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A perspective using secular history

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A map representing what was later known as Palestine, depicted from the era of the nativity. (Photo: Boroditsky Bros. archive)

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As Christmas approaches, Christmas music is on the radio, Christmas trees, polar bears and Santa Claus (the latter 3 are not biblical canon) are portrayed everywhere. And of course, the iconic nativity (birth of Jesus) scene fills every other public space.

Nevertheless, no matter what religion you belong to, whether Hindu, Zoroastrian, Jew or Muslim, wherever you live, you most likely have the most basic understanding of the Christmas origin story as it is displayed so vividly everywhere.

So while a Jew lived and walked in Israel long ago, people still say that Jews don’t belong here and a Jewish state in this region has no legitimacy.

The nativity scene shows that a Jew named Jesus was born around 2000 years ago in a manger in Bethlehem (now part of the Palestinian authority’s ‘Bethlehem Governorate’) to Mary, a Jewish mother. Bethlehem then, was part of an autonomous region subject to the Roman Empire.

Yet, while this story is known to most of the world from religious lens – Christians and Muslims revere him as a prophet (these 2 religions comprise more than half the world) and even the non-Abrahamic religions followers (mostly Hindus and Buddhists) have some understanding given the commercial aspect of Christmas. For example, even in Hindu majority India, Buddhist Sri Lanka, Japan and Singapore, there are Christmas decorations and the nativity scene is inevitably seen in public venues.

Then, there is the concurrent narrative in the media that Israel has no legitimacy and that Jews came to Israel from Europe after the Holocaust – this is just an over generalization. These Jews today, whether blond Ashkenazi, Sephardic or Ethiopian Jews are of the same race as Jesus was! As they are of Solomon and David long before, or so we imagine, the way modern English are the same race as King Arthur or modern Mongols as Gengis Khan.

They all have a cultural legacy of their ancestors and thereby the ties to the same land – Jews are as native to Israel as English to England or Mongols to Mongolia.

The characters in the New Testament are mostly ethnic Jews; Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The ethnicity of the ‘Three wise men’ is not known, although ‘they came from the East’ or so, we are told – but that could span a region from Assyria, Iran to India/ China or beyond and is up for debate. Even the innkeeper, who is such an iconic character today, isn’t mentioned in the Bible, let alone his ethnicity.

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While Christian believe that Jesus was the son of God, he did live as a human and by both secular and religious perspective, was a man with a language, profession and an ethnicity (Jewish in this case) just like everyone else.

Some of the stories in the New Testament and the places they occur in, such as bringing Lazarus back to life happened in what is Palestinian/ West Bank administration now. Others such as the legendary ‘turning water to wine’ took place in what is now under Israeli authority. Other places familiar to the New Testament readers, such as the Sea of Galilee are in modern day Israel.

Many European countries have a cross on their flags to represent his crucifixion by the Romans. The cross represents an ethnic Jew who died in Israel 2000 years ago, even if many of them still deny Israel’s legitimacy and long Jewish presence – it ironically shows a lack of understanding of their own religion’s history.

Among the ethnicities found in the region at the time were Greeks, Romans, Jews, Samaritans, Canaanites and possibly others, some native to the land, some as soldiers, visitors or traders. There weren’t any Arabs mentioned- although it is remotely possible that a few ventured here long before Islam emerged around 600 years later, but still unlikely, even if Arabic is a significant regional language today.

The Jewish King Herod was the client king of what was known as the Herodian kingdom of Judea, a vassal state of the Roman Empire – he was the de facto ruler on behalf of the Roman overlords.

Jesus, a Jewish man, lived in the Holy Land under Roman occupation. Yet in the current day, antisemites persistently claim Jews are not indigenous to the land of Israel. (Image: abc.net.au)

Some of the Apostles had Greek names, but this was not uncommon among Jews, given that Hellenistic culture still dominated, Koine Greek was the Lingua Franca of that part of the Empire, even if some Roman soldiers posted there spoke Latin – the language that evolved into modern day Italian. Jesus spoke Aramaic and Koine Greek – which many Jews in the region also did. It is debated whether he spoke Hebrew or not – it was a ‘dying language’ by the time. Spoken Hebrew would die out a century later and Modern Hebrew is a ‘revived language.’

The different ethnicities probably used Koine Greek for intercultural communication.

In addition, the Apostles all worshiped in the Jewish temple and celebrated Passover. So we can safely assume that they were also Jews or familiar with Jewish culture and religious practices. The Bible and Quran – the world’s two bestselling books for over a 1000 years – have also made it clear that Jews are indigenous to the land.

So, coming back to the nativity story – from a purely historic perspective, how can we look at a display that is all around us that clearly portrays the fact that Jews lived and walked here, in this exact spot 2000 years ago and at the same time question the notion that Jews are indigenous to this same land and concurrently doubt a Jewish state’s legitimacy here?

Avi Kumar is a historian of Sri Lankan descent who lives in New York.

He has a unique spin on current affairs.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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