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Did God Really Give Palestine to the Israelites?

With the rise of a new Prime Minister in Israel and questions about the peace talks, it seems appropriate to answer this Internet question: "Did God really give Palestine to the Israelites?"

To answer this question we have to strip away modern politics and look at the scriptures in light of our modern understandings. The Old Testament, as we know it, was largely written and compiled during the Babylonian siege of Judea in the 6th and 7th century BCE. During this period the ruling, wealthy, and educated classes were exiled to Babylon and in 586 the walls and temple of Jerusalem were razed. Anger and despair fell upon the exiles, since their religious life was tied to the temple. Without their cult (the practice of religion NOT related to the occult) and rituals to rely on, the Jewish nationals turned to the Torah, the law.

Much of the law as we know it (Genesis through Deuteronomy) pre-existed in oral tradition and likely in a variety of written documents as well. During the exile the oral traditions were collected and codified, the written documents were collected and edited, and both oral and written accounts were united to form a whole. The resulting Torah included the rituals and cultic acts of the nation as well as the stories of the origins of the creation, the peoples, the Israelite nation, and its religion (called etiologies). Included in those stories was the assertion that God had divinely bequeathed the land of Palestine to the Israelites for all time (Genesis 15.18-21; Joshua 21.43; Psalm 135.10-12).

Did God give the "promised land" to the Israelites? According to scripture, written, edited, and compiled during time when the Jewish nation was without a land, yes; God gave them Palestine.

But was the promise for "all time"? Apparently not. Remember that during the exile the Israelites were without their land for a period of time (approximately 70 years). After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE the Jewish nation was without a land for 1,878 years. However, in 1948 following World War II the United Nations gave the Israelites the land that had once been theirs, causing no little strife with the Arabic nations which had politically ruled and occupied Palestine for centuries.

Many of the early promises of scripture included clauses by which the promised land would be wrenched away from the Israelites. Both Leviticus (26.14f) and Deuteronomy (28.15f) contain a list of curses that shall fall upon the Israelites if they do not obey the commandments. Indeed, Deuteronomy 28 reads in part, "And just as the Lord took delight in making you prosperous and numerous, so the Lord will take delight in bringing you to ruin and destruction; you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to possess" (63). The Babylonian exile of Judah was attributed by the prophets for disobedience to the law (2 Kings 20.12-17; Isaiah 3). Clearly then, Palestine was not a unilateral promise for all time.

However, the prophets never left the people of Israel without a glimmer of hope, even whilst in exile. Many of the minor prophets promised that Israel would return to the land. Joel wrote, "For then, in those days and at that time, I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem" (3.1). Of course, the glimmer of hope was written for the Babylonian exiles, but during the 1,878 years of dispossession the words of hope were resurrected for successive generations. Until, in 1948, the people of Israel were given a land of their own at the expense of many Palestinians.

So, did God really give Palestine to the Israelites? The exiled writers of ancient scripture indicated God's divine gift to the nation in the days of Joshua through Josiah, and the restoration following the Babylonian exile until the Roman conquest in 70 CE. The political reestablishment of modern Israel in 48 was attributed as an act of God by many. For a nation without a country it may have been a God-send, but for many others it was a post-war reaction by the politically powerful.

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