The Name of the Holy Land: Israel or 'palestine'?
Dr. Thomas McCall, the Senior Theologian of our ministry, has written
many articles for the Levitt Letter. He holds a Th.M. in Old Testament
studies and a Th.D. in Semitic languages and Old Testament. He has
served as Zola's co-author, mentor, pastor, and friend for nearly 30
years. This article appeared originally in the December 1997 Levitt Letter.
During the last few centuries, the world, Christians included, has
fallen into a bad habit. We have bought into some early Roman
propaganda. We have used the name 'Palestine', which Roman Emperor
Hadrian placed on the country of Israel in 135 A.D., for so long that
it has become common usage. This would be as incorrect as calling the
Russia of today the "Soviet Union" or referring to Berlin as "East
Germany." The thoughts below by our ministry's senior theologian, Dr.
Thomas S. McCall, completely explore the subject. If you know somebody
who's fallen into this habit, please share this article with them. \227
Current Propaganda's Use of 'Palestine'
There is a propaganda war going on now with regard to the term
"Palestine." At one time it might have been argued that 'Palestine' was
an innocuous designation of the Middle Eastern area, that is generally
thought of as the Holy Land. During the last few decades, however, the
term 'Palestine' has been adopted by Arabs living in Israel in the area
west of the Jordan River. It is specifically employed to avoid the use
of the name Israel, and must be considered an anti-Israel term. In all
Arab maps published in Jordan, Egypt, etc., the area west of the Jordan
River is called 'Palestine', without any reference to Israel.
'Palestine' is the term now used by those who want to deny the
legitimate existence of Israel as a genuine nation among the family of
nations. The term now adopted by the political entity within Israel
that is gradually obtaining more and more pockets of territory through
the "peace process," is "the PA (Palestinian Authority). Although it
must deal daily with Israeli officials, the PA hates to use the term
ISRAEL in any of its communications. Palestine, therefore, must now be
considered a political propaganda term with massive anti-Israel
implications. The world press uses the term to question the legitimacy
of modern Israel. Believers also have used the term 'Palestine' for
centuries in referring to the Holy Land. In earlier times this might
have been excused (although biblically questionable) because of its
common usage. In light of the current propaganda war against Israel,
however, Believers in the Messiah must now re-evaluate the term
'Palestine' and consider whether it is biblically, theologically or
Biblical Use of 'Palestine'
The term Palestine is rarely used in the Old Testament, and when it is,
it refers specifically to the southwestern coastal area of Israel
occupied by the Philistines. It is a translation of the Hebrew word
"Pelesheth." The term is never used to refer to the whole land occupied
by Israel. Before Israel occupied the land, it would be generally
accurate to say that the southwestern coastal area was called Philistia
(the Way of the Philistines, or Palestine), while the central highlands
were called Canaan. Both the Canaanites and the Philistines had
disappeared as distinct peoples at least by the time of the Babylonian
Captivity of Judea (586 B.C.), and they no longer exist. In the New
Testament, the term Palestine is never used. The term Israel is
primarily used to refer to the people of Israel, rather than the Land.
However, in at least two passages, Israel is used to refer to the Land:
Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the
land of Israel: for they are dead who sought the young child's life.
And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into
the land of Israel. (Matt. 2:20-21) But when they persecute you in this
city, flee ye into another: for verily I say to you, Ye shall not have
gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man shall have come.
The first passage is when Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned from Egypt to
Israel, and the second has reference to the proclamation of the Gospel
throughout the Land of Israel. Jesus (Yeshua, in Hebrew), Matthew and
the angel speaking to Joseph use the term Israel with reference to the
Land, even though the term was not then recognized by the Roman
authorities. It is clear, then, that the Bible never uses the term
Palestine to refer to the Holy Land as a whole, and that Bible maps
that refer to Palestine in the Old or New Testament are, at best,
inaccurate, and, at worst, are a conscious denial of the biblical name
History of the Term 'Palestine'
Where did the term 'Palestine' originate from? How did the world and
the Body of Believers get into the habit of calling the land of Israel
"Palestine"? One of the guides we use in our tours to Israel is Zvi
Rivai, an Israeli Messianic believer, who has done considerable
research on this subject. Zvi informs us that before 135 A.D., the
Romans used the terms Judea and Galilee to refer to the Land of Israel.
When Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Roman government struck
a coin with the phrase "Judea Capta," meaning Judea has been captured.
The term 'Palestine' was never used in the early Roman designations. It
was not until the Romans crushed the second Jewish revolt against Rome
in 135 A.D. under Bar Kochba that Emperor Hadrian applied the term
Palestine to the Land of Israel. Hadrian, like many dictators since his
time realized the propaganda power of terms and symbols. He replaced
the shrines of the Jewish Temple and the Sepulchre of the Messiah in
Jerusalem with temples to pagan deities. He changed the name of
Jerusalem to Aelia Capitalina, and changed the name of Israel and Judea
to Palestine. Hadrian's selection of Palestine was purposeful, not
accidental. He took the name of the ancient enemies of Israel, the
Philistines, Latinized it to Palestine, and applied it to the Land of
Israel. He hoped to erase the name Israel from all memory. Thus, the
term 'Palestine' as applied to the Land of Israel was invented by the
inveterate enemy of the Bible and the Jewish people, Emperor Hadrian.
It is interesting to note that the original Philistines were not Middle
Eastern at all. They were European peoples from the Adriatic sea next
to Greece. It may have pleased Hadrian to utilize this Hellenistic term
for the Jewish land. In any case, the original "Palestinians" had
nothing to do, whatsoever, with any Arabs.
Christian Adoption of the Term 'Palestine'
One of the first Christian uses of the term Palestine is found in the
works of the Church historian Eusebius, who lived in Caesarea. He wrote
around 300 A.D., as the Roman persecution of Christians was ending and
the Emperor Constantine began to accept Christianity as legal. Eusebius
did not accept Hadrian's designation of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitalina,
but he did use Hadrian's term 'Palestine'. Eusebius considered himself
to be one of the bishops of Palestine. Thus, the anti-Israel,
anti-Christian name of 'Palestine' was assimilated into the Church's
vocabulary as the Byzantine Empire was being established. The Church
has, since that time, broadly used the term 'Palestine' in literature
and in maps to refer to the Land of Israel. It should be noted,
however, that the Crusaders called their land the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
When the British received the mandate after World War I, though, they
called the land on both sides of the Jordan River, 'Palestine'. This
became the accepted geo-political term for several decades, and those
who lived in the land were called 'Palestinians', whether they were
Jews, Arabs or Europeans. Even evangelical Christians who believe in
the future of Israel have used the term 'Palestine'. The New Scofield
Reference Edition of the Bible has maps in the back entitled "Palestine
under the Herods." There never was a Palestine under the Herods. This
is a serious misidentification. It would be something like looking at a
modern map of Texas and having it titled "Mexico in the Twentieth
Century." The MacArthur Study Bible published just last year contains a
map called "Palestine in Christ's Time" There are numerous references
in the notes to something called first-century Palestine. It appears
that Bible-believing Christians have either knowingly or unwittingly
followed the world, pagans and haters of Israel in calling Israel by
the anti-Israel term Palestine. It is found throughout Bible maps,
Bible commentaries and textbooks.
Proper Designation of the Land
The use of the term 'Palestine' was biblically inaccurate and wrong
throughout the Church age. However, it is more than just wrong, it is
devastating in our time, when the term 'Palestine' is the cornerstone
of the propaganda war against Israel and the Jewish people. Do we want
to use terms invented by those who hate Messiah, the Bible and Israel?
Do we want to utilize terms used by the enemies of Israel who desire to
accomplish nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish people? I
think not. Christians should use the terminology of the Bible wherever
possible. Why not go back to the terms used in the New Testament? The
Gospel writers used the term ISRAEL to refer to the Land. Why should we
use any other term when referring to the Land, especially now that the
Jews are back in the Land and have re-established the nation of Israel
among the family of nations? As we draw closer to the second coming of
Messiah, we should understand that Satan's fury against the Believers
and Israel will grow exponentially. Satan hates the Gospel of the
crucified and risen Messiah, and he hates the reality of the
restoration of Israel as the nation that will ultimately receive Y'shua
as the Messiah at His return, and the nation that will be Messiah's
earthly headquarters. The only term we should use for the Land is
ISRAEL, or its subdivisions of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. We should
make every effort to remove the term 'Palestine' from our Bible maps
and textbooks, and use only biblical terms with reference to the Holy
Land of Israel.