What's all this about 'Jesus the Palestinian'?
It's funny how an outlandish idea, just out of the blue, is suddenly everywhere.
Take this one. On April 15, Representative Rashida Tlaib was giving an address to the Arab-American Law Student Association at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, when she made reference to a novel concept. As reported in the Dearborn Press & Guide:
She said her immigrant mother keeps her grounded, and is so compassionate. She said her mother told a man who voiced opposition to her hijab, "You don't understand. Jesus was born in my country!" Tlaib said her mother believes that if people know that, things will be so much better.
This puzzled me. Things will be better if people know what? That Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea, as it was known at the time (and still is, in Israel), after the ancient Jewish kingdom of Judah? Don't most people know that already? Or should people know that Tlaib's mother was born in the same land as Jesus? That would be something to take pride in, no doubt, but what's it got to do with the pros or cons of the hijab? Or was Tlaib's mother saying (or was her daughter, the zealot for Palestinian nationalism, implying) that more people need to know that Jesus was born in the "country" of Palestine, making him a virtual Palestinian?
Four days later, on Good Friday, (a day revered by Easter worshipers all over), a column appeared by Eric V. Copage, a former writer and editor at the New York Times. Copage was recounting how all the illustrations he saw growing up in black churches of a "fair skinned, fair haired, blue eyed" Jesus Christ made little sense, because "Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was most likely a Palestinian man with dark skin."
The next day, Omar Suleiman, an adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Southern Methodist University, tweeted a quotation from a Palestinian Christian unhappy that the Christian right doesn't support the Palestinian cause: "Don't they know Jesus was a Palestinian?"
Representative Ilhan Omar, bored with not having not seen herself on TV for more than 48 hours, promptly retweeted the quotation.
In response, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused the Times of "fake news" and called out both the Times and Omar for trying to "rewrite" history. Cooper told the Jewish Journal that saying Jesus was a Palestinian is a "grotesque insult to Jesus born in the land of Israel and to Christianity[.] ... Palestine was a name made up by Romans after they crucified thousands, destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and exiled the People of Israel from their homeland."
Political commentator Fred Menachem also saw a need to respond, tweeting, "No, Jesus was Jewish, actually. I'm a bit surprised that a Congressperson would retweet false and inaccurate information."
Especially surprising from one of our triad of Congresspersons who always "speak truth to power"!
Finally, on April 26, a New York Times editor, probably learning for the very first time that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, updated Copage's article to replace the offending sentence with this: "But Jesus, a Jew born in Bethlehem, presumably had the complexion of a Middle Eastern man." An editor's note explains, "While he lived in an area that later came to be known as Palestine, Jesus was a Jew who was born in Bethlehem."
So are all these people working together to spread this fake news around? I don't think so. Just some of them, like Tlaib; Suleiman; Omar; and, back in the day, Wright. I think in the case of Eric Copage and his unnamed editor at the Times, it's not deceit — just sheer ignorance. I agree with Rush Limbaugh on this:
One thing that's become apparent in reading the New York Times, and it is not just me observing this, and this goes back again to what journalism is, what we think of journalists. We think they're educated. We think they have historical perspective. We think that they are curious, that they are informed.
The New York Times has people that do not understand the first thing about Christianity. It's not that they just are biased and are publishing lies. They literally, in this era, in this evolution of the New York Times, they don't have anybody who actually understands Christianity. Easter worshipers, for example. Easter worshipers.
Once again, we see that the smartest people in the world are not so smart after all. Eric Copage, remember, was also a Times editor and writer. He's probably not so much malicious as misinformed. Even though he grew up in church and is the author of many books on spirituality, he somehow managed to miss — or misplace — some pretty elementary details about the birth and nationality of Jesus.
As for Tlaib, Suleiman, and Omar, they know exactly what they're doing.
T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan. You can email him at email@example.com.