THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE BIBLE
on the Crises in the Middle East
and the Plan of God Revealed in the Scriptures
Part One of the Twentieth Century
“Zionism” is one of those words that is used a good deal but seldom understood, or used correctly. In the Middle East it is used in a negative sense by the Arabs for the Jews, whom they are convinced are trying to destroy them and take over the world. To them a Zionist is the embodiment of evil. And since the West has been favorable towards the Jews, then the West is obviously a part of the Zionist plot.
After the Islamic forces conquered most of the Middle East and attempted to take Europe, they found themselves up against Christian armies, the Crusaders, who then came into the Middle East for a number of reasons. This was interpreted by the Moslems as Christians invading their holy lands (without mention of how they got the holy lands). After the Crusades Islam dominated the region politically and religiously for several hundred years, the last four hundred years under the Ottoman Empire from Turkey. But at the turn of the century, with the end of the first World War, changes took place that undermined the Islamic power block. The treaties made at the end of the war ended the Islamic empire of four hundred years; the western countries divided up the Middle East into new countries and mandates under European control, and the Jewish people started returning to the land in greater numbers (to join the other Jews who had always been there). Modern militant Islamic leaders repeatedly point to these events as causes for revenge. And it does not matter how much western countries help Arab or Islamic countries, until “empire” is regained, and spread to global proportions, there will be no rest. Uppermost in the minds of many in the Middle East is the problem of Israel, basically, that it exists. This, to them, is a Zionistic plot to destroy them, and so they easily claim their struggle is defensive. The fact that a lot of Israeli and western policies have been decidedly insensitive and unfair to various Arab groups in the region has not helped with the perception.
We need to think through this aspect of Middle Eastern affairs because (1) the current terrorist activities link their cause to the Palestinian struggle with the Zionists who are backed by America, (2) because Zionism is the cause of the end of the Ottoman Empire, a major issue for Islam, and (3) because Zionism involved all the so-called “Christian” empires of the west displacing Islamic control of the land.
This discussion will be longer and more involved, divided in two sections, because it is a part of history people do not understand. This first section will trace the beginnings of the “Restoration” up to the end of WWI, and the next section will trace it from 1917 til today. By “restoration” I mean the return of Jews to the land--there were always Jews living in the land, but with this restoration the Jewish population grew by leaps and bounds. We shall look at this further in the prophecy section, but this “restoration” was one of the ten promises of the New Covenant: the Jews would be regathered to their land largely in unbelief, and then subsequently come to faith in the Messiah and be cleansed and redeemed.
The Christian Vision of Restoration
The Jewish “diaspora” came into full force with Hadrian’s war in 132-135 A.D. At that time the Jews were driven out of the land, except for a few cities in the region of the Galilee, which became the center of Jewish biblical studies in the land. Over the centuries the hatred of the Jews throughout the world grew stronger and stronger, even by Christians who did not know what to do with them. Luther himself, frustrated that they did not convert, wrote many harsh things that paved the way for their later persecution (and used in part in Germany for the justification of the holocaust). Jews were driven out of one country after another, until most of them settled in eastern European regions, and especially in old Russia.
But from the time of the Reformation many theologians realized that the Bible, Romans 9-11 among many other texts, clearly affirmed that God was faithful to his covenant promises, and that he had not abandoned forever his people Israel, but would restore them to their land, and eventually those who were alive when the opportunity came would accept Jesus, the Son of God, as the Messiah (= “christos,” which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “mashiah,” which means “the anointed one”). There grew up a renewed interest in prophecy and world events, all in relation to the coming of the LORD, the Messiah, or what was to be known as the Messianic age.
The Messianic and prophetic fervor was also stirred by the Napoleonic wars in 1798. Napoleon invaded Egypt and Palestine, but British forces defeated him at the city of Acre (they wanted to protect their land routes to India). Now the British Christians were awakened to the prophetic issues of the Middle East, and they realized that they could assist the process of the Restoration of Jews to the land with a view to their conversion. After all, “missions” was also becoming more popular with the Church, and missionaries were going throughout the world. But events in the land indicated God was beginning to awaken things there as well.
In 1798 Joseph Frey, a London Rabbi, converted to Christianity and started the London Jews Society, and the London Jews Chapel. This was the beginning of Messianic Jews organizations. He had the support of William Wilberforce (the man who broke the slave trade), Charles Simeon (the famous preacher from Cambridge), and a number of believing members of the royal family and government leaders.
After the Napoleonic wars, Lewis Way assisted in developing the society; he went throughout Europe with the vision, and in the process preached the Gospel to Jews all over the world. He found a willing ally in Czar Alexander I of Russia, who wanted the Jews’ restoration under the protection of European powers.
Joseph Wolff, who studied under Simeon at Cambridge, went to Israel in 1821 to establish a mission work. The resident Jews, living under the Ottoman Empire, were outraged that he would try to convert them--but he at least knew they were listening.
Way became head of the mission in 1823 and tried to get permission from Turkey, but under their rule it was anathema to change religion (except through marriage), and not even permitted to move house. He also found that both Russia and France (under the influence of religious leaders) opposed a Protestant presence in the land. In a treaty in 1535 the empire had granted France the postition of protector of Christians in the Middle East; and in 1774 a similar treaty had made Russia the protector of Eastern Orthodox Christians. But Way was a diplomat; when he was able to show the Emir of Lebanon that the British had kept the French from invading, he was granted permission to stay. The mission brought 10,000 Bibles to distribute. But Islamic law forbad the building of new churches and synagogues, so he was restricted. And the Roman Catholic Church, through the French, opposed it--the Pope in 1824 prohibited anyone from reading the Bibles they brought to the land.
The Jews had no rights under Turkish law; they could be beaten, imprisoned, or fined, for no reason at all. The Christian Protestant missions came with medical assistant and benevolent treatment to Jews and Arabs. The fortunes of the missions changed in 1831 when Egypt and Turkey went to war, with Egypt taking Jerusalem and some other cities. Egypt let the missionaries in, largely because they needed the help of Europeans to hold their winnings and to care for the people.
All of this opened the door for a British Consolate in Jerusalem in 1839. The Protestant Christians got around Islamic law prohibiting new churches by building a chapel in the consolate, which today is Christ Church inside the old city. In 1839 the first Jewish family was baptized into the church in Jerusalem, the first (known case) for centuries.
In 1840 the British drove the Egyptians out of the land, and officially proposed that Jewish people be restored to the land. They may have had broader political interests in mind, but they were clearly influenced by devout, high minded Christians, who believed that the time was at hand for the Jewish return and their subsequent conversion, and that Britain should be the agent. They were opposed by Russia, Austria, Turkey of course, and France of course.
The King of Prussia, Frederick Willhelm IV, agreed with Britain; he foresaw a world wide Protestant Union centered in Jerusalem. He approached the British to set up an Evangelical Protestant Bishopric. He had support from Gladstone, and from Queen Victoria. But they needed to act fast to set up a Bishop. The Oxford Movement, a high Anglo-Catholic group, opposed links to Protestant Europe, especially the Prussian Lutherans, and especially an Evangelical bishop in Jerusalem. But Michael Solomon Alexander, a converted Jewish Rabbi, who shared the vision of restoration to the land and conversion to Christ, was finally installed as Bishop of Jerusalem, actually the successor to St. James. John Henry Newman was appalled, and so defected to Rome; and the Catholic Church, especially the French, opposed it because they thought they, the Church had succeeded Israel as God’s people. The Russian Orthodox also wanted control in the land and opposed it bitterly. The Turks did not understand it, but they and the Jews saw it as a challenge to them--the Turks opposed modern studies like medicine, science, wisdom, and modern technologies. But with the work of the missions under British protection, conditions for Jews changed quickly in the land, and news spread abroad: public health, hospitals, welfare, and education improved tremendously. The society was there, and their Hospital for Poor Sick Jews was popular. The low church Anglicans saw the restoration of the Jews taking place under the See of Jerusalem. It all caught the attention of two powerful Jewish leaders: Sir Moses Montefiori and Baron Rothschild.
Over the next forty years the Protestant presence grew slowly but steadily, so that by 1878 there were over 200 members of Christ Church, and about 100 German Lutherans. But political events were also beginning to change the outlook in the Middle East. Most notably:
The Crimean War in 1854-56 over who was to have the most control in the Middle East ended with the Russian influence reduced. The Rothschilds in France supported the Jews who were coming to the land--they began to purchase land and to start agricultural industry. Russia’s Czar at the time, an anti-Semite, was happy to send the Jews to the land (most European Jews were Russian and Austrian).
In 1865 the Palestine Exploration Fund was established to affirm the authenticity of the Bible through Holy Land studies, especially archaeology. But in 1869 there was an Islamic awakening; the Turks prohibited Muslims from attending mission schools.
In 1875 Disraeli bought the rights to the Suez passage; and in 1877 the British took over Cyprus. To many at the time it was time to restore Zion’s desolation.
The Jewish Vision of Restoration
In 1872 books on Jewish nationalism began to appear in Russia and Germany: E.g., Hess wrote Rome and Jerusalem in which he saw Jews restored to their homeland. And Eliezer b0en Yehuda argued that Jews had all the attributes of nationhood. In Eastern Europe and in England the movement caught on as “Lovers of Zion,” Zion being the biblical name for the holy city.
The movement was not allowed in Russia because Czar Alexander III was dealing with Russian issues and had no tolerance for ethnic uprisings. Jews were made scapegoats, and persecuted with pogroms (government sponsored persecutions and riots); tens of thousands fled, but they had no where to go, they were not considered a people. Consequently, many settled in “Palestine,” where they were treated well by the Christians from England and America. This is the first wave of “Aliyah” (the term used for Jews returning and becoming citizens of the land).
Russia sought to destabilize the Ottoman Empire by assisting Arab nationalism led by Arab Christians in Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. This became a growing threat.
But for the movement, the Zionist Congress of 1898 was definitive. It came about this way. The Jews who had settled in the land had the support of the Rothschilds, but they had no vision other than to escape and live somewhere. In 1889 they called for an international society of Jews in Europe to establish people in Israel with international recognition. Theodore Herzl, an Austrian Jew in Paris, observed that anti-Semitism was very much alive and growing. So he formed a political solution to the Jewish problem in a booklet called “The Jewish State.” It was what world Jewry had been waiting for. As a result, he led the Zionist Congress in 1898. But the Rothschilds had no interest in it, and Jewish leaders opposed it because it seemd to stir up trouble (unaware what was coming anyway in Europe and Russia).
The Chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna, the Rev. William Hechler, who happened to be a member of the London Jews Society, and was an Anglican Restorationist, was keen on biblical prophecy. He was close to the Grand Duke of Baden, Friedrich, who was the uncle of the Kaiser. He arranged their meetings. These meetings did not turn into good results immediately, but kept the vision in the mind of political leaders. Germany and Turkey were allies, so the Kaiser was cautious. When he rebuffed Herzl, Britain and these “Zionists” grew closer. The Anglicans (not the high Anglo-Catholics) saw their link to the Zionists as the way God’s purpose for his ancient people was working out: restoration and then conversion.
The British stalled over what kind of action to take, and Herzl was frustrated as the Russian and Romanian Jews’ plight worsened. As time passed, the Zionist movement became disunited:
1. Political Zionists (Western European Jews) wanted to follow political efforts with the major countries of Europe.
2. Practical Zionists (Eastern European Jews) saw gradual colonization as the way to go, no matter what political activities were taken.
3. Cultural Zionists saw Jerusalem as the center of Jewry, and not necessarily a homeland; but to them there was no place for Messianic Jews or Hebrew Christians.
In 1903 Chamberlain proposed East Africa as a homeland for the Jews. Herzl presented it to the Congress as a temporary place, and it divided the house. Before any further move could be made, Herzl died suddenly at the age of 44, leaving the movement in tensions with Zionists, Talmudists, Rothschilds’ colonists, and those who favored Hebrew as the national language (as opposed to the ultra Orthodox) all with their views.
From 1905-1914 the second wave made Aliyah, 30,000 Russian Jews came to the land and established Socialist Zionism. They were the pioneers of the agricultural movement centered in Kibbutsim. Their “gospel” was socialism, working the land to redeem the land with productive labor and avoiding the ills of modernity. Their “gospel” was very different than the Messianic Jews’ Gospel.
Changing Political Landscape
World War I brought all the tensions of Europe into the Middle East. Germany built the Berlin to Bagdad railroad; France built the railroad down the coast to Jaffa. Germany allied with Turkey; France, Russia and Britain opposed them. But the French and Russian and British reached a stalemate over the issue of the land, and especially over what to do with the holy sites in the land. Britain wanted to widen the gap between the Arabs and the Turks, but the price would be high: they had to promise an Arab empire after the war that would range from Damascus to Saudi Arabia.
The Turks countered by making the bulk of the Jews citizens--so that they could conscript them into the army. They closed all Zionist institutions as threats, and seized all Christian hospitals and schools, pillaging them and leaving them in appalling condition. They almost completely exterminated the Armenian people (a forgotten case of genocide wherein somewhere between one and two million people were slain). And in the land at least 35,000 Jews died of starvation.
The Turks met a formidible foe in Colonel T. Laurence who united the Arabs to drive the Turks out of the land. Laurence was terribly torn over the fact that the British had no intention of honoring their word to King Faisal for an Arab empire from Damascus to Arabia. Instead, the region would be divided up under French and British mandates, the French taking Syria and Lebanon, and the British taking control of Palestine and the newly formed Iraq. The kingdom of Jordan was formed to include the west bank of the land (roughly ancient Samaria) and East Jerusalem, and Faisel was driven back into the Arabian peninsula. The Arabs were betrayed by the west; and the Islamic empire of the Ottomans defeated by the west.
In 1917, near the end of the war, the situation was propitious for the Jews. Times were changing: Russia withdrew, and the British met with near disaster in France. When the British public wanted a moral victory, the government decided to put forward the Jewish homeland as their cause (with a lot of influence of Christian leaders). What could be a greater victory than taking Palestine for the glory of God. In June, 1917, the Zionist-British pact was formed, called the Balfour Declaration. Its wording of “homeland” for the Jews upset the Islamic Turks, of course, who were seeing their grand empire crumble, their tribes disunited, and Faisal betrayed. The declaration received sympathy in America from Woodrow Wilsom. It was opposed by one man on the British Cabinet, Montague, a Jew in fact; he held out for a change of wording to say they would have “in Palestine (of) a Jewish homeland.” (He thought making it their homeland would draw more persecution to the Jews). So it was not necessarily to be a state, or the state of Israel. But Bible believing Christians with missions and prophecy in mind, and nationalist Jews, all rejoiced.
General Edmund Allenby, a descendant of the puritan Oliver Cromwell, along with the Aussie Light Horse brigade, conquered Beersheba (and secured it to keep the French out, so that their interests in trade would be preserved). He then headed for Jerusalem, which was taken without a shot being fired. On December 8 Allenby stood across the street from Christ Church on the steps that lead to the Tower of David, part of Herod’s palace, and declared Jerusalem liberated from 400 years of “Turkish misrule.”
The way seemed now open for Jews to return to the homeland. The Arabs in the land had been betrayed and set aside and were angry. The German and Russian influence in the region had all but ended, except for control over their churches. The Christian missionary work was now going to prove to be more complicated. And for the Islamic world, their glorious empire was destroyed--it did not matter that the Ottomans were hardly religious, for it was an Islamic empire that was destroyed by the British and the French, Christians of one sort or another. The seeds were sown for a century of conflict in the Middle East.