Supersessionism and Israel: Orthodox Biblical Interpretation and the Holy Land

With the formation of the State of Israel just over seventy years ago, the identity of biblical “Israel” and its inheritors took on a uniquely concrete significance. In the decades since, as histories of Jewish-Christian relations have appeared with more regularity, scholars and theologians have become increasingly critical of the historic Christian claim to be “Israel,” labeling such a claim “supersessionistic.” Even more specific reprimands have been reserved for the Orthodox Church—to which the majority of Arabic-speaking Christians belong—for not taking steps to overcome its past “supersessionism” in a manner akin to Protestant and Catholic Churches. In light of these developments, the task of this paper is twofold: First, I will examine the multifaceted occurrences of the term “Israel” in the New Testament through the lens of Greek patristic interpreters, considering especially those to whom the term typically refers and what adjectives (New, True) regularly occur with it. In so doing, I hope to highlight biblical and patristic roots of later Orthodox understandings of the Church as Israel. Second, I will consider how contemporary identifications with biblical “Israel” have affected Palestinian Christian views of the State of Israel. In light of the biblical evidence and contemporary situation, this paper will conclude with an evaluation of the heuristic value of using “supersessionism” as a concept through which to describe not only contemporary Palestinian Christian views of the State of Israel, but also the State of Israel’s views of Palestinians.