Profiting from error

Dexter Van Zile.

In 2003, Pilgrim Press, a publishing house owned by the United Church of Christ, published Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians. The book was written by Rev. Dr. Gary Burge, a well-known professor from Wheaton College, an Evangelical school located in Illinois that prides itself on having a rigorous intellectual environment.

The book was marred by some pretty embarrassing factual errors for a college professor. For example, it characterized an article written by Middle East Forum founder Daniel Pipes as stating exactly the opposite of what it actually said.

Burge wrote that in Pipes’s mind, “Israelhas an opportunity to resolve its most basic struggles with the Arabs.” In fact, Pipes’ essay, which appeared in Commentary, made it perfectly clear that that Israel did not have much of an opportunity to resolve its conflict with the Arabs. Pipes wrote, “The point cannot be made often or strongly enough that, in their great majority, Arabic speakers do continue to repudiate the idea of peace withIsrael. Despite having lost six rounds of war, they seem nothing loath to try again.”

This was not the only factual error in Burge’s book. He also stated that Israeli-Arabs are denied membership inIsrael’s labor movement, when in fact, Israeli-Arabs have been allowed full membership inIsrael’s largest union—Histadrut—since 1959. He also reported that Israeli-Arabs are barred from the service inIsrael’s military and that they are prohibited from joiningIsrael’s major political parties. Burge was wrong on both counts.

Burge, who has a Ph.D. in the New Testament from King’s College, The University of Aberdeen, Scotland, also erroneously published a fake quote from David Ben-Gurion. Not only did Ben-Gurion never write what Burge (and other scholars) said he did, the book he cited as the source for this quote did not include the quote in question.

These errors—all of which cut against Israel and which would have gotten an “F” in an undergraduate paper—went largely undetected by  people who should have known better. Christianity Today, a magazine that appeals to the Evangelical center, gave a positive review to the text and gave the book an “award of merit” in 2004. The book was (and is) regularly invoked as a reliable text about the Arab-Israeli conflict in mainline Protestant churches. 

When CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) alerted Burge and Pilgrim Press about these errors in 2007, the author responded defensively, but ultimately did agree to make corrections in the book’s second edition.

This sounds great, but five years later no corrections have been made to the text. Instead, Pilgrim Press continues to sell the book’s first edition—with the same factual errors—to the public. And it has kept on reprinting this error laden first edition with no changes as if nothing has happened. In 2007, CAMERA was working with the second printing of this first edition, published in 2004 and purchased sometime in 2005.

Just recently, CAMERA purchased another copy of this book. The copyright page of this book indicates it was published from the seventh print run of the first edition and produced in 2011. The book from the second printing sold for $23 in 2004. The seventh printing of the book, produced in 2011, has a list price of $25. So some changes can be made.

Burge’s book is almost 10 years old. It is filled with factual errors. The author has admitted that the text needs to be corrected and has agreed to make the corrections in the book’s second edition.

And yet, Pilgrim Press is still printing the first edition of the book as if nothing has happened.

How much longer will Pilgrim Press continue to profit from this error-laden text?

UPDATE: Rev. Dr. Gary Burge responds that, "all of these 'errors' have been corrected, a fully revised edition is done, and Pilgrim is releasing it this summer."

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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Posted on March 3, 2013 and filed under Israel, Opinion.