Ateek, Naim. A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. New York: Orbis, 2017.
Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek is no doubt one of the leading Palestinian theologians. He is the Father of Palestinian Liberation Theology, the founder of Sabeel, a co-author of the Palestinian Kairos Document, and the author of several important books such as Justice and Only Justice and A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation.
In his most recent book which starts with a forward by Walter Brueggemann, Ateek writes 10 thought-provoking chapters. He introduces liberation theology worldwide (chapter 1) then he explains the historical factors that shaped the context of Palestinian liberation theology (chapters 2, 3, & 4). In light of the historical context, Ateek addresses his understanding of the Bible starting with Jesus (chapter 5) and then the Old Testament (chapter 6). He reflects on hermeneutics advocating Christ as the hermeneutical key (chapter 7) and arguing that love can be another hermeneutical key equally important. Ateek discusses as well the political realities on the ground highlighting the importance of Justice (chapter 8), the role of Sabeel worldwide (chapter 9), and a concluding chapter in which he reflects on Palestinian Liberation theology in the twenty-first century (chapter 10).
Ateek rightly points out the injustices done against Palestinians and the importance of seeking justice by confronting the underlying inequities and power structures of oppression. He repeats many of the arguments of his previous books. However, he insists in this book on refusing many parts of the Old Testament. On the one hand, he says, “One cannot deny that the Old Testament contains material that can deepen our faith and spirituality.” On the other hand, some Old Testament texts are “not morally edifying” and consequently should not be read in public. He adds, “they do not contain a word from God to us. Rather, they reflect primitive human understanding as well as the prejudice, bigotry, and racism of tribal societies . . . In no way do they constitute a word of God for us. They must be rejected. They have no spiritual or moral value or authority for any person.” Ateek concludes that “we can no longer say simply that the Bible is the word of God.” He argues that the god of vengeful violence, genocide, and ethnic cleansing cannot be the Father of Jesus Christ.
I disagree with the aforementioned statements. We have lost our land because of Zionism and now Ateek wants us to lose our Bibles in the name of De-Zionizing it. In response to Ateek, it is important to observe the following.
First, Ateek ignores the way Jesus and the New Testament authors view the Old Testament. They considered it as the Word of God.
Second, Ateek ignores the fact that the New Testament authors saw that Old Testament scriptures in its totality leading to Christ.
Third, Ateek’s hermeneutics of the Old is too simple and ignores the polyphonic reality of truth in Scriptures. He ignores the canonical, the literary, the Christological, the typological meanings favoring one literal historical meaning. It seems that his hermeneutics is rooted in propositional truth and overlooks the importance of intertextual interactions, critical studies, and hermeneutical developments.
Fourth, Ateek ignores the history of the church. All historical denominations throughout the history of the church accepted the Old Testament as the Word of God. Those who rejected it were condemned as Marcionites.
Fifth, I think that Ateek’s insistence on rejecting the Old Testament is not only hindering many readers from considering many of his good arguments but is also causing damage to Sabeel and the many good things that Ateek has done for the Palestinian people.
I have very high respect for Rev. Dr. Ateek but I highly disrespect rejecting the Old Testament or some of its parts. I believe that the issue should be a hermeneutical one, not a canonical one. We cannot have a canon within the canon in the name of love or even our description of Christ.
I pray that God will help all of us to pursue justice and listen to the prophetic call of Dr. Naim even though we disagree with his statements related to the Word of God.
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