Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Timeline Palestine: "Is The British Museum Rewriting History?" (with update)


Timeline Palestine: "Is The British Museum Rewriting History?" (with update)












That's the question posed by one of my much valued Christian readers, Ian G, who earlier today visited the Birmingham (UK) Museum to see a British Museum touring exhibition about the Pharoahs.


He wrote on its blogsite:

"I have just visited the exhibition in Birmingham. I was exceedingly disappointed with an overpriced and dull waste of an hour. Furthermore, there was a gross inaccuracy that would appear to be supporting the bogus Arab claim that Palestine pre-existed Israel. On the time-line you state that one of the Pharoahs conducted campaigns against Nubia and Palestine in 2055 BC.  It was, at that point, Canaan. The Sea People, later the Philistines, did not occupy what we now call the Gaza Strip until the 12th Century BC.

The name of Palestine was not commonly given to the whole of the land until the Romans ethnically cleansed Israel in 70 AD. Palestine was never an independent Kingdom and did not include any Arabs until after the Islamic conquests. Finally, it was part of the British Mandate and Israel was re-established by the League of Nations and then by the UN in 1947. The Gaza Strip was taken by Egypt and Samaria (West Bank) by Jordan and it has been Arab occupied land since then.  Yasser Arafat created the notion of an Arab Palestine after the Arab defeat in 1967.

It seems that you are colluding in the rewriting of history in order to give an Arab Palestine a bogus history and to deny Israel's legitimacy. Using Palestine as a substitute for Canaan is disingenuous as you do not explain where Nubia was.

Will this egregious mistake be corrected or will you continue misleading the public over this politically sensitive issue?"


Update:

The British Museum has replied to Ian:

"I am sorry to hear that you did not find the exhibition engaging. In archaeological and Egyptological discourse, ‘Palestine’ (and ‘Syro-Palestine’) refers to an area (broadly from the north of Sinai to Kadesh, and from the Mediterranean to the current Jordan border), not a present or past state. Similarly ‘Nubia’ is an area that overlaps the boundaries of several historic polities, including today. “Israel” is generally used to refer to the modern state, and “Israelites” as the group of people first mentioned in ancient texts on the stela of Merenptah in the 13th century BC. There is no reference to Arab peoples, or the Palestinian Authority in the exhibition, which would of course be inappropriate given the timeframe covered. Please accept our apologies if the wording has caused any offence. Neal Spencer, British Museum"

And Ian has responded:

"I agree that Nubia needs explanation which isn’t given on the timeline. Clearly, Palestine also needs explanation. It is a politically charged term and gives rise to the misconception that Palestine pre-dates Israel.

You claim that the term is part of archaeological and Egyptological discourse. G.W. Anderson some-time Professor of Hebrew and O.T. Studies at Edinburgh in his book ‘A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament’ ( published 1959 and revised several times till 1972) never refers to the Land as Palestine. Similarly, ‘Bernhard W. Anderson Living World of the Old Testament (2nd Edition 1967)’ which has even more archaeological content that his namesake. Also John Bright ‘A History of Israel’ only uses the term on maps and then not until the Maccabees. By then, some Greek writings were using the term. Hardly surprising, considering the origins of the Philistines. More recently, the Illustrated Bible Dictionary IVP 1980 has an extensive entry for Palestine, but only for geology, geography, agriculture and the like. For history, it cross-refers to Canaan, Israel, Judah and the Philistines. For archaeology, it refers to individual sites. Some entries do use the term Palestine rather loosely but the current revisionism was not really underway in 1980.

The use of Palestine and Syro-Palestine date from Roman times. This latter term, along with period of Syrian occupation well before the Romans, provide the basis for modern day Syria’s claims to Israel as a province of Syria. These terms are loaded.

Nubia, was at various times and with various borders, an independent, self-ruling, political entity. Palestine has never been an independent, self-ruling, political entity. Nubia existed in 2055 BC. Palestine did not. To use both words in the same sentence and in the same way must lead to the inference that they are similar entities.

Currently, the Palestinian Authority, the Waqf and various other ‘scholars’ are promulgating a version of history which eradicates Israel from the Land altogether. Although to any rational scholar this is ridiculous, many people now believe it.

In Theology, the term ‘myth’ has a precise meaning and does not, necessarily, imply that an event is unhistorical. Most people think it means ‘fairy tale’. When educating the general public one needs to be aware of this sort of misunderstanding.

I don’t accept that Palestine is a scholarly term, in common scholastic use and (especially since 1947), referring to a particular or general area. You draw its border at the Jordan, but the British Mandate included Trans-Jordan (now the Kingdom of Jordan) and I have maps that include what is now part of Syria. In other words, the term you are using as a general scholarly term is, in fact, politically defined.

On the time-line Palestine is used to refer to Canaan in 2055 BC. The area you define as Palestine would not include parts of Canaan!

It’s just too confusing.

Which is my point. It would have been simple to include a foot-note explaining where Nubia and Canaan were. In the case of Canaan; Israel, the disputed territories and part of Jordan. In the case of Nubia; parts of Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan.

In the meantime, your exhibition states that Palestine existed in 2055 BC. At best, this is poor scholarship, bad teaching and dangerously ignorant of politics. At worst, it is collusion with those who seek to eradicate Israel ‘from the River to the Sea’. ” (broadly from the north of Sinai to Kadesh, and from the Mediterranean to the current Jordan border) “.

It is not a matter of offense to me. I am not a Jew or an Israeli. It is a matter of scholarly accuracy and, also, sensitivity to the current and volatile situation in the Land."