It was quite apt and appropriate that A Palestinian Theology of Liberation was published in 2017, very much anticipating 2018 as the 70thanniversary of the founding of the state of Israel and the Palestinian Nakba in 1948. The violence in Gaza, and elsewhere, in the early months of 2018 have illuminated, in a graphic and raw manner, the fact that the tragedy does ever continue in an unabated way and manner. The sheer beauty and strength of A Palestinian Theology of Liberation is the way Naim Ateek, building on two previous books on this timely and time tried topic (Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation and A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation) ponders, in a poignant and probing manner, the ongoing tale of two peoples. This is both a small yet large book—the pages are few but the content substantive and large.
A Palestinian Theology of Liberation is divided into ten chapters with an “Introduction” and “Resources” as bookends, Walter Brueggemann writing a short yet pithy Foreword. Each of the compact chapters builds on one another, wisely and well, revealing and clarifying the layered nature of the historic and contemporary conflict between Israel and the Palestinians:
- Liberation Theology Worldwide
- Who are the Palestinian Christians?
- The Threefold Nakba
- Other Historical Events that Led to the Emergence of Palestinian Liberation Theology
- Reclaiming the Humanity of Jesus
- Development of Religious Thought in the Old Testament
- Christ is the Key
- Justice at the Center
- The Emergence of Sabeel and Its Friends
- The Heart of Faith and Action in the Twenty-first Century
It should be noted that such a book is not about a way of doing theology that ignores public and political responsibility within a lived historic context—faith and justice, peace and mercy join firm hands in such a vision. The center of the book is chapters 5-8. It is from such a core that the practical and applied vision works itself out within the Israeli-Palestinian and broader Christian context. How is the Hebrew canon or Old Testament to be read and interpreted? How is Jesus to be viewed when compared with the Old Testament? In short, what did Jesus the Christ faithfully draw, in a prophetic manner, from the Old Testament and where did he both offer a different read, in theory and practice, from standard reads of the Old Testament? Such are the questions asked and answered in chapters 5-8. Chapters 1-4 and 9-10 tend to be more historic and applied making A Palestinian Theology of Liberation a finely textured blend of theory and practice.
There will be those who differ with Ateek’s read of the Old Testament-New Testament but his “hermeneutical key” cannot be ignored—it is, in essence, the portal into his prophetic vision. It would have be valuable if Ateek had lingered at the Beatitudes-Sermon on the Mount as his prophetic entry-level point into his read of the New Testament—such a doorway walks the reader into a comprehensive approach to justice and peace. I’m always held by the “Preface” to the Anglican classic of 1894, Vox Clamantium: The Gospel of the People: “But there is one central principle common to all—that to everyone, but most of all to those who call themselves Christians, the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount have not passed away, and belong no less to public than to private life”. It would have enriched and deepened A Palestinian Theology of Liberation if the Sermon on the Mount was the main orator and actor on the stage, speaking the speech rightly and truly. It would also have been valuable if Jesus the Christ had been interpreted in such way as to make it clear that God became Human in Christ so that all might be raised, as they participate in the life of the risen Christ and the church, to a Divine and deified level--for, it is by participating in the nature of the risen Christ that humans embody and incarnate the Christlike life as lived forth in the Sermon on the Mount. I raise these two questions not as way to undermine the challenge of A Palestinian Theology of Liberation but as a way of unpacking yet further what might be meant by both theology and liberation. I realize, in suggesting such a path and direction, that the hard-lived reality of Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem and refugee camps are in desperate need for such a tract for the times as Naim Attek has offered and, in this sense, I find myself hesitant to nudge my questions much further.
I have absolutely no hesitation in highly recommending A Palestinian Theology of Liberation as a must-read classic of sorts on the vexed issue of Israel and the Palestinians. Those who take the time to read and inwardly digest such incisive insights as found in this book will certainly be altered in how they see the plight of the Palestinians within an oppressive Israeli context--and, sadly so, the way many Christian Zionists uncritically support Israel and, in doing so, facilitate the persecution and oppression of their Christian brothers and sisters.