YHVH HAS A SENSE OF HUMOR – WHEN A PALESTINIAN WAS REALLY AN ISRAELITE
By Avi ben Mordechai
It seems these days; the term “Palestine” is considered an unsavory word. The same is true for using the term “Palestinian.” It is drilled into our minds that these terms, “Palestine” and “Palestinian” are in fact, made-up terms that describe political forces that want to eradicate Israel off the face of the map; that the terms really should not be in use among all of us who truly love Israel. So, I say, is this true? Are these terms nothing more than man-made words? Well, if I must say it, the gag is on us and it shows us that Yehovah really does have quite a sense of humor! The truth is, the terms, “Palestine” and “Palestinian” are magnificent concepts that raise up and bring honor to Israel and glory to the Holy One of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Never mind that prior to 1948, this Land of Israel was in fact called Palestine. It is no surprise to anyone that knows anything about our history here, that long before Arafat, Abu Mazen, the “PLO” and many other “Anti-Jewish” political entities, Eretz Israel was in fact called “Palestine.” It was not so long ago when we had the Palestinian Post, now today’s Jerusalem Post. During the period of time referred to as the “British Mandate,” Palestine was a common term here! However, I am not interested in focusing on our recent history of the term. You can do this on your own, if you wish. Rather, I want to take you on a journey into some ancient historical and also some biblical texts of all Israel to show you why using the terms Palestine and Palestinian is actually “way cool” and very scriptural!
It is assumed by most people that the name Palestine is strictly connected to ancient Israel’s archenemy, the Philistines; that by using the term Palestine or Palestinian, we are essentially giving the “Philistines” a place “on-stage” to continue their public orations and harassments against the Jews. However, let the truth be known: every time we hear the term Palestinian, we should in fact, be smiling and with delight, praising our Father in Heaven for His humor and saying, “Thank You for preserving the Light of our Father Jacob through the use of a Greek Pun,” a play on words!
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh) the English term Palestine derives from P’leshet – see Psalm 60:10 in Hebrew (60:8, English), Psalm 108:10, Isaiah 14:29 and 31, Joel 4:4, Amos 9:7, Zephaniah 2:5. Of course, in Hebrew, we know this term well because it describes the people of Philistia! But consider this: there is evidence, both philological and geographical and also in the Bible, that the term was likely a pun for the Land of Israel and an Israelite, via the Greek Palaistine and the Latin Palaestina.
The Greek Palaistine and the Latin Palaestina actually appear in some ancient writings NOT as a reference to the Land of the Philistines but more interestingly, to the Land of Israel, itself! As early as the Histories of Herodotus, which was written sometime during the second half of the fifth century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), essentially around the time of the Prophet Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah), the term Palaistine is used to describe the entire area between Phoenicia and Egypt, meaning “The Land of Israel!” Herodotus, who had traveled the area, would have had firsthand knowledge of this Land and the people. His understanding of the geographical extent of the term is reflected in his reference to the population of Palaistine as being circumcised (Herodotus Histories 2.104). This is important because in the biblical texts, we know that the Philistines were uncircumcised as shown to us in 1 Samuel 14:6, 1 Samuel 17:26, 1 Samuel 31:4, 2 Samuel 1:20 and many other references. Herodotus knew about the “Jewish People” because he mentions in his writings, the destruction of Sennacherib’s army by an act of God (Herodotus 2.141; Isaiah 37:36, 2 Chronicles 32:21, Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 10.21).
Greek philosopher Aristotle also gives us a very strong impression that when he used the term Palestine, he specifically meant the Land of Israel. His description follows with that of a body of water IN PALESTINE, a body of water that could only be the Dead Sea because it is a place where neither man nor beast could sink; water ,which was known to be bitter and salty and was not a habitat for fish. This specific body of water is mentioned as being situated in Palaistine (Palestine) – that is, the Land of Israel (see the work of Menachem Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, Volume 1,From Herodotus to Plutarch, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1974, pp. 6-7). One additional note: Aristotle could not have been referring to the Land of the Philistines (the area of Tel Aviv and Gaza today) because the waters of the Dead Sea are geographically separated from Tel Aviv and Gaza by the hills and the Wilderness of Judea. The two areas are simply not connected.
Another Greek – a historian – by the name of Polemo of Ilium, made a comment about the biblical Exodus and B’ne Israel (the Sons of Israel) saying that the Egyptian army was expelled from Egypt and established itself in the country called Palestinian Syria (Polemo of Ilium, Greek History, quoted by Church Father Eusebius in his Evangelical Preparation 10.10.15). We know this to be true historically and archaeologically that Egypt was in fact involved politically and militarily in many parts of this Land including having their control of Megiddo (1 Kings 9:16) and Bet She’an on the eastern frontier of the Jezreel Valley.
Among the Latin (Roman) writers, Ovid speaks of the observance of the Jewish Sabbath IN PALESTINE (Art of Love, 1.416). The same holds true for Philo, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria who lived early in the first century of this Common Era. He too, used the term Palestine when referring to the Land of Israel in saying that a large portion of this area called Palestine was occupied by the populous nation of the Jews.
Amongst our own people, there is also Josephus, who writes in his Antiquities of the Jews about our life as Jews in Palestine (Antiquities 20.259), indicating that the Greek term Palaistinoi, which Josephus uses consistently to describe the Land of the Philistines, has a much wider geographical context.
According to David Jacobson, in an article that he wrote on this subject for the Biblical Archaeology Society back in the 1990s, he said some rather interesting things concerning the language of the Septuagint, a work of the Greek Jews that was done in Alexandria in the third century B.C.E. I am not going to address this here because I consider Jacobson’s academic comments a bit too technical for what I am trying to present to you here. Nonetheless, if you are interested in the technicalities of language however, you should look closely at the way the Septuagint uses the Greek term Philistieim (the Land of the Philistines) as compared to the Hebrew terms Peleshet and Ge’ton Philistieim.
So, the issue is this: where did this term “Palestine” originate? Where did the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Jews get it from? To answer this question, I would like us to turn to the Hebrew Tanakh at Genesis 32:25-27. You should know this story because it is about Jacob and his wrestling with a man at the river Yabbok.
The word Palaistine is very similar to the Greek Palaistes, which means, “wrestler,” “rival,” “adversary.” In the Hebrew text that describes Jacob’s wrestling with an unnamed angel or messenger, the Hebrew term is “sarita.” When the Greek Septuagint translators came to this story about Jacob, they translated sarita with the Greek verb epalaien (he wrestled). Based on my utilizing Greek lexicons (since I cannot say that I know Greek but I do have tools to access Greek), I find that there appears to be an etymological similarity between epalaien and palaistine. Consider also, that Sha’ul (Paul) in the Brit haChadasha (New Testament), who was quite familiar with Greek, referred to a spiritual wrestling match by using a word from the Greek “Pale” (with a long “e” sound, as in Pal-ee). Of course, it is clear that Sha’ul was making a reference to the story of Genesis Chapter 32 and Jacob who was wrestling with an angel.
Historically, we know the Greeks were well versed in the epics of their heroes and would have likely been intrigued by the biblical explanation of the name ISRAEL, as transmitted to them by the Jews during the early classical Greek period. Among the Greeks, wrestling was a popular sport and even in some Greek decorative art, wrestling is glorified. In chasing down references to wrestling in Greek culture, it would be easy to understand how the Greeks, might have thought of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) as a great hero and wrestler who stood up to an adversary! Further, we know the ancient Greeks loved wordplay, puns, and double meanings. For example, Aristophanes, a Greek playwright, mentions Kardia in connection to a character to indicate that he is without “heart,“ meaning without courage.
Wrestling for Greeks was an everyday part of life and the arts. Again, this would strongly explain to us why Sha’ul (Paul) would use the metaphor of wrestling (Greek: Pale) to strike a deep chord into the Greek minds of his own day and connect this to our Father Ya’acov or Jacob in his encounter of Genesis Chapter 32. Thus, Jacob’s descendants would have been known as Palaistes, based on the Greek word for a “wrestler,” which also would have made an excellent pun with the name for the Land of the Philistines!
In other words, the striking similarity between the Greek Palaistes (wrestler) in comparison to the Greek Palaistine and Hebrew P’leshet (both serving as references to the Land of the Philistines or biblical Philistia) makes it very tempting to see this connection as a pun on the Land of Israel and on the Land of the Philistines. And certainly, we have plenty of historical, geographical and philological evidence to support the idea. In the eyes of the Greeks, the people of Israel were descendants of an eponymous hero who was a “god” – a wrestler (a palaistes!)
Thus, we have what appears to be a perfectly logical explanation of how Palaistine originated as a pun on Israel and on the Philistines; a pun that eventually became known to us as Palestine.
This being said, it would show us that Yehovah (YHVH) truly has a great sense of humor! He allows Jacob’s brother Esav (Esau) and his descendants (a mixture of Ishmaelite and Amalekite cultures) today to assert, “We are Palestinians. Support our cause and liberate our Land of Palestine.” On hearing this general mantra over numerous past decades, many among the nations find themselves standing in support of the Palestinian cause! In this is the irony however, because what they are really doing is standing in support of the cause of the establishing of the Land of Israel and the establishing of the people of the Land of Israel – the descendants of Jacob – the one who was the wrestler of Genesis Chapter 32. Yehovah has turned the tables on everyone and those that know the truth, know why this Land of Israel is struggling. It is essentially a wresting ring and within it, a wrestling match is taking place between Light (The true spiritual Garden of Eden) and Darkness (the World outside of the Garden).
Proudly, I think that we, among all Israel, should laugh in joy with Yehovah and declare to the world without reservation, “WE ARE PALESTINIANS; THE TRUE PALESTINIANS, BECAUSE WE ARE B’NE ISRAEL!” IT’S NOT JUST A PHYSICAL PLACE. IT IS A CHOSEN PEOPLE THAT WRESTLES WITH LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS; A PEOPLE OF THE BOOK – WHO WRESTLE IN THE WORLD BUT ARE NOT OF THE WORLD, BECAUSE WE ARE SEEKING TO LIVE IN THE MIDST OF THE SPIRITUAL GARDEN OF EDEN – THE WITNESS OF THE TORAH OF TRUTH, IN YESHUA.