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Part One: Reflection
by Mikael Knighton
The Theological Background of Christian Zionism is a three part series authored by Mikael Knighton, founder of Christians Standing with Israel. The series consists of three installments: Reflection, Reconciliation, and Reconsideration. The series has been published in both the US and in Israel, where it was translated to Hebrew and published in the NATIV, a Jewish magazine facilitated by the Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR).
Christian Zionism: Synopsis
Over the centuries, Christian support of the state of Israel has been looked upon with a suspicious and vigilant eye. In fact, history will clearly show that the essence of pure evil, operating under the guise of "Christianity", has facilitated a complete and justifiable collapse in Judeo-Christian relations. Only recently has the relationship between the Jewish people and Christians become fruitful, and the "mending" process, albeit positive, continues to evolve. Even so, the question remains: "Why do Christians support the state of Israel?" Christian Zionism, a theological belief that identifies the restoration of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland as the literal fulfillment of biblical prophecies foretold thousands of years ago, may arguably exist as the most oft-misunderstood "form" of Christianity, today. Moreover, Christian Zionist dogma has been the recipient of much indignation from those who would inaccurately and misguidedly opine and define it as "non biblical" and/or "extreme". However, a comprehensive examination of the theological background of Christian Zionism will reveal several, relevant misconceptions. Moreover, after reading this analysis, one may likely discern that Christian Zionism is not a fundamentalist movement, as it were, but a manifestation and implementation of a sound, theological doctrine predicated upon Scriptural truth. In so doing, one may likely and accurately generalize that the Christian support of the state of Israel should not be looked upon as a biblical doctrine exclusive to Christian Zionism, but to all of Christianity.
Christian Zionism: Overview
examining the theological foundation of Christian Zionism, it is
imperative to first explore its definition. Specifically, what is
Christian Zionism? Fundamentally, Christian Zionism is the belief
which holds that the land of Israel is sacred ground given by God to
a people whom He foreknew, the Jewish people --the "apple of His eye".
Furthermore, Christian Zionism rises and falls on God's everlasting covenant with Abraham, as well as a vast array of
biblical prophecies, dating back thousands of years, in which Hebrew
prophets such as Jeremiah, Isaiah, Zechariah and Ezekiel foretold of
an eventual, albeit certain restoration of the Jewish people to
their biblical homeland. As such, Christian Zionists identify the
declaration of the state of Israel in May, 1948, as the most
significant fulfillment of biblical prophecy in the modern era.
Finally, Christian Zionism vehemently maintains that God's promises
to the Jewish people are still very much alive, today. A more
in-depth examination of the doctrinal beliefs surrounding Christian
Zionism will be presented later in this analysis.
A Legacy of Christian Anti-Semitism
To a large
degree, the Christians of today are either ignorant of a long
history of Christian anti-Semitism, or the theological offspring of
it. The relationship between the Jews and Christians of today is a
direct reflection of their history and is subsequently in need of
much repair. This was a history riddled with anti-Semitic doctrines
and teachings that, in the name of Christianity, beget a scathing
hatred so caustic that it would lead to the slaughter of millions of
Early Church Founders
Considered a founder of Replacement Theology, Justin the Martyr (100-165 A.D.), in his Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew (ca. 160 AD), surmised that the Jews, through their treatment of Christ, are the root cause of all "unrighteousness":
For other nations have not inflicted on us and on Christ this wrong to such an extent as you have, who in very deed are the authors of the wicked prejudice against the Just One, and us who hold by Him. For after that you had crucified Him, the only blameless and righteous Man,-- through whose stripes those who approach the Father by Him are healed,--when you knew that He had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, as the prophets foretold He would, you not only did not repent of the wickedness which you had committed, but at that time you selected and sent out from Jerusalem chosen men through all the land to tell that the godless heresy of the Christians had sprung up, and to publish those things which all they who knew us not speak against us. So that you are the cause not only of your own unrighteousness, but in fact of that of all other men.1
Among early Christianity's most prolific writers, none other was quite as influential as Origen (185-254 A.D.). As much of a philosopher as he was a theologian, Origen was considered one of the most innovative and creative thinkers of his time. Even so, he expressed nothing but contempt for the Jewish people, by way of open condemnation, for their treatment of Christ:
On account of their unbelief and other insults which they heaped upon Jesus, the Jews will not only suffer more than others in the judgment which is believed to impend over the world, but have even already endured such sufferings. For what nation is in exile from their own metropolis, and from the place sacred to the worship of their fathers, save the Jews alone? And the calamities they have suffered because they were a most wicked nation, which although guilty of many other sins, yet has been punished severely for none as for those that were committed against our Jesus.2
Still another example of anti-Semitism in the early Christian church can be found in the writings of the Archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom (344-407 A.D.). Known as the "greatest preacher in the early church", Chrysostom used his eloquent preaching style to advance his venomous hatred of the Jews by giving them the name, "assassins of Christ". In his Orations Against The Jews, Chrysostom unleashes:
The Jews sacrifice their children to Satan. They are worse than wild beasts. The Synagogue is a brothel, a den of scoundrels, the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults, a criminal assembly of Jews, a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, a gulf and abyss of perdition. The Jews have fallen into a condition lower than the vilest animal. Debauchery and drunkenness have brought them to a level of the lusty goat and the pig. They know only one thing: to satisfy their stomachs, to get drunk, to kill, and beat each other up like stage villains and coachmen. The Synagogue is a curse, obstinate in her error, she refuses to see or hear, she has deliberately perverted her judgment; she has extinguished with herself the light of the Holy Spirit...I hate the Jews because they violate the Law. I hate the Synagogue because it has the Law and the prophets. It is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews.3
It should be mentioned that
Chrysostom was later venerated as a "saint" by the Roman Catholic
Church. His assertions are said to have had a deep influence on
Christian attitudes toward the Jews, and his homilies and sermons
were used as tools for teaching in seminaries and colleges.
Subsequently, his anti-Semitic rhetoric --all of which was advanced in
the name of Christianity --is said to have been embraced by the Nazis
in the 1930's in an attempt to justify and facilitate a complete a
systematic elimination of the entire Jewish race.
In 1095, Pope Urban II delivered his infamous speech in front of a large crowd at the Council of Clermont, urging them to engage in a Christian "holy war" to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim rule. For their efforts, Urban II promised a complete remission of sins. Subsequently, the First Crusade was launched with the following words:
Although, O sons of God, you have promised more firmly than ever to keep the peace among yourselves and to preserve the rights of the church, there remains still an important work for you to do. Freshly quickened by the divine correction, you must apply the strength of your righteousness to another matter which concerns you as well as God. For your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impurity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands ... All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion!4
During the First Crusade, no less than three legions of "holy warriors" departed their central European cities en route to the Holy Land. Their journey would take a lethal, anti-Semitic turn into a region in western Germany known as the "Rhineland", an area with an abundant Jewish presence. Under the moniker, "Why fight Christ's enemies abroad when they are living among us?", coined by Count Emicho, a bloodlust ensued.
Led by Peter the Hermit and Count Emicho, thousands of Jews were forced to convert to Christianity. Those who resisted were slaughtered. 5,000 Jews were murdered and another 1,200 committed suicide rather than face conversion. Similar anti-Semitic persecutions and executions were sustained through eight more crusader expeditions --a period of time that spanned some 200 years.
Saint Thomas Aquinas
By the turn of the 13th century, a period
known as the "High Middle Ages", the Church had given birth to a
number of writers whose commentaries revealed a high level of
diversity in Christian dogma. Such diversity is of particular
importance in an analysis of Christian anti-Semitism. An example of
such diversity may be found by examining the writings of a
theologian whose philosophical discourses were as prolific as they
were influential. These were the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
"It must, however, be understood that their ignorance did not excuse them from crime, because it was, as it were, affected ignorance. For they saw manifest signs of His Godhead; yet they perverted them out of hatred and envy of Christ; neither would they believe His words, whereby He avowed that He was the Son of God...Yet we may hold that they are said to have known also that He was verily the Son of God, in that they had evident signs thereof: yet out of hatred and envy, they refused credence to these signs, by which they might have known that He was the Son of God."6
Through an examination of Aquinas' doctrine of "affected ignorance", one can conclude that it unequivocally stands in diametric opposition to the relevant teachings of the apostle Paul, who advocated that the Jews were guilty of "invincible ignorance" in that they were judicially "blinded" by God to the identity of Messiah. As such, Christian Zionism dogma is predicated upon an unequivocal cohesiveness with the teachings of the apostle Paul.
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written: 'The Deliver will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.' [Romans 11:25-26]
Unlike many of his predecessors, Aquinas did not advocate violence against the Jewish people for their role in the death of Christ. However, his writings concerning the Jews, particularly those which were predicated upon his doctrine of "affected ignorance", would certainly fuel the fires of anti-Semitism for generations to come.
Martin Luther: Precursor to the Holocaust
By the mid-16th century, the Christian church had produced numerous philosophers and theologians whose writings and rhetoric would serve as not only the source of hatred of the Jewish people, but the catalyst for the anti-Semitic venom that would riddle the annals of modern history. Unbeknownst to many of today's Christians, such hatred was advanced by none other than the "Father of Protestantism" himself, Martin Luther. Known primarily as the architect behind "The Reformation", Luther emerged with kindness towards the Jewish people, as evidenced in his book, That Jesus Christ was born a Jew. Luther's kindness apparently did not come without condition for it quickly turned to vitriol when his efforts to convert Jews to Christianity failed. In one of his last literary works, On the Jews and Their Lies, Luther begat an onslaught of hatred of the Jewish people on multiple fronts. Labeling them "the devil's people", he advocated the burning of Jewish synagogues, seizing and/or destroying their property to include their holiest books, and death:
If I had to baptize a Jew, I would take him to the river Elbe, hang a stone around his neck and push him over with the words `I baptize thee in the name of Abraham'...What then shall we do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?...I shall give you my sincere advice: first to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them... Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed...We ought to take revenge on the Jews and kill them...We are at fault for not slaying them.7
Unlike Luther in 1546, such anti-Semitic hatred would not meet its death. Indeed, it lived on, festered, and materialized into the modern era as it would arguably serve as a precursor to Nazi ideology. Such an assertion has been widely debated by those who maintain that Luther's rhetoric had little or no impact on the Nazi mindset. However, the implication of the Luther's influence is reinforced when one considers that it was none other than Julius Streicher, an architect of the Nazi propaganda machine, who was presented with a copy of Luther's book, On the Jews and Their Lies, in 1937 by the city of Nurembur --the very city in which he would later be tried, condemned and executed for his part in the slaughter of millions of Jews.
1 Martyr, J.,
& Slusser, M. (2003).
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