Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

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Irish1975
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Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by Irish1975 » Fri Oct 11, 2019 9:21 am

The proper question is whether inhabitants of Nazareth and that region of Galilee during the first century CE were Itureans by ethnicity. Thus Israeli historian Shlomo Sand--

In 104-103 BCE Judas Aristobulus annexed the Galilee to Judea and forced its Iturean inhabitants, who populated the northern region, to convert to Judaism. ...Judeans probably lived in the Galilee earlier, but it was populated and governed predominantly by the Itureans, the center of whose kingdom was in Chalcis in Lebanon. Their origin is obscure--probably Phoenician and possibly tribal Arab. The territory annexed by Aristobulus stretched from Bet She'an (Scythopolis) in the south to beyond Giscala in the north--that is, most of today's Galilee minus the coast. Masses of Itureans, the original inhabitants of the Galilee, assimilated into the expanding Judean population, and many became devout Jews. One of Herod's associates was Sohemus the Iturean (The Invention of the Jewish People, p. 159).

There are a lot of questions here. My casual research on the Itureans indicates that the limits of their presence in Galilee at the time of Aristobulus is uncertain. The relevant passage from Josephus does not mention Galilee, so I'm not sure where Sand is getting his information--

[Aristobulus] was called a lover of the Grecians; and had conferred many benefits on his own country, and made war against Iturea, and added a great part of it to Judea, and compelled the inhabitants, if they would continue in that country, to be circumcised, and to live according to the Jewish laws. He was naturally a man of candor, and of great modesty, as Strabo bears witness, in the name of Timagenes; who says thus: "This man was a person of candor, and very serviceable to the Jews; for he added a country to them, and obtained a part of the nation of the Itureans for them, and bound them to them by the bond of the circumcision of their genitals" (Antiquities, conclusion to Ch. 13).

That the Itureans were converted to Judaism en masse appears to be well-founded. Many zealous and prominent Jews of the era were converts or descended from converts, a phenomenon I have posted about over at Jewish Texts and History. It seems, then, quite possible that Jesus of Nazareth, if he existed, was Iturean by descent, and if Iturean, then probably Arab.
Last edited by Irish1975 on Sat Oct 12, 2019 10:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

John2
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Re: Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by John2 » Fri Oct 11, 2019 4:14 pm

Well, that would be interesting, but would it change anything in the big picture given that Jesus appears to have identified as being Jewish? While I suppose someone could have quibbled about it if he was descended from Itureans, I'm unaware of anyone who questioned his Jewish identity except for those who thought of him as being the son of a Roman soldier named Pantera (no later than the mid to late second century CE, as Tabor discusses here: https://jamestabor.com/the-jesus-son-of ... raditions/). But that wouldn't change anything in the big picture either, I'm thinking.
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DCHindley
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Re: Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by DCHindley » Fri Oct 11, 2019 6:45 pm

I am a bit surprised by your portrayal of Galilee as populated by ethnic Ituraeans, and then equating Ituraeans ethnically with "Arabs."

That's 19th-early 20th century thinking, that is, corny and cliche.

I think you'll find a more cautious, less colorful, portrayal of this region and the Ituraeans in general in E. A. Myers' The Ituraeans and the Roman Near East (SNTS-Monograph-Series, 2010). Unicode PDF copies are available online. I believe I paid about $15 US to download it from:
https://kissly.net/book/FA356FC7170B42C ... m&x=830108

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Irish1975
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Re: Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by Irish1975 » Sat Oct 12, 2019 8:37 am

DCHindley wrote:
Fri Oct 11, 2019 6:45 pm
I am a bit surprised by your portrayal of Galilee as populated by ethnic Ituraeans, and then equating Ituraeans ethnically with "Arabs."

That's 19th-early 20th century thinking, that is, corny and cliche.

I think you'll find a more cautious, less colorful, portrayal of this region and the Ituraeans in general in E. A. Myers' The Ituraeans and the Roman Near East (SNTS-Monograph-Series, 2010). Unicode PDF copies are available online. I believe I paid about $15 US to download it from:
https://kissly.net/book/FA356FC7170B42C ... m&x=830108
I don't know what to make of this.

1) Do you know something about the Itureans or not?
2) Why "Arabs"? Is there something the matter with that particular population?
3) Things are corny and cliche in art class. This is a history forum.

I have to smack my gob when someone dismisses "thinking" (i.e. questions) for being old. Seriously wtf.

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Re: Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by DCHindley » Sun Oct 13, 2019 1:51 pm

Irish1975 wrote:
Sat Oct 12, 2019 8:37 am
DCHindley wrote:
Fri Oct 11, 2019 6:45 pm
I am a bit surprised by your portrayal of Galilee as populated by ethnic Ituraeans, and then equating Ituraeans ethnically with "Arabs."

That's 19th-early 20th century thinking, that is, corny and cliche.

I think you'll find a more cautious, less colorful, portrayal of this region and the Ituraeans in general in E. A. Myers' The Ituraeans and the Roman Near East (SNTS-Monograph-Series, 2010). Unicode PDF copies are available online. I believe I paid about $15 US to download it from:
https://kissly.net/book/FA356FC7170B42C ... m&x=830108
I don't know what to make of this.

1) Do you know something about the Itureans or not?
2) Why "Arabs"? Is there something the matter with that particular population?
3) Things are corny and cliche in art class. This is a history forum.

I have to smack my gob when someone dismisses "thinking" (i.e. questions) for being old. Seriously wtf.
Well, let's unpack that final sentence of the OP:
It seems, then, quite possible that Jesus of Nazareth, if he existed, was Iturean by descent, and if Iturean, then probably Arab.
You had previously, and correctly, stated that "the limits of [Ituraean] presence in Galilee at the time of Aristobulus is uncertain." Well and good. Yet that concluding sentence turns uncertainty into "quite possible."

Myers notes the following history of opinions regarding the origins of Ituraeans in the past century:
The Ituraeans and the Roman Near East, pg. 145 wrote:Table 2 Development of opinions regarding the Ituraeans
Quote / Source
They were wild border men … The Ituraeans were Arabs / Smith 1902: 544–5
an unruly people, given to brigandage … an Arab people … / Jones 1971: 254
the Ituraeans, of Arabian stock … / Hitti 1957b: 171
The former [Ituraeans] were a predatory Arab tribe … / Wacholder 1974: 134
the Ituraeans, who terrorized caravan trade from strongholds in the mountains. / Ragette 1980: 16
Ptolemy, a Hellenized Arab … / Greenhalgh 1980: 161
the pacification of Ituraean brigands / Marfoe 1982: 77
Hellenized Arabs … / Schottroff 1982: 145
rugged and predatory Ituraeans / Bowersock 1983: 25
Ituraean Arabs of the Biqa‘ Valley … those mountain Arabs … / MacAdam 1986: 50
known for their bellicose nature. Isaac 1990a: 60
In the Lebanon mountains the Ituraean Arabs emerged as a political power … / Grainger 1990: 183
The Ituraeans pursued an expansionist policy. / Sullivan 1990: 71
the Ituraeans, an Arab tribe … / Schwartz 1991: 19
Ituraea … founded by an Arab tribe … / Knauf 1992: 583
an Arab nomad tribe … / Kindler 1993: 283
Arab extraction / Dar 1993b: 42
the Ituraeans, a semi-nomadic Arab people … / S. Freyne in Meyers 1997, II: 372
The Ituraeans, a tribe probably of Aramean stock / Z. Ma‘oz in Meyers 1997, II: 421
Ituraeans, who were notorious brigands / Isaac 1998: 91
the Ituraeans preferred robbing … / Knauf 1998: 273
Belligerent Ituraeans … / Knauf 1998: 275
Ituraean Arabs … / Macadam 1999: 280
Aramaic speaking … / Mannheim 2001: 581
The Ituraeans were an Arab tribe based primarily to the north and northeast of Galilee, on or around Mount Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon / Chancey 2002: 44
had come from the south of Arabia / Sommer 2001: 77
Arabian Ituraeans … / Sommer 2001: 83
the local Arab Ituraeans … / van Ess 2003: 110
Two Ituraean Arab principalities … / Reynolds 2003: 125
seemed originally to be nomadic or semi-nomadic … / Wilson 2004: 7
Ituraean Arabs in Lebanon made the central Beqaa a true principality / Sartre 2005: 33
Myers concludes:
[174] ...
It has been stressed how the interpretation and re-interpretation of the early texts by scholars over the past century has often repeated an accepted belief that Ituraeans were Arabs/Arabians, known only for their brigandage. The language applied is colourful and long-lasting: predatory, belligerent, wild, backward, ferocious, troublesome. Unfortunately, particularly in the present context of the twenty-first century, these words are always used in association with Ituraeans as being Arabs or an Arab tribe. Such a subjective approach to an unknown people is unacceptable, especially in light of modern-day attitudes. Strabo speaks of Ituraeans and Arabians and considers them all in terms of being ‘robbers’. Josephus says the tetrarch Ptolemy is ‘troublesome’, and speaks of Ituraean brigands causing chaos in the region of Trachonitis. Yet a clear understanding of what these writers from antiquity meant when they spoke of Arabs/Arabians is never explicitly clarified. Experience in the world of today tells us more clearly than ever that to speak of a few is not to speak of the whole. There is little doubt that some Ituraeans were involved in brigandage – it was endemic to the region and the time – but to label all Ituraeans as nothing more than brigands is to go beyond what we can know, or even assume. Modern scholarship needs to reassess these [175] very volatile descriptions and terms, otherwise, one is inevitably caught up in the circular argument of assuming Ituraeans were Arabs and also notorious robbers, and hence all Arabs at this period were robbers. These same circular arguments were made when the Greeks named anyone from Arabia as Arabian, with all Arabians coming from Arabia without any clear and definitive knowledge of where Arabia was situated geographically. In making and accepting these assumptions, scholars have also assented to the belief that the Arabians known to have harassed the Macedonians during Alexander’s long siege at Tyre were likely Ituraeans.

Our attempt to gain further knowledge and insight into Ituraean origins and ethnicity may, in the end, be too focussed on what might be called a ‘red herring’. This is expressed in regard to the difficulties encountered in defining terms such as ‘Arabs’ or ‘Aramaeans’, both terms having been used by present-day scholars to identify Ituraeans. The written primary sources mentioning these groups are both unreliable and imprecise, offering no assurance as to how the terms were defined by the early writers of these documents. The implied negative connotations given in modern scholarship to an ancient peoples offer little to advance our knowledge of the Ituraeans. This is made more problematic with the added terms of ‘brigand’, ‘robber’ and ‘troublemaker’. Such subjective language merely enhances the unfortunate prejudices of the modern world, and offers nothing that might enlighten our knowledge of the Ituraeans. The role of the brigand/ robber in antiquity was complex and at times, under certain circumstances, unavoidable. Where it might be safe to say there were Ituraeans involved in such activity for a variety of reasons, we cannot know or assume that all Ituraeans were involved.

In light of what has been discussed, it would be a fairly simple matter to consign the Ituraeans to the role of a minor player on the historical playing field. However, this would be both negligent and unjustified. Because we cannot at this time determine anything of their culture or ethnicity does not permit us to ignore their presence within the ancient world, nor does it justify any misleading assumptions and conclusions. The fact that they were capable and powerful enough to form a principality, organized enough to mint their own coinage, and strong enough to threaten various other groups justifies a more open appreciation, and an effort for continued investigation. Most significant is the need to address the old and misused assumptions of past scholarship which has, unfortunately, tended to label the Ituraeans in such a negative light. There is more to be learned.
In short, you were making hard statements about the ethnic identity of Jesus based on a bit of information about the mass conversion of a part of the Ituraean population resident in parts of Galilee that was effected by Aristobulus sometime in 104-103 BCE, then inform us that likely means Jesus was therefor an Arabian! What are we supposed to make of that, other then to add it to the reasons to reject Jesus as somehow undesirable because of the present dislike of Arab "troublemakers?" This is exactly what Myers was talking about!

Really ... go back to your apologetics class

DCH

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Re: Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Oct 13, 2019 5:08 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Sun Oct 13, 2019 1:51 pm
then inform us that likely means Jesus was therefor an Arabian! What are we supposed to make of that, other then to add it to the reasons to reject Jesus as somehow undesirable because of the present dislike of Arab "troublemakers?"
Just a comment from the sidelines here, and one that is coming from ignorance of Irish1975's politics or Israel-Palestine views, --

My first thought on reading the suggestion that Jesus may have been an Arab was "Oh, so we have someone here who is very pro-Arab and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and is suggesting Jesus should be identified with the Arab world in a most positive way."

I did not know if that was the case but that's what I initially wondered about the intent behind the post. (Thinking of Palestinian Christians and the Palestinians being at least in part the natural descendants of the earlier inhabitants.)

So I find it interesting that the most recent post here concludes a negative intent behind the Arab-Jesus association.

Jesus -- truly a "man/god for all seasons", a "universal man", a figure fit for the cross and the conquering white horse, identified with emperors and slaves alike, with guerilla bandits and the Pope himself.
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Nathan
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Re: Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by Nathan » Sun Oct 13, 2019 6:14 pm

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Oct 13, 2019 5:08 pm
(Thinking of Palestinian Christians and the Palestinians being at least in part the natural descendants of the earlier inhabitants.)
I don't mean to derail the thread, but do you happen to know of any evidence that substantiates that claim? I ask in all seriousness because I hear it a lot but have yet to see anyone provide any supporting evidence.

To me it seems unlikely, given the fact that Palestinians usually identify as/are identified as Arabs, but Arabs are not Canaanites (assuming that's who you meant when you said "earlier inhabitants"). Why then should we identify the Palestinians as Canaanites, rather than as descendants of the Arabs who migrated en masse into that region in the seventh century CE?

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Irish1975
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Re: Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by Irish1975 » Sun Oct 13, 2019 6:49 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Sun Oct 13, 2019 1:51 pm
Well, let's unpack that final sentence of the OP:
It seems, then, quite possible that Jesus of Nazareth, if he existed, was Iturean by descent, and if Iturean, then probably Arab.
You had previously, and correctly, stated that "the limits of [Ituraean] presence in Galilee at the time of Aristobulus is uncertain." Well and good. Yet that concluding sentence turns uncertainty into "quite possible."
It is usually understood that matters are uncertain if they are possibly so and possibly not so. The point of this thread, based on Sand's book, is to note an interesting (if unresolvable) question about the inhabitants of Nazareth at the time of Jesus. The "territory annexed by Aristobulus [which] stretched from Bet She'an (Scythopolis) in the south to beyond Giscala in the north--that is, most of today's Galilee minus the coast" would seem to encompass Nazareth--perhaps. Itureans were a large presence in the region, and they were [per Josephus] forcibly converted to Judaism a century before Jesus. By ethnicity, Jesus might have been a Judean and he might have been an Iturean. Either way, he would still have been a devout Jew.
In short, you were making hard statements about the ethnic identity of Jesus
This is false. I raised the question, which is not making a hard statement.
then [you] inform us that likely means Jesus was therefor an Arabian!
Another distortion. I said it was possible; I never said it was likely.
What are we supposed to make of that, other then to add it to the reasons to reject Jesus as somehow undesirable because of the present dislike of Arab "troublemakers?" This is exactly what Myers was talking about!

I'm not the one who put quotation marks around "Arabs." To me the term is factual and doesn't have all these negative connotations you are worked up about. Needless to say, there were plenty of Judean brigands back then, so this whole digression from Myers is beside the point.

"Reasons to reject Jesus"? Please. There are plenty of those that have nothing to do with whether he was Judean by natural descent.
Really ... go back to your apologetics class
This speaks for itself.

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Secret Alias
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Re: Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by Secret Alias » Sun Oct 13, 2019 8:24 pm

Many Palestinians near Nablus are of Samaritan ancestry
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Was Jesus of Nazareth an Arab?

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Oct 13, 2019 10:26 pm

Nathan wrote:
Sun Oct 13, 2019 6:14 pm
neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Oct 13, 2019 5:08 pm
(Thinking of Palestinian Christians and the Palestinians being at least in part the natural descendants of the earlier inhabitants.)
I don't mean to derail the thread, but do you happen to know of any evidence that substantiates that claim? I ask in all seriousness because I hear it a lot but have yet to see anyone provide any supporting evidence.

To me it seems unlikely, given the fact that Palestinians usually identify as/are identified as Arabs, but Arabs are not Canaanites (assuming that's who you meant when you said "earlier inhabitants"). Why then should we identify the Palestinians as Canaanites, rather than as descendants of the Arabs who migrated en masse into that region in the seventh century CE?
What is/was a Canaanite? Narratives are full of myths about tribes and races that defy what we know how the real world works. People in Palestine today are surely in many cases mixes of past settlers and indigenous inhabitants going way back. I was not aware of any reason to think that Arabs came in and wiped out the indigenous people and replaced them so they left no genetic trace. I don't think that's likely at all from what we do reawd about the Arab conquests. I recall reading articles from time to time linking ancient people (e.g. Greeks/Mycenaeans) with modern Greeks -- despite all sorts of other tribes coming in to "replace" them in late antiquity. I assume something similar is more applicable than to just Greeks.
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