On Gaza

It seems that everybody has something to say about Gaza, and in particular the apportionment of blame. This analysis by Cranmer is, I believe, vital reading for understanding the futility of so much of the response to the past fortnight’s tragedies.

The ‘underlying cause’ is theological, or, to be more precise, religio-theological-historical-political.

It all comes down to which son Abraham almost sacrificed.

For Jews it is revealed in the Torah (Gen 22:1f) that it was Isaac – from whom the Jews are descended. The Christians corroborate this (Heb 11:17; Js 2:21). But to Muslims it is revealed in the Qur’an (Surah 11:69-73, 37:112-113, 51:24-30) that it was Ishmael – from whom Arab Muslims are descended. They believe that the ‘promised son’ was Ishmael and scribes later corrupted the original reading in Genesis to ‘Isaac’.

This is possibly the most important bit of redaction in the history of the world. Genesis according to the Torah reveals that Isaac was the ‘promised son’ and so the Jews are the chosen of YHWH. But Genesis according to the Qur’an reveals Ishmael as the ‘promised son’, and so Muslim Arabs are the chosen of Allah.

So who is the chosen ‘promised’ son? Who inherits the land? The second-born of the first wife, or the first-born of the second wife?

There is no consensus to be found here, no agreement to be had, no concordat to be drawn up by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, for not even the Middle East messiah peace envoy will be able to resolve this intractable antithesis and irreconcilable mutual exclusion. There is no convenient fudge, no compromise, and no third way.

So we are left with an intractable dilemma, a problem without resolution, a devastatingly inevitable and utterly unavoidable scenario in which nothing but the return of the concept of a victor and a vanquished will lead to anything approaching peace – with all the attendant suffering, pain, death and trauma.

What we are seeing is the eternal struggle between the (perceived) revelation of God and those who base their lives on a corruption of that revelation. How can there ever be peace without one side acknowledging that they were deceived?

12 Comments on “On Gaza

  1. This was really interesting, Peter. I didn’t know that Muslims changed the biblical text to change the meaning totally – answers a lot of questions.

  2. This is so hopelessly naive Peter.  There is conflict because after WWII a bunch of Western nations, racked with guilt and pressure, decided to waltz into the Muslim world and plant a new/old nation in its midst.  Even now, Palestinians would be willing to settle for pre-67′ borders!  Talk about a generous compromise.  Perhaps if Israel did not put impenetrable walls around Gaza, and prevent movement/trade/electricity/social services in and out Hamas would not resort to their violent methods.

    And you didn’t actually address the Gaza situation.  All you said was that it is a result of Quranic redaction.  Does this then justify the grave human rights abuses of the Israeli government and their silent blessing from Western nations?  No it does not.  I do wonder if you read the Bible sometimes.  Do you suppose the OT prophets and/or Jesus himself would bless Israel’s conduct?  No they would not.

  3. Tere,

    To be precise, the Qur’an has an alternative rendering of the encounter on Mt Moriah which means that they view the Arabs as the ones on whom God’s promise of the land of Canaan falls upon.


    I think you have entirely misunderstood my post. I was not arguing in favour or against the Israeli attack, I was simply pointing out that this is a theological issue that goes way back before the Balfour Declaration. I do think however it is you who are naive if you believe that Hamas would be prepared to accept the 1967 boundaries or indeed even the 1948 boundaries. That is the point I am making, not whether the killing of innocent children is or isn’t acceptable.

  4. If I misread then I apologize.  Though I think that socio-political interpretations of the situation can in many places be more helpful than theological ones when it comes to this issue.

  5. I think the socio-political interpretations might help solve immediate issues, but the theological explanation underpins the whole meta-narrative of the conflict.

  6. Peter, does your last sentence mean you think Christians should accept the Israelis’ claims to the land of Israel? If so, what do you think the Palestinians ought to do?

  7. Hi Robert,

    You raise an important point. I happen to not be a Christian Zionist as I believe that the promise to Abraham is now the promise to the non-genetic people of God. Eretz Israel is no longer the place of promise, our hearts are the land that God occupies.

    That said, I think that the theological claim to the land is on the side of the Jews. If you take the view that Islam is a Christian heresy then you can see how the truth of Scripture has been corrupted by whatever demon spoke to Muhammed (if he did have angelic encounters). The false revelation, giving Eretz Israel to the Arabs through Ishmael is the source of the conflict.

  8. Thanks for that, Peter. I fully agree with your first paragraph. As for the second: I’m not sure that the Qur’anic account of Abraham and his son(s) is the main reason why the Palestinians think the land is theirs (especially not those Palestinians who are Christians!). The claim they normally advance – at least in my limited experience – is that they and their ancestors for centuries have always lived there, which I think is a claim that would generally be thought reasonable with regard to people living in other places.

  9. Robert,

    I think you’re right that there is a good sociological and politico-historical reason why many Palestinians have a claim to Eretz Israel, but the point I’m (Cranmer’s) making is that Hamas and Hizbullah (and Iran) are approaching this from a primarily theological perspective.

  10. I’m going to be terribly simplistic here but… isn’t the underlying problem in every situation of war/conflict a theological one? Isn’t it what we call ‘sin’?

    Whilst I’d accept your pointing to underlying problems traceable to Abraham and his sons, the stuff that’s going on is going on in the here and now without Abraham to adjudicate. So far as I see and understand it, sin is sin, the world is fallen and there’s never going to be a real and lasting solution to this until Jesus comes again. Should we therefore pursue further theological conversations about under-, over- and somewhere-in-between- realised eschatology and the coming of the fullness of God’s kingdom? Should we wade in with a big UN peace force that will need to take up permanent residence? Do we just let Israel bomb Gaza to smitherines? Do we wait until Iran/Syria/whoever-else gets upset enough to take a shot at Israel and let a big middle-east war unfold and then the winner takes all?

  11. Tim: you’re right. I would say even if someone has an indisputable legal claim to something it doesn’t mean that they are justified in blowing up anyone who tries to take it (at any rate St Paul didn’t seem to think so). I could go on for ages about how all this violence just makes the situation worse for everyone, but what would be the point? We all know that already. But the dispute does have theological implications and I think it is worth spending a little time thinking about them too.
    As for what we should be doing about that current situation, I’m afraid you’ll have to ask a wiser person than me.

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