This article appeared in the
in The Textbook Letter, Volume 12, Number 4.
I recently noticed a closely similar stunt in the 1999 version of Holt, Rinehart and Winston's high-school book World History: Continuity and Change. Holt's writers, too, are intent on deceiving students and promoting Zionism -- but instead of using trickery that involves the term Israel and the character Moses, they have used trickery that involves the term Palestine and the character Abraham (a figure in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Genesis).
In chapter 2 of Continuity and Change, in the first paragraph of a passage titled "The Hebrews," Holt's writers employ slippery claims and a plain lie to create the impression that the Hebrew Bible is a history book: They say that the ancient Hebrews produced "writings" which contained "much of their early history" and which "later formed the foundation for the Bible." Then, in their second paragraph, they say: "According to these accounts, the founder of the Hebrews was a shepherd named Abraham, who originally lived in Sumer. From there, he migrated with his family to Palestine."
That is false. The Book of Genesis does have a myth in which a Mesopotamian travels with his family to another land, but this fellow's name is Abram, not Abraham. (He will become Abraham in a later myth.) More importantly, Abram travels to Canaan, not to Palestine. The name Palestine doesn't appear in any tale about Abram, or in any tale about Abraham, or in any other part of the Book of Genesis. When Holt's writers say that "Abraham" migrated to "Palestine," they are endorsing the notion that modern Jews -- who have a loose, literary connection to the ancient Hebrews -- possess some sort of primary claim to the region that carries the name Palestine today.
The region that carries the name Palestine today is a recent creation. Here is some information from the article "Palestine" in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (2002):
[B]oth the political status and the geographic area designated by the term Palestine have changed considerably over the course of some three millennia. The perception of what constitutes Palestine's eastern boundary has been particularly fluid, though it has often been understood as lying east of the Jordan River, extending at times to the edge of the Arabian Desert. In the 20th century Palestine has been the object of conflicting claims between Jewish and Arab national movements. . . . The name Palestine is derived from the Greek Philistia, a name given to the land of the Philistines, who in the 12th century BC occupied a small area north of Gaza. The Romans used the term Syria Palaestina in the 2nd century BC for the southern third of the province of Syria. The name Palestine fell from use as an official title after Roman rule but was revived after World War I for part of an area assigned to Great Britain under a mandate of the League of Nations.
Holt's codswallop about "Abraham" and "Palestine" is merely the beginning of a sustained effort to fool students. In a series of deceits that surely would win approval from Joy Hakim, Holt's writers present the story of the Israelites in Egypt as a matter of fact; they depict Moses as a real person; they depict the Israelites' exodus from Egypt as a real event; and they say that the culmination of the exodus came when "Moses eventually led his people back to Palestine." Those words appear in some biblical pseudohistory that Holt's writers have labeled "Establishing a homeland." The writers politely ignore the biblical narratives which tell that the "homeland" was already inhabited by other peoples, and that these were killed, subjugated or expelled by Moses's followers.
In some respects, the fake "history" of the ancient Hebrews in Continuity and Change isn't any dirtier than the corresponding material in some other high-school textbooks -- Glencoe's Human Heritage: A World History, for example [note 2]. But the Holt writers' deceitful misuse of the name Palestine seems to be unique.
Teachers who want to build historically sound lessons about the ancient Hebrews should be sure to consult David Denby's essay "No Exodus" (in The New Yorker for 7 & 14 December 1998) and Daniel Lazare's report "False Testament: Archaeology refutes the Bible's claim to history" (in Harper's for March 2002).
William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.
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