When I discuss the question of tribalism vs. universalism, I am talking about the lively debate within the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament to Christians). There was a dynamic debate in these Scriptures that moved religious thought from exclusivity to inclusivity, and this phenomenon pre-dated the coming of Jesus Christ by several hundred years. It was not a Christian vs. Jewish construction.
I point out the genius of the Hebrew prophets in understanding God as an inclusive God. These prophets see God as the God who cares not only about the Israelites, but also about other people and other lands. You can find this inclusiveness in the Psalms: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” In this view, no matter where one lives, one is still in the presence of God.
It is important to point out that Judaism, as it developed, was not superseded by the Christian faith but continued as a living and valid faith worthy of our full respect. Today, this faith is distorted by the exclusivist reading of extremist settlers who say, “We are interested in divine rights and not in human rights.” They are selectively reading certain biblical texts that give Jewish people a higher and prior claim to the land and negate the rights of the Palestinians. Such a theology does not lend itself to peace. We choose biblical texts that promote peace for all, and many of these are found in the Hebrew Bible.
Dr Ateek is the founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.