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Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy: The Promised Land, America and Israel, 1917-2002.

Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy: The Promised Land, America and Israel, 1917-2002. By Irvine H. Anderson. Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 2005. 187 pp. $39.95 paper.

Irvine H. Anderson's Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy joins a growing body of recent scholarship detailing the influence of evangelical (nonconformist) Christianity on British and American policy related to the establishment and support for the modern state of Israel. What sets his work apart is his focus on what he suggests to be the "predisposition" of Anglo-American Christians to formulate their opinions about Israel on the basis of biblical imagery picked up in childhood Sunday school classes.

The thesis here is that so many people in Britain and the United States have been influenced by childhood stories from the Bible about Abraham, Joshua, and the Promised Land and by what has come to be known as "End Times" or "Armageddon" theology that much of the electorate in both countries has been predisposed to support the return of the Jews to Palestine (Prologue, p. 1).

This predisposition is particularly noticeable in the perceptions of British and American Christians who were raised in churches that were part of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century revolt against theological liberalism. These churches became the seedbed for premillennial dispensationalism, which would give an eschatological shape to a pro-Israel narrative in both Britain and America, even though Anderson finds little evidence to support the assumption that it has had any kind of major impact on political policies in either nation.

Here Anderson parts company with writers such as Stephen Sizer, whose recent book, Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon (InterVarsity Press, 2005) claims a definitive role for premillennial dispensationalism in lending support to the aims of political Zionism. Anderson agrees with Sizer on the major impact of this eschatologically driven theology in shaping particularly the American evangelical narrative on Israel. He would also agree that it has had some role to play in the formulation of political policy. What is less certain to him is the extent of that role as he considers it just one of many interlocking factors related to the biblically based "predisposition" of British and American Christians towards Zionism.

The substantive value of Anderson's work lies in his insightful analysis of how this "predisposition" helped shape political policy at decisive moments in the establishment and consolidation of the Zionist agenda. This comes in the last three chapters where he notes, among other things, its operative role in the formulation of the Balfour declaration and polices of the British mandate, the decision of the Truman administration to offer immediate support to the Israeli declaration of statehood in 1948, the 1995 congressional vote on moving the American embassy to Jerusalem as well as America's current Middle Eastern policy. In each case, Anderson factors in this "predisposition" as a necessary part of the decision making process.

Anderson is certainly correct in his assumptions. Any historical treatment of the events in question must take into consideration the powerful grip of the biblical narrative on the Anglo-American Christian imagination. It should not be overstated. Neither can it be ignored.


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Author:Hubers, John
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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