Christian Zionism

[1] What is Zionism? What is Christian Zionism? Let's try to develop some working definitions before we visit the pros and cons of a movement that seems to be attracting a fair amount of attention today.

[2] A simple definition could be, "Zionism supports the return, or the various returns, of the Jewish people to Zion, to the land of Israel; to the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants forever." These promises appear often in the Scripture, but we find the first reference in Genesis 12:1-3; enlarged by Genesis 15:7: "God said unto Abraham, I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Ur of the Chaldees to give this land to you to inherit it."

[3] The first reference in the Bible using the actual word "Zion" (in Hebrew it would be spelled "tsion") is in 2 Samuel 5:7, "Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David." In Strong's numbering system the word is assigned number 06726, and we find 154 references to it from 2 Samuel to Zechariah. The basic meaning of the root word seems to be "a dry place" or "a fortress." In biblical usage it may refer to the City of David; the Temple Mount; all of Jerusalem; and in some cases, all of the land of Israel.

[4] If, according to our definition, Zionism is belief in and support of the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, what would Christian Zionism be? I propose that Christian Zionism is the belief of Christians in, and the support of, the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.

[5] Of course, there are other definitions. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, adopted on November 10, 1975 by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), "determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." The resolution was revoked by Resolution 46/86 on December 16, 1991.

[6] The word "Zionist" also conjures up various interpretations including the fraudulent conspiracy theory based on the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion which is popular even today among anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. The book was based on Maurice Joly's 1864 pamphlet entitled, The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, which attacked the political ambitions of Napoleon III. It was first published in Brussels in 1864.

[7] Our question really is, where should Christians see the Jews fitting into God's ongoing plan? A doctrine known as supersessionism rose up early in Church history. While most of the earliest Christians were Jewish, the church gradually lost interest in its Jewish roots and heritage as it moved to the pagan world. By the 3rd century C.E. few Christians thought of Jesus as a Jewish teacher or rabbi. Still fewer thought of the Jews as God's prophets, priests, kings, and apostles. Some medieval Christian pilgrims related to the ancient Jews as they traveled to the Holy Land, but few felt connected to the contemporary Jews they met along the way. For over 1000 years most of the church believed that Christians had replaced the Jews as God's covenant people. There were isolated instances of Christians who read the scriptures differently but until the Reformation few Christians considered the possibility of a Jewish return to Israel. The translation of the Bible into the language of the common people, particularly the English Bible, produced a gradual, albeit radical, change. Barbara Tuchman, in her book, "Bible and Sword," says, "...without the background of the English Bible it is doubtful that the Balfour Declaration would ever have been issued..."

[8] At the outset I would argue that the Christian scriptures do not require acceptance of the idea that by rejecting Jesus as Messiah the Jews forfeited their place as God's elect, covenant people and the Christian church has superceded the Jews as the "New Israel." Certainly we see that the believers in Jesus have been "grafted in" to what had been originally a Jewish family tree. The New Testament is generally silent about supersessionism except in Paul's famous Romans 9-11 section, where he takes Gentile believers to task for being arrogant over the natural branches -- the Jews.

[9] Since I am an Evangelical Protestant and a self-confessed Christian Zionist, I assume that I have been invited to contribute to this discussion in order to bring a Christian pro-Israel position to our collective table. I will attempt to set forth some of the reasons supporting my views.

[10] As a Christian whose view of life and the world is informed by biblical thought, I believe that biblical considerations are an essential element in any discussion of the Middle East conflict. I will discuss some of them later. However, since sincere Christians and Jews disagree on the implications of the biblical promises, and since much of the world is unlikely to be convinced by biblical arguments, I prefer to begin with a review of the historical case for Israel by raising a series of questions. I will do this with no reference to any biblical claims to the land; the United Nations created Israel and allowed for a Palestinian Arab state in 1947-8. In light of that, the fundamental principle of a Jewish state is set in stone. There is no use talking about its legitimacy unless you want to take the whole world back to that era and annul Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq -- all of the states created in the wake of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.


What is the key issue?
[11] We need to frame the question realistically. We are told that the Middle East conflict is over borders, settlements, occupation, and refugees. The cold, hard, bedrock truth is that this conflict is really about Jewish existence and self-rule in the Middle East.
[12] We must be clear about this one central fact. Most of the Arab world, including most of the Palestinian leaders -- and certainly the current Hamas leadership --  have not yet accepted the existence of the sovereign state of Israel as a permanent reality in the region. Until this changes, all peace processes are a study in futility.


Do the Jews have a right to a modern state in their ancient homeland?
[13] A commonly held misconception is that after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., all Jews were forced out and continued Jewish life only in the Diaspora. Then suddenly, 1800 years later, they returned to Palestine demanding the country be given to them. This is not the case. Even after the exile, Jewish communities continued to exist in the land of Israel. They were often a minority, but they were always there. Since the days of King David there has never been a period of history when no Jews lived in the land.

[14] It is also important to be clear about the state of affairs prevailing in the area in the late 1800s. While no one any longer accepts the adage, "A land without a people for a people without a land," accounts of visiting travelers during this period paint a fairly bleak picture. Alphonse Lamartine and Mark Twain are among many who describe an under-populated area, generally uncultivated soil, small clusters of Bedouin tents, and little evidence of activity or progress. Walter Lowdermilk, representative of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service and author of scholarly works on global natural resources, traveled in the Middle East in 1938-39. He described the land in biblical times as having rich red earth, terraces, and forested hillsides. These, he said, were stripped of their topsoil as desert Arabs cut down the trees, leaving the country "a desert land with no one to till the soil..." He concluded that, "The decay of Palestine reached its darkest stage in the four hundred years of Turkish rule, from 1517 to 1918" (Lowdermilk, Palestine: Land of Promise, pp. 5, 74-76).

What is Palestine?
[15] Another misconception is the notion that there once existed a nation called "Palestine." There may be an argument for one existing in the future, but we simply confuse the issue by speaking of "occupied territories" based on the idea that the Jews came back to the land and took it away from a nation called "Palestine" and from an ethnic group called "Palestinians." This land has been occupied by various foreign forces since the Romans arrived in 63 B.C.E and has not been ruled by local residents since the dawn of the Common Era.

[16] We are often told that Palestine experienced "many centuries of Arab rule." There are two issues here.  How many is many, and what counts as Arab? A careful look at the history of the region will show us that empires governed by Arabs do not account for most of these centuries. There are empires ruled by Byzantine Christians, Latin Christians, Seljuk Turks, Mongols (briefly), Ottoman Turks (for 400 years), and last of all the British. All of these empires contained a multitude of races and ethnic populations, all of which played greater or lesser parts at one time or another.

What is the history of the Palestinians?
[17] How did the Palestinians come to be called Palestinians? The geographical area, which has been referred to as Palestine, dates from the days of the Roman occupation, when Rome wished to disassociate the land of Israel from its connection with the Jewish people. The area is often identified on maps in the back of our Bibles as Palestine, but the people who lived there did not refer to themselves as Palestinians until the British came in as a mandatory power in the 1920s. The British then referred to local people as either Palestinian Arabs or Palestinian Jews. Many Arabs disliked the name, thinking of themselves as Syrians or as members of some other ethnic group. Only when Israel came into being in 1948 did the Arabs begin to refer to themselves as Palestinians. This was in part a strategy to recast the regional Arab-Jewish conflict into an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has worked quite well.

[18] Under the Ottoman Turks Palestine was divided into districts called sanjaks. These sanjaks were part of administrative units called vilayets. The largest portion of Palestine was part of the vilayet of Syria and was governed from Damascus by a pasha. This explains why Palestine was often referred to as southern Syria. Following a ten-year occupation by Egypt in the 1830s, Palestine was divided into the vilayet of Beirut, which covered Lebanon and the northern part of Palestine (down to what is now Tel Aviv); and the independent sanjak of Jerusalem, which covered roughly from Jaffa to Jerusalem and south to Gaza and Be'er Sheva. It is thus unclear as to what it would mean to say that the Palestinians were the people who originally populated the "nation" of Palestine (Dershowitz, The Case for Israel, pp. 24-25).

[19] While we often hear that the modern Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanites, the Jebusites, and the Philistines, there is no historical, anthropological or sociological evidence for those connections. There is considerable uncertainty about the ethnicity of the people who lived and worked in the land that was to become Israel. The local population included Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Bosnians, Druze, Circassians, Egyptians, Persians, Sudanese, Algerians, Samaritans, Tatars, Georgians, Kurds, and German Templars. None of them thought of themselves as Palestinians.

Do the Palestinian Arabs want to live peacefully in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as neighbors of Israel?
[20] In a spring 2002 poll of residents in the West Bank and Gaza, conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, a Palestinian organization, 43 percent of respondents called for a Palestinian state only in the West Bank and Gaza, and 51 percent insisted on the state in "all of historic Palestine," code words for the destruction of Israel (Daniel Pipes, New York Post, February 18, 2003).

[21] When the PLO first demanded a state in 1964, it wanted every part of Israel except the West Bank and Gaza (which were then in the hands of Jordan and Egypt). Is it reasonable to assume that they now want only the West Bank and Gaza, or is that more likely a Trojan Horse -- as Palestinian leader Faisal al-Husseini described it in 2001 -- as a first step to destroy Israel?

[22] If the Palestinians want to live side-by-side with Israel, then why do all P.A. government logos, maps and websites show Palestine encompassing all of Israel, with Israel nonexistent?  In contrast, during the Oslo negotiations, the Israeli government quit publishing maps which told the story of the history of modern Israel. This was done in order to avoid prejudicing the final status agreements, which were expected to follow the Oslo process.

Will the Palestinian Educational System support peace?
[23] The most hopeful track to bring healing to this wounded situation lies in education for peace. Are the Palestinians working for peaceful change when their schoolbooks still feature anti-Semitic propaganda and incite hatred of Israelis and Jews generally? Palestinian children are presented with regular exposure, through television and summer camps, to programs encouraging suicide martyrdom. Children are unlikely to grow up expecting to build cordial relationships with Israeli neighbors when they are presented with false information leading them to believe that Israel is out to kill them by various devious methods.

Will the emerging Palestinian state be a democracy?

[24] Where do we find Arab democracies? The Arab Human Development Report, published by a group of Arab researchers from the U.N. Development Program, concluded that out of the seven regions of the world, Arab countries had the lowest freedom score. In addition, Arab countries had the lowest ranking for "voice and accountability," a measure of various aspects of the political process, civil liberties, political rights, women's rights, minority rights, and independence of the media.


[25] Certainly all people of good will want Palestinians to enjoy the blessings of democracy. We hope that they will be the first Arab state to have free elections, free press, and non-violent ways of dealing with political dissent. But so far there is little evidence to encourage our hope. A recent example is very disquieting.

The San Francisco Chronicle

reported, July 18th, 2003: "…A prominent Palestinian who has dared to question the idea of the right of return is Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Years ago, Nusseibeh was beaten up at Bir Zeit University for promoting dialogue with Israelis.  In 2002 he was dismissed as the PLO's representative in Jerusalem after he publicly questioned whether demanding the right of return was either logical or feasible. The leaflet distributed in Ramallah on Sunday recalled how Nusseibeh was denied entry to the campus of Al-Najah University in Nablus two months ago and prevented from discussing a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative."


The Chronicle continues…

"Analysts say an atmosphere of intimidation stifles free debate about vital issues facing Palestinian society. They say the pressure comes not just from popular committees but also directly from the Palestinian Authority government.  'People are often very cautious about expressing their political views, especially with regard to the government and sensitive issues,' said Khaled Abu Toameh, an ex-PLO employee who is now an independent reporter and analyst. 'Some writers and journalists have been punished by the Palestinian Authority for simply expressing their views.  In one case, a group of intellectuals was imprisoned or beaten up by Palestinian Authority thugs for signing a petition calling for reforms.'"

[26] There are many other points to be raised. I offer the above as some key issues to start our discussion.

Christian issues
[27] Now let me turn to some specifically Christian issues. The Christian Church has historically taken two distinctly different paths in its attitude toward its Jewish heritage. By the fourth century the prevailing view was that of "supersessionism," the idea that the Church had replaced Israel and the Jewish people as a carrier of God's covenant. This view prevailed, with a few dissenting voices, until the dawn of the Reformation period. As ordinary people began to have access to the Bible in their own languages, many readers noticed a fairly obvious fact: a lot of space is given to the relationship between God and the land and the people of Israel.  This led many Christian readers of the English Bible to conclude that God intended the Jewish people to come back to their ancient land in the latter days of human history. This view is sometimes called, "Restorationism" or "Christian Zionism."

[28] The word "restore" implies the act of giving something back that has been lost or stolen; bringing back to use something that has been neglected or forgotten; to return to a former or a normal condition (Webster).

[29] Many of us believe that the thing that has been lost, neglected, forgotten, and actually stolen from the Christian church is our relationship with our spiritual parents, Abraham and Sarah, their descendants, and their world-view. Isaiah tells us to "Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth...." (Isaiah 51:1-2). Early in its history, as church leadership moved away from the land of Israel, many began to look to Hellenistic and pagan sources and to ignore, and ultimately despise, the biblical storehouse, which contained the Hebraic treasures of our faith.

History of restoration efforts
[30] There have been several points in history when Christians endeavored to restore their connection to their Hebrew heritage. A fascinating account of various Christian efforts to discover the quarry from which we Christians were hewn is found in Barbara Tuchman's, Bible and Sword, an Overview of Christian Zionism, subtitled, England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour. This book traces the path of an interesting assortment of Christians who, for one reason or another, looked to the rock from which they were cut.

[31] Studying the history of those who believed that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would return to the land the Lord promised to them is a study in the amazing grace and sovereignty of God. It is evident that the individuals involved were gifted in taking wrong turns and usually made progress by accident.  Dennis Prager refers to Genesis as "an account of the world's first recorded dysfunctional family" (not that we've seen many fully functional families since the angel barred the gate to Eden). In both the Christian and the Jewish branches of the family, the lovers of Zion have been an eccentric crew. Tuchman comments on this in the following passage: "It is a curious fact that so many notable English eccentrics have been drawn irresistibly to the East. Perhaps it was because most of them, like T. E. Lawrence, the archetype, were voyaging on some private religious or metaphysical quest of their own and, like Disraeli's 'Tancred,' sought spiritual rebirth in the place where three great religions were conceived." Or perhaps it is simply that Jerusalem is the "navel of the earth" and those seeking God, however confused their motives, tended to search in the place where He connected Himself to planet earth.

Balancing the past, future, and present
[32] Certainly one reason that Bible-believing Christians feel drawn to Israel is related to our understanding of the prophetic literature of the Bible.  But as important as the message God gave through the prophets can be, we need to focus on the present as well. The restoration of modern Israel has provided Christians with a wonderful opportunity to relate to the land and the people, as they exist today. Many Christian pilgrims have been surprised and disappointed to discover that modern Jews do not dress like Abraham and Sarah, do not keep all the customs of Bible times, do not live in breathless expectation of the Messiah's coming, and generally look and act like everyone else in the western world. Indeed, this fascination with finding folk who look like Bible characters has led some Christians to prefer spending time with Arab villagers who actually look more like storybook pictures of the patriarchs.

[33] A significant segment of evangelical Christians has developed an interest in Israel and the Jewish people through reading books on end-time prophecy. The impact of this emphasis looks different when you spend time in Israel. A friend who once worked on a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley remarked, "It is harder to get enthused about the blood running up to the horses' bridles in the Valley of Armageddon when you have breakfast every morning with people who live there." Some of our brethren in the evangelical and charismatic world have made Israel and the Jewish people into museum pieces to support their interest in the past and the future. However, the oft-heard criticism that "evangelicals are only interested in Israel because they think the Jews need to be there so the final battle can occur and Jesus will come again," is really a great over-simplification of evangelical and Christian Zionist views. Many of us are far more concerned with God's faithfulness to His covenant promises than we are with the various theories of the end times. Arguments and convictions regarding future events must never annul justice and the pursuit of peace.

[34] Among some Christians there is a current interest in finding connections for Gentiles to various tribes of ancient Israel. May I humbly suggest that we model ourselves on the members of the tribe of Issachar who were known for "understanding the times..."(I Chronicles 12:32).

What characterizes our age?
[35] What is the characteristic feature of our time? I suggest it is a feature that has dogged the steps of western civilization throughout the Christian era: anti-Semitism. Let us be clear about this term. Anti-Semitism has nothing to do with Semites in general. It is a made-up word, invented by Willem Marr, a Jew-hater, to describe hatred of the Jews.

[36] The story of the Jewish Diaspora is an unremitting history of forced conversions, ghettos, crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, expulsions, and ultimately the Holocaust of the 20th century. At last, in 1947, the newly established United Nations voted to permit the creation of the modern state of Israel alongside a Palestinian state in the area of the British Mandate called Palestine. Surely in their own state the Jews could at last live in peace and unmolested. Wrong. Since its first favorable vote, the U.N. has become a citadel of anti-Semitism thinly disguised as anti-Zionism.

[37] Ruth Wisse, Professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard, wrote in the April 8, 2002 Weekly Standard, "The U.N.'s assault on Israel, in direct violation of its Charter, now rivals even the Jew-hating indoctrination that preceded World War II. The very organization that is charged with ensuring the equal protection of all nations, large and small, has become the spearhead of attempts to destroy one of its most vulnerable members." Although the U.S. usually vetoes the worst anti-Israel resolutions, they almost always pass by overwhelming margins in the General Assembly.

[38] World opinion expressed some early sympathy for Israel when most observers expected it to be wiped off the map after a brief appearance. When Israel not only survived but also prospered, when they irrigated the desert, farmed the Galilee, resettled the refugees and developed a successful (albeit fragile) economy -- then the world was annoyed.

[39] During the 1990s high hopes were placed on the Oslo Accords. Most Israelis came to believe that peace was just around the corner. Arafat's rejection in July, 2000 of the Barak offer, with no counter offer to suggest, and the re-opening of the Intifada, have left many Israelis in a state of shock. The fact that their efforts to protect their citizens against repeated violent terrorist attacks have brought the wrath of the world down upon them is even more shocking. Israel was better prepared to defend itself militarily than in the arena of public opinion.

Looking to the rock from which we were cut
[40] A major part of the work of serious Christian Zionists is to report good news about Israel -- to tell the story of the only democratic state in the Middle East.

[41] But my plea is not merely to encourage Christian support for a plucky little democracy. The reason we must speak out for Israel and the Jewish people is a far deeper one. It is rooted in the commandment to "Honor your father and mother -- which is the first commandment with a promise -- that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" (Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:2-3). What would you do if you found thugs and bullies speaking ill of your parents, rallying naive neighbors to attack them and drive them from their home? You would probably prioritize your activities and prepare to go on the offensive. It would be clear that this is not the time to go on vacation and pray for your parents whenever it occurs to you. This would not be the time to go to the library and study the family genealogy -- fruitful as that pursuit might be in calmer times. If you are a faithful child, you do not leave your parents unprotected and alone in moments of extreme vulnerability.

[42] "Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth...." Less than 65 years since the onset of the Anschluss (Hitler's march across Europe), vile anti-Semitic materials are appearing in major newspapers in Europe and the Arab world. Supposedly civilized people still believe that Jews kidnap and kill Christian children to use their blood to make Passover matzah.

[43] And this is not just the old world up to its old tricks. The following report from Laurie Zoloth, Director of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University, appeared in 2002:

After nearly seven years as director of Jewish Studies, and after nearly two decades of life here as a student, faculty member and wife of the Hillel rabbi, after years of patient work and difficult civic discourse, I am saddened to see SFSU return to its notoriety as a place that teaches anti-Semitism, hatred for America, and hatred, above all else, for the Jewish State of Israel, a state that I cherish. I cannot fully express what it feels like to have to walk across campus daily, past maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, past posters of cans of soup with labels on them of drops of blood and dead babies, labeled 'canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license,' past poster after poster calling out "Zionism = racism, and Jews = Nazis." This is not civil discourse, this is not free speech, and this is not the Weimar Republic with brown shirts it cannot control. This is the casual introduction of the medieval blood libel and virulent hatred smeared around our campus in a manner so ordinary that it hardly excites concern -- except if you are a Jew, and you understand that hateful words have always led to hateful deeds.

[44] In the face of a world that seems to be spiraling into another round of fascination with this longest of hatreds, how are we to focus on the topic before us? What practical steps can we identify to begin a healing process in the Middle East?


Is there cause for hope?
[45] Although I am an optimist and a Bible-believer, I am not optimistic for short-term solutions to the Middle East conflict. Part of my pessimism is due to the growing tendency of some Palestinian Christians to violate another commandment. We hear fantastic theological interpretations that claim the modern "Palestinian" Christians are the direct descendants of the early Christians. I beg your pardon; I thought the first Christians were Jews? They all had Jewish names, came from Jewish towns and kept kosher. (The first 15 bishops of the church in Jerusalem were Jews.) We are also seeing biblical exegesis that places the current Palestinian Christians into the role of the ancient Jews and the Jews into the Pharaoh of the Exodus. "Thou shalt not steal" also applies to other people's faith stories.

[46] As a Christian, I am called to follow Jesus in the path of compassion and peace. I sympathize with both Christians and Muslims who are suffering in the Middle East and who simply want to live their lives in peace. However, I fear that many of them have unrealistic expectations of what life in a Palestinian state, under the current Palestinian leadership, could offer them. It seems to me that many are blaming Israel for problems brought on by their own officials.

[47] Conditions for Christians living in the Palestinian territories are difficult, and many have fled over the years. According to the website, at present, the 50,000 Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip make up only 2.2 percent of the total population estimated in the mid-nineties at 2,238,000.

[48] Palestinian Christians face a difficult choice: they can either (a) stand with the Jews -- another oppressed minority in the region -- and fight for democracy, equal rights, and civil society that protects minorities and women in the Muslim world or (b) pin their hopes on Arab nationalism, which promises them equality with Muslim Arabs if they buy into the pan-Arab movement. It seems that most Palestinian Christians have chosen the second option.

Does the old concept of the "dhimmi" have current influence?
[49] May I cautiously suggest that years, in some cases centuries, of living as "dhimmis," second-class subjects in the Muslim world, may have caused Palestinian Christians to develop the habit of avoiding direct confrontation with the Muslim majority?  Some seem to have opted for an ideology -- Arab nationalism -- that claims to liberate them. Unfortunately, the main thing they are being liberated from is their own religious identity.

[50] Dhimmitude is a longstanding problem in the Arab world. The Islamic legal code of "dhimmi," which defines Jews and Christians living under Islam as second-class subjects, limits their rights and creates a culture where violence and abuse against Jews and Christians is acceptable. Even when aspects of the dhimmi laws were not enforced or eventually repealed, the cultural legacy of the dhimmi concept continued, just as Jim Crow laws kept the discrimination of slavery alive in the American South, despite the fact that slavery had been abolished. It is a myth that Jews fared wonderfully under dhimmi laws or dhimmi culture. While the laws might have been progressive in medieval times and -- to the shame of Christians -- often gave Jews more security than they found in Christian Europe, they are hopelessly outdated and certainly in opposition to democratic and progressive views today. Muslim persecution of the Jewish minority in the Middle East precedes Zionism and the founding of the state of Israel.

Closing thoughts
[51] I believe that we cannot make progress on the path of healing until basic facts are squarely faced. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts."

[52] Israel has had to face some hard facts and to make many adjustments since 1948. The Palestinians also have lived through a very difficult period and endured much pain. But they will also have to make some hard decisions if they want to be part of the world community that really works for peace.

[53] Israel exists; this must be accepted. The teaching of hated to the next generation must cease. The Palestinians cannot triumph by reworking the biblical text and writing themselves into the faith story of the Jews.

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "To Jewish tradition the words of the Bible are relevant, both objectively and symbolically, both historically and spiritually. Judaism involves a relationship to the immediate meaning of the words, not only a relationship to the ideas symbolized by the words. We must distinguish between symbolism as a form of religious thinking and religion as a form of symbolic thinking. The first is valid the second is deceptive. The Bible is not only a symbol. It is above all a reality. Indeed, the books of the Bible deal not only with moral and spiritual issues. They also describe the land and its boundaries, districts and cities; they recount its history from the days of Joshua to the return from Babylon in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is from the books of the Bible that historians and archaeologists derive their fundamental knowledge" (Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity, p. 149).

[54] I close with another thought from Rabbi Heschel, who always believed that justice would prevail and Jews and Arabs would find a path to peace.

For all who read the Hebrew Bible with biblical eyes the State of Israel is a solemn intimation of God's trace in history. It is not the fulfillment of the promise, it is not the answer to all the bitter issues. Its spiritual significance, however, is radiant. Ultimately the significance of history must be understood in terms of theology. (Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity, p. 220)

[55] My understanding of history, morality and theology leads me to believe that healing cannot begin in the Middle East until the Arab world accepts the permanent reality of Israel's existence and puts their resources and energies into building modern democracies which will benefit coming generations of both Moslems and Christians.

[56] I realize that the public perception of Christian Zionism has been framed in a way that makes all of us look like right-wing fanatics, salivating over eschatological expectations. I quote here from my friend and colleague, Dwight Pryor, who has written the following:

A pro-Zionist stance does not require a Dispensational reading of the Scripture, which many anti-Zionists delight in denigrating. (In fact the history of "Christian Zionism" well predates the 19th-century development of Dispensationalism.) Nor is a prophecy-driven biblical paradigm (so popular in recent generations) a sine qua non for standing with Israel.

[57] During World War II, my Grandmother and I developed an evening ritual, parking ourselves in front of the old Silvertone radio to listen carefully to the "war news." Several older cousins were in the army and prayers were always raised on their behalf.  Gram always read from the Bible, particularly from the prophet Jeremiah, often the portion which says, "This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar -- the Lord Almighty is his name: 'Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,' declares the Lord, 'will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.'  This is what the Lord says: 'Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,' declares the Lord", (Jer. 31:35-37).

[58] She would say to me, "God has a covenant with the Jews that will last as long as the sun, the moon, and the stars. This is a terrible war but Hitler will be defeated and the Jews will be back in their ancient land. We must pray for that."
[59] She died in May of 1947 leaving behind her old Bible underlined at all the points recording the promises to restore Israel. So I was impressed, but not too surprised, when I came home from school a year later to find the Minneapolis Tribune headline shouting, "State of Israel Declared." I thought, "Wow, Gram knew this was going to happen because she read the Bible." That definitely affected my view of the Bible and world events -- and set me on a path that led to life-long involvement with Israel and the Jewish people. Last time I looked, the sun, moon and stars are still out there.


© May 2007
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 7, Issue 5