Who Are the Palestinians? (Part One)

by Cliff McManis

Who are the Palestinians? The technical answer is different, and very confusing, depending upon what time in history one is referring to. Today the popular notion is that a Palestinian is a non-Jewish Arab Muslim who is indigenous to the land of Palestine in the Middle East, such as the late terrorist, Yasser Arafat, or today’s terrorist group, Hamas. One hundred years ago a Palestinian could have been a Jew living in Jerusalem. In 1,000 BC a Palestinian was a reference to the Philistines, from Philistia, intruders to Canaan living in the southern coastal plain of Israel on the Mediterranean Sea, like the giant Goliath (1 Sam 17). So, is a Palestinian a modern Arab, a historic Jew or an ancient pagan Philistine? Well, it depends. Houston…we have a problem! 

Having an accurate understanding of who the Palestinians really are is critical to having a correct view of Israel today. Unfortunately, historical revisionism has ruled the day on this issue for the past generation—for at least the past five decades in fact. The truth from a popular perspective is distorted, and smothered, beneath layers of false, deep-seated narratives perpetrated by Israel’s enemies, including the mainstream media, to a degree that is difficult to override. But this two-part article will give it a shot.

Palestine in the Bible
It’s easiest to start from the beginning, in Old Testament history, in order to come up with a legitimate definition of “Palestine.” Starting with the Bible, it is significant to know that the word “Palestine” is not even in Scripture! At least you will not find that word in the most popular English translations of the Bible, including the NASB, ESV, NIV, NKJV and the CSB. Significantly, and amazingly, the word “Palestine” is never mentioned in the Quran either. Historically, Muslims never considered “Palestine” to be one of their holy sites.

One of the ironies in the Arab-Israeli dispute over “Palestine” is the oft-neglected fact that there is no Palestine in the Muslim or Arab tradition. Neither Filastin (Palestine) nor al-Quds (Jerusalem) is mentioned in the Quran. During more than a millennium when Muslims (both Arabs and Ottoman Turks) ruled the Middle east—from 633 to 1917, with the exception of the century of the Crusaders’ reign (1099 to 1187)—there was never a separate entity encompassing the general area of today’s Israel/Palestine.[1]

So today, the Jews and the Muslim Arabs are warring over what to do with “Palestine” when that word is not even in either of their most sacred books. How is that possible? That’s what we have to untangle—attempting the impossible by unscrewing the inscrutable.

To do this we need to (1) deal with the Bible’s treatment of the word Palestine; (2) identify historically who the Palestinians actually were; (3) explain Rome’s use of the word “Palestine” in the second century AD; (4) show how the Brits invoked the word “Palestine” in the early twentieth century; (5) and finally explain how two radical Arabs co-opted the word “Palestine” to suit their terrorist cause since 1967. All these variables contribute to the modern, convoluted portrayal of where Palestine is and what constitutes a true Palestinian.

First is the issue of the Bible’s handling of the word “Palestine.” Despite what I just said about English Bibles not mentioning the word “Palestine,” the King James Bible actually has one occurrence of the word in Joel 3:4, which reads as follows:

Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? Will ye render me a recompense? And if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompense upon your own head.

All other English translations translate “Palestine” as “Philistia” here, which refers to the small region in the south-west coast of Canaan where the Philistine people lived when Abram first entered the Promised Land. “Tyre and Sidon” refer to the coastal district in north-western Canaan and they were the two main cities of Phoenicia. Situated on the Mediterranean seacoast, Sidon was about twenty-five miles north of Tyre. Joel mentions Tyre and Sidon along with the Philistine plain to represent all the western coastland along the Mediterranean. “Palestine” or “Philistia” in Joel’s day referred to its five great cities and princes (cf. Josh 13:2). This verse, written by Joel around 900 BC, is actually God warning His enemies and the enemies of Israel, that judgment is coming for the sins of theft and the slave-trade directed at Israel. Tyre, Sidon and the land of Philistia were known for their seaports on the Great Sea, which is where the slave-trading happened that Joel is condemning. Palestine or Philistia in this context, and throughout the whole Old Testament, is a region composed of only a fraction of all the land of Canaan or Israel. Philistia as a whole was not much bigger than the Dead Sea. So for Joel, “Palestine” does not refer to the entire Promised Land, but only a tiny portion of it. As a matter of fact, Joel distinguishes “Judah” from “Palestine” in 3:1 and even refers to the whole area as “Israel” (3:2), not Palestine. So even the King James Bible never refers to the whole land of Canaan as “Palestine,” but only the small lot on the south-west coast; and even then he’s talking about the land of the ancient Philistines, not the modern day home of the deceased Yasser Arafat.

Another important note about Joel 3:4—consider how the New American Standard translates it:

Moreover, what are you to Me, O Tyre, Sidon and all the regions of Philistia? Are you rendering Me a recompense? But if you do recompense Me, swiftly and speedily I will return your recompense on your head.

All the other modern English Bibles translate the word “Philistia” in Joel 3:4 as the NASB does and not as the KJV did when it rendered a specific Hebrew word such as “Palestine.” That Hebrew noun used is Palashet and occurs eight times in the Old Testament. For whatever reason the King James translators back in 1611 did not translate the proper noun Palashet the same way in all eight usages. Actually, they translated it four different ways: Palestine, Palestina, Philistia and Philistines. Here’s the King James breakdown in the eight verses:

The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina/palashet.

Exod 15:14

Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia/palashet triumph thou because of me.

Ps 60:8

Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines/palashet with the inhabitants of Tyre.

Ps 83:7

I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia/palashet and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there.

Ps 87:4

Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe; over Philistia/palashet will I triumph.

Ps 108:9

Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina/palashet, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken…Howl, O gate; cry; O city; thou, whole Palestina/palashet, art dissolved….

Isa 14:29, 31

Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine/palashet? Will ye render me a recompense? And if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompense upon your own head.

Joel 3:4

The Hebrew noun, palashet, should never have been translated as “Palestine,” but rather as “Philistia,” which is what the NASB has done in all eight cases.[2] The Hebrew noun palashet, from the verb root, palash, means “to roll (in dust; migratory)” and most basically refers to “a territory on the southern Mediterranean coast of Israel”; “a region of Syria.”     The origin and significance of the word “Philistia” is unknown,[3] but in the Old Testament it is used in reference to a geographical area, which was the area occupied by the Philistines, the perennial enemy of Israel from the days of Abraham (2000 BC; Gen 21:34) until the days of Jeremiah (600 BC; Jer 47:1).[4]

Our word “Palestine” actually comes from the word “Philistine.”[5] So technically, historically, and according to the Bible, the Palestinians are the Philistines. But no one uses the word Palestinian that way today, for a lot of reasons. The most obvious is the fact that they were obliterated before the 6th century BC. It wasn’t until the 5th century BC that Herodotus and other classical writers first used the word “Palestine” as a designation for southern Syria, the region north of Egypt, which the Bible called “Canaan.”[6]

Prior to that time Palestine, or Philistia, was restricted to a smaller area on the Eastern Mediterranean Sea extending from Gaza going north to Joppa.[7] This was the area that God had allocated to Dan and Judah in the days of Joshua (Judges 1:18-19). The tribe of Dan failed to conquer their designated area by the sea that was occupied by the Philistines (Judges 18:1) so they were forced north and eventually conquered Leshem (Laish of Judges 18:29) and renamed it Dan (Josh 19:47; Judges 18:1-29). Not displacing the evil Philistines was a lack of faithfulness and courage on the part of Dan and as a result the Philistines would prove to be a scourge to the nation of Israel for the next 700 years! 

According to the Bible, all the area west of the Jordan river up to the Mediterranean Sea was known as Canaan before God led Israel there through Joshua (around 1400 BC). This area was a strategic land bridge connecting Africa and Asia. It was prime real estate.

This territory was situated between the great ancient empires of the Tigris-Euphrates and the Halys rivers on the one hand, and the great Egyptian empire of the Nile on the other. It was providential that the nation Israel, with its testimony to the knowledge of the one true God and with its obligation to make known that fact, should inherit a country that formed a geographical bridge between the ancient centers of pagan civilization.[8]

Before Canaan became an area of land, Canaan was the name of a real man. He is first mentioned in the Bible right after the Flood not long after Noah exited the ark. Moses informs the reader, “Ham was the father of Canaan” (Gen 9:18), which makes Canaan the grandson of Noah. Noah’s son, Ham, violated Noah in some unspeakably immoral manner, and as a result, God did not just punish Ham, He cursed Ham’s entire lineage beginning with his son Canaan (9:25). As a result, the offspring of Canaan would become a corrupt, immoral, compromised, wicked people, polluting the land and everyone around them. God, therefore, sovereignly chose to expunge them from the land. The Canaanites were so vile and their reputation so wicked that the word “Canaanite” became a metaphorical and proverbial term of derision to describe that which was immoral, degenerate and unholy (Zech 14:21).

Canaan is next mentioned in Genesis 10 where Moses describes how Canaan the man has descendants and thus becomes Canaan the people-group and a confederation of nation-states (Josh 3:10), around 2500 BC: 

The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan….Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Hethand the Jebusite and the Amorite and the Girgashite and the Hivite and the Arkite and the Siniteand the Arvadite and the Zemarite and the Hamathite; and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad. The territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. These are the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations.

Gen 10:6, 15-20

This passage clearly delineates the boundaries of what would become the “Promised Land,” or “land of promise” (Heb 11:9), that God would give to Israel. “Sidon” marks the northern-most coastal town. The western border was the Mediterranean “as you go toward Gerar.” “Gaza” marks the southern border and the four cities, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim mark the southeasterly border of Canaan.[9]

Beginning in Genesis 10, when all nations first began, this land is known as “the land of Canaan,” not Palestine! To call this land “Palestine” is to invoke a true and significant anachronism, an illegitimate back-reading of later history into a time-period when such a name did not exist, nor did it correspond to the land area at hand. In 2100 BC that area was called “the land of Canaan” before Abram arrived there (Gen 11:31; 12:5). When Abram arrived and ventured all throughout the region, “the Canaanites were in the land” (Gen 12:6). All throughout Genesis it is called “the land of Canaan,” forty times, from the time of Abram until the days of Joseph (1800 BC). God promised to give the Jews the land of Canaan, not the land of Palestine. God clearly told Moses, “I also established My covenant with them [Israel], to give them the land of Canaan” (Exod 6:4).

God Himself would lead the Jews into the land as He also would drive out the Canaanites ahead of them: “Driving out the Canaanites…I will send an angel before you” (Exod 33:2). After taking possession of the land under the leadership of Joshua “the land of Canaan” became the property and stewardship of Israel: “Now these are the territories which the sons of Israel inherited in the land of Canaan” (Joshua 14:1). So all the land of Canaan became the land of the twelve tribes of Israel. After Joshua possessed the land God had given him, Scripture begins to refer to that region as Israel’s possession in various forms such as “the hill country of Israel” (Joshua 11:16), “the land of the sons of Israel” (11:22), “the land of Israel’s inheritance” (Judges 20:6), “the land of Israel” (1 Sam 13:19), “the territory of Israel” (1 Sam 27:1), “the land which I [YHWH] have given them” (1 Kings 9:7), “their land” (Jer 12:4). God Himself calls it “the holy land” and it, along with Jerusalem, belongs to Judah (i.e., “the Jews”; Zech 2:12). Even after the kingdom divided into north and south around 931 BC after the rule of Solomon, the north was known as “Israel” and “Samaria” (1 Kings 16:29) while the south was designated “Judah” (1 Kings 14:21)… never “Palestine” nor “Philistia” nor any other non-Jewish appellation.

God could give Israel the land because He created and owned it. It is called “YHWH’S land” in Hosea 9:3! He also created Israel, elected them as His own and called His very name “the LORD God of Israel” (Jer 34:13). No other nation or land in human history has been given such personalized divine attributions. The point is simple. From the time nations began, the Bible calls the Promised Land “the land of Canaan” until the days of Joshua around 1390 BC when that region took on the designation “the land of Israel.” The Bible never calls it Palestine.

Who were the Philistines?
Who were the Philistines? Simply put, the Philistines were the ancient and original Palestinians…and they have no relation to modern-day Islamic Arab Palestinians. They first appear in Genesis in the days of Abram and prove to be a perennial nemesis to Israel until after the 6th century BC when they fade from the annals of history. As a people, the Bible calls them “uncircumcised” (Judges 15:18; 1 Sam 17:26; 1 Chron 10:4), a term of derision, a dirty people, in contrast to Israel, God’s special set-apart (i.e., “holy”), circumcised elect nation.

Before occupying the small patch of land on the coast of south-west Canaan, the Philistines inhabited Crete and other regions north of Egypt. They were known as the “Sea people,” for they were part of a massive contingent of sea people who invaded Egypt by way of the Aegean Sea around the 13th century BC.

The primary evidence for this comes from the Bible, Egyptian records, and archeological finds. According to the Bible, the Philistines came from Caphtor (Jer 47:4; Amos 9:7; cf. Gen 10:14; Deut 2:23; 1 Chron 1:12) which is generally thought to be Crete. The Cretan origin is supported by the term “Cherethites,” a name probably meaning “Cretans” and used in reference to the Philistines or a part of them. First Samuel 30:14 refers to part of the Philistine coast as the “Negeb of the Cherethites.” In Ezekiel 25:16 and Zephaniah 2:5 the Philistines and the Cherethites are used in parallelism. Elsewhere, the Cherethites are part of David’s personal bodyguard (2 Sam 15:18, etc.) and probably were recruited from the Philistines while David was at Ziklag. Egyptian records refer to a nebulous group of “Sea People” who were invaders coming from the islands in the North. These “Sea People” caused a tremendous upheaval in the ancient Near East at the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1200 B.C.).[10]

The Philistines are first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 10:14 in the Table of Nations as being the descendants of two people groups called the “Pathrusim and Casluhim.” These folks were sea people and invaded Egypt in waves, from 2400 BC and again in a significant way in 1200 BC.[11] Egypt successfully repelled them and pushed them north, up toward Canaan, and as a result they end up on the south-western coast of the Promised Land (and later even in the foothills of the tribe of Judah), where they are routinely featured in Scripture as they interface with various Jews, from Abram to the Judges. As a people group, they appear in the Bible in four different time-periods of Israel’s history: first with Abraham and his immediate offspring (2100-1900 BC); next during the time of the Exodus and the Judges (1400-1300 BC); then during the reigns of Saul and David (1050-1000 BC); and finally, during the divided monarchy (950-500 BC).

Abraham had an encounter with the Philistines when he was about 100 years old as he ventured into “the land of the Philistines” in southern Canaan in the City of Gerar. Upon entering the city, Abimelech, the king of Gerar, stole Sarah from Abraham and took her as his own. God appeared to the king in a dream and warned him not to touch Sarah, “for she is married” (Gen 20:3). God struck the king’s household with a curse and as a result, Abimelech repented and returned Sarah and told Abraham to roam freely throughout the land of Gerar. God responded to Abimelech in grace, healing him and his whole family.

About ninety years later, after Abraham had died, his son Isaac took his family south during a famine to live in the Philistine city of Gerar, the same town Abraham had visited. While there, Abimelech (a title like the Egyptian “Pharaoh”) inquired about Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, who was beautiful. Isaac lied to the king of Gerar, saying “She is my sister” (Gen 26:7). Abimelech confronted Isaac, who finally confessed to the truth. The king then allowed Isaac to live in the land of the Philistines and God blessed him during his sojourn there, for over time he accumulated “possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him” (Gen 26:14). Eventually Abimelech, Philistine king of Gerar became threatened by the prosperous Jew and said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us” (vs. 16).

These two accounts illustrate that Israel’s initial interactions with the Philistines on the southern coast were tolerable—as long as each group stayed clear of the other. They were able to co-exist under certain conditions and agreements. In the future, this would not be the case as the Philistines would grow more aggressive and hostile to Israel, the people of God.

Over the next six centuries the Philistines became more settled, populous, and territorial along the southern coast of the Great Sea. They developed a reputation of being so hostile that in 1440 BC God warned Moses about them and told the Israelite deliverer to lead the Jews out of Egypt by the longer route via the Red Sea as opposed to the short-cut straight up the coast along the Mediterranean in order to avoid the bellicose Philistines:

Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt.

Exod 13:17-18

Joshua had limited interaction with the Philistines as he led Israel into the Promised Land, one tribe at a time. Main resistance from the Philistines came in the region allocated to Dan, who failed to dispel the Philistines. As a result, instead of being purged completely, the Philistines maintained a root in the land of Israel that would bear bitter fruit for the Jews for generations to come (Judges 3:1-3). During the days of the Judges, Israel even adopted the false gods (i.e., Dagon, Ashtoreh, Baalzebub) of the pagan Philistines, thus “they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him” (Judges 10:6). During the entire era of the Israelite Judges, the Philistines consistently pressed inland from the coast harassing Israel. The most formidable campaign against the Philistines was led by Samson (Judges 13-15). But ironically, he could not escape the temptation of their vices as he even married a Philistine woman, and later was betrayed by Delilah, the infamous dame who had Philistine associations. Eventually Samson was taken prisoner by them, having his eyes gouged out, chained to pillars and publicly humiliated as sport before a crowd of thousands. Samson invoked the power of God in one last burst of strength as he toppled the entire massive edifice upon himself and all present as he shouted, “Let me die with the Philistines!” (Judges 16:30).

The Philistines were an advanced people for their time, particularly in the area of metallurgy, a skill they acquired from other Sea Peoples such as the Hittites, those from Antolia,[12] and possibly from the indigenous Canaanites as well (Josh 17:16).  As such, the Philistines for a time had a monopoly on iron weapons and tools, including spears and even chariots (1 Sam 13:5, 19-23). This put the Israelites at a disadvantage. It was during the days of Samuel that the Philistines began to flex their military might, wielding their progressive weapons of war, with their sights homed in on the less sophisticated Jews. It was during this period (c. 1070 BC) when the Philistines successfully stole the ark of the covenant from Israel for seven months (1 Sam 4-6). It was also at this time that God raised up King Saul to defend Israel, as he would kill his thousands in war, and King David who would slaughter tens of thousands, many of those enemies being the pesky Philistines.

The apex of Philistine hostility toward Israel is poignantly illustrated in the famous battle between David, the Jew, and Goliath, the ten-foot tall Philistine champion, who bore 125-pound armor and wielded a spear with a 15-pound iron tip. Goliath publicly mocked Israel and their God for forty straight days in a valley near Judah, challenging Israel to send forth their best warrior for slaughter. David, who was just a budding lad, the youngest of eight brothers, heard the blasphemous giant’s taunts and with disdain asked the fearful, paralyzed Israelite soldiers looking on, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). Outsized, under-experienced, with no armor, with only five smooth stones and a stick in his hand, David propelled a stone into the behemoth’s temple, killing him on the spot, all in the name of YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. David eventually ascended to the throne in Israel and led one last major conflict against the Philistines. Led by the LORD Himself, David outmaneuvered the Philistines, striking them from the rear, overwhelming them, effectively ending the power of the Philistines as a serious menace to Israel from that day forward (2 Sam 5:22-25).

After David, the Philistines progressively phased out over time. They showed sporadic signs of life during the days of the Kings (2 Chron 11:8; 1 Kings 15:27), even invading Judah in Jehoram’s day where the Jews incurred heavy losses (2 Kings 8:22; 2 Chron 21:16-17). The final acts of aggression toward Israel occurred in the days of Ahaz (732-716 BC; Isa 9:8-12) and they are mentioned for the last time in the Bible in Zechariah. Jeremiah 47 is a prophecy from God indicting the Philistines, predicting their utter destruction:

On account of the day that is coming

To destroy all the Philistines,

To cut off from Tyre and Sidon

Every ally that is left;

For the LORD is going to destroy the Philistines,

The remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.

Jer 47:4

Jeremiah predicted that the Philistines would be wiped out imminently. That is exactly what happened. Tiny Philistia was caught in the middle of a Battle between Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon and Egypt’s Pharaoh between 609-587 BC. The collateral damage was the obliteration of the Philistines from world history. They became an extinct people. As such, there are no Philistines today.[13]

Palestine in the New Testament
The New Testament does not mention the “Philistines,” nor does it speak of the land of “Palestine.” In keeping with the Old Testament, the Holy Land was known to Jesus, the Jews of His day, the apostles and the early church simply as the land of Israel. At the time of Christ’s birth an angel of God spoke to Joseph, saying, “Get up take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel” (Matt 2:20). The Jews, who lived in the land during the New Testament era, also called their land “Zion,” a strictly Jewish, Hebrew and long-standing Old Testament appellation for the Holy Land (2 Sam 5:7; Ps 2:6). When God presented Jesus as the Messiah to the nation of Israel at the Triumphal Entry, He was presented to the people of the land of “Zion” (John 12:15). Southern Israel in Jesus’ day was called “Judea,” for Jesus was born “in Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet” (Matt 2:5). “Judea” is another strictly Jewish designation.  “Judea” is the Latin translation for the Hebrew “Judah,” Judah being the name of one of Jacob’s sons who inherited a southern portion of the Promised Land in the days of Joshua. Our English word “Jew” comes from the name “Judah,” and throughout history the Promised Land was known as the “land of Judah” or the “land of the Jews.”[14]

Arabs were not known in the land of the Jews at that time. God had given the Promised Land to the descendants of Abraham, the Israelites. Around 63 BC the Promised Land had been enveloped into the Roman Empire and was partitioned into four distinct regions–Galilee, Samaria, Judea and Perea.[15] During this period, even Rome recognized this area as the land of the Jews and granted them conditional autonomy under the supervision of quasi-Jewish high priests such as John Hyrcanus and Herod.

Jesus did prophesy that God would judge unbelieving Israel by chastening them through foreign invaders—the Romans. Jesus came as the promised Messiah to His own people, the Jews. But, for the most part, the entire nation rejected Him (John 1:11). This rejection was no surprise, for it was prophesied centuries before in Scripture (Isa 53; John 12:37-40). For their unbelief God would temporarily displace some of the Jews, in particular the ones in Jerusalem (where the Temple was) from portions of the land God gave to them. Jesus spoke to this at the end of His earthly ministry just prior to His death:

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side,  and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

Luke 19:41-44

This prophecy was fulfilled in exact detail when the Roman General Titus crushed Jerusalem in 70 AD.

He surrounded the city on Apr. 9, cutting off all supplies, and trapping thousands of people who had been in Jerusalem for the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (just completed). The Romans systematically built embankments around the city, gradually starving the city’s inhabitants. The Romans held the city in this manner through the summer, defeating various sections of the city one by one. The final overthrow of the city occurred in early Sept….The Romans utterly demolished the city, temple, residences, and people. Men, women, and children were brutally slaughtered by the tens of thousands. The few survivors were carried off to become victims of the Roman circus games and gladiator bouts.[16]

Josephus claims over one million Jews were slaughtered in this attack. At the apex of the Roman siege many Jews fled north to Galilee and to the hills throughout the land. Even though the capital city of Jerusalem was razed to the ground, the Romans did not eradicate all Jews from the land. As a matter of fact, the Jews remained a majority in the Promised Land even after Jerusalem was destroyed and the land was still known as the land of Israel.[17]

A Historic Name Change
The Jews remained steadfast after Jerusalem was demolished in 70 AD by the Romans and proved to be a resilient people once again, as they had been previously, surviving Gentile intrusion and domination in their land from the time of Assyria in 722 BC, the Babylonians in 605 BC, the Medo-Persians[18] in 539 BC and the Greeks in 330 BC.  For the ensuing six decades after the massacre of Titus, the Jews regrouped, waited for a changing of the guard, and with time saw a relaxation of the Roman grip on Jerusalem. A renewed Messianic expectation arose and centered around one rising, high profile leader among the Jews, Simon Ben Kozehav, or popularly known as Bar Kochba, or “Son of the Star,” as many believed he was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Numbers 24:17 that declared that “a star will come forth out of Jacob” to rescue Israel.

Hadrian was the Roman Emperor (117-138 AD) in the days of Bar Kochba. He was thoroughly pagan and enthusiastically invested in various shrines and temples to the gods, including one to Jupiter in the heart of Jerusalem. The Jews were originally optimistic about Hadrian’s rule as they thought him to be tolerant and cosmopolitan. There were rumors that he would restore the ruins of Jerusalem, cultivate Jewish culture and best of all, rebuild the Jewish Temple. The Jews’ hopes were dashed when reality struck, as Hadrian renamed Jerusalem with a pagan moniker, Aelia Capitolina (in deference to Jupiter Capitolinus) around 131 AD. The construction he began there was not for a Jewish Temple, but rather a temple to Jupiter in keeping with his cultic bent. This outraged the Jews.

Since the time of the Zealots, there had always been an unbroken line of Jewish nationalism that fed ongoing revolts and rebellions against foreign, Gentile occupiers. Bar Kochba was of such lineage. He would not tolerate pagan desecration of the Holy Land, thus taking it upon himself to lead another revolt against Rome. This came to pass in 132 AD:

Bar Kochba and his rebels surprised the Romans and captured hundreds of cities, towns, and villages, including Jerusalem. They established an independent Jewish government to rule the land they liberated and minted coins proclaiming the “freedom of Jerusalem.”[19]

This was no small-time, insignificant localized uprising that could be ignored. On the contrary,

the insurrection, which was prepared in detail “until the whole of Judea was in revolt” ([meaning]…most of Erez Israel, including Galilee and Golan). He [Dio Cassius, the historian] further states that the Jews “throughout the world” supported the rising as did non-Jews, too, and it was “as though the whole world raged.” In its scope and vehemence, the revolt assumed the dimensions of a war which constituted a threat to the empire.[20]

As such, Emperor Hadrian retaliated in a fury. He dispatched an overwhelming military force, led by General Julius Severus who gradually, over the course of three years, quelled the revolt with a systematic scorched-earth policy that ended in a wholesale massacre of the Jews, crushing fifty fortresses, destroying 985 Jewish villages, and slaughtering almost 600,000 people in addition to those who died of starvation, disease and fire. In contrast to their attack on Jerusalem in 70 AD that simply ended with the destruction of the city, this time the Romans, compelled by Hadrian, were intent on making a permanent statement in an attempt to ethnically cleanse all things Jewish in the land of Israel, particularly in the vicinity of Judea. All Jews were expelled from city of Jerusalem (Aelia Capitolina)—any who tried to re-enter faced immediate execution.[21] Study of the Torah was banned and a generation of rabbis were executed. Synagogues were destroyed. Almost all of Judea was exterminated of anything Jewish. Jewish land was expropriated. Tax rates on the whole land became exorbitant. The once Holy City, Zion of the Jews, had been summarily made heathen. And in an attempt to permanently eradicate all memory of the Jews and their religion from the land, Hadrian changed the name of the country from “Judea,” the land of the Jews, to “Syria Palestine,” the land of the “Philistines,” derived from the historic and most loathed enemies of the Israelites.[22]

Thenceforth, from 135 AD on, the ill-conceived pseudonym of Palestine, chosen out of sheer malice, would effectively supplant the God-given name of the Promised Land, “Israel,” thus effectively blurring the true historical lineage and identity of the land given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.[23] As previously, in 70 AD, despite the widespread devastation, God’s people could not be completely eradicated (Jer 31:35-37), for in the aftermath the Jews still remained a majority in the land with many more fleeing north toward Galilee and into the surrounding hills and distant rural areas.


[1] Craig Parshall, “The Legal Issues at the Nexus of the Conflict,” Israel, the Church and the Middle East,ed. Bock and Glaser, 207.

[2] The New BDBG Hebrew and English Lexicon with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic, ed. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver and Charles Briggs (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 814.

[3] Edward M. Blaiklock, “Palestine” (Douglas/Tenney), 742; Although, one source argues, “The Hebrew word palash probably comes from the Ethiopic root palasa, ‘to wander,’ or ‘emigrate,’ and hence palashat will signify ‘the nation of emigrants’—the Philistines (q. v.) having emigrated from Africa…The people gave their name to the territory in which they settled on the south-west coast of Palestine”; “Palestine,” Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature: Volume VII (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 554.

[4] J. C. Moyer, “Since there is no good Sem. etymology for the word, it may be of Indo-European origin,” 767, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible: Vol. 4, “Philistines”, ed. Merrill Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 767.

[5] John B. Graybill, “Philistines,” The New International Dictionary,ed. Douglas and Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 782.

[6] “The name ‘Palestine’ was originally an adjective derived from Heb….Peleshet. It is first mentioned in Herodotus in the form of…‘the Philistine Syria’; subsequently, the name was shortened and the adjective ‘Palaistinei’ became a proper noun. Philo identifies ‘Palaistinei’ with biblical Canaan. In Talmudic literature Palestine is used as the name of a Roman province, adjoining the provinces of Finukyah (Phoenicia) and Aruvyah (Arabia; Gen. R. 90:6). From the fourth century, however, the three provinces into which the Land of Israel was divided were referred to as the ‘first,’ ‘second,’ and ‘third Palestine’ respectively. The Arabs used the term ‘Filastin’…for the ‘first Palestine’ only, differentiating between it and ‘Urdunn’… (Jordan); but these designations soon fell into disuse, as the Araba generally referred to provinces by the names of their capital cities. The crusaders renewed the use of the ‘three Palestines,’ the borders of which, however, differed from those of the Roman provinces. After the fall of the crusader kingdom, Palestine was no longer an official designation, but it was still used in non-Jewish languages as the name of the ‘Holy Land’ on both sides of the Jordan. It was not an administrative unit under the Ottoman Empire, when it was part of the province of Syria.” Abraham J. Brawer, “Palestine,” Encyclopedia Judaica: Volume 13, P-Rec (Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House, 1971), 30; see also Grayzel, who simply notes, “The Greeks, who were at that time [450-350 BC] the only people interested in history, philosophy and geography, called the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan ‘Philistina’ (Palestine), because the only people they knew in that land were the Philistines who lived on the coast”; Solomon Grayzel, A History of the Jews: From the Babylonian Exile to the Present (The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1968), 45.

[7] The Bible clearly gives the boundaries of Philistia which included five cities: Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron; cf. Joshua 13:3. The Bible also makes it clear that this area was occupied by the Canaanites before the Philistines came and displaced them.

[8] Merrill F. Unger, “Canaan,” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R. K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 202.

[9] This passage does not exhaust the boundaries of the land God promised Abraham for Genesis 15:18-21 and Deuteronomy 1:7 describe the land as far east as the Euphrates. In addition, “The boundaries of Canaan as defined in Num 34 and in Egyptian texts take in the Phoenician coastline (modern Lebanon) as well as southwest Syria”; Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987), 225.

[10] J. C. Moyer, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, ed. Tenney, 767.

[11] Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 452-455.

[12] Eugene H. Merrill, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, “1 Samuel,” ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (USA: Victor Books, 1988), 445.

[13] J. P. J. Olivier, “Pelisti, peleset,” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis: Volume 3, ed. Willem A. Van Gemeren (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 633.

[14] “The actual name Judea occurs from the Hellenistic period. It is first used by Clearchus, a disciple of Aristotle…[used] to define the area where the Jews of Erez Israel lived. With the direct Roman rule of Erez Israel, which dates from the banishment of Archelaus to Gaul in 6 C. E., a special governor was appointed over Judea who was given the title procurator and was responsible to the governor of Syria. The procuratorship was confined to Judea until the accession of Agrippa I to the throne in 41. On the resumption of Roman rule after his death in 44 the procurator’s rule was extended over the whole of Israel”; Encyclopedia Judaica: Volume 10, Jes-Lei (1971, 1973), 403. Despite centuries of disruption from various foreign invaders Judah’s identity as a autonomous vassal remained constant all throughout Old Testament history: “Sargon II noted in one inscription that he was the ‘subduer’ of the country Judah which is far away….This history of vassalship was disturbed on several occasions, but it is noteworthy that none of them resulted in a change of status for Judah.” Peter Machinist, “Palestine: Assyrian and Babylonian Administration,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary: Volume 5, O-Sh, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992), 74.

[15] Edward M. Blaiklock, “Herod,” New International Dictionary of the Bible, 434.

[16] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible: Twentieth-Anniversary Edition, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017), 1555.

[17] Steven Charles Ger, What Should We Think about Israel?: Separating Fact from Fiction in the Middle East, ed. J. Randall Price (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2019), 49.

[18] Even during exile under Medo-Persian domination the Holy Land was known as Israel and Judah; cf. Ezra 5:1.

[19]David Brog, Reclaiming Israel’s History (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2017), 17.

[20] “Bar Kokhba,” Encyclopedia Judaica: Volume 4, B (Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House, 1971, 1973), 234.

[21] “Palestine,” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 957.

[22] Brog, Israel’s History, 18.

[23] “All ancient writers, therefore, did not use the name in the same sense–some applying it to the whole country of the Jews, some restricting it to Philistia. Consequently, when the name Palestine occurs in classic and early Christian writers, the student of geography will require carefully to examine the context, that he may ascertain whether it is applied to Philistia alone, or to all the land of Israel”; “Palestine,” Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature: Volume VII, New-Pes, ed. John McClintock and James Strong (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981), 555.

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