Simcha Jacobovici is a Canadian-Israeli adjunct religion professor and filmmaker known for his biblical archaeology History Channel series “The Naked Archaeologist.” In an op-ed in the Times of Israel, Jacobovici takes Reza Aslan, author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” to task for referring to the land of Jesus as “Palestine,” when a review of historical sources shows the place was known as “Judea,” a word that in Hebrew is synonymous with the word “Jew.”
Jacobovici writes (emphasis added throughout), “in all his interviews, Aslan goes out of his way to refer to Jesus’ Judea i.e., the land of the Jews, as ‘Palestine.’ For all I care, he can call it ‘Nebraska,’ as long as he doesn’t give the impression that this is really what it was called by the inhabitants of Judea in Jesus’ time.”
“If you write a book about Jesus and you call his country by the name that he called it i.e., ‘Judea’, the politically correct armies of anti-Israel activists may get upset with you. So Aslan calls ancient Judea ‘Palestine’ and hides behind the reference to the ‘Roman designation’ for the province,” Jacobovici writes.
“This is very cynical. It’s very cynical to fudge the history of the Aegean Philistines 3200 years ago, lingering references to their name, and the Roman province of the second century CE. It’s very cynical to retroactively place modern Arab Palestinians into Jesus’ Jewish Hellenistic world,” the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker writes.
“In Jesus’ day, his country was called Judea, and the overall designation for the land was ‘Israel’ – as it is today. You can argue about politics, but let’s not change history to suit our views,” he adds.
Jacobovici points out that when asked why he uses the name “Palestine” for ancient Judea, Aslan insists he is using the “Roman designation” for the area, saying the designation was “Syria Palestine.”
“This is absolutely wrong,” writes Jacobovici. “More than this, it demonstrates a certain cynicism when manipulating history for the purpose of ideology.”
Jacobovici provides a detailed review of the word “Palestine” and where it came from including noting that when Jesus was born “there hadn’t been any Philistines in the area for some 600 years.” The name “Palestine” does not appear in the Gospels and those living in Judea during Jesus’ time – including Jesus and his disciples “would never have referred to their country as ‘Palestine,’” the filmmaker notes.
Many Blaze readers made the same point as Jacobovici when commenting on Faith Editor Billy Hallowell’s post reviewing highlights from Aslan’s contentious interview with Fox News. “It’s about a historical man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago in a land that the Romans found Palestine,” Aslan told Fox News last month.
One reader commented, “Notice how he refuses to say ‘Israel’ using the name ‘Palestine.’”
Another wrote of Aslan’s terminology: “It’s about a historical man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago in a land that the Romans found Palestine.’ This is inaccurate.”
“I wonder if his true purpose was not so much Jesus in his book but attempting to establish Palestine 2000 years ago,” wrote another Blaze reader.
Jacobovici has himself been the subject of some criticism for raising provocative theories about early Christianity, including a theory that Jesus and his family were buried in a tomb under Jerusalem.
Jacobovici likens Aslan’s word choice to another politically-charged issue, Native Americans, writing, “But let’s say the Romans had called ‘Judea’ ‘Palestine’ in Jesus’ time – which they didn’t – why would a writer focusing on Jesus as a Jewish patriot i.e., a Zealot, want to call Jesus’ country by the name that his enemies used?”
“It’s as if I wrote a book about a native American hero and kept referring to him as an ‘Indian’, because that’s what white people called him,” Jacobovici writes.
“I think there is no room for propaganda when reviewing history. No one is objective. But we can try to be truthful,” he adds.