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Emet m'Tsiyon

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Name "palestine" an Imperialist Imposition

When the Roman empire under Emperor Hadrian had suppressed the last major Jewish revolt in the Land of Israel, the Bar Kokhba Revolt [135 CE], the Romans renamed the Province of Judea "palaestina," more exactly Syria Palaestina, using "palaestina" as an adjective and thus subordinating the country semantically to Syria. That is, as by Herodotos much earlier, Israel was seen by the Romans as a mere section of Syria, the "palestinian" section. The historian and classical archeologist, Elsa Laurenzi, affirms that although "palestine" had been used in early classical times by Herodotos [also as an adjective for what he believed was part of Syria], the term was not generally used in the Roman period until it was brought back from "the dustbin of history," so to speak, after defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. I see the name change as a sign of Roman triumphalism and vindictiveness, an expression of antagonism to the vanquished Jews.
This place name, connected with the Philistine population, is first found in the classical [Greek] sources in Herodotos [5th century BCE]. It was introduced as the official name for the region by the Romans after the events of 132-5 [CE], deliberately counterposing it to the official name Iudaea, traditionally used up to that time, in the setting of a series of repressive actions. As such it is often rejected in Jewish circles who prefer "Land of Israel."

Questo toponimo, legato alla popolazione dei Filistei, si riscontra per la prima volta nelle fonti classiche in Erodoto (V secolo a.e.c.). E` introdotto come nome ufficiale della regione dai Romani dopo gli avventimenti del 132-5 [e.c.], contrapponendolo programmaticamente a quello di Iudaea, tradizionalmente usato fino a quel momento, nell'ambito di una serie di interventi repressivi. Come tale e` spesso respinto negli ambienti ebraici, che preferiscono "Terra di Israele." [Elsa Laurenzi, Le Catacombe ebraiche (Roma: Gangemi 2011) p22].
Again, as Laurenzi says, "palestine" was a name imposed on the country by enemies of the Jews. It was part of a series of repressive actions by imperialists who had defeated a Jewish rebellion. Nevertheless, the Romans too considerably regretted the Bar Kokhba War which had seen many Roman soldiers slain by the Jews, as the Roman Fronto pointed out. As least one full legion was wiped out, the XXII Deiotariana Legion. Maybe one more met the same end. In the view of the Bar Kokhba Revolt making such an important impact on both the Jews and the Roman Empire, it is curious that Laurenzi refers to the uprising as "the events of 132-5."

Note that in Roman usage the name Judea applied to the whole country, to all of Israel. In fact the Province of Judea and the earlier Kingdom of Judea ruled by Herod, a client king of Rome, included Samaria, Galilee, the Golan Heights, and the east bank of the Jordan River. Sometimes, as in several verses of the Christian New Testament, Judea is used in a narrow sense together with Samaria as separate regions. But this was a reflection of Jewish usage, not Roman. Jews sometimes used Judea to translate Judah [Yehudah], the ancient southern kingdom of the Israelites after the split of the monarchy.

UPDATING 8-3-2014
Gian Domenico Mazzocato in his footnote 1 to his translation of the Histories of Tacitus, on p1240 [Tacito, Publio Cornelio, Storie, Intro. Generale di Lidia Storoni Mazzolani, cura e traduzione di Gian Domenico Mazzocato (Roma: Newton 1995). Latin text on facing pages]

"Judea, in this context, indicates Palestine as a whole (that is, beyond  Judea in the true and proper sense, the Galilee, Samaria, Perea)"

"Giudea, in questo contesto, indica l'intera Palestina (cioe', oltre la Giudea vera e propria, la Galilea, la Samaria, la Perea)"

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  • Thank you - very clear reconstruction about the term Palestine

    By Blogger andrea, at 11:41 PM  

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