Biblical theology and the view from below


Four “terrorist” Palestinians playing soccer just before they are murdered


We must expel Arabs and take their places…and if we have to use force hen we have force at our disposal.”
David Ben Gurion the first Prime Minister of Israel Oct 5,1937 in a letter to his son

Stand up and speak on behalf of the poor
and those who need your voice in this world.
Remember that:
Where you stand will determine what you see;
Whom you stand with will determine what you hear;
What you see and hear will determine what you say and how you act.
Robert McAfee Brown


One of the cardinal things one learns as a student of the bible and as a primer for discipleship is to learn to think from below. This is not easy for the privileged. This is why North American Christianity is caught in a suburban captivity of privilege. Not bad people for sure but our starting point is generally white economic middle class privilege. This is why the growth in churches are those megachurhes. They give people waht they want. The prophets gave people what they needed. Think Joel Osteen and the biblically illiterate Christian Zionist churches in the American South.Any church which dares criticism of the “American Way of Life’ will struggle to survive. The call to the cross and the the kingdom offer of the crucified Galilean is decidedly not in vogue.


The fundamental narrative here is of course the Exodus story told from the perspective of the slaves and not of Pharaoh. For us the interlocutor is not the atheist but the nonperson, the unseen or seen only as a category—(everybody in Gaza is a terrerrorist, The Commies etc). Notoriously at different eras blacks, women, First Nations, the powerless were all people with no megaphones. Liberation theology shifted the essential question from the nonbeliever to the nonperson.


It was the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer about to be martyred in Berlin in 1945 who most graphically expressed this view in modern times:


There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.

When we analyze Israel/Palestine from this perspective our starting point for Christians is that of the poor. Who are the poor, the non-persons, those on the margin of life? We do not start from these reprehensible and self defeating rockets. We begin with the the radical dispossession of Palestinian people shoved into a crowded prison camp; we begin with the 50 year occupation of a homeland, of ongoing and relentless increase of settlements, theft of land, destruction of olive groves and collective punishment. We begin with second class citizenship, Jews only roads, a people with no nation or citizenship, no army and an asymmetrical poverty compared to the Occupier. We begin with Gaza, a foetid breeding ground of hopelessness hence the pathetic rocket attacks and the asymetrical death counts 270 dead Palestinians, 80% civilians and two israelis, each a child of God.

It is in the situation of these poor that God will be found . This is where the essential pain is.The underside of history and as we will see there are some brave Christian churches which have dared extend solidarity to the Palestinian people without justifying the counterviolence.




  1. 1
    mushafta Says:

    Eloquent biblical language at its best Ted! But both the eloquence and the language is not appreciated by everyone in this culture of greed, avarice, war, revenge, violence, etc.
    Sadly, too many see Israel as the victim of Hamas rockets and the numerous threats to wipe Israel off the map.
    It’s a sad day when Christian evangelical churches packed to the brim side continuously with Israel with little or no comprehension of the real bible story or the historical injustice against the Palestinians. Sad too that Catholic bishops are silent sheep- always neutral except on matters of abortion.

  2. 2
    Bill Heffernan Says:

    You hit a home run on this one Teddy…I’ll forward it liberally.


    Sent from my iPad


  3. 3
    mushafta Says:

    I doubt anyone would ever consider the use of the word Auschwitz here- far too heavy and well over the top. But why are there are no world leaders raising the alarm about the disproportionate number of casualties in this latest battle? Why are they turning their backs on the Palestinians? This is an underhanded form of genocide that is so well disguised it just makes me ponder why it is taking so long for anyone to figure out. Am I making any comparison with Hitler and Netanyahu? Absolutely. The world is not waking up to the annihilation of a people. Let’s start connecting some dots.

  4. 4

    There is a slight problem with your treatise above, Ted. You see, the Jews in Egypt were oppressed, as you point out, but they had no agenda other than the desire to worship Yahweh in the desert. You see, there are a number of things in this current conflict that get in the way of your narrative, and that is the reason why you say the following: “When we analyze Israel/Palestine from this perspective our starting point for Christians is….We do not start from these reprehensible and self defeating rockets. We begin with the the radical dispossession of Palestinian people shoved into a crowded prison camp; etc.”

    You are partly right. We ought not to start from the rockets, but you left out Hamas, you left out their single minded agenda that does not have the Palestinian people as a priority, but the destruction of Israel first–they have it written down, there is no denying it. You see, it’s these smaller details that complicate matters, and it is these details that make it very difficult if not impossible to compare Hamas with the ancient Hebrews in Egypt. So, you leave that out of the equation. When you speak of Gaza, you leave out so much of history, in order to simply the situation so that it fits your narrative.

    Ted, it’s really about lazy mindedness. You are a good man, but you are lazy minded. You like to keep things simple. But the reality of the situation is anything but simple, so your simple comparisons just don’t work. I wish they did, but they don’t.

    Yes, we have to look at the situation from the point of view of the poor and dispossessed. No question about it. But you have to stand back and take in the larger picture. What you propose is much like looking at criminals in prison: They are locked behind bars. Okay, they are poor and dispossessed. Let’s look at their situation from their point of view. The guards get to go home at night and watch the game, order Chinese food, while these poor men are locked behind bars. Let’s not begin from the reprehensible and self-defeating bank robberies, let’s begin with the situation they found themselves in while in high school, the suspensions, the sending to the office, the phone calls home, the punishment at home, etc. etc. ”

    What can we conclude from all this? Nothing. The criminal still raped and killed a young lady, still extorted money, and to simplify the situation by looking at a portion of the situation that fits the oppressed/oppressor narrative doesn’t work.

    There are so many people in Palestine who are innocent, who want peace. The majority do. Those are not the people Israel is concerned about, they didn’t build the tunnels, etc. Your narrative just does not work in this situation, because this situation is far more complicated than you are willing to admit.

    People do not all have STUPID written on their foreheads, as you seem to think they do. The problem as I see it is that you want to keep to a simple narrative that helps you make sense out of a very complicated situation. You do not like ambiguity–none of us do. But you do away with ambiguity with your simple analysis. That’s the problem, Ted. The Egyptians oppressed the Hebrews in order to benefit from their labor, black people were oppressed for the sake of their labor, the oppressor gets some benefit from oppressing, some economic benefit. What benefit does Israel think it’s getting from what you call Palestinian oppression? What? Does Israel think it is in its best interest to keep the Palestinians poor?

    Life is complex, not simple. Human beings are not simple, but complex. You have to move beyond the oppressed/oppressor narrative. Reality is much larger and more complex than that, I’m afraid to say.

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