Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Monday 30 July 2012

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?"


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."


  1. Thank you very much for this and thanks so much, Ian G!! I will be writing to them too!
    The BM has been behaving in a very suspect manner for some time. In 2009 they promised not to send the Cyrus seal to Iran, as the mullahs wanted to destroy it - as they do for anything that pre-dates islam! After many petitions, last year, they quietly sent the Cyrus seal to the Iranian regime.
    Then there came to nonsensical exhibition about islam, explaining nothing, showing nothing, but being lauded from on high!

  2. PS, Daphne, could not find Ian's comment:


    1. Ian's comment is what I've reproduced in the above post, Juniper.

  3. Who funds such exhibits? Might it be Arab money?

    1. A fair question. It warrants investigation, because the fact that so impeccable an authority as the British Museum is suddenly compromising the truth seems fishy, to say the least.

    2. not really fishy- the British Museum never includes the name Israel in either its exhibits or its bookshops which usually portray a Palestinian narrative but never one that could ever be accused of being historically unbiased (I will add the rejoinder that i have not noticed any indicators of 'unbias'on my visits to the BM over 26 years). The most recent exhibition by the BM is sponsored by Saudi Arabia and most definitely displayed an anti-Israel bias. I did not mention it but friends of mine were sufficiently outraged to want to write a letter of complaint (I don't know if they did!)

  4. Isn't the British Museum English and therefore, predisposed to this?

    1. Tut, tut! The English aren't inherently antisemitic, and the BM has had a number of notable Jewish scholars on its staff.

    2. The Brits certainly used to be against Israelis when they occupied Israel.Not fair at all.Might not be inherant but its there just the same.If Israel falls it will be this admin. fault and obama does not care.

  5. You should find it on an entry headed "130 objects, 3,000 years of history: pharaoh exhibition opens Margaret Maitland, British Museum" and dated July 15 ( for the entry). My post is awaiting moderation although I can see it when I follow the link. If you cannot, then, as Daphne says, you've read it anyway. I'm awaiting their response. It will be interesting to see if it is visible to others. The "blogsite" link above Daphne's post works for me.

  6. There is a very erudite discussion of the history, use, and anachronistic misuse of the term Palestine here

  7. Thanks for posting the update and response. I have also posted the link to the article. Pity about the web presentation.

  8. Chapeau to IanG as well. Extremely important.

  9. This sort of thing drives me crazy as well.

    The number of times I have heard sermons preached, talking about events in the life of Jesus, that refer anachronistically to 'Palestine' or talk about Jesus living in 'Palestine'; when I know that during his lifetime and for nearly forty years after there was no such term in common use by anyone in the Land nor even by its Roman rulers! All one has to do is to look up the type of old bible that has 'bible land' maps in the back. Mine is a case in point. EVen though it uses the modern (and post-70 AD imperial Roman and then later on Christian European) *geographical* term 'palestine' in its caption - thus - 'palestine in the time of Christ' it then shows clearly that *at the time* the Land was divided into various named blocks, viz. Idumea (taking in part of the modern Negev), Judaea, Samaria, Galilee, and then, on the east side of the Jordan, the Decapolis and Peraea. Within the text of the New Testament there is not *one* reference to 'Palestine' - Luke, who gives us the names of assorted districts and administrators, never uses the word (he is far more careful about such things than many a sloppy-thinking modern clergyman; it was not called 'Palestine' during the lifetime of Jesus nor for another forty years after and so Luke does not call it that. It is, in fact, quite clear that none of the New Testament writers themselves thought of eretz Israel as 'Palestine' or ever called it that. So what are modern western theologians doing, imposing an anachronistic terminology when talking about those writers and their work? In my Bible's end-maps, earlier maps are labelled 'Canaan, at the time of the patriarchs', 'Canaan, as divided among the twelve tribes', 'the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel' and 'the dominions of David and Solomon'. Strictly speaking, the label 'Palestine in the time of Christ' is inconsistent with those others, because *at the time of Jesus' life and ministry the land in which he lived was NOT called 'Palestine'*.
    It is 'Canaan'; then it is 'the land of Israel'; it is 'Judah' and 'Samaria'; it is Judea, Samaria, Galilee, with Idumea taking in the Negev to the south; and then - I suspect, *after* all the books contained in the New Testament were already written - it was renamed 'Palaestina' by the Romans, from 70 AD on.
    It annoys me greatly, as a history-minded person who cares about accuracy, to see a term that was *only* brought into official use forty years after Jesus' lifetime projected backwards in time to a period during which no-one - not the Jews, not the Romans - actually used it. Sort of like insisting on only using the Han Chinese term for Tibet,when talking about things that happened there two generations *before* the invasion in 1949.

    And the other thing that creeps me out is when certain Christian organisations - Anglican Board of Mission is one offender - studiously avoid using the name of the modern Jewish state of Israel whenever talking about anything they are doing within its boundaries: instead, they say 'the Holy Land', or they refer to 'Israel/ Palestine' whether they are talking about ministry among Christians in the State of Israel *or* ministry within Arab-occupied Judea and Samaria, and in Gaza. It's as if they can't bear to even *say* the word 'Israel' when it refers to the polity and/ or territory of the modern Jewish state. They NEVER if they can possibly avoid it talk about Israel as such, Israel as people like us think of it. I once heard someone talking about the archaeological dig at Bethsaida - and referring to this dig as taking place in 'Palestine' (!!!). I felt like jumping up and shouting at him: " It's in ISRAEL, you fool! What's wrong with saying ISRAEL? Why does the very word 'Israel' seem to stick in your craw? "


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