Why Would a Bible Translation Use the Word ‘Palestine’?

Talk about being anachronistic.

By Michael Brown Published on January 18, 2018

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is one of the most widely used modern translations of the Bible. There is not the slightest hint that the translation is anti-Israel, let alone anti-Semitic. So, my question comes by way of interest and curiosity, not by way of indictment or accusation. Why would this fine translation introduce the word “Palestine” in its section headings?

This would be similar to a history book carrying the caption, “Christopher Columbus discovers the United States.” Or, “The rule of Genghis Khan extends into the Soviet Union.” Or, “T. E. Lawrence was famously known as ‘Lawrence of Saudi Arabia.’”

All of these would be grossly anachronistic.

Yet none of my examples are as anachronistic as what is consistently found in various editions of the NASB. This includes print editions (the one in front of me is printed by Cambridge University Press). It also includes various digital versions (Bible Gateway, Bible Hub, and the Laridian PocketBible, which is found in the Logos app).

As a colleague (and long-time NASB reader) noted, in several places in the translation, “Palestine” appears in section headings.

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The print edition carries this section heading before Joshua 10:29: “Joshua’s Conquest of Southern Palestine.” Similarly, each of the digital versions I mentioned carries this heading before Joshua 11:1: “Northern Palestine Taken.”

In contrast, other modern Bible translations have these headings before Joshua 11:1 on the Bible Gateway website:

  • “Joshua’s Conquest of the North” (Lexham)
  • “Conquests in Northern Canaan” (ESV)
  • “Israel Defeats a Northern Coalition” (NET)
  • “The Northern Campaign” (ISV)
  • “Conquest of Northern Cities” (CSB)
  • “The Northern Conquest” (NKJV)
  • “Northern Kings Defeated” (MEV)
  • “Conquering the North” (TLV).

Only the NASB mentions Palestine.

Palestine Didn’t Exist 

The problem, of course, is that “Palestine” did not exist at that time. If a place name was needed, “Canaan” would have sufficed (as per the ESV).

It’s true that these section headings are not part of the Bible translation proper. (I’ve been involved in a few translation projects, and our focus is always on the actual biblical text.) But it’s also true that they can become as fixed as the translation itself. Hence the appearance of “Palestine” in both print and digital editions of the NASB.

Again, I’m not implying anything sinister. The NASB renders one key passage in a way that I would say is not only accurate but also refuted a supersessionist interpretation. (By “supersessionist” I refer to a wrong interpretation in which the Church is seen as spiritual Israel and in which there are no national promises for physical Israel. Thus the Church supersedes Israel.)

“Palestine” did not even exist as a name for this part of the world until roughly 1,500 years after the time of Joshua’s conquest.

Specifically, the NASB translators (along with most other modern translators) recognized that Paul was not addressing Gentile believers in Galatia as “the Israel of God.” (See Galatians 6:16; contrast the NIV.) It isn’t as if these Gentile Christians had become the new Israel and had displaced the old Israel. Here, in this verse, “the Israel of God” refers most likely to Jewish believers in Jesus, called Messianic Jews today. Had there been an anti-Israel bias in the NASB, it would likely have been reflected here.

So, at the risk of being redundant, I’m bringing no accusation against this popular translation. I am not assuming that the translators themselves all agreed on the section headings.

I am simply wondering out loud why they used the wrong term “Palestine” in these section headings. “Palestine” did not even exist as a name for this part of the world until roughly 1,500 years after the time of Joshua’s conquest. Talk about being anachronistic.

The Sinister Origins of “Palestine”

The origins of the name Palestine are totally negative. That’s why Tsafrir Ronen posted an article titled, “The Invention of Palestine as a Psychological Weapon for Conquering Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel]” on the Think Israel website.

As Ronen explains,

Almost 2,000 years ago, the Roman Emperor Hadrian cursed the Jewish People and decreed that Judea should be henceforth called “Palestine” after the Philistines, an ancient enemy of Israel that had disappeared from the world’s stage more than 600 years earlier. It was his final twist of the knife and legacy after wars, massacres, persecutions, and exiles that had largely extinguished the Jewish presence from Judea.

Or, as another website states,

The Roman emperor Hadrian, in an effort to destroy Jews once and for all, renamed the territory of Judea (the present-day West Bank), Palaestina, after the Philistines, an Aegean people who had conquered the coast of Canaan. They appear in the Old Testament as depraved pagans and have long since vanished from history.

Hadrian’s intention was to eradicate memory of the Jewish people whom the Romans exiled from their homeland as punishment for having rebelled against them in 130 AD.

It is true that the Jewish people reclaimed the word “Palestinian” for themselves earlier last century. So the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was originally the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (founded in 1936). And the original name for the Jerusalem Post was the Palestine Post (founded in 1932).

Ironically, this underscores the fact that the Arabs and others living in Palestine before 1948 did not think of themselves as Palestinians. This was never part of their corporate or individual identity until after 1967. (See here for example. As Ronen noted, “Today, the modern enemies of a resurrected Jewish Nation have dusted off Hadrian’s curse and are attempting to pull off a monumental theft: the Arab world have reincarnated ‘Palestine’ to steal Israel’s heritage and the Land of the Jewish People.”)

NASB, Please Fix This Error

But, when it comes to Bible history, especially Old Testament history, there is no such entity known as “Palestine.” And there is absolutely no justification for its presence in the section headings of the NASB (or, any other Bible for that matter) when talking about biblical events.

It’s one thing to talk about Mark Twain visiting Palestine in the 1800s (when it was actually known by that name). It’s another thing to talk about Joshua conquering Palestine.

To do so is to agree with the anti-Israel talking points of Palestinian activists. They claim that the ancient Israelites engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine (those evil Israelis are doing it again today!) and that Jesus was “a Palestinian messenger.”

I look forward to the those currently responsible for the NASB rectifying this error.

Update: I have been informed that the 2019 revision of the NASB already planned to replace “Palestine” with “Canaan” in these section headings.

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  • David MacKenzie

    All the more strange when one realizes that the NASB is (I believe) in the “literal (word-for-word) translation tradition, not the dynamic translation tradition.

    • GENUG

      where does their $$$ come from?

  • Chip Crawford

    Speak up about it. Maybe they’ve got a detractor in their organization or let this slip. it’s too good a translation to allow it to be compromised by error or slippery slope downgrade.

    • Gabrielle Luntz

      Amen

  • Yossi

    Hmmm… I have an NASB given to me in 1972 (I think shortly after the NASB was first published), and “Palestine” is not used in the section headings that you refer to in Joshua. The heading over Joshua 10 (p. 328 in the version I have) reads “Joshua’s Conquests” and over Joshua 11-12 (p. 330) reads “Joshua’s Exploits.” The only geographical name I see in a heading is over Joshua 12-13 (p. 331) where it reads “Dividing Canaan Amonng the Tribes.” The geographical designation of “Palestine” must have been added in later editions of the NASB. It’d be an interesting project to track down the different editions of the NASB, and when “Palestine” was first put in as a geographic designation for the land of Canaan.

    • Chuck_Wnj

      My NASB77, published in 1985 by Word Publishing, has “Conquest of Northern Canaan” at Joshua 11:1. I agree that “Palestine” should never appear anywhere in the Old Testament for the reason given, and probably not in the New either.

  • timeout31

    Thank you for this head’s up and for the history lesson. Frankly, Christians need to become more familiar with everything to do with the Word of God! I find those in the pulpit very unfamiliar or unwilling to deliver Truth to their congregations.

    Again, thank you. This is extremely important. With the heading in the NASB the devil and those who are his pals in the “religious” world of deniers, will plant the seed about palestine in their uninformed hearts.

    People of Faith! Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you to Truth, and Wisdom.

    • Covenant-Son

      It is not a big deal . People that major in the minors are forever missing the big picture.

      If this is a problem for for you and Mike, contact the theologians and ask why. In the meantime, rememeber that God’s people are only those who are in Christ. No one else qualifies.

      • timeout31

        Please don’t imply that I am majoring in a minor. Also, only those who have, by faith, believe Jesus died expressly for my (our) sins, and the death and resurrection, will ever understand the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is the instructor of the majors and the minors. I doubt I am missing the big picture as you put it. I put my faith in the Jesus Christ and Him crucified and what the cross means. As long as I put that as the center of my faith, the Holy Spirit will reveal His wisdom and great knowledge and understanding. I, do not have to ask “theologians” anything about God or the Bible.

        • Covenant-Son

          What you said in your post has nothing to do with the subtitle that the NASB used in that particular chapter. The NASB is revising and translating and updating it next year.

          What I’m really concerned is that modern Christians are glorifiing a godless nation that are rejecting our Lord and Savior, but we don’t care about that, but we care that Palestine is found in the OT and that is really, really important!

          • Daniel de Oliveira

            “but we don’t care about that”. Who doesn’t care about that? You? Talk for yourself!

  • Andrew Mason

    Respectfully I understand that Palestine was in use before Hadrian. The Greeks came up with the term for the Greater Israelite region, which included Gaza and the rest of the territory held by the Philistines. Palaistine – the Greek word, is very close to palaistís which means wrestler. Since JacobIsrael wrestled with God calling the region Land of Wrestlers is a logical pun. Jews are the true Palestinians.

    While the history permits usage of Palestine I agree that talking about Palestine rather than Canaan is as misleading as talking about Columbus’ discovery of the US or the Mongolian conquest of the Soviet Union. Geographic regions may be constant, but cultural and political regions are not.

  • Diana Laura

    You place a stumbling block before Palestinians entering the kingdom of God because of your chosen people complex. Stop worrying about “Israel” and start loving your enemies and praying they become children of God.

    • Covenant-Son

      Amen Diana! Well said.

      • Daniel de Oliveira

        “You place a stumbling block before Palestinians entering the kingdom of God” is simply a lie, no less.

        • Covenant-Son

          You are nuts. I never said that. If you have reading comprehension problems, get help.

          Do not respond to me anymore, or I’ll block you.

      • Jim Walker

        Changing the words or adding words to the Bible is forbidden, there are verses that give those warnings. We do not change the words or add words so that you can reach out the certain people or groups.
        If this is not nipped, then next thing you know the bible verses will be changed to say God loves LGBT and approves of their sexual practices and relationships.

        • Covenant-Son

          No one changed anything. It was a subtitle, so relax.

          • Jim Walker

            But Palestine does not exist during Joshua’s time.
            You need to understand that Theologians like Dr Brown are extremely detailed in their work and translations. So its no surprise he pick that out. For us commoners, we can’t see what he sees and we need people like him to protect the Bible for the next 2000 years to be the same like what has been proven by the Dead Sea Scrolls, maybe by then its probably in primitive digital format.

          • Covenant-Son

            Subtitles before chapters are simply aids. They are not inspired. The translators are updating this translation to correct the error.

            By the way, Brown is a Zionist, so stop worshiping the ground that he walks. When it comes to Israel, he is just as wrong as most C.I. Scofield followers are that have turned the end times into a circus. You may be a commoner, but I am not, so don’t lecture me.

          • Jim Walker

            Wow, you surely know the bible without going to the church or listen to a preacher. Me a Zionist student? Hahaha.. you judged me by a few exchanges? You don’t even know me.
            I guess your holey spirit talks to you each day.

    • timeout31

      You have completely politicized the article. As people of faith, and believers of Jesus Christ and what He did at the cross we best worry and pray about Israel.

      The stumbling block you mention is important because it is NOT factual, and so some newbie to Christ will have the wrong impression.

      If you are so well versed in the scripture, how come you don’t understand: a misinformed “Christian” is not only a stumbling block to the world of the lost, but also others who may in the children of God crowd.

      It is not political to point the discrepancies in anything to do with God or the Bible. Paul spends countless words making sure followers remain true to the exact Word of God….Paul did not think it was appropriate to embellish on the Word. And Paul certainly did not teach any of us we needed to contact the local “theologians” to seek understanding of God.

      No politics here: The Bible declares, “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the
      inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands
      …if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying,
      ‘As surely as the LORD lives’…then they will be established among my
      people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and
      destroy it, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 12:14-17)

      Politics?

      Isaiah 11:13-14: “Ephraim (House of Israel/fullness of gentile
      nations who follow Jesus) will not be jealous of Judah (the Jews), nor
      Judah hostile toward Ephraim. They will swoop down on the slopes of
      Philistia (modern day Gaza) to the west; together they will plunder the
      people to the east. They will subdue Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites
      (modern day Jordan) will be subject to them.”

      Therefore, when followers of Yeshua and the Jews unite as one nation,
      then you will see the end of the Palestinian threat in Israel, and
      Jordan will be in submission.

      I believe the faithful to Jesus Christ and Him crucified had better be very aware of and concerned for Israel: Zechariah 12:9, He will deal harshly and severely with all nations who
      attack Jerusalem, “On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations
      that attack Jerusalem.”

      • Covenant-Son

        You totally missed what Diane said. Oh boy! Why don’t you read her comment that was addressed to Michael Brown and understand what she was saying?

        All she said that instead of loving Palestinians, we are making a big deal because this nation appears as a subtitle in the OT (Subtitles before chapters are not inspired)

        Who says that the Jews are still God’s chosen people anyway? Find me one verse in the NT where they are called “chosen.”

        Find one verse in the NT where there is a promise that they would return to the land one day! Just one!

        So, what is the issue here, political? Yes it is political from Michael’s part because he is a Zionist and believes that modern Israel are still God’s chosen people, which is a lie.

        What Michael was trying to say, which you missed, was that he was concerned that the “enemies of Israel” would appear in the OT.

        Pure and unadulterated politics which has nothing to do with the word of God.

        • Daniel de Oliveira

          Who is not loving Palestinians? Since when the offering of correct information about a mistake is “not loving Palestinians”?

          • Covenant-Son

            If you didn’t understand what I was trying to say, I can’t help you.

            Good bye.

    • Chip Crawford

      Stop cherry picking verses. Israel was, is and will be the apple of God’s eye, his chosen. Ignoring those verses is to ignore God’s heart. Accusing those who uphold them puts you even further away. No question the Palestinians need a spiritual doctor and outreach to them is definitely included in the Great Commission, which you probably read over as well or have some skewed accusation to hurl on that as well. Peace. The fact that a caption over a paragraph is inept, inaccurate and inappropriate doesn’t disavow the subject group, If you have trouble with those who object to your puzzling take, just love your enemies should cover it according to your handling. I’m sure you’ve got a glaze over for anything inconvenient to you here, but may the Holy Spirit light your candle as you open your heart. He won’t force truth on you.

      • Kevin Quillen

        if you believe that God restored Israel in 1948 as many do, then please tell me why God only gave them a tiny portion of their original land back? This should make one wonder about the 1948 nonsense.

        • Chip Crawford

          You are carnally minded with that. Don’t second guess God if you want to be in line with him. If you can’t take him at his word, at least don’t substitute your ideas for his. The Jews have supernaturally returned to the land initially given them, though they never possessed all of it and some of it is occupied by others. That’s not his fault. And it was never vast by any stretch – moot point. Little is much with God. He told Gideon to trim down his large army several times to the few good men he could work with. Using your own logic to codify events relevant to the Bible will never work. Be spiritually minded and know what the will of the Lord is. Knowing his word is the significant key, praying to be guided as you do that He would open your understanding.

          • Kevin Quillen

            1948 was 70 years ago. If the generation that saw the rebirth of Israel is to see the return of Christ as is commonly taught, then time is about out. Of course this is foolishness. How long before you give up this foolishness? Christ returned in 70 AD. If I am wrong, and common belief is correct, then according to Heb 9:28, you cannot be sure of your salvation. As High Priest He must appear the second time, as per the priestly pattern, His first appearance(after the cross) showed His sacrifice was accepted, proving He was sinless and acceptable to God, His second appearance must occur to show His sacrifice was accepted for the people. If you do not understand this and do not think He has already returned, then you cannot really know you are saved. Think about it.

          • Chip Crawford

            Absurd. No thanks. Jesus was the sacrificial lamb in our place. I received his sacrifice on my behalf decades ago, and the transformation occurred in my spirit. As a song says, “I was there when it happened; I guess I oughta’ know.” Now, I renew to transform my mind with his word to walk out this new life on the outside, choosing and responding to him as he directs. If you do not receive the sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf, taking your place in this life, then you will have to take your own place and pay for your own sins eternally. What’s left after that refusal? Those many passages concerning Jesus being our savior and what is to be our response are the most important in the bible, yet you do not mention them. The types and shadows you reference are now moot, having been fulfilled in Jesus on earth the first time. “It is finished” means just that. You have to decide whether or not you believe the bible. A lot will continue to get by you if you continue to set aside or manipulate scripture.

    • Jim Walker

      The Bible cannot be change to suit everyone. There are warnings in scriptures :

      Rev 22:18
      “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.”

      Proverbs 30:6
      “Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.”

      Deut 4:2
      “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you”

  • Deborah

    Thank you for pointing this out and encouraging NASB to correct their mistake. One of the most important things for those who read the Bible is that the translation be TRUE! I want to read the word of God, not a false translation.

  • Harold B

    I can’t believe no one can see this is part of the plan to make us think Palestine did exist, and they have a right to Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. it is just another deception of the time we are living. Very Sneaky indeed.

  • GENUG

    the infiltration by the Ikhwan, the Gulen, the Wahabbis is insidious. of course it’s on purpose – subliminal propaganda – just more jihad.

    • Chip Crawford

      Nah, it’s blatant!

  • Jim Walker

    The devil is working 25/8 a week to corrupt the Bible.

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