Commas save lives.
“Let’s eat, Mum” or “Let’s eat Mum” have two very different meanings.
Language is also important. When language is misused, misinformation can spread quickly.
As most of you will know, when we say ’1st century’ we are talking about years between 0 and 100CE.
The word Palestine traces back to the word Philistine – the ancient enemy of the Israelites.
The territory today defined as Israel/Palestine was never called Palestine until 135CE. 35 years after the ’1st century’.
Before that, it was called Israel by the Jews, and Judea and Galilee by the ruling power – the Romans. We have the Bibilical record for that.
From my research, it’s fair to say the entire New Testament was completed by 70CE as that is when the temple was destroyed and not a single New Testament (NT) writer mentions that catastrophic event. So it makes sense to assume the event hadn’t happened yet, and that’s why they weren’t writing about it. Although this is an argument from silence, it would have be the equivalent of the media not mentioning 9/11 in the year following 2001.
But even if you don’t find that argument convincing, the majority of scholars will tell you the NT was completed by 100CE at the latest. Nowhere in the NT do any of the writers reference “Palestine”. They only ever mention the land of Israel. So if the people living there at the time said they lived in Israel, why in our academic literature, do we say they lived in Palestine?
I am not making a political point here, I’m explaining that Palestine simply didn’t exist until the Romans renamed Israel as Syria Palaestina in 135CE. So by all means talk about 2nd century Palestine all you want. But 1st century Palestine never existed.
I hope this explanation has been clear. I find it hard to believe that so many academics have got something so important, totally wrong. And like everything I write – I’m open to correction should it come in the comments below.
NB. For those of you with Bibles, flick to the back where you’ll most likely have some maps. Many of them title the maps ‘Palestine in the time of Jesus’, or equivalent. Now, I know Jesus ascended to heaven and is still alive today, but he was not walking the earth in 135CE, and his book had also been finished by then! Jesus died and ascended around 33-35CE. So ‘Palestine in the time of Jesus’ is 100% untrue. It was Israel in the time of Jesus.
This week I have been doing some work experience at Culturewatch- an organisation that helps people explore the message behind the media.
2009 Venice Film Festival prize-winner Women Without Men tells the story of four Iranian women attempting to break free from male oppression in the 1950s. Originally written as a novel by Sharnush Parsipur, the book has been banned in Iran since 1991. Parsipur’s deeply emotive story has now been re-worked for film by acclaimed photographer Shirin Neshat, who sensitively tells the story of Faezeh, Fakhri, Munis, and Zarin in their struggle for freedom and equality in Iran.
30-year-old Munis is looked down on for being unmarried, and kept inside her house by her older brother. Munis spends her time listening to the radio, desperate to hear news of the outside world as American and British intelligence agencies threaten a coup d’état. But when her brother destroys the radio, Munis is devastated and commits suicide.
After Munis is buried, her friend Faezeh hears Munis’s voice calling to her. Faezeh follows this voice, which is coming from beneath the ground. Faezeh frantically digs up Munis, who is finally free from the oppression of her brother and starts to support a group of communists in Tehran. The biggest surprise in Women Without Men is that, in an otherwise earthy and gritty film, one of the major turning points in the story involves Munis being literally raised from the dead. Death is a major theme that Neshat chooses to home in on (through the medium of magical realism) throughout the film.
Fakhri is unhappily married to a powerful army general who constantly looks down on her. She leaves him and buys an orchard, where she hopes to set up a literary salon so she can be viewed as an intelligent woman. Faezeh and emotionally disturbed ex-prostitute Zarin both stumble into this orchard and are looked after by Fakhri.
The film climaxes as a party at Fakhri’s orchard is taken over by the military and Zarin’s mental and physical health deteriorates. The film ends with Munis’s words: ‘Death isn’t so hard. You only think it is. All that we wanted was to find a new form, a new way. Release.’
The question of ‘what happens when we die?’ is hinted at throughout the film. Women Without Men assumes the continued existence of the soul even after death. At the beginning of the film, Munis says, ‘The only freedom from pain is to be free from the world.’ The Bible also speaks of a future time when there will be total freedom from pain in the new heavens and new earth. In the last book of the Bible, John describes this future: ‘I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever”‘ (Revelation 21:3-4).
While Women Without Men gives glimpses of the afterlife for the female characters, the fate of the men in the film is not discussed. Will the rapists and abusers in the film enjoy an afterlife free from pain? It would hardly seem fair. The film never answers that question, but the Bible is clear that none of us deserve to enjoy God’s new heavens and new earth, and teaches that it is only because of God’s kindness in sending Jesus to die and raising him to life that we can be forgiven.
The resurrection of Munis is not just physical, but also symbolic. Once she has been dug up by Faezeh, Munis becomes politically active – something she could not enjoy whilst oppressed by her brother. This resurrection symbolises the resilience of the women in the film who refuse to accept their situations, but do everything they can to make a better life for themselves. Jesus’s resurrection was also physical and the image of the empty tomb has been a symbol of new life for over 2000 yeras. After being brutally murdered, Christians believes Jesus physically rose from the dead, giving new life to all who believe in him. ‘My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life’ (John 10:10). Just as Munis enjoyed a new life through resurrection, Jesus offers us a new life through his.
All four women have all felt oppressed by men in their lives. Working as a prostitute, Zarin becomes anorexic and emotionally disturbed. Controlled by her brother, Munis sees no other way out of her home than suicide. Faezeh’s whole world is changed after she is raped, and Fakhri is forced to run away from her husband.
The oppression of women is a tragic and ongoing problem. Its roots stretch back thousands of years. The film does an excellent job of portraying women in a very different way to many oppressive cultures around the world, both ancient and modern. When Jesus walked the earth, his view of women was also radically different to the culture around him. Rather than shunning prostitutes, he befriended them and showed them respect. At the same time, his teaching on marriage was powerful and controversial. The Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was inspired by Jesus’s teaching and wrote that husbands should sacrificially love their wives, rather than mistreat them. Such teaching would be good for Fakhri’s husband to hear!
Sexism is a widespread problem and Women Without Men tackles it with sensitivity. But the film at times over-emphasises the oppression of women, displaying every man in a negative light. While the devout Muslim man keeps his sister Munis locked in the house, and the film-makers adopt a feminist position, Christians believe in complete equality between the sexes, with neither gender undermining or controlling the other.
Women Without Men also portrays friendship in the midst of ongoing political struggle. The film is set during the 1953 military coup by American and British forces, and while this political story does little more than provide background to the tale of the four women, the film is dedicated to ‘the memory of those who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom and democracy in Iran’. Zarin, Faezeh and Fakhri find safety and refuge from the political struggles, and more importantly their own oppression in Fakhri’s mystical orchard. Here, the three women find a home with one another where mutual support and friendships are built. Their companionship is touching, and Fakhri says she ‘felt like a mother’ to Zarin from the moment they met. Because each of the three women has been mistreated by men they are able to empathise with each other and enjoy moments of true friendship together in the orchard.
There are many underlying messages in this thoughtful and emotive film. Shirin Neshat is clearly passionate about women having equal rights with men throughout the world. The question we are left with is, after all of this sad oppression, will there ever be any release? Munis says there will be, and the Bible agrees that there will one day come a day when all will be made right. Munis is promising her fellow sufferers that there will eventually be release from this difficult and evil world. Her final words turn Women Without Men from being a sad tale of oppressed women, to an encouraging and hopeful story of four women who still have a future ahead of them.