Netanyahu’s Jerusalem

Jews have been living in the Middle East for thousands of years. Likewise for thousands of years, Jews had been quarreling with other peoples living in Palestine. When the Jews (or rather their nobles and aristocrats), after their Babylonian captivity, were allowed by the Achaemenid king Cyrus II (the Great, or even the anointed in Isaiah 45:1, i.e. Deutero-Isaiah) to return to their homelands in 539 BCE it was not without severe clashes with the rural population which was still living in the Jerusalem area. Ezra 9:1 mentions explicitly and with disrespect “the peoples of the land”. Lester L. Grabbe concludes in his account on the early Persian period [1]:

“These ‘nations of the land’ are a problem because they impart ‘uncleanliness’ (Ezra 6:21). This is uncleanness further elaborated in the Ezra story when the intermarriage between the Jews and the ‘peoples of the land’ is discussed in Ezra 9-10.: ‘The people of Israel and the priests and Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, whose abominations are those of [like those of?] the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites’ (9.1). Although the ‘peoples of the land’ may not quite be identified as the Canaanites and other aboriginal peoples displaced by the Israelites (the translation is uncertain), a strong link is made. Certainly, their ‘abomination’ – their religious and perhaps other practices – are considered ritually defiling and abhorrent. To ‘mix’ with them by intermarriage is to corrupt the ‘holy seed’ of the Israelites (9.2). The theme of their abominable habits is continued in Ezra’s prayer (9.6-16). The identification of the ‘peoples of the land’ in Ezra’s time with those at the time of the original Israelite settlement is much more explicit in 9.11-12. The sin of intermarriage because of the people’s abominations is repeated in 9.14. The women of the ‘peoples of the land’ are said to be ‘foreign’ in a number of places in Ezra 10 (vv. 2, 10, 11, 14, 17, 18, 44). Similar usage is found in Nehemiah 9-10 which talks of a parallel case involving mixed marriages. The people fast and separate themselves from ‘the peoples of the lands’ (10.29) and pledge not to marry with ‘the peoples of the land’ nor buy from them (10.31-32).

The conclusion seems straightforward: the text simply refuses to admit that there were Jewish inhabitants of the land after the deportations under Nebuchadnezzar. There is no suggestion that any foreign peoples were brought in to replace those deported. Yet what we must realize is that this is a literary picture.  It represents the view of the writer/compiler of Ezra 1-6//Esdras 2-7 who was putting the material together only late in the Achaemenid period or even in the early Hellenistic period. It represents a theological point of view that those returning were a ‘refined, purified remnant’ of the community that sinned under the monarchy and was exiled as punishment.”

The return of Jewish nobles in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE and the rebuilding of the second temple in Jerusalem was thus a pretty hostile land seizure [2]. The rural population was severely discrimated, unlawful marriages divorced. It was under Persian rule anyway, the Achaemenid ruler having been renowned for their tolerance in particular in religious matters.

One might be reminded today of these in a way inglorious days when reading about Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tirades at the American Israel Public Affairs Council (AIPAC) about Jerusalem as the natural Jewish capital which has been built by Jews 3000 years ago [3].

“The attempt by many to describe the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland is one of the great lies of modern times.

In my office, I have on display a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after King David turned Jerusalem into our capital city.

The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel.

Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied.

The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.”


[1] Grabbe LL. A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Volume 1. Yehud: A History of the Persian Province of Judah. T & T Clark International, New York 2004, p. 286.

[2] While no archaeological evidence exists for the first invasion of Canaan as described in the Book of Joshua it might have served as Israel’s foundation myth in particular when experiences of the nobles who were returning from Babylon were made with the rural native population in the Jerusalem area.

[3] A most valuable brief description of Israel’s history is provided by Juan Cole who apparently stumbled over Netanyahu’s contentions at AIPAC, as I did.

Last update March 23, 2010

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