Review of Shalom Goldman, Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 3, September 2010

Review of Shalom Goldman, Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 367 Pp. ISBN: 9780807833445.

By Steven Schroeder, University of the Fraser Valley

In Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land, Shalom Goldman highlights the work of a wide variety of Zionist sympathizers—from diplomats, humanitarians, and literary figures, to mystics, rabbis, Christian preachers, and religious radicals—who served the goal of Jewish statehood, albeit with varied intentions. He argues that “Jewish Zionism would not have succeeded without the help of Christian Zionism” (p. 99), and illustrates this claim in six accounts; three from ca. 1850 to the founding of Israel in 1948, and three from 1948 to the present day.

An introductory chapter precedes these accounts, in which the reader will find a thorough historical overview of Christian and Jewish views of the Holy Land. Goldman stresses the less studied aspect of how the diverse, but overlapping, religious views of Christian and Jewish Zionists served the Zionist cause. He asserts that the two groups started out in very different positions in the late nineteenth century—with Christians focusing on pre-millennial dispensationalism, and Jews on the security of the Jewish people—but slowly merged their efforts in a more intentional and overt way from the 1970s on.

The first half of the book focuses on the century leading up to the creation of the state ofIsrael, highlighting the work of Christian and Jewish Zionists, the relationships forged between these two groups, and the results of their individual, and combined, efforts. The central figures in this section, and throughout the book, reveal many atypical thoughts and actions vis-à-vis the traditional views of their co-religionists, and the status quo at the time. For instance, the first chapter focuses largely on the work of British journalist and politician Laurence Oliphant, who attempted to establish a Jewish state in Palestine via Zionist settlement and diplomacy. Oliphant was a gentile humanitarian who claimed to have left Christianity in the 1850s in favor of a self-styled eclectic mysticism (p. 61). His unqualified support for the establishment of a Jewish state was an anomaly during a time when nearly all Christian Zionists assumed the accompanying conversion of Jews to Christianity.

Reverend William Hechler, Herbert Danby, and Arminius Vambery were other key Christian Zionists who stood out due to their pioneering work. Hechler, a chaplain in the British embassy in Vienna during the late nineteenth century, had joined forces with Oliphant in supporting Jewish pogrom victims in Russia during the 1880s. In Vienna, he utilized his position to further the Zionist cause by brokering meetings between his friend Theodor Herzl and the Grand Duke of Baden, as well as Kaiser William II. Unlike Oliphant but like most Christian Zionists, Hechler’s interest in Jewish affairs and Zionism was steeped in Christian dispensationalism. He declared that Jewish Zionists “were unaware that they were fulfilling Christian messianic expectations” (p. 103). Continuing in this vein in the next chapter is the work of Herbert Danby, who published works (e.g. in Bible Lands, a journal he founded) that explicated Christian Zionism. He also translated, from Hebrew to English, Rabbi Joseph Klausner’s path breaking book, Jesus of Nazareth. Klausner’s book and Danby’s translation were intended to defuse Christian-Jewish antagonism and convince Jews and Christians that they served the same God and the same political goals of the Zionist movement. Arminius Vambery held similar beliefs while serving as a British agent in the Ottoman Empire, where he furthered Hechler’s ambitions by arranging for Herzl an audience with Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1901. To be sure, Vambery, like Oliphant, was not a typical Christian Zionist, but rather a man of Jewish descent who adhered to a wide range of spiritual beliefs.

Nearly all of the Jews in this study had abandoned their assimilationist views to embrace Zionism in the wake of antisemitic pogroms throughout Europe during the late 1800s. The author stresses that these Zionists benefitted from Christian Zionist support. Jews who are highlighted in the first half of the book were mostly secularists, reflecting the majority Zionist view during the period in question, and they are presented as secondary figures to the Christian Zionists at this time. Nephtali Imber was a marginal Zionist figure, claiming fame for writing Hatikvah, a famous Zionist anthem that became the Israeli national anthem in 2004. Theodor Herzl’s and Joseph Klausner’s writings and work factored more significantly, but the author stresses that they relied heavily on gentile support (e.g. Hechler and Danby).

The second half of the book focuses on numerous individuals who continued to support the state of Israel after its founding in 1948, along with some present day figures who have taken up the cause. Most of the cases in this section reveal the significance, and continuance, of the work highlighted in the previous section and feature some individuals who broke with tradition and some who deepened it. Catholics Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton and Jacques Maritain are credited for breaking the mould of Vatican anti-Zionism and contributing to the radical shifts in postwar Catholic teaching, particularly during the 1960s (p. 198). Conversely, we find in the Protestant camp a strengthening and deepening of Hechler and Danby’s teachings in the thought and action of the likes of Pat Robertson and John Hagee, who unequivocally support the state of Israel—including the expansion of settlements in Palestinian territories—seeing it as a harbinger of the mass conversion of Jews to Christianity and the second coming of Christ. Ignoring these latter components, adherents of the Jewish settler movement (e.g., Gush Emunim, p. 286), find strong allies in these fundamentalist Christians.

Zeal for Zion is a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarship that examines both Christian and Jewish contributions to the Zionist enterprise. To be sure, some readers will question how representative of each respective group these individuals were, how cooperative Christian-Jewish Zionist work has been, and what, particularly, binds all of the disparate people and groups in the overall development of the Zionist project. Still, each account reveals important details and many surprising elements of Zionist history. Taken together with the author’s personal experiences (e.g. the influence of gentile pro-Zionist writers like Jorge Luis Borges during the 1960s and 1970s), it makes for a fascinating, significant book.

The valuable findings in this book provide numerous possibilities for future researchers, including further exploration of the ambivalent, if not antagonistic, base of this Christian-Jewish relationship in the Zionist movement. Indeed, the bases for Christian and Jewish Zionism have changed little since the nineteenth century, with each side serving its own purposes, with few exceptions. Religious radicals from both faiths have not fostered peace and mutual recognition in the Palestine/Israel conflict, or in Christian-Jewish relations. Moreover, the long-term ramifications of their views have not been explored in much depth. Within this book, Goldman has provided numerous examples of exceptional individuals who, while serving their respective goals, inadvertently engendered innovative engagement in Christian-Jewish dialogue—innovations that could be explored further and utilized for peaceful purposes.





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