I used to live near the Jordan River. No, not the one that the Israelite Tribes crossed once upon a time on their way to the Promised Land (though I used to live not too far from that one as well), but the one in Southwest Nova Scotia, in Shelburne County. There can be little doubt that today, among the thirteen thousand or so denizens of Shelburne County, no more than a handful would know why the otherwise unremarkable river dumping its tannin-colored waters into the North Atlantic Ocean is called Jordan or what the origin of the name Shelburne is. A hundred years ago, and possibly even fifty, when children in Nova Scotia were still taught their own history rather than that of the First Nations, there would be very few who wouldn’t be able to answer. Jordan is, of course, the river in which Jesus was baptized and Shelburne is named after William Petty, the second Earl of Shelburne, British Prime Minister in the early 1780s when Shelburne County was being formed by United Empire Loyalists, fleeing from the wrath of their erstwhile neighbors in places like Pennsylvania, New York, and the Carolinas.
Shelburne the politician, by the way, had always been sympathetic to American interests, seeing in a big and prosperous United States a reliable trading partner and ally to the United Kingdom. Perhaps that is why there is a picturesque town in Vermont that also bears his name. But what if we could travel back to the 11th century BC and talk to one of the Israelites who had just crossed the original River Jordan? What would they say if we had asked them where the River Jordan was; which country it flowed through? Having given us the look that had been reserved throughout history for simpletons and foreigners, they would have undoubtedly informed us that the River Jordan has the land of Canaan on its western flank, and the land of the Amorites on the eastern.
Returning now to our time capsule and slowly making our way to back to the future, we find ourselves in the Jerusalem palace of King Jehoshaphat in the mid-9th century BC Kingdom of Judah. Again, we enquire as to the location of the River Jordan. “It’s in the Kingdom of Israel, of course,” our interlocutor would undoubtedly answer, “though the very southern tip is in our place, in Judah. Better you stay here, they are all idol worshippers up north!” he would add.
Let us now change geography as well as epochs and visit Rome during Julius’ Caesar triumphant entrance into the city following his Gaulish conquests. We find ourselves in the crowd of onlookers and search for someone official-looking. Here’s someone of Centurion rank. “Pardon me, sir,” we ask, “in which province is the River Jordan located?” “Well, wouldn’t you know it, you found just the right guy to ask,” says he. “I was stationed there for years with the 10th Legion. It’s in Judaea, of course. Quite a bunch of troublemakers these Judeans are with their one god.”
We check the year counter in our time capsule; eight centuries have passed between our visit with Jehoshaphat and the Roman centurion. And yet, the tiny insignificant River Jordan has maintained its place on the map in the kingdom, now province, of Judea. Surely, so many centuries, so many generations are enough to once and for all fix the location of a geographic landmark in the collective memory of the human race. Satisfied that our journey through time had been a success and the location of the River Jordan is finally firmly established, we complete our journey back where we started, though perhaps a bit earlier, in 1918 Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, Canada. On the banks of the Canadian version of the Judean river, the simple whitewashed Calvinist church that we saw shuttered and abandoned in our own time is doing brisk Sunday morning business. The Pastor has just finished guiding the Sunday service and gives us a shy look as we approach. “Pardon us, Reverend,” we venture, “why is the river next to us named Jordan?” The youngish Reverend smiles rather ruefully; “people are becoming so ignorant these days,” we can almost hear him thinking. “The folks who came here from America in the 1780’s were quite religious, you see,” he explains articulating every word. “They often didn’t bother with First Nation names for places, but the Bible was a living, breathing document to them, so they named this river after the Biblical River Jordan”. “Ah, yes, of course,” we say, “but where is that original River Jordan? Is it a real place?” “Of course, it is!” he exclaims, “it is where it’s always been, in Palestine”.
Palestine! That’s the first we ever heard of that place! It looks like our journey in time missed some critical events after all. But what could have happened to erase nearly a millennium of history and for the following nearly two millennia firmly enshrine in human consciousness a name that we never heard of in antiquity? What was it that the centurion told us? He seemed none too pleased with his time in Judea. Perhaps that is something we should explore further. So we return to the Mediterranean, to the capital of Judea, Jerusalem, two centuries after our sojourn in late Republican Rome. We find a city that was clearly great once, lying in complete ruin. Beautifully cut masonry is strewn about everywhere and the only people we find are beggars and Roman soldiers. We stop one of them: “if you may be so kind, we are travelers from afar, what is this place, what is it called?” The soldier gives us a weary yet official look. “You are in the Aelia Capitolina, Province of Syria Palaestina.”
Mordechai Sones, a reporter for the Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva, calls the creation of an entity named “Palestine” a Roman psy-op, undoubtedly the most successful psy-op of all times. In this characterization Mr. Sones hits the nail on the head, especially because this action by the Romans was specifically intended as psychological warfare from its very inception. Following the Great Revolt and the Bar-Kochba revolt in 70 AD and 132 AD, respectively, the Roman rulers of Judea became convinced that Judeans would never accept the fundamental covenant between the Roman Empire and its provincial subjects. The covenant was rather simple: Rome provided protection, administration, public safety, and things like baths and hippodromes and the provincials welcomed the reigning Roman emperor as an equal rights member into their pantheon of deities and agreed to pay taxes to the Imperial government in Rome. This was, generally speaking, a generous covenant, because while the tax burden could be heavy at times, the Romans excelled at living up to their promises of security, bread, and circus.
The problem with Judea and its inhabitants was rather unique. You see, they already had a covenant and their covenant was with the One and Only, the Eternal Creator of the universe. Under the terms of that particular covenant, Jews received His eternal blessing as His Chosen People and in return they had to abide by many rules and regulations the greatest of which was the unbreakable exclusivity of the Covenant itself. The rules of this exclusivity where also simple: He would not choose another People and His People would not even entertain the thought that there were any other deities but Him. Not even Roman emperors. To this day and forever, the moment a Jew accepts the notion of another deity, be it Jesus or Diversity, he or she automatically find themselves outside of the bounds of the Covenant, outside of the Jewish People. So first and second century AD Judeans were faced with a choice: which covenant would they choose, the earthly one offered by Rome, or the celestial one offered by Him. They chose the latter, twice. The Roman Empire is long gone. The Roman Forum is in ruins and so is the Colosseum, built with money raised by melting down the gold stolen from the ruins of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Half-naked tourists take selfies where the “eternal” flame to Jupiter once burned. But the Covenant between the Lord of Hosts and His People is stronger than ever yet. Seems like the Jews chose wisely, after all.
Image by Read299.792
The price that the Romans decided to collect from the Jews for rejecting their covenant offer was to be one that would deter any other headstrong people from doing the same. It was the ultimate price, the erasure of the very identity of recalcitrant peoples; their dispersal in the world without as much as their own name. In a truly Roman fashion, the Erase The Jews From History project was planned and executed to perfection. Jerusalem, the very center of Jewish existence for a full millennium already at that time was renamed Aelia (after Emperor Hadrian’s clan name Aelius) Capitolina (after Jupiter Capitolinus, Rome’s Number One deity). The one-two punch of Jupiter and his earthly disciple, the god emperor Hadrian was surely enough to remove any memory of Him. Next, the provincial boundary was redrawn to include the province of Syria, and the name of a long since gone and nearly forgotten people, the Philistines, was added. Thus was Syria-Palaestina born.
Suddenly, Jews found themselves living in a land that didn’t even bear their name, with no capital city, no Temple in which to sacrifice to God, a God who has twice in two or three generations abandoned them in battle. But the original Covenant survived; genius innovators and disruptors, the Jewish Sages of the late antiquity, succeeded in taking it from its temporal form, a form that was tied to a hilltop city between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Valley, to an abstract yet very practical form, a form that could exist on parchment, and on paper, and on silicon. The great stone walls of the Temple could not be moved, but the ideas that set aside the Jews and their Covenant could be, and were, only to come home within our own amazing timeline.
Image by Odemirense
Today, a bunch of folks who opportunistically showed up in Judea from various neighboring countries to make a better living for themselves once the Land of Israel started thriving again are trying to ride piggyback on the ancient Roman deception, pretending to be the original inhabitants of a fictional land they call “Palestine” while their own family names clearly make them out to be Egyptian, and Syrian, and even Chechen and Bosnian. Rome’s feeble modern-day descendants in Western Europe are eagerly buying into the two millennia old canard, but everything that is made by humans has to come to an end, even Rome’s most lasting creation: the Palestine psy-op.
Rome is called the Eternal City. But where is its empire now? Where are the tough, resourceful Romans of the old republic? The current Pontiff, the last vestige of the Empire, is a pathetic social justice warrior from across the ocean who is busy peddling the Roman version of Judaism, Catholic Christianity, to the lowest bidder with his new age pronouncements. No, there is only one Eternal City: Jerusalem. It is located in the State of Israel, near the River Jordan, and it is once again busy being the bustling, innovative, golden Capital of the Jewish People.