I have just finished my reading of Shalom Goldman’s excellent book Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land (UNC Press).  Goldman is professor of Hebrew and Middle Eastern studies at Emory University.  I had made an earlier post on it in my earlier stages of reading.  While I think there are times when he is off in his assessment of various relationships and his portrayal of various theological views, on the whole he has provided an excellent outline of the historical convergence of Christian forms of Zionism and Jewish forms of Zionism since the late 1800s.  Perhaps the primary contribution he makes to the history of Zionism is to show that it is not a monolithic movement.  While this has been recognized on the Jewish side, on the Christian side it has been assumed in some circles (popularly?) that modern dispensationalism, which is Zionist by its very nature, is the only Christian form of Zionism.  This came home to me a few years ago at the Evangelical Theological Society.  Tommy Ice, a dispensationalist responder, pointed out to the main speaker Timothy Weber, that in his analysis (see Weber’s book On the Road to Armageddon) he assumed that all Christian Zionists were dispensationalists, when such is not the case.  Goldman’s book helps to support Ice’s conclusion and critique.

I found Goldman’s six categories of uneven interest for me.  That could be because of my own background and preferences than any lack of value to Goldman’s presentation.  I really could not easily get into chapter 4, his discussion of Catholicism and the Jews in recent times.  I was fascinated by the connection between Laurence Oliphant and Naphtali Imber (chapter 1) and the pro-Zionist position of the Anglican Herbert Danby, translator of the Mishnah (chapter 3).  Although I already knew quite a bit about Theodor Herzl, Goldman filled in the gaps of Christian relationships in the early days of the formal Zionist movement (chapter 2).  I also knew quite a bit about recent relationships such as Jerry Falwell and other evangelicals (chapter 6) so the last chapter filled in small gaps for me but was still appreciated.  The discussion of literary “pilgrims” Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Graves, and Vladimir Nabokov marked new territory for me (chapter 5).  Among them I only had serious knowledge of Graves, having read his scandalous novel King Jesus almost thirty years ago.  I found the discussion fascinating although in this section Goldman shows an interest in the literature for literature’s sake in my opinion.  The actual focus on Zionism in these men perhaps did not get the attention it deserved.  The coverage of these men also shows that the idea of “Christian” in the book is quite broad.  There is the possibility that none of these men would be considered orthodox by any measurements.  Such is true for others as well.  But Goldman is dealing with men who are self-professed from Christian tradition, so it may not have been necessary for him to label such things more fully (he does mention problems at certain points), although it would have been helpful to have more.

 In this section, I would like to list some random thoughts that emerged as I read Goldman’s book:

 1.  I found it interesting that many of the early Zionists viewed Zionism (the return of the Jews to their homeland in Palestine) as the solution to anti-Semitism.  Now that the Jews do have a home in a national Israel in Palestine, one has to ask if the proposed solution actually worked.  Regrettably, the answer is no.  Israel as a nation has become the new target.  Anti-Israel is now the new anti-Semitism.  There has just been a shift in the application of the evil spirit of anti-Semitism.   Dispensationalists like me view themselves as helping to stand against worldwide anti-Semitism when we support the nation of Israel.

2.  The hostility against Zionism is not always anti-Semitic.  Sometimes it is simply theological (wrong-headed theology from my point of view).  One example Goldman points out is the 1945 statement by Bishop W. H. Stewart of St. George’s Anglican Church in Jerusalem:

 “There is an uncommon tendency today both in England and in America, to base large Zionist claims on the Old Testament history and prophecies, and thereby to win support from many Christians whose respect for the Bible is perhaps greater than their understanding of it…The Christian doctrine of the New Testament is that the new spiritual Israel of the Christian Church, with its descent by the spiritual birth of baptism, is the sole heir to the promises themselves also spiritualized, which had been fortified by the Old Israel after the flesh, with its descent by human generation” (p. 142).

 This is what is called replacement theology or supersessionism.  In this scheme, one cannot really trust the Old Testament statements at face value.  The devaluing of Israel follows.  There is no use for Zionism and a future for national Israel in this scheme.

 3.  At times Goldman misses the mark badly.  For example, when referring to the Left Behind series as influenced by dispensationalism, he notes that in the series, only “Born Again Christians” are saved (p. 286).  Those who are not saved, he mentions, end up in eternal damnation (hell).  The way that Goldman words this, he gives the impression that this belief is something radical or different.  However, it is not.  This view is the orthodox Protestant view.  It is not unique to dispensationalism.

 4.  Goldman mentions Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook who viewed the killing of European Jews as a type of cleansing or purification from the impurity of exile which would lead to the establishment of national Israel.  What struck me was that this is in spirit similar to the dispensational understanding of the nature of the coming tribulation, among other things a cleansing of the nation of Israel.  What will follow is the national restoration in spiritual glory in the land.  The similarities are a bit striking.  It appears that Kook had read the Old Testament carefully.

 Again, I highly recommend Goldman’s book to you.