Ben Hur a ‘Palestinian Nobleman?’ Los Angeles Times Sparks Controversy

COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Times published a story Monday about the belated release of a 50th anniversary edition of the classic epic “Ben Hur,” which starred Charlton Heston in the title role. The article had the following controversial passage:

“Based on the novel by Lew Wallace, the period drama revolves around Judah Ben-Hur (Heston), a Palestinian nobleman who is enslaved by the Romans, engages in one of the most thrilling chariot races ever captured on screen, and even encounters Jesus Christ.”

As anyone who has read the book or seen the movie knows, Judah Ben-Hur was a Jew living in the Roman province of Judea. According to Yahoo! Answers, “Palestine” was the name given the region by Greeks and later Romans, a version of the term “Philistine” after the ancient biblical enemies of the Jews.

The Romans renamed Judea “Palestina” after they suppressed the Bar Kochba revolt in the year 132 A.D., which occurred a century after the story of “Ben Hur.” The Romans engaged in an effort to ethnically cleanse the Jews, whom they had found rebellious and troublesome, from the region and scatter them across the Roman Empire.

The British called the region “Palestine” when they ruled it between the end of World War I and the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. The term “Palestinian” refers to Arabic speaking, mainly Muslim inhabitants of the region was not in common use until the 1960s

One is puzzled by what the Times meant by suggesting Ben Hur was a “Palestinian nobleman.” This writer has heard Palestinian nationalists refer to Jesus as a “Palestinian.” This suggests the author of the Times article is reflecting an attitude that not only favors expunging Jews from the current land of Israel, but from their historic connection with the region that goes back thousands of years.

The character of Ben Hur — not to mention Heston, who was a warm supporter of Israel when he was alive — would have been surprised to find his name dragged into contemporary Middle Eastern politics. He would no more have considered himself a “Palestinian” than a Frenchman would have considered himself part of Germany. The character was very proud of his Jewish heritage and, in the course of the story, considered leading a Jewish revolt against Roman rule before becoming a Christian, inspired by a miracle depicted in the book that heals his mother and sister from leprosy. One would hope the Los Angeles Times will issue a retraction and an apology forthwith.

Sources: ‘Ben-Hur’ to get belated 50th-anniversary release on disc, LA Times, Sept. 26, 2011

What is the origin of palestine? Yahoo Answers

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