It’s one thing to be passively ignorant of history, but something else entirely to refuse to study the past. Regardless of our political, ideological, and even theological beliefs, an honest review of history keeps us grounded in facts as we move toward the future.
This usually isn’t convenient for those who wish to recast history in an effort to seize the future. Thus, we find efforts to tear down monuments even as history books are rewritten.
I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Israel with my son. After visiting numerous archeological sites, we came to Jericho, the world’s oldest inhabited city. It was my second visit to the archeological mound; my son’s first. I was struck by how much has changed since my visit four years ago… and not for the better.
What struck me was the site’s state of disrepair. It is the archeological remains of an old city, so in one sense, “disrepair” is the order of the day. But not like this; this was the disrepair of the site as an archeological treasure. It struck a dagger through my heart and mind.
For all of its storied history, beginning as a settlement at the dawn of recorded time, most of us know of Jericho because of its prominent place in the Book of Joshua and later references in the New Testament.
But here in Palestinian-controlled Jericho (the modern city, which surrounds the archeological mound), you find… next to nothing. Sign posts around the mound once explained the significance of the site in layman’s archeological terms, not biblical prose. Those have been removed.
It felt a lot like visiting the Alamo without finding a reference to the 1836 battle – or anything else, for that matter.
The historic site at Jericho is now just a high mound of exposed ancient bricks, a cistern (if you know what you’re looking at), and a few bits of walls from interior shops or dwellings. I am told new archeological work has essentially ground to a halt.
There is a simple and sad reason why this is happening. The Palestinian Authority’s political narrative will not tolerate any more archeological finds substantiating the words of the Bible.
This is ironic, given that nearby is Qasr al-Yahud. For Christians, this site is significant as the place where Jesus is believed to have been baptized. The old Arabic name, though, attests to something far more ancient. The name translates roughly as “The Place of the Jews.” That is an illusion to the third and fourth chapters of Joshua… where the flood waters of the Jordan dried up, allowing the people of God to enter the Promised Land and begin their conquest. (It is also the general area where Elijah was taken up on a chariot of fire to heaven.)
So, we have a site named for centuries in Arabic as the place where Joshua entered the land, but no reference in the city he and his people captured in one of history’s most famous battles.
Whatever one thinks of modern Israel, the political conflict between the Palestinians and the Jews, future one-state and two-state proposals… all of those things should be unrelated to archeological research.
But here’s the political problem: The Palestinians are resting their claims to the land on the belief Jews have no meaningful historic connection to it. The controlling P.A. has decided to disallow any – any – archeological study that might suggest Jews occupied, controlled, or otherwise conquered the land even in the ancient past.
Whatever one chooses to believe about Israeli statehood since 1948, or the governing arrangements in the region going forward, none of us should accept the suppression of history. Those whose geopolitical aspirations are based on rewriting history are building on the shaky foundation of lies. And nothing good will result.
Modern interest groups should argue vigorously for their competing visions of the future, but we must not allow the past to be a casualty in their battles.