Until my first visit to Palestine in 2006 I was not really aware of the fact that there were Christian Palestinians. Which is quite ridiculous if you have only a little understanding of where Christianity came from! Of course there are Christians in the land where Jesus was born, preached his message, was crucified and resurrected, according to the Bible.
In this episode I speak with three students of the Bethlehem Bible College tour guide program, about the history of Christianity, Christians in Palestine, the Easter story according to the Bible, the theological meaning of the crucifixion and some of the local traditions of Easter in Jerusalem.
This episode was created for the final assignment of our New Testament course at the Bethlehem Bible College.
The music in this episode are snippets of Easter related songs by Fayrouz.
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Kristel: [00:00:00] Welcome to Stories from Palestine Podcast and happy and blessed Easter to everyone. Today, you're listening to a very special podcast episode about Easter in Palestine. And for the first time I'm recording in a setting with three guests at the same time, they are my colleagues from the Bethlehem Bible College.
They're all students of the tour guide program. We are seated here in the house of one of the students in Bethlehem. It's a bit against the Corona lock down rules, but we are keeping a distance and it is really the only way to get an acceptable audio quality. Because the internet is quite unreliable in Palestine, so we didn't want to risk it with an online podcasting recording. So thank you, Dani, for the hospitality.
Today's podcast episode is all about the Easter story, and it will be explained to you by three local Palestinian tour guide students who are in the last semester of their studies. This podcast episode is actually also an assignment that we have to do for one of our teachers, Yousef Khoury, he's a Christian Palestinian from Gaza. He lives in Bethlehem though, and he teaches us old and new Testament and the history of Christianity. So we thank him for sharing with us his incredible knowledge and understanding of the Bible from a local Palestinian perspective.
For me personally, it's been really an eye opener to study with Christian Palestinians. And somehow you can consider them to be the direct descendants of the first Christians that lived here in this region in and after the time of Jesus. And I also have to admit that before I came here, first time in 2006, I didn't even know that there were Christian Palestinians, but obviously there are followers of Jesus in the land where Jesus was born, where he spread his message and where he was crucified.
So today I'm talking to Alfred, Ameer and Dani and it would be good if you guys just introduced yourselves.
Dani: [00:02:03] Hello, my name is Dani and I am a Palestinian evangelical Christian from Bethlehem. I got a master's degree in peace and conflict resolution. And I was doing the past years tourism around Bethlehem, Jericho and Hebron area. I'm the manager of the House of Peace hostel that we are in right now. And we are about six minutes walking from the Nativity Church.
Alfred: [00:02:32] Good day, my dear friends, I hope you are all safe and doing well. My name is Alfred Jarayseh and I am studying tour guide in Bethlehem Bible College. I am a Christian and I was born and raised in Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ameer: [00:02:51] Thank you, Kris it's a pleasure. My name is Ameer Klheif, I'm a Bethlehemite Palestinian. I live two minutes away from the Nativity Church. If we're going to talk faith-wise, blood-wise, who I am, well, I am the son of the pagan Canaanites, who mingled with the Israelites. I'm the son of the Jews who believed in the Christ.
I am the son of the Christians who mingled with the Muslims, but what, after all of that, well, simply I'm just a simple human being. And in my profound convictions, that the simple act of humanity is the true faith. And religions without humanity, they are just faithless laws.
Kristel: [00:03:33] Thank you, Ameer. Yes, this is how I see Palestinians. They are a mixture of hundreds and hundreds of years of people coming and going into this land, into this land that is called the Holy land. And Ameer, before we start really talking about the Easter story, maybe you can talk briefly about the history of Christianity in Palestine in general. Give us a little bit of historical background.
Ameer: [00:04:00] If we're going to speak about the Christian history in Palestine, we actually speaking about more than 2000 years of history. Consecutive history. If we speak about Christians in Palestine, Christianity in Palestine, you are speaking of the foundation of the Christian faith. Basically it started with the end of the ministry of Jesus Christ.
And from the very beginning the followers of the Christ were under systematic persecution by the Romans and the non-believer of the Christ in which some of them are the Jews. So for the first three centuries, actually, they were under consecutive persecution.
They even had to do their gatherings and their prayers in reservoirs, in water reservoirs, discreetly doing their prayers to their savior. And within this period outside Palestine, the servants of the word, the apostles who believed in the Christ, from Palestine, once they went out to spread within the Roman empire, they were spreading and the Christians were expanding in numbers.
And we come to the early fourth century when comes Constantine, the new Roman emperor who in 313, he issued a decree declaring tolerance toward all faiths within the Roman empire, especially to the Christians. Later on by the year 325 he declared that Christianity is the official religion of the Roman empire.
So we might expect that the upcoming events to the Christians going to be easier much, much better than before, but the challenges are yet to be over. By the year 614 Palestine was under the Persian invasion in which many Christians, the local Palestinian Christians were killed and most of the churches at that time were destroyed. Later we got on the Islamic Arab rule who came to Palestine by the seventh century. And from the very beginning they found the harmony, the Christians and the Muslims, Christians were allowed to keep practicing their faith in peace.
And the best example of this kind of harmony was from the very beginning that the Al-Aqsa mosque, the most famous mosque to the Palestinians in Palestine for the Muslims, and one of the holiest place for the Muslims in general, that was built by two local Palestinian architects who are from Christian families.
Of course, later on, they kept going with the relation, but I'm not going to say it was all perfect, but obviously the craziest moments that the Christians had was under Al Hakim by the beginning of the 11th century. He was so crazy about destroying churches, he even destroyed the Holy Sepulcher church and almost did the same to the Nativity Church unless the local Christians and Muslims stopped him from doing that. Later on, moving on by the end of the 11th century, Palestine comes under the Crusader invasion, the Crusader rule. The local Christians in Palestine, they call them the Franks, not the Crusaders because they believe that they have nothing to do with the Christ message or anything to do with their religion.
It was basically a colonizer and nonetheless that the Crusaders killed of course their neighbors, the Muslims who, some of them, they were originally Christians from Christian families, who converted to Islam.
I want to skip it to the recent history, in which the latest challenges we have to the Christians was in the Ottoman era, the year 1909 we have for example the military conscription that was forced on the Palestinians to join the Ottoman army, to join their wars in which here comes the great essence of the Christians and the Palestinians in general, that they refused to join their wars.
And in that year in 1909, they had even to migrate to other places, just to skip fighting the Ottoman Wars. And later on we have the year 1948, the Nakba, the disaster that displaced the people that made many, many Christians just leave the land and they are today hoping that one day they will come back to their land, in which they are rooted to it.
But today we still have Christians, of course. We have about 200.000 Christians. Most of them they are in the Northern sites of the land of Palestine under the direct rule of Israel and living in places like Nazareth, Jerusalem of course and in Gaza, still in Gaza today as well, the Gaza Strip 1% of the population of Gaza are Christians.
There are about 1000 to 3000 citizens. And in the West bank there is about 50,000 Christians. They live in Bethlehem, in Ramallah, in Taybeh. You would find them everywhere.
But nonetheless, this is 2000 years of history, I just summarized it, but you know, I did my best.
Kristel: [00:09:31] Thank you Ameer.
So today we're talking about the Easter story and I assume that there are many people that connect Easter to the Easter bunny and to Easter eggs. But maybe it would be good, Alfred, if you can remind us of the Christian Easter story.
Alfred: [00:09:51] Every year in the month of April Easter celebrations are held in all Christian Churches and houses all over the world.
And this holiday considered the most important Christian holiday, which is associated with the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And these events took place in Jerusalem before 2000 years. So I want to talk about the last week of earthy life of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. It began when Jesus entered Jerusalem as a King.
And this event is celebrated by Christians as the Palm Sunday. And it happened before one week of the Jewish Passover. And the Jewish Passover is considered the most important Jewish holiday. Why it's a very important Jewish holiday? Because in this holiday they expect the coming of the Messiah.
And according to Josephus, he's a Roman historian, he mentioned that hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were coming to Jerusalem during this Passover.
So before one week of the Passover, they buy the lamb to offer it to the Temple as a sacrifice in the feast. And inside the city of Jerusalem and outside the city of Jerusalem was a crowd of people. So when this crowd of people saw Jesus coming from the Mount of Olives, seated on a donkey, they remembered the old Testament prophecies. It's said: “See your King, come to you riding on a donkey”.
And they started shouting Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna. What does that mean 'Hosanna' it means save us, free us. Why they say free us, save us? We know that the Jewish in that time was not the ruling authority and they are second class and they pay taxes to the Romans. Because of that, they wait from any person to free them from the Roman authorities.
Actually when they see Jesus, they don't believe in Jesus, but they said maybe through this person we will get freedom. But Jesus didn't liberate them from the Roman authority. Because of that, they started planning to execute Jesus. So after four days, Jesus ate the last Passover meal with his disciples, somewhere in the city of Jerusalem, then he went to the garden of Gethsemane. He prayed to his father. He said: “God, if it's possible, let this cup pass from me, not my will, but yours will be done”.
Then the Jewish leaders arrested him. And these events happened after the midnight of Thursday. Then they put him in a prison until the morning. And in the morning they handed him to Pontius Pilate, he's a Roman ruler, to judge him or execute him, but Pontius Pilate did not see any reason to execute Jesus, but he had no choice.
If he did not execute Jesus maybe the Jewish revolt against him. So he condemned Jesus to crucifixion. And because of the bad relation between the Jewish and the Roman, the Jewish try to make the crucifixion process as ugly, as painful, as hard as they could.
That's why Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane said: God, if it's possible, let this cup pass from me, because he knew actually how much he will be suffering.
Then they scourged Jesus on his back 40 minus one. And the minus one is to show mercy. And the Roman will tie the leather of the whips with sharp metal poles. And when they whipped someone on his back, it is no flesh, the flesh is gone. Then they put a crown of thorns on his head. And after that they forced him to carry the upper part of the cross from Pontius Pilate palace which was located inside the city through the streets of Jerusalem to reach the site of a crucifixion, which was located outside the city.
Why outside the city? Outside the city, because everybody who enter or leave Jerusalem could see him. It's like a way to deliver the message to the Jewish: Do not mess with us. If you mess with us, this is what is going to happen to you.
Then they hung him on the cross and nailed him. And after a while of time Jesus died and an amazing earthquake happened. That day was preparing for the Sabbath and the body must be removed from the cross before the entering of the Sabbath, because it's a great day for the Jewish.
So one of the disciples, his name is Joseph, asked Pontius Pilate to take the body of Jesus. And he agreed. And because there is no much before the entry of the Sabbath, Joseph buried him in his own tomb that located close to the crucifixion site. Because when the Sabbath entered no one of the Jewish could work. And the Romans placed a soldier to guard his tomb. And he rose after three days. He fulfilled all the prophecies of the old Testament and achieved our salvation. And before COVID hit the world, Easter was one of the busiest times in Jerusalem with thousands of tourists coming to celebrate the Easter.
Kristel: [00:16:15] Yeah. Thank you Alfred. I think that for some people this is a very familiar story and for other people, this might be a story they've heard in their life, but is not as familiar for them. So all these events took place in the city of Jerusalem. And yes, as you said before COVID we had lots of people coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Easter here.
And now this year it is very quiet and there is nobody. So Dani maybe, you can explain. You are a Christian. You have been to Jerusalem, I guess for Easter, can you explain what are they doing? How do they celebrate Easter when they come here to Jerusalem? And how do Christian Palestinians now celebrate the Easter?
Dani: [00:17:00] We used to have thousands of people that come to the Holy land during Easter season. And they would come about a week before Easter. And I'm going to share with you about the main, let's say three days that all these tourists would focus on.
One week before Easter we have what we call Palm Sunday. The historical background of Palm Sunday dates back to the end of the fourth century when people would gather to have their Palm blessed and then walk the same path that Jesus walked in his entry to Jerusalem, they would hold the Palm branches that symbolized victory, triumph and peace olive branches that symbolize peace and victory.
And while chanting verses from the Bible and saying: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, and that verse actually is taken from Psalms 118:26 This event is important, for it is the fulfillment of prophecy that was mentioned in the Bible, in the book of Zechariah, as our dear friend Alfred has shared with us. “Rejoice greatly daughters of Zion, shout daughters of Jerusalem. See your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, and he would be riding on a donkey”.
Also while Christ was going into the city of Jerusalem, he prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem that happened about 40 years later. And that would be a really big event that thousands of people would be marching in the city.
During that week many churches would have different masses and services within the city of Jerusalem and not only the city of Jerusalem, but in all churches around the world, actually. And then we have what we call the Good Friday. The Good Friday dates back as well to between the first and the fourth century. And the path is called the Via Dolorosa and the Via Dolorosa it means the Way of Sorrows. And in Jerusalem we have 14 different places that traditionally from the time of the arrest of Jesus in the garden to the Antonia fortress, ending in the cross, this is the different places that Christ was trialed, was whipped and there are actually many songs in Arabic that talks about this day, there is a famous Arabic song for Fayruz that says “Today he was hanged on the cross”.
* Music by Fayrouz *
Then we go to the Easter Sunday. The Easter Sunday is the biggest day that most churches would have an early service by the sunrise in different churches around the world. And we're talking about Jerusalem, in the Holy Sepulcher and in the garden tomb where it is believed as well that there is a tomb that dates back to the first century and it is a replica of an actual tomb from that era. And many churches would gather and they would hold a service in the morning, the early morning.
Kristel: [00:20:56] Thank you, Dani for telling us a little bit about how the Easter is celebrated. We have actually two Easters. There is the Easter for the Catholics, and then there's the Easter for the Orthodox, because the Orthodox they use a different calendar. So they have their celebrations usually a week or 10 days later. But I think this year it's even about almost a month later. And the Orthodox celebrations in the church of the Holy Sepulcher, they are pretty special because there's a yearly miracle that happens. Can you, Alfred, tell us a little bit about the miracle of the Holy fire?
Alfred: [00:21:35] Yes. Every year at the church of the Holy Sepulcher an amazing miracle happens which is called the Holy fire or the Holy light. It happens on Holy Saturday, the day proceeding the Orthodox Easter. And during this day blue light is said to emit within Jesus Christ tomb and this light forms a column fire from which the candles are lit.
And as we said before the Corona hit the world thousands of pilgrims as well as local Christians from all denominations gathering in Jerusalem to partake and witness this annual event. And then the fire used to light the candles of the pilgrims and this light transmitted from person to person to reach all Christian Churches and houses in all Palestine.
But there is special event happens that they took this light to Greece and other Orthodox countries and churches by special flight. But the question here from which time this miracle started to appear. So from the first century, many historian mentioned that they see the Holy light emit within Jesus Christ tomb. Despite these previous instances, the Holy fire is believed to have been first recorded by French Christian pilgrim in the ninth century, he's called Bernard Manochius. Until today it actually occurs every year.
But in the 16th century a miracle occurred different from all the miracles. It happened when the Ottoman authority prevented the Greek Orthodox patriarch from entering the Holy Sepulcher on Holy Saturday. And they granted entree to the Armenian sect to perform the ritual of the Holy light.
Then the Greek Orthodox patriarch prayed to let the Holy light emit from outside the church, and the amazing thing happened that the Holy light not flew from inside the church but from the column outside the church, split the column and the Holy light came out and that we can see it before we enter in to the Holy Sepulcher in the left side in the middle column.
Kristel: [00:24:08] Yeah. Alfred, thank you. Actually last Sunday with my children we went to the old city of Jerusalem and we saw the church and we couldn't enter because of the COVID restrictions. There was a waiting line. And we saw the column and I was showing to my children, this is a column that has been hit by the Holy light.
And then I looked up some extra information on the internet and I found that they had sent a sample and photos of the column to some experts in Italy who stated that this could only have happened in this way, that in the same moment that the column was hit by lightening that there must have been an earthquake because they said this is the only way how we can explain this type of split that we see in this type of column.
So it is a miracle, whatever happened, there is something very specific happened to this column.
So thousands of tourists used to come every year to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to follow him in what is called the passion of the Christ. And then they walk, as you said Dani, the Via Dolorosa and they stop at the different stages of the cross. They pray, they sometimes even carry crosses around and then they touch all these buildings and stones that they see on their way.
But we know that in most of cities, every thousand years of history are actually resulting in about a meter of archaeological layers. So that would mean that if Jesus lived 2000 years ago, that the city that Jesus lived in would be at least two meters below the current level of the city. So what would that mean for Jerusalem and the Via Dolorosa?
Ameer: [00:25:56] Well, the Via Dolorosa the path of Sorrow or the path of suffering of the Christ. I want to just immediately point out that the exact path is unknown, precisely.
But, according to the tradition that the first to walk the path in remembrance of the memory of the Christ, of his sorrow was his mother, the Virgin Mary. And this tradition was taken by the Palestinian Christians later. And they did the same to venerate the memory of the Christ. And if we speak for today, the path as we know it today, was first organized by the Franciscan fathers in the 14th century.
And it wasn't named until the 16th century. And within the 14th and the 15th and the 16th centuries the path was shaped as we know it today with 14 stations. But the local Palestinian path was only eight stations, but the European influence eventually was the one that was chosen,was taken. It wasn't actually chosen. It was just implemented.
But nonetheless, let's imagine ourselves now, walking in the old city of Jerusalem, in the path of the Christ, the path of Sorrow, as we know it from the Franciscans.
We are not actually touching or not even walking on the true path of the Christ.
It's actually deep down under our feet, at least two to three meters. So 2000 years ago, at least two to three meters under our feet. As part of civilizations and how cities grow that they are built on the rubble and the ashes of the later ones. And we know that Jerusalem city, the old city was only destroyed twice in less than a hundred years in 70AD and 135AD in the revolutions, the Jewish revolutions. And cities kept coming, building a city over a city over a city.
And as we see it today, actually none of what we see, none of what we touch is actually related to the time of the Christ. There is some archaeological stuff that found, but it is under the ground that we don't see when we walk the path. Nonetheless, the best example I would say for this spirit of the Christ was the Holy Sepulcher.
The church if we see today, it contains two parts, the lower part and the upper part in which, as we know that the upper part is the place of the crucifixion of the Christ and the lower one is where his tomb is located.
And what do we know about the Holy Sepulcher Church and how we came to this conclusion that this place is related to the crucifixion and the burial of the Christ?
Well, if we go back to the history, we see that the emperor Hadrian, the Roman emperor, the pagan one, who persecuted the Christians, he built a pagan temple on the place of the burial and crucifixion of the Christ. He filled the place with dirt and rubble in a systematic way, just to erase the memory of the Christ and eliminate the relation of the Christians with the land.
And as I said before, Constantine the new Roman emperor in the early fourth century, when he declared that Christianity becomes the new official religion of the Roman empire the Christians, the local Christians, they demanded to find the place of the burial of the Christ. And by the year 326, Constantine found the tomb and found the place of the crucifixion and the Holy Sepulcher was set to be built.
And, for me, if I have a simple message for a pilgrim that is coming to the city of Jerusalem, just to express his faith and think that he's touching the stuff of Jesus time, well just make sure that your faith to the message of the Christ Jesus is the true and the most authentic thing you got in the city.
Kristel: [00:30:18] There is definitely that deeper meaning of the passion of the Christ. And I think that it's also interesting to look into that because there is the history, and there is all the stories and the traditions that go with it.
But Dani you are a Christian and you are even a worship leader. You have a theological background. So maybe you could tell us a little bit more about the meaning of the Easter story, the theology behind the Easter story, but from a Palestinian theological perspective.
Dani: [00:30:48] When we think about Easter, we think about the main message of Christianity that Jesus actually suffered, died and on the third day he rose again. And the background for that would be, I would take you back to the book of Genesis and we look at Genesis 3:15 when God gave the punishment for Adam and Eve because they disobeyed God.
And it says: “I will put enmity between you (and he's talking to the serpent and the woman) and between your seed and her seed, he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel. And this verse was fulfilled in the cross. So the cross in Christianity is very important. It is the main thing.
According to what Paul has said “I would boast only with the cross” because if Christ did not die then vain is our faith and vain is our message. In Romans 5:8 it says: “But God shows his love for us. In that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
See that this keeps on, that the cross is the centrality of the faith of the Christians.
In 1 Peter 2:24. He say: “He himself, (which is Christ) bore our sins in his body, on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness by his wounds you have been healed”.
And this is very important to understand that through the suffering, through death we have the resurrection.
In John 3:16 the famous verse that captured the heart of the gospel that Jesus died for us, loved us, and then gave us eternal life that is a free gift and it says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believed in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life“
And 1 Corinthians 1:18, says: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” So Paul, in this verse and in his letters, he is boasting actually with the cross.
The result of death, people see it as the end of everything, but in reality, the suffering and the death actually leads us to the third day, which is the resurrection day. So that's why it is very important for us the cross.
And when you go to Christian homes in Palestine in almost all the Christian houses, you see the cross and the crucified Christ on the cross, which is the message that we believe that Christ actually died on the cross. And we have many evidences for that as well.
Kristel: [00:34:11] When we read the Bible, we can read the Jesus describes himself sometimes as the son of man and sometimes as the son of God. So there are these two aspects of Jesus. If we look at Jesus as a man and at his life in the time that he was living here in what we call Palestine now, the circumstances that he lived in the way of life, what was it like to live here 2000 years ago? Can you put that in a more local historical perspective, Alfred?
Alfred: [00:34:43] We know that the life of Jesus from his childhood to his youth was similar to any ordinary person life. He was born in Bethlehem from a religious family, his mother, Virgin Mary from Nazareth and his father, Joseph from Bethlehem. And at that time, Palestine was under Roman rule and the Jewish considered as second class and they paid taxes to the Roman authority.
Eight days after the birth of Jesus, his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, according to the Jewish law, to circumcise him. And after the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, the Holy family fled to Egypt. In this time, Jesus was about two years old. Then they returned to Nazareth and settled there. His father worked as a tekton [more than carpenter, a construction worker] and he used to learn from his father and helped him.
And also the family goes to Jerusalem every year, exactly in the Passover.
And one day of the Passover holiday, they lost him when they are returning to Nazareth and he was 12 years old, but they found him after three days in the Temple between the teachers and the priests hearing and asking them.
He lived in Nazareth until he was 30 years old. Then he went to the Jordan Valley to be baptized by John the Baptist. And after that he returned to Galilee and started his ministry there and his preaching extended to the villages around and these village were inhabited by ordinary or simple people, such as farmers, low classes.
And these people actually, Jesus loved them. And he gave them a special importance. He said sell everything you have and give it to the poor
And most of his missionary life was among them, not like Jerusalem, which was inhabited by high priests, rich people, Kings or the upper classes. And Jesus came to Jerusalem only a few times. And he said about the rich people, it is easier for the camel to go through the eye of a needle then for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom.
Also he was invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee and there he makes his first miracle when he turned the water to wine.
And also he performed a lot of miracles such as walking on the water, healing the sick, raising the dead and feeding 5,000 people. He used to speak to his followers by telling them parables that belonged to their civilization. Like the parable of the weeds and seeds.
They actually understand it because they are farmers. He used to go to synagogue on the Sabbath and teaching them because on that day anyone was allowed to preaching there.
Also he was moving from area to another area on foot. And also he loved children. And when his disciples prevented children from reaching Jesus, he told them: let these children came to me and do not prevent them. Because the Jewish considered the children without importance , but Jesus gave them great importance.
And finally, the message of Jesus was a message of love. He called people to love and accept each other.
Kristel: [00:38:53] I remember that when we were studying in the Bible College with Dr. Ala, that we talked about how we, nowadays, we think of that message of Jesus calling the kids to come close to him, the way that we see children now: clean and happy kids, maybe a little bit loud and annoying, but actually in that context 2000 years ago, we should know that children were considered as a social class and they were often with diseases, they were poor. They were considered a nuisance rather than these cute, nicely dressed children. So most people would send them away like dogs, but Jesus was the one who said, no, let them come to me. So it's a different perspective than we have nowadays. \
And that's been interesting for me to study in the Bible College to put everything from the Bible, also in the local and cultural perspective. I think it would also be interesting to hear from a Palestinian who is born here, lives here in the exact same region where Jesus used to live, to know what do you think of that common image of Jesus when he's depicted as this tall slim white man with long blonde hairs?
Ameer: [00:40:03] Can you think of a person in this world, in the history of this planet, if there is a person that is depicted differently in, in not just one country to another, one continent to another, maybe to a house to another. That a person is depicted differently in different ways. His face, his physical appearance is different from house to another. Is there any other person than Jesus? I don't think any person exists or any historical figure.
Everyone, since the dawn of Christianity and after Constantine, as I told you, in the early fourth century, everybody tried to depict Jesus through himself, through his facial or his skin color.
So the Egyptians saw him something, the Syrians saw him something, later the Europeans saw him something else, the Asians they have their own Jesus with the small eyes, yellow skin. But basically he was born in a place that is at the very West of Asia and the North of Africa, in Palestine, in an area that no way he could have been born like white, I mean he could be black, but not that black, but according to the facts, he should be having the skin of olive oil that we call it the olive skin and his hair absolutely was black, maybe brown.
And he had absolutely brown eyes. So for the Europeans, I hate to break it for you. Maybe the most known image that he's a blond guy with a very beautiful white smile and blue baby eyes, sorry he was not like that. I'm sorry. Jesus would have looked as any normal Palestinian that you see that he's a few shades darker skin, many Palestinian would look like him.
I'm not going to say I look like him. So anyway, it really doesn't matter. It doesn't bother me, or it does not bother any Palestinian. So what, depict him white, black, Chinese, Japanese. His message is universal and it's for everyone. Just remember one thing that the pride of Jesus was not for his color or his nation actually, or any certain people. His faith was for the human justice and equality and the faith for the heavenly father. So just remember that Jesus walked with everybody and he shared the bread and the wine with everybody.
Kristel: [00:42:54] I am going to post a picture of us on social media. And I think I would challenge our listeners to have a look at Ameer who quite looks like the description of the Jesus that we see nowadays.
But let's go back to the Easter story. Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover, as Alfred told us, and then he was arrested and he was actually trialed by the Jewish leaders and he was crucified by the Romans, but the story didn't end there, Jesus was resurrected according to the Bible and according to many witnesses of this event and for Christians, this is not just some miracle that happened. The crucifixion has a deeper meaning. And then you also already explained a little bit to us the theology behind that. Can you tell us a bit more about that theology of the crucifixion story?
Dani: [00:43:48] When we talk about the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to talk about the actual act. The crucifixions in history dated back to the fourth century BC. It was introduced to the land by Alexander the Great that when he came here and many people did not follow and they wanted to rebel.
So he crucified thousands of people because they didn't agree with what he was doing. That continued to the Roman time. And Roman time used to do that to everyone who is against them. It is to give a lesson to other people that if you disobey our system, we will kill you the same way and we will hang you. In fact, there is a verse in the Bible that it talks about that: cursed, who hanged on the three. So we see that it is the worst punishment that a person can ever have.
It is a long tradition history in the land that people used to sacrifice their sons to different gods, to the Canaanite gods, if we go back to thousand years before Christ.
And the most important feast, Yom Kippor, it is to sacrifice the lamb to re-consolidate man with God. And that is the only day, on Yom Kippor, that the high priest would go into the temple into the Holy of Holiest and he will pray and he will be the person that intercede from the sins of the people towards God, and the lamb will symbolize the sins.
So people will put their sins on the lamb and as if this would be acceptable to God. We see that Jesus Christ is the ultimate sacrifice.
We believe that Jesus is the lamb of God. That is the term that has been used, that he took actually the sins of the world, past, present and future and it was nailed on the cross.
In the book of Hebrews 2:22 it says: “Indeed, under the law, almost everything is purified with blood”. So there must be blood in the sacrifice. And without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. And Galatians 2:20 just to put that into perspective, Paul, he said that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ will live in me and the life I live now in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Gave himself for me, on the cross. This is the Christian belief. This is what I believe as well. That Christ took the punishment that I should take, past, present and future, and it was nailed on the cross. And by accepting that fact, that would be a message for me to be saved. So Christ died instead of me, Christ died instead of my sins, past, present and future as well.
So when I accept the risen Christ, I accept him as a savior who gave me life by his death.
Kristel: [00:47:38] Dani, thank you for this explanation. I hope that for people who are listening, who are not religious, it is maybe more clear now, what is the theology behind the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. And it's also, it's been for me super interesting to learn with Palestinian Christians, because I grew up in a family where we actually went to several different kinds of churches and it has always been from a white European perspective that we've learned about the stories from the Bible. And learning here I've been able to put things into the more traditional and cultural perspective.
And also that brings me to maybe my last question, which is related to something that I've been through,through my years of being a Christian and then leaving the church and then coming back to study in the Bible College and also a bit of a future message because we've been going through this history now. It is related to the fact that I realized that a lot of Christians believe that after the resurrection Jesus ascended to heaven, we will celebrate that in about 40 days from now, right?
And then they believe also that Jesus will return. And on the day of his return, the righteous people are going to be separated from the unrighteous people. And many Christians throughout the world they believe that Jesus will only come back when all the Jewish people have returned to the Holy land.
So they are supporting the return of Jewish immigrants to the current State of Israel. And this is their view. This is, they think this should happen during the end of times. I remember we used to go to a church and they used to support Israel no matter what, I didn't really understand at that time when I was young why, but now that I understand also this future perspective, I understand better why they believe that.
But I'm interested for a Palestinian Christian, how is that to hear this kind of message that we call Zionism, which is the return of Jewish people from all over the world to Israel. And the idea is that they are taking up the space of your land of Palestine?
Dani: [00:49:51] First of all, I like to say that I believe that every person has the right to live in his own land. The one that he was born and raised in. When you look at the Holy Land or in Palestine we have in Bethlehem area, we have five Christian families that they can trace their heritage to the time of Christ.
So just to give you a hint, in Palestine and the Arabic world, when you write your full name, your second name of your full name will be your father's name. And the third name of your full name actually will be your grandfather's name on your father's side and then your family name. So if I knew, well, I know my father, then I know the full name of him, which is four different names.
And because I know my grandfather, then I know my grandfather's name and that is how people can trace their heritage. I thought it's very nice to add this one.
I went to College actually in the States, in Missouri in the Midwest. I was in a Christian College and I used to talk to the different teachers, even that they didn't teach me.
And one of them he was a teacher of the old Testament and when he knew that I'm from the Holy land, he was extremely happy. And he was talking to me always, but then when I told him that I'm from Palestine, he kind of did not like that because what he was teaching that Palestine was a desert and there was no people that were living in Palestine. And when the Jewish people came, they made it green.
I told him that my grandmother is a refugee from Ramla. He did not like to talk to me anymore. In fact one of my best friends that I used to go to his house always, he came to me a couple of times and told me that I feel that Danny, I care for you, but I feel that you and your family, you need to pack up yourself, your bags and go and live in any other country and leave the Holy Land to the Jewish people.
I was in shock and he was very serious. He was saying, to fulfill the prophecies. And I was dude, I've been living here all of my life. It's like, this what you're talking about is ethnic cleansing. And I was trying to share with him a little bit about the human rights about our right to exist here, but some people are brainwashed with theology that the original authentic people that are living here, that they should not live here. They should pick up themselves and go, I mean, you are talking about ethnic cleansing, driven from different Bible teachers, which we as Palestinian Christians, we are completely against because of the main message of Christ.
The main message of Christ is love, is to love your enemy is not only to love your neighbor or to try to live along with your neighbor, but to love your enemy. The one who is trying to kill you, the one who is trying to take your land, these are the people that I need to love as a Christian. And there is no way on earth that you can come and use the name of God and say prophecy to take my rights away of existence and the path to reach God is by love.
And even the people who do not have any kind of faith not Christian, Muslim or Jewish, or like any faith will tell you to go and occupy and to kill and to control land by the name of God. Well, the main message of Christianity is very clear. To have ultimate love. And the second commandment from Christ was to love your neighbor as yourself.
So whatever you want the best for you, you have to think about what's the best thing to have for your neighbor. This is the main message is to love and not to hate. And that I believe very strongly that we as Palestinian Christians, we have the right to exist, the right to live and the right to be here because we have been here for a very long time.
Kristel: [00:54:52] Do you have anything to add to what Dani said?
Ameer: [00:54:55] Yeah, I would love to answer that, you know I will not give a theological answer, neither a political answer, instead I'll just give you a logical answer in the form of a simple question. So are you telling me that the Christ Jesus, the man who walked willingly to his crucifixion would ask you and tell you, go kill, massacre, displace a people for another, just to bring him back?
There's no logic in that.
Dani: [00:55:21] As we are in the Easter season, we must prepare our minds and hearts to be thoughtful to those who are suffering around the world. Because of the pandemic. We must also pray that God in his mercy will come and comfort those who are in need and for the Corona virus that destroyed many homes and even left some homeless and many without any source of income.
The joy that is expressed on Palm Sunday is followed by the passion week when Jesus was taken away and suffered, crucified. And on Easter Sunday, he rose from death. That is the message for us today. Even though there is suffering pain, hurt and neglect in people all around us, the resurrection is coming in few days.
The night may seem to last for a long time, but the sunshine will break out soon. It may seem that our suffering now is for a long time. So in this season, let us hold tight to the hope and the light that the resurrection is bringing soon without any doubts.
Kristel: [00:56:42] Amen. Thank you guys so much for doing this with me. We hope that our teacher Yousef will be satisfied with the content. We hope that all our listeners enjoyed to hear a little bit of Palestinian Christian history and the history of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. And I wish everybody happy Easter.