This posting is about Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. In 2010 I attended the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace Breakfast at General Assembly. This organization, which I belong to, focuses on truth telling and cares for both Israelis and Palestinians. It was there I saw Raheb.
At the breakfast the last speaker, Rachel Lerner, Vice President of J Street, a Jewish organization which stands slightly to the left of the more conservative Jewish organizations was just gathering up her papers and trying to answer questions as people left or mingled about. I went forward wishing to thank Lerner for her speech. But I had to wait as Mitri Raheb harassed her. She was extremely polite to him.
I have written about Raheb before. Recently I wrote about his participation in the 2010 “Christ at the Checkpoint Conference” and much earlier I wrote about his 2004 speech at a Reformed Church in America breakfast where the speakers focused on the Belhar Confession. The recent posting is Liberation theology or Christian Zionism? Why not Reformed instead! The earlier posting is Using the Belhar Confession to overcome Israel’s “racism,” and as a means to bring about repentance from those desiring a Jewish State! The earlier posting links to Raheb’s speech, “The Practical Implications of the Belhar Confession From the Perspective of Palestine."
Reading through both of the speeches given by Raheb, the one at the Checkpoint Conference, and the one at the RCA breakfast, one sees a theologian who is both a universalist and an anti-Semitic, not an unusual combination. Raheb also speaks of himself as a contextual theologian which in his case most likely means he is a liberation theologian.
Raheb, who in 2003 was visiting professor at Louisville Theological Seminary and mission partner in residence for the P.C. (U.S.A.), hoped to use the Belhar Confession as a means of unity among the three monotheistic faiths, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as they exist in the Middle East today. He saw the words “people of God” in the confession and wished to change the wording to ‘peoples’ of God. This would have diluted the confession completely; confessing Christ would no longer have meaning to the confessors.
Raheb also hoped Belhar could be used to induce the Jews to stay in dialogue with mainline denominations and Palestinian Christians by confessing Israel’s sin of apartheid. His inference was that without such a confession there could be no dialogue. Raheb stated that:
Isn’t it time for a clear Jewish confession or for maybe a joint Jewish-Christian confession regarding the lands and the people under Israeli occupation? We have been confessing our sins to the Jewish people over and over again for fifty years now. [Raheb is referring to the Declaration of Barmen] And we do not regret doing that. But we should now expect our Jewish partners to confess their sins against the Palestinian people. A moment of truth has come. This issue, I believe, will either make or break Jewish-Christian dialogue.But Raheb’s feelings toward the Jewish people of Israel as well as the Jews of Europe and America can only be regarded as anti-Semitic after his 2010 speech at Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. During that speech, Raheb not only insisted that the Jews that came from Eastern Europe were not linked by genetics to the ancient biblical Israelites, he also insisted that the Palestinians and only a part of the Jews, those who had always lived in the area, “are the continuation of the peoples of the land.” Of the immigrant Jews who inhabit Israel, Raheb states:
I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.Raheb is referring to the Khazars when he writes of an East European tribe that converted to Judaism in the middle ages. And there was such a tribe that did convert. In fact the European Jews were proud that a whole tribe had converted to Judaism. But that does not make every Jew living in Diaspora a member of the Khazars.
All anti-Semites use the Khazars as a means of insisting that the Jews are not the Jews. Some white Americans who belong to anti-Semitic groups related to the KKK use the Khazars to insist that the supposedly 10 lost tribes of Israel are the Caucasian peoples of Europe and the United States. Those groups are referred to as “Christian Identity.” Raheb uses the Khazars to insist the Palestinians are the only peoples, plus a few Jews, who have a legal right to the Holy Land. He is also anti-Semitic.
One very interesting and helpful book which refutes so much of Raheb’s and other’s nonsense is Jacob’s Legacy: a Genetic View of Jewish History by David B. Goldstein who is professor of molecular genetics and director of the Institute for Genome Science and Policy’s Center for Population Genomics and Pharmacogenetics, Duke University.
There are many fascinating stories in the book but the important one against Raheb’s vague insistences is that Goldstein along with a another professor was able to trace genetically the Jewish office of priest, using those Jewish males who consider themselves to be Cohanim, “directly descended from one of the many priests who served in the Temple in Jerusalem.” To their own surprise they went back almost three thousand years, the genetic trail did not stop on a Russian hill filled with Khazars.
As Goldstein relates the end of the story of research:
One by one, Neil [Bradman] read the microsatellite scores for each chromosome carried by the Cohanim. As he spoke, I entered each number into the equation and tallied up the totals. Slowly the data began to take shape, and as they did, the presumptive date for the Cohan Modal Haplotype began to recede farther and farther down the corridors of time. “Do you know where we are going?” I said, feeling like a window had opened from the modern world into something ancient, powerful, and hidden.Goldstein also looked into the idea that the Ashkenazi Jews might possess some of the genetic material of the Khazars. He did not find that connection although he actually wanted to. But the important point here is that the Jewish immigrants that came to Israel are not lacking Jewish DNA.
When the last figure had been entered, we were stunned into silence. “We are in the First Temple,” I said eventually. We were both quiet again for a time.
At the end, Raheb was hurrying through the latter part of his Checkpoint speech. He mentions that he is running out of time. The end result is a bit garbled but he seems to place Jesus’ mission into his own context of denying that the Jews of Israel have any right to the land and of affirming that the Palestinians do. Land is always important; the pro-Palestinians/anti-Israelites use other’s exegesis of scripture to prove the land is not important and then insist that it is.
Raheb believes that Christ brought a kingdom without boundaries and the beginning of the right spirit to the people of the Middle East. The best one can say of Raheb’s theology is that he attempts to universalize the kingdom of Jesus and at the same time make it relevant to his own people. However, there seems to be no thoughts about redemption from a biblical viewpoint. He does not say that either the Jew or the Muslim needs Jesus. But above all Raheb attempts to remove the Jewish identity from the Jewish people who now inhabit the State of Israel.