary did on a book entitled Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948. One of the things you write in this review is that,
Both sides had witnessed terrible things but nothing can quite compare with the Palestinian losses of life, residence, and culture that we see…it is difficult to imagine the expulsion of 700,000…people, the demolition of their homes, and the many atrocities they suffered after 1948.
Gary: Right. I know. In fact that’s one of the parts of this whole story that I find the most frustrating personally because, Hank, as you and I know, as you travel in those areas and you do research on what actually happened, when we come back to the United States and we try to describe the Palestinian narrative of their experiences, so many of us either don’t understand it, or really find it hard to acknowledge it. To be sure, Palestinian violence against Israelis is indefensible, and it’s horrible, and it’s subject to condemnation. I understand that. But, what we don’t understand is that there’s violence that goes the other direction as well from Israel to Palestine. It is not always defensive and the number of Palestinians who have been killed is so out of proportion to the Israeli deaths. It’s just hard to believe. Really it’s the loss of hope. You know, you and I, Hank, we have hope because we believe that we have a future. We believe that we can, you know, have a safe home to live in, a career, we have a family, we have a lot of freedom here. The Palestinians have lost hope because they live in containment. It isn’t going to be long before some people are going to look at this and begin to describe it with that horrible word that was used in South Africa. At what point does this become kind of an apartheid situation? Everyone hates to use the word, I understand that, it’s an explosive word, but we have to give these people hope and freedom or else their containment becomes a situation just like that.
Hank: Gary Burge, you are a hero of the faith to me and I deeply appreciate your contribution to the Christian Research Journal.
Gary: Thanks Hank.
Get Gary’s review of Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948 (Indiana University Press, 2015) by Noga Kadman in vol. 39 b, 1 (2016) of the Christian Research Journal. To order, click here.