Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 1

In the next few posts I shall discuss the handling of Scripture in Christian Zionism (CZ). I will suggest it is marked by a proof-texting mentality that not only misunderstands the nature of biblical prophecy, but also displays a naïve and inconsistent hermeneutic. In a later post in this series I’ll also suggest why this subject isn’t merely a theological curiosity – and something best left alone - but impacts world politics. In fact, I suggest it also negatively distracts discipleship to Jesus and thus needs to be challenged. And the use of Scripture in Christian Zionism gets right to the heart of the problem, hence the focus of this small series.

Needles to say I deplore anti-Semitism in all its forms, that is not the question here – so lets be clear about that up-front. Indeed, today I was saddened to hear of the great NT scholar Adolf Schlatter’s deplorable pro-Führer anti-Jew nonsense on Jim West’s blog.

CZ, of course, comes in many shapes and sizes and so I offer a few definitions to lend some orientation.

The Wikipedia definition runs as follows: ‘Christian Zionism is a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy’ (italics mine).

Mark Calder recently wrote a very helpful analysis of CZ in an undergraduate dissertation at the University of Edinburgh, which he kindly e-mailed me (more from him in later posts). He defines CZ as follows: ‘Stated simply, Christian Zionism is the belief that the Christian Bible justifies Jewish claims to some or all of, or indeed more than, the land of British Mandate Palestine’ (p. 7, italics mine).

The major work on Christian Zionism from a critical perspective is Stephen Sizer’s Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? He suggests the most basic of frames: ‘At its simplest, Christian Zionism is a political form of philo-Semitism, and can be defined as ‘Christian support for Zionism’ (p. 19). If flesh is hung on this frame, in practice this invariably means ‘Christian Zionists are therefore also defenders of, and apologists for, the state of Israel. This support consistently involves opposing those deemed to be critical of, or hostile towards Israel, but also leads to the justification of Israel’s occupation and settlement of the West Bank, Golan and Gaza on biblical grounds’ (pp. 20-21, italics mine).

I’ll return to these definitions later, but first to some practical examples of CZ and especially the handling of Scripture therein.



At 8/30/2006 1:06 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

Eagerly awaiting this one, Chris.

At 8/30/2006 1:44 AM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

Me too.

At 8/30/2006 5:20 AM, Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

I just read a good book by Arik King of Israel (Ariel Sharon) called Warrior. It is an old work, 1989 but still a good read. Arik wasn't a religious fellow and he wasn't a socialist or a son of a socialist. But he was a Zionist and the son of a Zionist.

I think the problem with a lot of you Zionist bashers is that you haven't read the Zionists. Therefore you just don't know what the hades you are talking about. It is impossible to be a critic in any useful sense of that word of an ideology which you simply despise and reject out of hand. Unless you are able to see the world as the Zionist sees the world you will never say anything very intelligent about the subject.

At 8/30/2006 5:55 AM, Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

There were two books and two movies I read and saw when I was 12 years old which had an enormous, absolutely monumental impact on my worldview. One was On The Beach by Nevl Shute and the other was Exodus by Leon Uris.

Add to this a pastor/mentor who was a roommate of Hal Lindsey's at DTS ...

I now tell myself I never took H.Lindsey seriously but I think this is probably a lie. In 1970 I probably took him seriously but ten years later, no way.

At 8/30/2006 10:39 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Clay, that’s rather annoyingly patronising rhetoric. And regards my experience of Zionism, you don’t know what the Hades you’re talking about.

At 8/30/2006 1:02 PM, Blogger boxthejack said...

Clay, many Christians, theologically raised on a diet of dispensationalism and pro-Zionism, who have been directed at every turn to view 1948 as the proof of scripture (rather than c.33 AD), then say, "hmmm, better think about this more carefully".

You probably should too. I doubt anyone here begins by dismissing Zionism out of hand, and, in turn, it feels a bit unfair to be dismissed out of hand by Zionist-basher-bashers.

You are right to point out that it is impossible to empathise in the polarised political debate without making a real effort to understand the 20th Century Zionist worldview. In the strictly theological debate, however, this is neither here nor there. Not wanting to pre-empt the discussion, the key question is, what does God's redemptive plan for the world entail?

By the way, you take awesome photos.

At 8/30/2006 6:52 PM, Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Yes, I was intending to be annoying, you do this all the time here, call it "over the top" or what ever you like ...

If you want to start an exegetical discussion about prophecy concerning Israel, then who can stop you? Are you going to have some participation from a qualified Zionist?

How can you have a meaningful exchange with a bible scholar who will be functioning within a framework totally alien to your own? If they reject your framework, which is almost a forgone conclusion, then the discussion isn't going to prove anything.

At 8/30/2006 8:49 PM, Blogger Renee said...

Chris, keep thinking about this one. I look forward to reading your posts as I always do.

This one is incredibly relevant.

At 8/30/2006 9:20 PM, Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

What do I mean by "framework"?

Before you can engage in a debate about biblical prophecy you need to clarify your presuppositions about history, language, the biblical text, prophecy and so forth, so that you will not just be thrashing the air with useless noise.

The interpretation of biblical prophecy always involves a pre-commitment to a hermeneutical model and this is where the well informed Christian Zionist is going to attack you.

99 times out of a hundred the debate will never amount to anything since there will be no sufficient common ground, i.e., agreement on pre-commitments and methodology.

This is, by the way, why I don't participate in the secular biblical studies forums. There isn't any "place to stand" (Elton Trueblood) where a secularist and an orthodox theist can meet and agree on a program for debate. What always happens is the theist ends up adopting the secularist's framework so he can participate in the discussion.

At 8/30/2006 10:54 PM, Blogger joel hunter said...

c. (Clay), I read your comments in this thread, I read Chris' post, and ...? "Zionist bashers?" Is there a previous conversation that has occurred here that a newer reader like me isn't clued into? I don't detect anything in Chris' post that suggests he's incapable of representing a view he doesn't agree with fairly and sympathetically. Why isn't it a valuable exercise as Chris has framed it? What is preferable about a more formal discussion, such as a debate?

Maybe a "qualified Zionist" won't even read the series, or will read it and not bother commenting. Why must such an exchange occur for the thoughts expressed to be meaningful (i.e., insightful, perhaps helpful, for both "sides" on the issue)? Why frame the discussion in such stark antithesis? What similarities do you see between Chris' promised series and a "secular biblical studies forum?" Don't pro-CZ and anti-CZ already share the most significant presuppositions, say, as formulated in the Apostle's Creed? Isn't that shared confession much more common ground than between two theists (generic), and certainly between a theist and non-theist? Yes, by all means lay out presuppositions, interpretive models, etc., but there's not much point in Chris reflecting on CZ if readers and commentators only wish to roll back the discussion to a playing field where the rules are incommensurable, more philosophical than confessional.

Now, if you're just yanking his chain and I'm being overly defensive here, then let the laughter begin...

At 8/31/2006 3:33 AM, Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...


Yes I am yanking his chain. Yes there is another discussion over on Jim West, Inc. which I am responding to not just what Chris has said in this post. There is also 35 year of hearing Israel Lovers bashed by the left wing of the church, my old buddies who read Sojourners and used to talk about Marx and Jesus and all that rot ...

Take for example Mark Calder's sane statement:

‘Stated simply, Christian Zionism is the belief that the Christian Bible justifies Jewish claims to some or all of, or indeed more than, the land of British Mandate Palestine’

and compare it with Jim West's latest rant, a quote from some ecclesiasticals in Jerusalem:

"Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel. The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it laces an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice today."

If we use Mark Calder's statement then CZ's are going to include a whole lot of folks, millions or even tens of millions. How do we reconcile that with this rubbish quoted above? Are there tens of millions of these maniacs running around calling themselves christians? Really?

On the subject of presuppositions, if you walk like a secularist and you talk like a secularist and you do theology and biblical exegesis like a secularist then I do not care what your prayer life is like I will assume you are a secularist.

At 8/31/2006 4:00 AM, Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

I am ready to move on. Please Chris give us your next post on CZ, don't waste time responding to my comments just roll out the next post.

At 8/31/2006 11:16 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Renee. Yes, relevant it is. Even more so, perhaps, given the Zionist temperature here in Germany, and the potential UN military action with German soldiers on the Isr-Leb border.

At 9/01/2006 4:39 PM, Anonymous dan said...


If I am understanding him correctly, it is Sizer's def'n that I find to be especially troubling on ideological grounds:

(1) Defining Zionism as a political expression of "philo-Semitism" neglects the fact that the Jews are not the only people who are Semites. In fact, the Arabs are Semites, too! Thus, to couch the discussion of Zionism in terms of philo- or anti-Semitism is to already embrace the ideology of the Israeli State. How am I a philo-Semite when I embrace the ongoing genocide of the Palestinians? Really, by refusing to recognize Arab's as Semites, Sizer is taking away the human identity of the Arabs. This is a dehumanizing definition for many other Semitic people.

(2) Furthermore, Sizer's definition deliberately abolishes the distinction between a critique of the Israeli State and a critique of the Jewish people -- and the Israeli State would be quite proud of this. After all, since the inception of Israel, the Israeli State has attempted to abolish this distinction so that it could basically label all of its critics as Nazis or Nazi-sympathizers or whatever. This simply will not do. There must be room for critical voices (and even critical opposition) in any State.

At 9/01/2006 5:43 PM, Blogger shrewsfan said...

Hello Dan, as a Messianic Jew who is clued up on the history and a critical supporter of Israel's right to exist and defend herself, I find your comments troubling, indeed offensive.
(1) Yes on purely semantic grounds the term "anti-Semitism" does refer to hatred of Semitic peoples other than Jews, but how often is it ever used to denote that? In common parlance the term always means "hatred of Jews". Cf the term "first-century Palestine" - technically its anachronistic and inaccurate because the area was only named Palestine in 135AD when the Romans crushed a Jewish revolt and drove out the Jewish inhabitants - but everyone knows what the term means.
(2) Whatever other crimes Israel may or may not have committed, she has never, but never been engaged in the "ongoing genocide [i.e: extermination of a whole race]of the Palestinians". If she has been, then she has done a particularly bad job: in 1967 there were 600,000 Arabs in the West Bank; by 1991 there were 1,100,000; that number is considerably larger today.
(3) "After all, since the inception of Israel, the Israeli State has attempted to abolish this distinction [between critics of Israel and haters of the Jewish people] so that it could basically label all of its critics as Nazis or Nazi-sympathizers or whatever." Really? Does this include the many Jews (including myself) who express moderate criticism of some Israeli policies? Does it include the many Christians, both Jew and Gentile, who are critical of some of Israel's policies in relation to Messianic Jews? I challenge you to produce documented proof of Israel labelling mere critics of Israel (as opposed, say, to those who wish to destroy her altogether) as "Nazis or Nazi-sympathisers". Yes of course there must be room for critical opposition within any state, but it won't do to oversimplify the debate in the terms in which you appear to have done so.

At 9/01/2006 6:04 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Dan, that's a really good point in terms of the etymology of the word 'semite'. I must say, I hadn't stumbled upon this line of reasoning simply because of the direction Sizer goes in his argument - he wants explicitly to untangle critique of the State of Israel from anti-Semitism.

However, Shrewsfan has made a few powerful points in critique! Thanks so much, Shrewsfan for following the discussion in these posts. I would honestly appreciate your feedback on my argument as it unfolds here. Though be patient with me as the series shall slow down a little over the next few days as I am away from my computer.

At 9/02/2006 8:41 AM, Anonymous dan said...

Hey Shrewsfan,

I appreciate the rebuttal, it allows me to further emphasize my point (esp. re: philo- or anti-"semitism") from a new angle.

(1) I raise the etymological point precisely because I think that the popular usage of the word "semite" needs to be revisited. There is an inherent discrimination found within the popular usage of the term. I think a comparable example is the way in which feminist voices have (successfully, IMHO) critiqued the usage of the masculine prooun to represent humanity in general. Feminist hermeneutics have helped us to realize that the dehumanization of women was (and is) more deeply rooted (and popular!) than we had first thought. The same critique applies mutatis mutandis to the contemporary popular usage of the word "semite" in reference to Jews alone.

I can only make cursory comments on your remaining two points until I have access to my resources (I'm not on my home computer).

(2) Israel's failure to completely exterminate the Palestinians does not mean that genocide has not be explicitly condoned by some of Israel's State leaders. Does the ongoing existence of millions of Jews lead us to conclude that Jews have never encountered attempts to eradicate them as a people? Of course not. The same could be said of the Roma, the Armenians, the "African" Sudanese, and so on and so forth. Genocidal intentions were proclaimed by State leaders, action was taken, yet the Roma, the Armenians, and the "African" Sudanese live on. Of course, the next question is documentation of the claim that the Israel state has actually expressed genocidal intentions and, since I am not at my home computer, I don't have access to my resources so I will get back to you on that.

(3) You assert that the Israeli State does not confuse mere critics (whether they be Jewish, Christian, Messianic Jews, or whatever) with those who are in violent ideological opposition to the State of Israel, but I'm afraid that there is ample proof that the State of Israel has often done just that. Once again, I ask for your patience while I return to my sources.

At 9/02/2006 11:56 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Dan, I look forward to hearing more from you on this.

At 9/02/2006 7:22 PM, Blogger Dan said...

The Society of Americans for National Existence is calling for a Catholic dialogue, "Catholic Patriarchs Issue Call for Justice". See it here: http://www.saneworks.us/Catholic-Patriarchs-Issue-Call-for-Justice-article-170-7.htm

At 9/03/2006 7:54 AM, Anonymous dan1 said...

Oh dear, another "dan" has arrived, so just to clarify, the "dan" who posted the link is different person than me -- the "dan" who posted the two point comment and the three point comment in dialogue with Shrewsfan. For clarity, on the remainder of this thread I will start calling myself dan1.

At 9/08/2006 10:25 AM, Anonymous dan1 said...

Well, pardon my tardiness but I'll begin to cite some sources now.

Beginning with the issue of "genocide" let me point to the words of Rabbis Segal, Hess, and Kahane.

Rabbi Segal -- who was aligned with Menachem Bergin's Irgun -- compared the Palestinians to the Amalekites in 1 Sam 15. He writes: "One should have mercy on all creatures but the treatment of Amalek--—is different. The treatment of those who would steal our land--—is different. The treatment of those who spill our blood—--is different."

Rabbi Hess (of Israel’s Bar Ilan University) also published an article called "The Command of Genocide in the Bible." He also compared the Palestinians to the Amalekites and argues that Torah sanctions their annihilation. As he writes: "the day will come when we shall all be called upon to wage this war for the annihilation of Amalek." Hess advanced two reasons for this. One was the need to ensure "racial purity." The other lay in "the antagonism between Israel and Amalek as an expression of the antagonism between light and darkness, the pure and the unclean." It is noteable that the State Rabbinate -- a body established to correct the errors of Rabbinical publications -- never criticized the article.

Now that's some pretty scary stuff, especially when you couple it with the words of people like Rabbi Kahane who said (when he was a member of the Knesset): "Our God is a God of vengeance." Yikes.

There is also more than one way to commit genocide apart from mass exterminations (although Israel has done that quite well at different times). You can also exterminate a people by refusing to recognize that that people actually exist. Thus, for example, early on in her history the Israeli State issued identity cards to Palestinians that refused to recognize them as Palestinians. Instead they were identified as "Israeli Arabs." Systematically attacking a culture and a communal form of identity is also a great way to exterminate a people group (just look at the impact that kind of assault had upon North American aboriginal people!).

Now, it's also useful to remember the proper definition of genocide. Article II of the 1948 Genocide Convention defines the international crime of genocide as follows:

"In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

I think 2(a), 2(b), 2(c), and possibly 2(d) apply. In fact, the cases have been so well (and repeatedly documented) that I hardly need mention them here. If you are in doubt, I'll simply refer you to two books that handily address the issue -- Necessary Illusions and Middle East Illusions by Chomsky.

So, I guess I still have to respond to the question re: Israel's response to her (moderate and not so moderate) critics but that's enough for now.

Grace and peace.

At 9/12/2006 5:47 PM, Anonymous TESTING said...

this link

this link - is the text that will be illuminated.

Hope that's helpful - I always have to check it myself as well. I'm a
bit of
a newbie.

At 9/12/2006 6:23 PM, Blogger shrewsfan said...

Sorry, "testing" was actually me trying to work out how to attach hyperlinks rather than printing out whole website addresses. It worked the first time but not the second. Can anyone enlighten me?

Dan1 - if you're keen on Chomsky, I'd encourage you to look at this page: http://www.paulbogdanor.com/chomskyhoax.html
and read the relevant chapters of "The Jewish Divide over Israel" by Paul Bogdanor and Edward Alexander (eds), which expose Chomsky's intellectual dishonesty in spectacular fashion. The fact that Chomsky wrote the foreword to a book by French Holocaust Denier Robert Faurisson should surely set alarm bells ringing...

You might also want to have a look at Efraim Karsh's article at
http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/humanities/medstu/whato.pdf. He shows:
(a) that Arabs such as Hafez al-Assad and Philip Hitti have (also) denied the existence of a separate Palestinian entity (as distinct from Arabs or Syrians) - are they then also guilty of genocide? According to Karsh elsewhere, Arafat himself once said that the Palestinians lacked the unity, discipline and tradition to become a formal state: see the final paragraph of http://www.meforum.org/article/605 (Karsh, in case you are wondering, teaches Mediterranean Studies at King's College, London);
(b) the great IMPROVEMENT in Palestinian living standards in the years following 1967. Standards have of course fallen in recent years as a result of increased Israeli security measures in response to the second Intifada; but your seeming view that Israel has had a systematic and deliberate policy of genocide cannot be substantiated. Yes of course I abhor the comments of the rabbis whom you mention; but to suggest that their assertions became mainstream Israeli policy is unhistorical.

At 9/12/2006 6:25 PM, Blogger shrewsfan said...

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