So many biblical scholars and Jesus researchers say Jesus lived and ministered in Palestine. I heard them say it last week at SBL’s Annual Meeting some of them read their papers. Jesus did not live in Palestine and minister there. That is an anachronism. I think scholars should stop saying that and say what was true. Jesus lived in Galilee, and he traveled about the land of Israel (Judea, Samaria, and Galilee) ministering as an itinerant preacher-prophet for two to three years. He often went to Jerusalem in Judea/Judah to attend religious festivals at the temple in Jerusalem. Sometimes, he traveled through Samaria to do so. It was juxtapositioned between Galilee and Judea. He also ministered occasionally on the other other side of the Jordan River in Perea. That is where he was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist.
Read the four gospels of the Bible’s New Testament that tell about the life of Jesus, and you will not find the word “Palestine” there at all. There was no Palestine in the days of Jesus. Then, what is the history of the use of the word “Palestine?”
The word “Palestine” comes from the words “Philistine” and “Philistia.” Philistia consisted of five city-states located in the Mediterranean coastal plain. They were Asdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Gerar. That’s where the Philistines lived. They were the arch-rivals of the Hebrew people a thousand years and more before Jesus lived. Look in the Bible’s Old Testament, and you will see the word “Philistine” many times.
When the Hebrew/Jewish Exile occurred in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, Philistines moved into the former land of Israel and lived there also. Greek merchants therefore began calling that land “Palestina” or “Paelestina” just as they also called the coastal plain that the Philistines possessed and lived in for many centuries. This is confirmed in the writings of Herodotus, the so-called “father of history,” because he visited that land during that time. But when some of the Jewish exiles returned seventy years later or more, Jews and others reverted to calling that land “the land of Israel” again. And the coastal plain was no longer being called Palestina either.
After the demise of the Roman Empire, people generally continued to call the former land of Israel “Palestina” or “Palestine.” When the allies won WWI, they broke up the former Ottoman Empire and established the Leagues of Nations through which they set up the mandates in the Middle East. They gave the name “Palestine” to what we call all of the territory of modern Israel, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the State of Jordan. This mandate was called “the Palestine Mandate,” and the British were given control of it.
The purpose of the mandates was to help the people govern themselves, and then those terrortories were made into states/nations. Since the people east of the Jordan River attained self-govenment, that terrority was separated from the rest of the Palestine Mandate and made into the modern State of Jordan. The Jews and Arabs west of the Jordan River, who lived in the remainder of the Palestine Mandate, could not get along and thus govern themselves, and that is why nothing was resolved there. So, Jews declared the State of Israel in 1948, which caused war. They won and the modern State of Israel resulted.
Jewish leaders of the modern State of Israel have always refused to call their territory “Palestine” because that word derives from the ancient Philistines, their ancestors’ enemies. As few years after Israel was formed, Arabs living in these lands began calling themselves “Palestinians.” They have lived predominantly in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. They have wanted to form their own state in these two terrotories, but have not been able to do it.
Just as Israeli Jews today say it is improper to call their land of Israel “Palestine,” it is also improper to refer to the land of Israel as “Palestine” during the first century, thus during the time of Jesus. If the modern Palestinians ever achieve their own state, which they surely will call “the State of Palestine,” maybe that will help cause New Testament scholars to quit being anachronistic by saying that Jesus lived and ministered in Palestine since it was never called that at that time.