On this episode we are joined by Dr. Mitri Raheb, Founder and President of Dar al-Kalima University in Bethlehem. The most widely published Palestinian theologian to date, Dr. Raheb is the author and editor of 50 books including: Decolonizing Palestine: The Land, The People, The Bible; In the Eye of the Storm: Middle Eastern Christians in an Age of Empire and Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes—among many, many others.
Dr. Raheb was invited to speak with us from Bethlehem, because the world has watched the death toll of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank multiply. We have watched as the government of Israel has committed acts that three separate Palestinian human rights orgs and the United Nations have all called “genocide and incitement to commit genocide.” The world is praying for the return of the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas. We are praying for a ceasefire. And we are praying for the full freedom and flourishing of the Palestinian people to come. In that context, the Christian church stands poised to enter the season of Advent—a time when Christians remember the birth story of the brown, colonized Palestinian Jew from the West Bank, named Jesus. Dr. Mitri Raheb is with us today to bring us a word—from Bethlehem.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Thread or Insta Lisa @lisasharper or to Freedom Road @freedomroad.us. We’re also on Substack! So be sure to subscribe to freedomroad.substack.com. And, keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think!
Lisa Sharon Harper: [00:00:00] I’m Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. Welcome to the Freedom Road podcast. Each month we speak with national faith leaders, advocates, and activists to have the kinds of conversations we normally have on the front lines. It’s just that this time we’ve got microphones in our faces and you are listening in.
So this month we are joined by Dr. Mitri Raheb, founder and president of Dar al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, the most widely published Palestinian theologian to date, Dr. Raheb is the author and editor of 50 books, including Decolonizing Palestine, the Land, the People, the Bible, In the Eye of the Storm, Middle Eastern Christians in an Age of Empire.
And one that [00:01:00] I came across while writing The Very Good Gospel, Faith in the Face of Empire, The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes, among many, many, many other books. So I invited Dr. Raheb to speak with us from Bethlehem today, because the world has watched the death toll of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank multiply.
We have watched as the government of Israel has committed acts that three separate Palestinian human rights orgs and the United Nations have all called genocide, an incitement to commit genocide. The world is praying for the return of the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas, we are praying for a ceasefire, and we are praying for the full freedom and flourishing of the Palestinian people to come.
In that context, the Christian Church stands poised to enter the season of Advent, [00:02:00] a time when Christians remember the birth story of the brown, colonized, Palestinian Jew from the West Bank named Jesus. Dr. Mitri Rahab is with us today to bring a word from Bethlehem. We’d love to hear your thoughts. So tweet or insta me or thread, you know, I’m trying to wean myself off of that Twitter space, but thread or insta me at LisaSHarper or to freedom road at freedomroadus, and keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think. So Dr. Rahab, can we dive in?
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Sure.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay. Great. First of all, let me just say, thank you so much for making the time to be with us.
We know that your time is precious and, uh, and we don’t want to take away any more time than we have to for this conversation, but we are grateful. The first thing we always do is we always start with our faith [00:03:00] stories and I want my audience to understand who they’re talking to, to know, you know, how did you come to faith and, and, and what is the faith that you stand on?
So can you tell us a little bit about how you came to faith and what faith that is?
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yeah. Thank you, Lisa, for having me. Yeah, you know, when, when people hear that, there are Christians in Palestine, often, they ask us, you know, tell us, When did you convert to Christianity, assuming maybe that we used to be heathens or Muslims who were converted to Christianity.
And I always like to tell them, uh, you know, remember Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Palestine, not in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my gosh, can I just say, I really relate to that because I’m sitting, you know, a few miles from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. That’s fabulous. Thank you for [00:04:00] that. That’s fabulous.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yeah, and remember also the Bible did not originate in the Bible Belt.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hello. Okay. He’s throwing down.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Thanks God.
Lisa Sharon Harper: He opened up throwing down.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Thanks God, right? Yes. Amen. So the Bible originated also in Palestine, which means for the last 2,000 years, there has been a Christian presence in Palestine. And so, the Palestinian Christians today, their roots goes back to the first Christian church.
That, again, was established in Jerusalem, in no other place. With time… So, my family has been Greek Orthodox. And this is why my name, Mitri, actually, he’s a Greek Orthodox saint.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: However, my great, uh, my grandfather, [00:05:00] uh, who became an orphan… lost his parents through an epidemic in the 19th century, uh, was taken to a Lutheran orphanage.
Uh, and there, he said, you know, Lutherans took good care of me, uh, and so he joined the Lutheran church.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: And so I was born in a Lutheran family. However, as, as a young man in the youth work, I came to recognize how important, this faith, to me personally, which led me actually to study theology, which I did in Germany, and then I served as senior pastor at Christmas Lutheran Church, uh, here in Bethlehem for 30 years. I stepped down to focus, [00:06:00] fully, on the first and only university in all of Palestine with the focus on arts and culture. So this is in a nutshell, my story.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So can I ask you, jumping forward, your family, your family has been in Palestine then since the times of Jesus. Is that right?
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yes. Yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And so your family, which has had Christian faith has that long history. That means that your family was present at the time of the knock, but the cat, the catastrophe, um, how. How did your family’s story intersect with the Nakba?
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yeah, actually, several members of our family used to live in West Jerusalem.
And West Jerusalem at that time, this was the thriving… [00:07:00] new city of Jerusalem that actually many Christians from Bethlehem, felt Bethlehem is becoming small and now all the businesses are in Jerusalem. And so they went to West Jerusalem and they built their really mansions, beautiful buildings, built with limestone.
I mean they were really state of the art buildings at that time, we are talking about the beginning of the 20th century, um, and then they were displaced in 1948. So this happened to my mother in law and her family, and this happened also to the uncle of my father and his family, who then fled and came to Bethlehem, and then they lived with us.[00:08:00]
So yeah, I mean, the Nakba also had a huge impact on the Christian community, because 50, 000 Christians were displaced in that year. West Jerusalem lost 95 percent of the Christian community.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wait, wait, okay, wait. So before you go forward, I’m realizing not everybody who’s listening is going to know what the Nakba is, and it would be helpful to have the context of the year, what led up to it.
I mean, we can start with the Balfour Declaration, and go to the mandate, and then the Nakba, but just if you could just give a cursory overview of this history and then locate your family inside of it, that would be helpful.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Okay. Yeah. So, yeah, it’s all started [00:09:00] really this whole mess that we find ourselves in Great Britain.
It was actually Christian Zionism that had an impact on British politicians to promise the European Jews a home, land in Palestine. And in 1917, Lord Balfour actually had the so-called Balfour declaration. He wrote a letter, to Lord… a Jewish Lord in the UK, [00:10:00] promising him that Her Majesty’s government would look with favor to establish a homeland for the European Jews in Palestine. Now, I always like to say it wasn’t the Lord God that promised Israel Palestine. Mm. It was the Lord Balfour. And so this was actually a deal of the empire for the Jewish people.
Now, remember, Belfor did not do this because he loved the Jews. Unfortunately, he was afraid that the poor Russian Jews who were suffering under pogroms in Russia will flood the UK, and they’d come as [00:11:00] refugees. So he wanted to divert them, their migration. Instead of coming to the UK, he sent them to Palestine and said, you know, you belong there, which means you don’t belong to Europe.
Though they were European, actually. And this is not your choice. This is God’s will. I mean, you know, I mean, you know, this, this is the imperial work that we see here. And so, yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I’m sorry, sir. I just, I’m reading right now. The a hundred years war by Rashid Khalidi. And I mean, I was, it was highly recommended to me, and I’m so happy that I’m reading it.
In addition to the work that you’ve already, that you have done, but this is an incredible history, and I’m not all the way through it yet, but I was reading it really in order to school myself for our conversation. And as I, you know, [00:12:00] do more work online with this, one of the things that strikes me about.
About this period, that he brings out is that from the beginning, there actually were Arab Palestinians, there were Jewish people, there were Christians on this land, and that the European Jews came in with the Nakba, but there were already Sephardic Jews and others who were already there.
Is that, yeah.
Right. And they had been living well with everybody for a long time.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Correct. So if we look at 19th century Palestine, uh, it was a very diverse society, with Christians, Muslims and Jews. Christians at that time made around 11 percent of the population, uh, but we had also Palestinian Jews.
So it wasn’t. [00:13:00] A contradiction to think of Jews as Palestinians, like we do today. And, this pluralistic society is something that is really well known for Palestine. Unfortunately, what the British brought with them was this sectarian, thinking. So, today, tourists, when they visit Jerusalem, they are told by guides that Jerusalem has four quarters, a Christian, a Muslim, a Jewish, and an Armenian.
Nonsense. This is a British invention because each of these quarters had multiple religions [00:14:00] living and coexisting with each other. But the British came with this sectarian mentality that they looked at Palestine with this sectarian lens and to show you how sick this sectarian mentality is 1947 towards the end of the of the British mandate of Palestine, there was one hospital in Jerusalem for lepers.
You know, the story of lepers and the Bible. So we had lepers in Palestine until 1970 almost.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: And so you had this hospital with lepers, and they were Christian, Jews, and Muslim lepers together. I mean, they were all lepers, sick.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: And the British came in and said, you know, it’s not [00:15:00] good for lepers of different religions to be together.
So they took the Jewish lepers, they took them to West Jerusalem, and they took the Arab lepers, and they sent them to Silwan, to East Jerusalem. I mean, so this is how sick this imperial mentality is. And we are still actually, you know, we are still until today suffering under this sick sectarian mentality.
This is why if you listen now often to news about Gaza, you might have the feeling that this is a religious war between Jews and Muslims. Which is not, but again, this is the sectarian mentality that cannot see pluralism and diversity as something that is positive.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. Okay. So when your family was going [00:16:00] through between 1917 and 1946 when the Nakba began, I know again, from my reading in this amazing book that there were a series of laws that were instituted as part of the mandate that gave what they called personal and religious rights and quote gave these rights that are actually inherent to every human being, but personal and religious rights to Palestinians, but civil and political rights to Jewish people who would, and also a preference for Jewish immigration, which is how the population became… it flipped from being majority Palestinian to being majority Jewish. So, can you… what was your family, do you know your family’s experience of that time? Have those stories been passed down?
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yes. I mean, so, you are right. So until 1917, the Jewish population were less than [00:17:00] 5% and the Palestinian Arabs were 95 percent when Balfour did his declaration, and then the Russian poor Jews started coming to Palestine. So this was the first, if you want, the first migration movement for European, East European Jews. But then 1933, remember, Hitler came to power in Germany and started, oppressing the Jews in Germany and beyond.
And, the German Jews were, you know, very well educated, open-minded group of people, [00:18:00] but with Hitler, they had to flee Germany. And this was the second, uh, big, uh, migration of Jews to Palestine. Still, still, until 1948, Jews were not the majority. Wow. Yeah. They became the majority after two other migrations.
One is… When Israel actually pressured the Arab Jews from Morocco and other countries, Iraq, you know, in Iraq was a huge Jewish community in Morocco the same. And so they had to come to Palestine. And then the fourth migration is with with Russians. Who came, uh, like, uh, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of them actually out of economic, [00:19:00] pressures rather than, religious.
Many of them are actually not Jewish, but they pretended to be Jewish to be able to, to be accepted in. In Israel, because you could see if your grand grand grandma is somehow Jewish, then you can, because Israel wanted always To make sure that they have the majority in Palestine.
But now right now, if we look at historic Palestine, there are around 6.5 million Jewish people and 6.5 million Arab Palestinian people. So even now, we have two groups, same size, but the one group has all the, all the might and power. And the others have not. And again, this goes back to Balfour, as you said, who promised Israel to have national rights [00:20:00] while the Palestinians, uh, only like civil rights, but even now civil rights we don’t have.
Lisa Sharon Harper: These are our stories. You’re listening to the Freedom Road podcast, where we bring you stories from the front lines of the struggle for justice.
So Dr. Rahab, as a Christian, as a Palestinian, and as a biblical scholar, I wonder. What do you think of Zionism?
Dr. Mitri Raheb: I mean Zionism actually by the United Nations was described as one of the[00:21:00] one of the brands of racism. Because it sees… it looks at the Jewish people as being supremacists. I mean, you have this kind of, like the white supremacy, you have this kind of Jewish supremacy over and against the indigenous people of Palestine.
I mean, as Palestinians, as I said before, Jews were always part of Palestine, and we never had a problem with that because they endured the same situation like us. So they suffered under Ottoman rule like us. They, you know, they suffered under British rule like us. The problem became when they…[00:22:00]
They wanted to have a state that is, if possible, pure Jewish, and in order to do that, they needed to displace the Palestinian. This is what we call settler colonialism. It’s actually what was done in North America to the native people.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes, it is.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: What was done in South Africa to the black people, it was done to the aboriginal people in Australia.
This is exactly what Israel is doing right now in Gaza, actually, right now, as we speak. This is what is happening. And unfortunately, in the American media, you don’t get this story. But this is what is happening, and, and imagine…
Lisa Sharon Harper: We’re getting it in our social media. Yeah, exactly. It’s all over my social feed.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yeah, yeah, I mean, if, if, if people are aware, [00:23:00] and they know where to look for it, it is out there. But, you know, the mainline U.S. media, unfortunately, is so one sided. And so they don’t really understand this. So Zionism actually, and you can see it now, with Gaza, I mean, if you, if you, uh, if you listen to the Israeli Minister of Agriculture saying, you know, now we will do a second Nakba to you.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah, I heard that.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: You know, if you saw the current Israeli Minister of Heritage. Uh, he said, uh, that the solution to Gaza is to drop an atomic bomb on Gaza, like Hiroshima.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I heard that.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: You know, uh, you have, uh, uh, you have, [00:24:00] uh, the minister of defense saying, these are not peoples in Gaza these are human animals. And so you can see all of these racist language. Unfortunately, I see it also in American use often. I mean, they use words like barbarians, etc. And remember, this is exactly one element of settler colonialism who used to describe the indigenous people everywhere as savage.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Savage. Mm-Hmm. Mm-Hmm.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: As backwards.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Mm-Hmm. As animals.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: As animals. Uh mm-Hmm. And so we hear right now in the 21st century. We hear this language and, you know, I, as pastor, I have been, working against hate… [00:25:00] You know, hate language and hate crime and I see now Israeli ministers.
I mean, people in power, these are not like some, you know, crazy, very right wing racist people saying something. These are the people in power. They are, you know, very well educated using this hate language in the 21st century. And I don’t see any of the organizations who work against hate crime raising their voice just because they are Jewish.
This is unbearable, I tell you.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So when you go to the scripture and look, and I know you do, but when you go to the scripture, how do you address the theology behind Zionism in the scripture? [00:26:00]
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Right. That’s a good question. In fact, Netanyahu, when he declared on October 27th, that they are going to go into Gaza.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: In the press conference, he was asked by one of the reporters about, I mean, a question, and his answer was very interesting because he said, in our Bible, in the Hebrew Bible, we hear that God is saying you should not forget what Amalek did to you.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: And that’s a quote from, 1 Samuel chapter 15.
And in [00:27:00] that verse, actually, God is ordering Saul to kill Amalek, and not to let anyone live, old, woman, child, ox, horse, etc. And this is exactly what Israel is doing today. So, in the Bible, and this is what I always like to say to my students, you know, the Bible is like, the bazaar in the old city of Jerusalem, which means you can find in the Bible whatever you want.
So if you would like to support settler colonialism, go to the book of Joshua. The book of Joshua actually is [00:28:00] the blueprint for settler colonialism and genocide.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: This is the book of Joshua. Remember, you know, there were people in the 19th century seeing in… for example, in the book of Genesis chapter nine, something against black people and against Palestinians.
So, if you, if you want that, you can find it in the Bible. What you find in the Bible says more about you than about the Bible.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, that’s so good. Wait, can I share, cause I want to, I want to, I wish that I had another theologian in here with you to talk and maybe we’ll do this. We’ll do a part two and I’ll bring in Bishop Zach.
Are you familiar with Bishop David Zach Neringye? Oh my goodness. Y’all need to be in [00:29:00] conversation. So I recently did an Instagram live with him and we were talking about this passage, especially this Amalek passage. And he is, he’s from Kenya. Or no, I’m sorry. Forgive me, Bishop Zach. He’s from Uganda.
And so, from Uganda, literally an actual bishop there who has been excommunicated because he went against the genocide that was happening there and all of the corruption. And so now he’s based out of Fuller seminary in LA. Okay. So he says, and I wonder what you would, what you would say to this.
He says that the Bible is not a text. It’s a script. It’s a script-sure. It is not meant to be read as these are the black letters of the law, as in whatever is in it is good. But rather, this is an [00:30:00] account of a relationship between God and a people written by those people, according to their understanding of their relationship with God.
So this passage on Amalek, Amalek. We can look at that passage and say, that is true. It is true that Samuel believed that God said this to him. But to say that God actually said this to him would actually be to say that Samuel is God. Would be to say that the text itself is God. And it’s not. It’s a script, he says.
What do you think of that?
Dr. Mitri Raheb: No, I agree fully, actually. You know, I always say, and that’s as Christians. We don’t believe that the Bible, like, came down from heaven like that.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: What came from heaven, actually, is a person. That’s something totally different. This is why we believe in [00:31:00] Jesus, not in the text.
Because the text was written by people, and God speaks to people always according to their context.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, my God.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Because God is a contextual theologians, if you want, wow, you know, so, uh, so, uh, you know, one of my students one as once asked me, you know, I mean, this, this, this text of Joshua calling for a genocide, right?
Don’t you think we should take out of the Bible? You know, I said we can do that, easy to do. However, if we take it out now, it means we, we think there will not be people coming sometimes to do this in the name of [00:32:00] God, you know? different groups do so many things in the name of God. What Israel now is doing in Gaza in the name of God is awful.
I mean, you know, for Netanyahu now to quote Saul and this text is just shows that, you know, God always and often is being weaponized in context of power. And so we have to acknowledge that so not everyone who says, God, God, really, we need to take serious. This is why sometimes in my language, I tend to be more like to sound a bit more secular.
Because you know, we are living here in a context where we have too much religion. [00:33:00] People are getting suffocated from religion and God himself is telling us, give me a break. I cannot handle that much religion.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Ha ha ha. Wow. Oh my gosh. You literally just blew my mind.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: But you know, I mean, this is what it is, this is what it is.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And seeing that from Bethlehem is a big deal. Wow
Dr. Mitri Raheb:. Yeah, yeah. Because, you know, because I think, I think that is, that’s a very important part of our Christian understanding of scripture. So at the end of the day, the question we have to ask ourselves, is scripture… Is the Bible a text [00:34:00] for colonization or is it a text for liberation?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, that’s good. Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Actually, it’s both. It depends on you. So if you are a colonizer, you think the Bible is a book that supports colonization. If you are for liberation, you know, then you understand actually the Bible is… the focus of the whole scripture is about liberation. Now, the problem is in Europe and because of the empire, because they didn’t want to have anything political: liberation became salvation of the soul.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, interesting. Sure. Well, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I think we just need to sit on that for a minute. The [00:35:00] empire in Europe did not want faith to be political, which I think we need to unpack that for a minute. Why? Because having a faith that has political implications would actually put the empire itself at risk.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Exactly.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right? So, instead, what they do is they defang it. They defang the text and make it hyper spiritual. Everything is only a spiritual interpretation as opposed to any kind of connotation that would land in real time, in real place, and have implications for the way that we live together in the world.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Exactly. And so, uh, and so everything was spiritualized, you know so African American the most important thing became that, you know, their soul will be saved. Also Native American, but you take their land, you know. [00:36:00]
Lisa Sharon Harper: And their bodies.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: This is what, yeah, and then, you know, this is what one friend you know, in South Africa, a pastor told me, you know, um, when, before the, the, the British, uh, you know, and, and the Dutch came the blacks in South Africa had the land, you know, and then the missionaries came.
And told the Africans, you know, let us pray and they prayed together, you know, so the black had the Bible and the missionary, the black had the land, the missionaries had the Bible, and then they prayed together. And once they opened their eyes, the Black had the Bible and the British and Dutch had the land.
You know what I mean?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, yes, I do.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: This is exactly what also [00:37:00] happened in Palestine. What is happening? Because we have all of these crazy Christian Zionists who believe, you know, that God gave the Israelis the land, our land. I mean, I wouldn’t mind if they believe that God gave Texas.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hello, you know, now you messin now you messin because you know, a lot of them are actually based in Texas.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: I know. This is why I’m using Texas. Yeah.So I don’t mind if, you know, but this is what it is. So we have to be very really very careful and very critical. And for me, uh, uh, Christianity taught me to be critical and especially to be critical of religion. And imagine if you read the New Testament, the most critical verses in the Gospels [00:38:00] were said against the religious establishment.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. That’s right. That’s right. That’s where Jesus calls them a den of vipers. White, white washed tombs. I mean, you just, he basically cusses them out.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Right, right. Because yeah, because there is too much religion and with… and a religion that does not take the human dimension into account. And for us what happened in Bethlehem 2000 years ago was that the divine became human, which means now every human life is divine.
Every human life deserve to have life and life in abundance. There is no person that doesn’t deserve that because the divine himself decided to become human. That is the ultimate things [00:39:00] that you can be human. And so this is why I like to look at, you know, Jews as humans, Muslim as humans.
You know, at our university, 75 percent of our students are Muslims. And for me, they are humans exactly like me. This sectarian mentality that likes to put people in castes, irrespective if these castes are religious or whatever, is very sickening and the world is really suffering under these closed identities.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So sir, can I ask you? One last question in this segment, which is, how do we decolonize our faith? How did you deco… start to decolonize your faith?
Dr. Mitri Raheb: I think you have to read my book, Decolonizing Palestine: the Land, the People, the Bible. [00:40:00] But for me it was, it was,
Lisa Sharon Harper: you’ll put a link, we’ll put a link to it in our, in the notes for sure.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: It was a journey. Because I grew up evangelical, and went to study to Germany where I learned critical methods but again, the German way, which is, afterwards I discovered it’s very problematic, and I had to learn How to read the Bible through Palestinian Eyes, which is another book that I have written that you alluded to.
Because unfortunately, most of the theologians in the global south often [00:41:00] were trained in the global north and thought that is real theology.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Ah, yes. That is orthodoxy.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Exactly, and you know, the funny thing is Germans believed that what they are doing is theology, the real thing, and people in subtropical areas, Latin America and Africa and so on, are doing contextual theology, which is not the real thing, you know.
Again, you can see the racist, the racist ideology even in theology. Thanks guys.
Lisa Sharon Harper: The supremacy.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Exactly. Thanks God. I was able to free myself from this empire theology and to go back to our wells. Mm-Hmm, and back to the original well is very [00:42:00] important to me. And so I had to struggle with the Bible in a new way, uh, which led me to a fascinating discovery.
About how to read the Bible through Palestinian eyes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Walking Freedom Road from coast to coast and around the globe, this is the Freedom Road Podcast.
So, Dr. Rahab, I want to, I have so many, I have so many questions and I’ve actually been kind of skipping around my notes because our conversation has really been in full flow mode. And it’s been fabulous because of that. But I want to come back to this question of decolonizing our faith. And you, in our last segment, kind of landed on decolonizing our read of the text.
Can [00:43:00] you share with us, you know, how do we begin to decolonize how we see the Scripture itself?
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yeah, you know, first of all, I always knew that the Bible somehow is a book that came out of our region. As I said, it was really… the Bible did not originate in the Bible Belt. I always knew that theoretically, but but really it dawned at me, believe it or not, that after… my maybe third visit to Japan.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: I was there for two weeks. Uh huh. Finished my tour. I [00:44:00] was on a speaking tour. Finished my tour. Uh, boarded the plane in Tokyo. And, crashed on my seat. And I was dying for two things. I was dying to have a piece of bread and to have a piece of meat because, you know, in Japan, most of the people eat fish, which I love fish, but, you know, like two weeks fish without meat was just too much for me.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I’m a vegetarian, so I get it.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yeah, yeah. And then, you know, they don’t have bread, real bread. At that moment, it dawned to me that, you know, Jesus was really a Palestinian Jew because we cannot survive without bread. If Jesus would have lived in Japan, he would have said, not, I am the [00:45:00] bread of the world, but I am the rice of the world.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Because rice is exactly what stands for bread in Palestine, but that’s… And so I started, you know, though this is something like you think it’s not so important, but it triggered for me, you know, what, why do we need to read, you know, Brueggemann to understand the Bible. And in, in my book, actually on, on, on, uh, uh, my latest book, decolonizing Palestine, I have tough time with Brueggemann, and saying how can somebody like Brueggemann, who’s really liberal, outstanding theologian, write a book about land in the United States without talking about the original sin that was done to the Native [00:46:00] American.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: That is the blind spot. You know? So, so, uh, so we really need, why do we need to, to read Bultmann and, I mean, I, like reading all of them, but at the end of the day, we have to be genuine to ourself and we have to develop the courage to read the Bible, you know? through our own lens. What I love, you know, in the story, and this is, by the way, this is something important in Christianity. If you read the story of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples, and then what happened, you know, Americans, they are obsessed with speaking in tongues. And so they think that’s the most important thing.
The miracle was not [00:47:00] speaking in tongues, but it was a hearing miracle because they started hearing each one the language, their own language, which means God wants to talk to us in the language in which we dream.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Because he wants to get to us. And so we need to develop that that and I think African American did a great job when they were developing the Gospels and, you know, that music as something that has to do with their identity, but also resilience and resistance and something that is speaking to the way they think and they live and it became part and parcel of them.
This is what every… all of us need to do. [00:48:00]
Lisa Sharon Harper: You know, it’s interesting that you bring up the black church because one of the things that I that I’ve come to, I don’t know if it’s understand, but, in my bones, I get this, that there was a symmetry, there was a alignment that was sensed by the founders of the black church in America, the African American church, which was begun as a protest movement.
Literally, like literally the very first Black denominations were formed in protest of segregation at the altar. Like they… black folk could not pray at the altar of St. George’s, United Methodist, not United, but Methodist church right here in Philadelphia, literally like less than a mile from where I’m sitting right now.
And so Absalom Jones and Richard Allen and James Fortin led a huge walkout of that church. And they did that [00:49:00] because they understood that they were also made in the image of God. And when I read… when I was studying Genesis one, that’s kind of for me where the aha moment came because I realized that the writers of this text in Genesis one were likely the priests who were exiting the Babylonian exile.
They were on their way out. Right. And as they are, as they’re leaving, they’re literally making commentary on the worldview of their oppressors which had Enuma Elish, the story of their… that creation story had the deep, had the monsters, the sea monsters, all the things… but in this brown colonized people group, when they told their story, they said, but we are not going to be slaves to the gods. Humans are not slaves to the gods. Humans are actually made by God in God’s image. And that was like this revolutionary thing at this time. [00:50:00] And it struck me for the very first time. And this is when I was writing The Very Good Gospel that from the very first page of the whole Bible, the Bible is written by God.
In the context of colonization, it’s written in the by Brown colonized people or people who are, you know, imminently at risk of colonization in the context of Solomon or David. Right. So, you can’t have… you can’t, you can’t read the text from the, from the social location of empire.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Exactly.
Lisa Sharon Harper: If you understand every author of that text was writing from the social location of colonization.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, the whole, the entire Bible was written under occupation because, you know, uh, we had in Palestine, the Assyrians empire, the Assyrian empire, then we had the Babylonians. [00:51:00]
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Then we had the Persians, then we had the Greek. Right. Then we have the Romans. So Jesus was born under Roman occupation.
And it continued because we had then the Byzantines, which is the Christian Roman Empire, basically. And then we had the Arabs, we had, you know, the Crusaders. I will skip a few, maybe they are not very well known. Then we had the Ottomans. And then we had the British and now the Israeli and this is important.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Because the Palestinians of today, actually they stand in continuity with the Israelites of the Bible being the occupied of the land while the Israeli of today are the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the empire who came here to subjugate the native people. And so, this is why, Christian Zionists get all [00:52:00] the story, you know, wrong, because they don’t look at… and they don’t do power analysis.
We cannot read the Bible without power analysis, because it depends, everything depends on where you stand. Are you part of the empire? Or are you part of those who are oppressed? And this is why the whole Bible actually is nothing but texts of resistance. Literature, literature of resistance. As you said, it starts with Genesis 1 and it goes all the way to the Revelation.
Because remember, John was at Patmos.
Lisa Sharon Harper:That’s right.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: And he was having the hate of the empire and his text was a text, you know, of [00:53:00] resistance against the empire. And this is how we need to read these texts.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So some people are looking at the events in Israel and Palestine right now, and they’re preaching that these events tell us that we’re in the end times and they’re looking at Revelation to say that, right?
So what meaning do you draw? From the events since October 7th.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yeah. I mean, you know, these people who always like to think they are anxious for Armageddon. And, you know, every few years, every decades, they come up with, now we are living in the end time, et cetera. And unfortunately this is being instrumentalized by some preachers for fundraising purposes and so on.
So it’s a dirty job to tell you the truth. And the [00:54:00] question is, why are these people so obsessed with wars?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. Ooh.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Because they are really anxious for Armageddon and these people are actually anti-Semitic. Why? Because they want to bring all the Jews to Palestine, and then two-thirds of the Jews will be killed in the war, and the last third will convert to Christianity.
So basically they are calling for the annihilation of the Jewish people.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow!
Dr. Mitri Raheb: So they instrumentalize the Jewish people for their meta narrative. The meta narrative is basically, you know, the second coming of Christ, and… For that, I mean, human life doesn’t matter. This is not the gospel I came to know through Jesus Christ, you know.
And [00:55:00] unfortunately, then they look at the Palestinians as being, you know, like Netanyahu, the Amalekite, or they are the Philistines, or they are the Canaanites that God is calling to kill. And so they are part of this imperial theology and politics. You know, Christian Zionism, or let me put it this way, Israel, right now in Gaza, cannot do what they are doing if they are not receiving all the hardware from the empire.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right. That’s right. Cause they are not an empire. Can I just say this very quickly? This is actually important. I had this thought, it’s like one of these little connections that are made in your mind. And I had this thought last night that Israel–like biblical Israel–wanted to be like the empires that had subjugated them.[00:56:00]
They wanted to have a king. They wanted to have the temple. And God said, don’t do it. Because when you do that, you’re going to have to enslave your people to make temples and you don’t need a king. You got me. I’m supposed to be your king. Right. But they went ahead. They did it. God allowed them to do it.
And it all came to pass, right? They enslaved the people. They exploited all of the things, but there’s always a desire to be empire. They never were. And now they flex, or at least right now Netanyahu is flexing as if he is empire, but they are still not empire. They are aligned with empire.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Right. They, and this is why, you know, uh, the Empire continue to provide Israel with the hardware. These are the F-35 and the you know, the fighter jets and, you know, yeah. The $13.4 or $14.3 [00:57:00] billion, et cetera, et cetera. Right? That’s the hardware, right? But Christian Zionists provide Israel with the software.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Ooh.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: And the software is more dangerous than the hardware. The software is equating the Biblical Israel with the state of Israel today. That’s the software, you know.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: The software is thinking. Yeah. You know Israel is doing God’s job now in Gaza. Uh, this is the software and we are as Palestinians, we are killed by the hardware and we are killed by the software. And so, this is why decolonizing theology, and decolonizing empire is very, very important.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So what is the darkness of empire? If you were to name, what is the darkness of empire as you experience it in Palestine today? [00:58:00]
Dr. Mitri Raheb: The darkness of empire is that it has this supremacy against, all other people.
You name them native, black, brown, Palestinian, et cetera. And secondly, because of that, their lives don’t matter. You know, when… with George Floyd, when the slogans became so important, Black Lives Matter, why is this so important? Because for the empire, black lives don’t matter.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Don’t matter. That’s right.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: Yeah. And, but for God, black lives matter. And [00:59:00] so… but this is not the imperial thinking because the imperial… the empire is based on suppressing all other groups. That is what in the Bible we call Pax Romana.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right.
Dr. Mitri Raheb: You know, the peace that comes with empire. It’s not the peace.
It’s like exactly what Netanyahu is doing now. He wants to have peace by exterminating the Palestinian people, displacing them. And you know what? These young people in Gaza who have seen their mothers and fathers being killed in airstrikes, their homes, their safety net was destroyed.
Yeah, you know, what would happen with them? You know, this Hamas fighter who did this attack on October 7th, they were born during one of the earlier wars, and they saw [01:00:00] exactly what Israel was doing, and they wanted revenge. But this generation that now experience this, God help them because it’s beyond any understanding.
So, but this is the peace of the empire is okay. We go there. We kill them. You know, we wipe them out as one of the ministers said, go and wipe them out. That settler colonialism, you know, wipe them out. You know, this will never bring peace. And this is actually the problem. Netanyahu actually, you know, The problem in this war was not Hamas, though, I mean, I’m against the killing of civilians, etc.
But Netanyahu didn’t want to have peace. So he wanted to have all the land to build more settlements, to keep Gaza as an open air prison, and to think, you know, with power and might, he will prevail. [01:01:00] Now, actually, his last, his last years in life, he is a desperate person because all his calculations proved to be totally false.
And, you know, I mean, you know, the poor Jewish people who are soldiers now, I mean, these are high tech young people who have their businesses. And now they have to go and fight in the allies of Gaza and in refugee camps. I mean, but this is the empire, and this is why we need to resist this imperial thinking and say, you know, without justice, there is no peace because the peace of Christ is built on justice.
And what the Bible says is that peace will be the fruit of justice. So without justice for the Palestinians, there will be [01:02:00] no peace for Israel.
Lisa Sharon Harper: The conversations leaders have on the road to justice. This is the freedom road podcast. Thank you for joining us today. The Freedom Road Podcast is recorded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and wherever our guests lay their head that night. This episode was engineered, edited, and produced by Corey Nathan of Scan Media and Freedom Road Podcast is executive produced by Freedom Road, LLC.
We consult coach, train, and design experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment. And lead to common action. You can find out more about our work at our website, freedom road.us. Stay in the know by signing up for updates. And we promise we won’t flood your inbox. We invite you to listen again, and join the conversation on Freedom Road, [01:03:00] but if you are on Patreon, if you’re one of our patrons on Patreon, or if you are a subscriber on Substack, you get a special treat. We are going to have a special quick conversation backstage with Dr. Mitri Raheb.