Christians and the Middle East Conflict

cover image

By: Paul S. Rowe
John H. A. Dyck
Jens Zimmermann, Editor

Publisher: Routledge

New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2014. 187p. $140.00. ISBN: 978-0415743983.

Volume: 2 Issue: 12

December 2014

Review by:

Mauro Sierra III,

University of Texas – Pan-American

Edinburg, TX

Christians and the Middle East Conflict brings the thoughts of ten different authors — all who see the ME conflict through a Christian orientalist perspective. The book is divided into three sections: 1) Theological Perspectives; 2) Historical Perspectives; and 3) Contemporary Perspectives. The first part has three chapters, the second part has three chapters and the third part has four chapters. Paul S. Rowe, one of the three editors of the book is also author of one of the chapters in the book. Rowe says that the purpose of the book is to distinguish the role of Christians in Israel, and to go beyond the theological perspectives of Eschatology and traditional Zionist theologies.

In the first chapter, Salim J. Munayer attempts to provide an alternative theology that could promote reconciliation among the Palestinian Christians and the Messianic Jews of Israel/Palestine. Munayer is the Director of Musalaha Ministry of Reconciliation based out of Jerusalem, Israel. Munayer gives insight on four distinct theologies among Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews and describes how each of these theologies discriminates against either, or both of the two ethnic groups.

Munayer calls for the reconciliation of Palestinian Arabs and Jews as they continue to live in Israel/Palestine. Munayer says, “I will attempt to articulate a theology of reconciliation for Israel-Palestine in the shadow of the cross that will touch on several key theological issues of some significance in the conflict.” (p. 19). Munayer’s hope is that through an accepted Theology of Reconciliation not only will the believers of Jesus find reconciliation through the cross, but both ethnic groups would come to accept these terms of reconciliation for an ethnically tolerant Israel.

In the second chapter, “The New Testament and the Land” by Gary M. Burge, the emphasis involves the defense of Israeli claim to the land of Israel/Palestine. In the first chapter, Munayer calls the Israeli claim to the land idolatrous (p. 23). However, Burge argues that the “land is not simply about possessing real estate; land is about security, identity, cultural cohesion and purpose.” (p. 27). Although it may seem contradicting, the fact that there are two alternative views of the land of Israel-Palestine, it shows the unbiased nature of the book itself.

The third chapter is an interesting combination of Edward Said’s Orientalism and Christian thought. The chapter, “Orientalism in Christian Theology” is written by Magi Abdul-Masih. Abdul-Masih offers Said’s analysis and methodology as a way of understanding the scriptures and bettering Christian hermeneutics. He states, “…not only is there Orientalism in various mainline Western theologies and, more specifically, in the representation of Jesus, but also that Orientalism present in theology plays a role in the political arena, especially in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” (p. 45). He also claims that “for biblical and theological research, the experts are the Orientalists” (p.48).

The second part, Historical Perspectives, begins with Maher Y. Abu-Munshar’s “Christian Reactions to the Muslim Conquest of Jerusalem,” where he gives a balanced historiographical description of Christian reactions to the Muslim conquest of the Holy City. He gives two perspectives — those of who have understood the conquest in a negative light due to some contemporary sources, and that of those who have understood the conquest in a positive light as seen in a more abundant view of contemporary sources given by both clerics and common people. This brief synopsis to the conquest ends with a reaffirmation of a positive light to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem.

The fifth chapter, “Albert Hourani, Arab Christian Minorities and the Spiritual Dimension of Britain’s problem in Palestine, 1938-1947” by Todd Thomson gives a brief, but well explained synopsis of Albert Hourani, his life and his work. He ends with a brief note, “The concerns of Christians like Hourani remind scholars that the historical actors caught up in the Arab-Israeli conflict have assessed its cost not just in terms of culture, economics and politics, but also in terms of the life of the spirit.” (p. 80).

“The Beginnings of a New Coexistence” is the sixth chapter and was written by Akiko Sugase. This chapter deals with the unity of Arabs and Jews through the celebration of the Prophet Elijah (Mar Ilyas) and how the celebration is viewed in the modern day. Sugase states, “I will use the case study of the veneration of Mar Ilyas as a way of refuting the stereotype of Palestine and Israel as the lands of ethno-religious conflict.” (p. 84). He gives a response to whether or not a celebration such as this one can truly unite the peoples of Israel-Palestine and ends by saying: “Conflicts always arise from misunderstanding; before thinking about the way to solve conflicts, we should pay more attention to the local cultures, customs and practices of Palestine and Israel.” (p. 97).

The seventh chapter is the beginning of the third part, Contemporary Perspectives; it was written by Paul S. Rowe and is titled “In this World You will have Trouble: Christians Living Amid Conflict in the Middle East.” This chapter is particularly interesting because it provides a list of various consequences that Christians in various Middle Eastern countries go through as a result of Islamic persecution particularly after any negative interaction with Western countries. Rowe states, “In many cases they have borne the brunt of suspicion that Western foreign policies are deliberately aimed at undermining the faith of Islam and bolstering the Christian and Muslim allies of Western states in the region” (p.101). The Christian minorities then become a target particularly from radical Islamic groups such as the most recent, ISIS. This chapter provides the response of Christian minorities to political and/or militant attacks in the countries of Lebanon and Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Israel-Palestine, respectively.

The eighth chapter, “Christians Working for Peace in the Middle East” was written by Peter E. Makari, and gives an analysis of the work being done by Christians in the post-World War era Middle East with more emphasis on the post-Arab Spring situations. He states, “Middle Eastern Christians — be they Egyptian, Palestinian, Iraqi or Syrian — continue to be a resilient and steadfast presence, despite historic challenges. Their authentic witness to their faith in their unique national contexts demonstrates that reliance and steadfastness” (p. 135).

The ninth chapter, “The Crescent and the Cross are the Marks on My Hands” gives a brief insight into the life and work of Father Manuel Musallam. The chapter was written by Alain Epp Weaver who was a co-participant in work produced by Musallam. Weaver gives perspective to Musallam’s 1993 speech which was given in Jenin. This speech gives a “…poetic description of the Palestinian nation as a body bearing the marks of the crescent and the cross on his hands…” (p. 141). Musallam’s work deals with the reconciliation of Christian and Muslim Palestinians and the desire to have both groups work towards a single Palestinian national identity. Weaver states “National unity is thus narrated through a shared history and a shared geography…” (p. 144) which Musallam uses to bring the Christian and Muslim Palestinians together when he says “As Palestinians, we Christians live with Muslims, and we suffer with Muslims. We did not suffer from them.” (p.146).

This chapter also gives insight into Musallam’s work with Fatah and Hamas as a voice for Christian Palestinians. Musallam currently works, not only on the reconciliation of Christian and Muslim Palestinians, but also on the reconciliation of Fatah-Hamas. Musallam states that the Palestinians are “a single civilization with two religions, that of the Qur’an and that of Gospel” (p. 146) and as such peace must be found.

The tenth and final chapter, “Palestinian Christian Uses of the Bible,” written by Mark Daniel Calder, and, as the title implies, deals with how Palestinians of the Christian faith use the Bible to help in the struggle against their Israeli oppressors. This chapter gives a panoramic view of how the interpretation of scriptures can be, and are used to support various religious or political ideologies. In hermeneutics it is exegesis vs eisegesis. What the text says and means versus what I want the text to say and mean.

Interpretation leads to issues depending on who interprets the scriptures and how the scriptures are interpreted. Calder gives insight into ways that the sacred texts are interpreted — both Old Testament and New Testament. And yet various questions remain, “the question of who owns the text, whom it preferences, even what it means…” (p. 169), but that is based on the individual.

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