Circle of the rhetoric (Chasing one's tail)

Yigal Levin Yigal-Levin at
Thu Jul 18 12:13:20 EDT 2002

Before 1948 (C.E./A.D.), "Palestine", though anachronistic, was a perfectly
legitimate "generic" geographical term, although all scholars realized that
the country was only actually officially named "Palestina" by the Romans in
the second century. (The same problem with using "Syria" for "Aram". What
about calling the northern Levant "Amurru/Hatti?) Even Zionist Jews, who
used "Eretz Yisrael" among themselves in Hebrew, had no problem with using
"Palestine" in Western languages. The Jewish English-language newspaper
that is today called the Jerusalem Post was originally known as the
Palestine Post. The Jewish Agency, which was the main organizational and
fundraising arm of the Zionist movement, was called "The Jewish Agency for
Palestine". Jewish soldiers fighting the Nazis in the British army proudly
called themselves "Palestinians". The Arabs of Palestine, on the other
hand, resisted being called "Palestinians" and preferred to emphasize
pan-Arab ideas and to be called "Syrians".
Since 1948, however, when the Palestinian Jews became Israelis and the
Arabs of Palestine became THE Palestinians, the semantics have changed. By
preferring to use "Palestine", scholars, journalists and others
inadvertently (or not) contribute to the popular conception of the Arabs
being the indigenous natives, while the Jews/Israelis are foreign
colonialist invaders. It is unfortunate that scholars, who claim to strive
for objectivity, thus form a connection between the ancient world and a
modern political struggle.
I would suggest that "Palestine" be used only when referring to the country
AFTER the 2nd century C.E., "Israel" when referring to the tribal
confederation (or at least its literary manifestation!) and the (united and
northern) kingdom, "Canaan" for the LB culture and maybe province. "Land of
Israel" as an abstraction, fits the biblical texts but not historical
reality. As far as a generic geographical term - "Southern Levant" is good
but cumbersome. How about "Holy Land"? Or, for those who are uncomfortable
with "Holy", how about just "The Land"?


At 05:18 PM 7/18/2002 +0200, Ian Hutchesson wrote:
>>> >>Perhaps you mean the land of ISRAEL here.
>>Then it was Canaan.
>>However, Deutero-Isaiah referred to the God of Israel,
>>and to the Land of Israel.
>>If we're talking about Isaiah, and if we're talking about
>>the *Biblical* writers, it should surely be called Israel.
>>If you refer to particular areas, you could distinguish
>>Judah and Samaria. If you refer to "Palestine" then you
>>refer to the coastal areas, controlled by the Philistines
>>during the 11th century.
>>And if Lemche objects, he has not shown that Herodotus,
>>writing in the 5th century, refers to more than the coast
>>when he refers to Palestine. If you refer to the land under
>>the Persians, you could refer to the province of Yehud,
>>or the satrapy of Beyond the River. If under the Romans,
>>you could refer to Coele-Syria (All or Greater Syria).
>>However, if you refer to the *modern* state, then it is still
>>Israel, it has not yet been partitioned.
>What is so often sought after and consistently missed 
>is a generic term such as that which we have for the 
>area between and adjacent to the Tigris and Euphrates 
>rivers, ie Mesopotamia. It is necessary to have such a 
>generic term so as to avoid assumptions based on 
>matters tangential to the archaeological and historical 
>One can happily talk about Mesopotamia over a historical 
>period of at least 3500 years and one doesn't have to 
>pussy-foot over supersilious debates over the correct 
>flaming name. It is one of the most stupid situations 
>one is confronted with while trying to deal as 
>objectively as possible with the study of the 
>archaeology and history of the region between the Dead 
>Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
>We so often do this two-step in names for the region 
>under investigation. 
>If we can't simply use a term the individual prefers 
>and of course accept reciprocally those use by others,
>can we opt for something purely descriptive, such as 
>Southern Levant? It seems to me to be devoid of the 
>sorts of assumptions that get bandied about.
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Dr. Yigal Levin
Dept. of Philosophy and Religion
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
615 McCallie Avenue
Chattanooga TN 37403-2598

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