Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Truth About Christianity in the Land of Its Birth

There has been much excellent academic study of the history of Christianity in the land of its birth. It could fill a whole library. In recent years, however, all that fine work has been eclipsed by the myth, created by the so-called "Palestinian narrative," of Palestinian Christianity.

It has become fashionable to talk of "narratives" and defer to them. But what is a narrative in this sense? Maybe all of us have received spurious emails in the name of a friend who desperately begs money, having allegedly been robbed while on holiday in a foreign land. That is a "narrative": often a pack of lies that demands immediate uncritical assent. Beware of those who solemnly plead with you to listen to their narrative.

Conveniently, last month the main elements of the myth of Palestinian Christianity were neatly summarized in a blog post entitled "The Vanishing Church in the Holy Land." Its author, who styles himself Sir Jeffery Abood (his knighthood comes not from Her Majesty but from Rome), already published it on December 30 last in America Magazine. So he has had ample time to become advised of its many errors, but it reappeared, unchanged, apart from insignificant stylistic touches. Myths are impervious to truth.

Sir Jeff's blog post (he prefers "Jeff" to "Jeffrey") has one great virtue: concision. It brings together in relatively few words a mass of often repeated misrepresentations about Christians in the Holy Land. It also contains one important statement that is true; we shall invoke it at the end. In all other regards, Sir Jeff has provided the opportunity to compile a handy equally concise demythologization of this myth of Palestinian Christianity.

The tone is set by an opening statement that is not merely false, it is patently and absurdly false: "For two thousand years, Christian communities there have thrived." Let us recall the destruction of Christian communities under Diocletian in the fourth century, under the Persian invasion in the seventh, under the Muslim Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim in the tenth, and under Bibars in the thirteenth. Not to mention other cruel regimes, invasions, massacres, plagues and famines.