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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Faith in the Face of Empire – Omphaloskepsis

“As the navel is set in the center of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world…” [i]

In chapter four of his book Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes, Mitri Raheb examines the image of Palestine as the center - the omphalos – the navel of the world. 

Ancient mapmakers often portrayed (at the expense of accuracy) the geographic features of the world this way because it conformed to the way they thought of the world. But while Palestine might be the religious center for much of the world and while it might arguably be the geographic center – it has never been the political center.  Palestine has always been at the edge. (Raheb, 49)[ii]

Palestine has been at the periphery of empires - at the margins of power. [iii]  It has been a buffer zone between the empires and between the egos and ambitions of powerful leaders.  “Palestine was often the distance each of the empires needed from the others to feel secure or the red line that no other power should cross.  In reality, and geo-politically, Palestine is, in fact, nothing but a land on the margins.  Contrary to its religious reputation and geographical location, in reality and geo-politically the land lies on the periphery of the Fertile Crescent and is a borderland for diverse empires (Raheb, 51).”

It is a land that has been constantly fought over – but without any real concern for the land (or its people).  Successive empires have fought over it, and in it, and for it – but only as a hedge against other powers.  “Wars constitute reality in Palestine,” says Raheb. “I know this not merely from history books but from my own experience.  I am just fifty years old and have already lived through nine wars (Raheb, 51).”

This long history of occupation and wars for control has influenced the writing of our scriptures and the way that we interpret them.  “Being a largely occupied land, liberation from occupation is a central theme throughout history and plays a major role in the Bible.”  Think through the story from Abraham leaving the Fertile Crescent, through the sojourn in Egypt, the stories of conquest, the conflict with Canaanite tribes, the political machinations of the kings of Israel and Judah, the hope and warnings given by the prophets, the gospel of Jesus… The theme of liberation and freedom runs all through the scriptures. Yet, “maintaining control of the land and promoting the unity of its people remain an uphill struggle (Raheb, 53 – 54).”

Chapter 1  - The Longview of History
Chapter 2  - Dispelling the Myth of Judeo-Christian Tradition
Chapter 3  - The Geo-Politics of the Middle East

[i] Midrash on Ezekiel 38:12 – Tanhuma, Kedashim Ch. 10
[ii] Raheb, Mitri, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2014.
[iii] How appropriate then, that from this marginal land should come a Marginal Jew

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