Jesus was Judean (& why this matters)
JESUS WAS JUDEAN
Jesus was born in the Roman-occupied province of Judea. Most historians and Biblical scholars calculate the actual year of his birth to be between 4-6 CE.
Judea officially became a Roman province in 6 CE. Previously, Judea was a client kingdom of the Roman Empire. Before then, the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty ruled Judea between 110-63 BCE, a brief period of (semi) Judean self-determination after hundreds of years of foreign imperial rule. Before the rule of the Hasmonean dynasty, Judea was last an independent, Judean (Jewish) autonomous kingdom in 586 BCE.
The name “Jewish” comes from “Judean.” In most languages — including Hebrew — the word “Jewish” and “Judean” is the same. Judea comes from the “Kingdom of Judah” (930-586 BCE). The Kingdom of Judah split from the Kingdom of Israel (1047-930 BCE) in 930 BCE.
THE ROMAN OCCUPATION OF JUDEA
In 63 BCE, a Roman general, Pompey the Great, captured Judea from the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty. In the years that followed, Judea became a “client kingdom” of the Roman Empire, during which Jews, for the most part, were allowed cultural and religious freedom. By 6 CE, however, after the fall of the Herodian Tetrarchy, Judea came under full Roman military and political control.
The Roman occupation of Judea was a period of serious civil unrest. During this time, Jews repeatedly tried to overthrow the foreign imperial power. Three wars broke out between the Jews and the Romans: the First Jewish-Roman War (66-70), the Kitos War (115-117), and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135).
All three of these revolts took place after the death of Jesus.
The First-Jewish Roman War and the Bar Kokhba Revolt were particularly catastrophic. The First-Jewish Roman War culminated with the destruction of the Holy Jewish Temple. To this day, the remaining Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray. Unfortunately, because of the geopolitical situation, Jews are not allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, the actual holiest place in Judaism. Today, the Al-Aqsa mosque sits atop Temple Mount.
The Bar Kokhba Revolt culminated in the Hadrianic genocide, when the Romans massacred over half a million Jews (up to a million if the subsequent famine is taken into account), expelled hundreds of thousands from Judea, and sold many others into slavery. Many of these Jewish slaves were taken to Rome and other parts of the Roman Empire. It’s likely that many Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews are the descendants of these slaves.
Significantly, it was after the Bar Kokhba Revolt — about a hundred years after the death of Jesus — that the Romans changed the name of Judea to Syria-Palestina.
NAME-CHANGE TO PALESTINE
Following the catastrophic Jewish Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Romans, the Romans changed the name of the province of Judea to Syria-Palestina (in doing so, they merged the former province of Judea with the province of Syria). This (forcibly imposed) name change happened about 100 years after the death of Jesus.
The mainstream historical narrative is that this was done so as punishment to the Jews, to sever Jewish connection and autonomy over the land. Some historians debate this view.
The name “Palestine” has a couple of potential origins. Most historians and linguists believe it comes from the Hebrew word “peleshet” (Philistine in English), the Hebrew root which translates to “invader.”
While Judea officially became Palestine after the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the name Palestine had been in use for many centuries beforehand. However, its use was not in specific reference to Judea (modern-day Israel-Palestine), but rather, referred to a loosely-defined region along the Levantine Mediterranean coast. In other words, Jesus himself would not have identified as Palestinian. He would’ve identified as Judean.
ORIGINS OF CHRISTMAS
While Palestinian Christians do celebrate Christmas — just as Christians do all over the world — Christmas is not an inherently (or originally) Palestinian holiday. That claim is ahistorical.
For one thing, Christmas was first celebrated about 300 years after the death of Jesus. The holiday originated in Rome, not in Palestine.
Most Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25. Historians and archeologists widely agree that Jesus was actually born in the late summer/early fall months. Christmas is celebrated December 25 because that date marked the Roman festivity of the winter solstice. The first recorded Christmas celebration took place on December 25, 336, about 300 years after Jesus died.
WHY HISTORICITY MATTERS
Palestinians have every right to celebrate Jesus as a historical figure of their own. But Jesus would’ve identified as Judean. As Jews, we see this effort to divorce Jesus from his Judean identity as a continuous erasure of Jewish identity, culture, history, peoplehood, resistance, and Indigeneity. This erasure, as explained in the previous slides, began during the Roman occupation of Judea. Erasure is a colonial tool to strip Indigenous tribes of their agency over their land. We see this happening all over the world, from the Turkish denial of Kurdish self-determination to the United States’ treatment of Native People.*
Rewriting the identity of a 3000+ year old tribe because of a 73-year-old geopolitical conflict is not only insincere but also harmful to Jews. Asking us to give up who we are — who we’ve been for the past 3000 years — to gain your acceptance or to support your political narrative is outright antisemitism. Our identity and history is so much larger than the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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