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

The NASB is one of the most widely used modern translations of the Bible, and 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, including print editions (the one in front of me is printed by Cambridge University Press) and various digital versions (for example, on Bible Gateway, Bible Hub, and the Laridian PocketBible, which is found in the Logos app).

As a colleague (and long-time reader of the NASB) pointed out to me today, in several places in the translation, “Palestine” is introduced in the section headings.

And so, 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 this heading 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.

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

And while 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), 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, since 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 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.)

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), 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, it would likely have been reflected here.

So, at the risk of being redundant, I’m bringing no accusation against this popular translation, nor am I assuming that the translators themselves all agreed on the section headings.

I am simply wondering out loud why they used the completely wrong term “Palestine” in these section headings, since “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.

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Source: Christian Post