In his Bible studies, David Plotz learns that the first documented encounter between Jews and Arabs presages everything that follows:
Let’s pause for a moment to observe the entrance of the Bible’s first, and I believe only, “Arab.” Arabia is referred to a few times in passing in various books, and anonymous “Arabians” are mentioned, but Geshem is the single named Arab. (Geshem is king of part of the Arabian Peninsula, according to a footnote in my Bible.) In what can be seen as a darkly humorous divine joke, the only Arab in the Bible turns out to be 1) an enemy of the Jews and 2) at odds with them over who should control Jerusalem. Given the poison between Arabs and Jews today, isn’t it appropriate that their relationship was born in strife?
The whole scene is almost too depressing—or too funny—to believe. Consider the first and only conversation between a Jew and an Arab. When Geshem and his cronies heard that Nehemiah is rebuilding the wall, they “mocked and ridiculed” him. Nehemiah responds by saying: “The God of heaven is the one who will give us success, and we His servants are going to start building; but you have no share or claim or historic right in Jerusalem” (emphasis added). That’s right, 2,500 years have passed, and it’s the same argument!
By the way, have I mentioned that the “blogging the Bible” series is hilarious, enlightening, and uniformly great? I’m certain Stephen Prothero would approve.