The Kingdom of God and Empire. A Contemporary Palestinian Christian Contextual Biblical Interpretation

Activity: ExaminationSupervision of PhD candidate


This research offers a contemporary Palestinian Christian contextual biblical interpretation of Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom of God in the Synoptic Gospels. Introducing Palestinian Christians and highlighting their context historically and geopolitically is an imperative to demonstrate their significance for biblical scholarship. Accordingly, the research develops a hermeneutical ethnography in its endeavor to tackle its leading question: How do Palestinian Christians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories interpret Jesus’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God in the context of the Israeli imperial colonization and the marginalization of Palestinians?
Palestinian Christian voices are important for biblical scholarship due to their historical religious and geopolitical context as a continuation of the ancient people of Palestine and the first Christian groups. Their experience under Israeli imperial colonialism provides a lens to read and interpret Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom. In some circles, Jesus and the kingdom have been spiritualized and apoliticized, overlooking the charged context of Jesus proclamation under the Roman Empire and first-century Judaism. Furthermore, an apocalyptic interpretation of the Kingdom in western scholarship has been one of the driving factors fueling Jewish and Christian Zionist ideologies and the colonization of Palestine. The research therefore reads Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom cross-culturally and contextually. It interprets three biblical texts, Matthew 5:3-12; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 4:16-19, to highlight the ways Palestinian Christian interpretation(s) shed light on the conditions and contexts first-century Palestine. It also criticizes western ideologies of dominance and power. Rather than replicating the same power and dominance structures, the research advocates for and advances dialogue between the West and Majority World, and between scholars and ordinary readers, as a reflection of virtues of humility and open-mindedness.
The first part of this research beings with laying down the general and methodology framework, and unpacking the research’s leading question. It surveys the trends in studying the Jesus proclamation of the kingdom in biblical scholarship. It also briefly introduces the context of Palestinian Christianity. Furthermore, it identifies Zionism and post-1948 Israel as a (settler-)colonial imperial ideology and regime, and therefore classifies post-1948 Israel as an empire. The research also utilizes the Israeli-built Separation Wall as a metaphor and lens to illustrate the power dynamics in biblical scholarship, between the West and Majority World, and between scholars and ordinary readers. It takes a postcolonial posture and utilizes empire studies to highlight the imperial context of Jesus’s ministry. Generally, it critiques western dominance and claim of universality and objectivity in biblical interpretation, which has led to the marginalization of non-western voices. A dialogue begins with reading three biblical texts with Palestinian Christians (scholar/clergy and ordinary readers) from their context. The dialogue extends to include authoritative western biblical scholars, and promises new insights to Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom and the biblical texts in this research.
Chapter 2 investigates the rise and development of postcolonial studies and postcolonial biblical criticism. Most importantly, this chapter locates Palestinian contextual theologies and biblical interpretations within the field of postcolonialism despite the fact that Palestine remains colonized. The third chapter surveys some prominent voices in empire studies in the West and Palestine, and considers other critical ones. It also highlights the significance and uniqueness of the contributions of three Palestinian theologians to the field. With that being established and explained, the research turns to explore the concept of the kingdom of God in the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Literature, and the New Testament. In general, the biblical vision of the kingdom is about newness: new creation and new humanity. This chapter also underscores that empires were an ever-present concern for the Hebrew people. The context of Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom was tense, politically and religiously. The Roman Empire dominated nearly every aspect of the lives of first-century Palestinians. On the other hand, there were several Jewish sects and movements with hopes of a divine intervention to restore their nationhood and its symbols. Interpretating Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom has to consider both the Roman Empire and the first-century Jewish worldview and expectations. Closely related, and nearly identical, is the Palestinian, particularly Christian, experience under the Israeli imperial (settler-)colonialism. Arguably, Palestinian Christians are the historical continuation of the indigenous people of Palestine and the early Christian groups. Meanwhile, the Roman Empire and post-1948 Israel share comparatively similar imperial logic and mentalities. Palestinian Christians, therefore, with their unique geopolitical location, spiritual and religious heritage, and post-1948 experience of imperial rule, position them to offer new and fresh insights into biblical texts.
The second part of the research turns to present the ways Palestinian Christian ordinary readers from Bethlehem in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Chapter 5), Palestinian Christian scholars and clergy (Chapter 6), and western authoritative voices, namely, Ulrich Luz, R. T. France, and François Bovon, interpret Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom in three selected biblical texts. Each chapter concludes with an analysis of their interpretations and pinpoints some critical observations. The three groups of readers (ordinary, scholars/clergy, and western scholars), are brought into a dialogue. Based on their interpretations, in addition to other supportive voices, the chapter presents a new holistic reading of the kingdom. The research concludes with underlining the findings and major observations and trends identified throughout. It emphasizes that Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom has to be interpreted with people from their context(s), while also taking the Roman Empire and first-century Judaism as the primary matrix of Jesus’s ministry. It also encourages a kingdom-oriented interpretation of biblical texts to promote kingdom-virtues of humility and open-mindedness, which promise to bring about new creation and new humanity.

Period1 Jan 20218 Jan 2024
ExamineeYousef AlKhoury
Degree of RecognitionInternational