Zeal for Zion: Christian, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land.
Nephtali Herz Imber, author of the Israeli national anthem Hatikvah, died in the United States in 1909 far from the land of Israel that he had such hopes for. He had become a Bohemian and Kabbalist, "an impoverished and chronic alcoholic" (77). However, in his last years he recalled two eccentric Christian Zionists who had been so influential in his life; "the sweet face of Alice, which has always inspired me, and the aristocratic face of Laurence" (43). It was to Alice and Laurence Oliphant that he had dedicated a volume of his poetry that included Hatikvah.
The story of Imber's relationship with the Oliphants is one of six narratives that make up Shalom Goldman's groundbreaking monograph on "the Christian involvement with Zionism" (1). Goldman argues that "for the most part, Christians do not feature in [the traditional] Zionist narrative except as antagonists ... histories of Zionism therefore focus on the Jewish proponents of Jewish territorial nationalism" (1). The author hopes to revive interest and knowledge in the variety, diversity, and richness of Zionism's relationship with Christian supporters. This is a worthy goal.
For many years scholars have shown increasing interest in the Protestant evangelical support for Zionism, particularly in the United States. Research on the subject has been published since the 1970s but Goldman rightly points out that these narrow studies "focused on one particular subset of fundamentalist evangelical Protestants" (15). Therefore, "today a comprehensive study of the topic is more important than ever" (15).
Goldman is well placed to provide such a study. A professor of Hebrew and Middle Eastern studies at Emory University, he has published on Hebraism in the United States and related subjects. His research for this volume relies on primary sources, generally the writings of the people involved in the relationships he highlights. It appears here that the choice of G. K. Chesterton, a leading Anglophone Catholic, is partly due to the accessibility of the language and a desire to use the primary material that might not be possible choosing a Catholic whose language was Italian or French.
Since Goldman set out to examine Christian relationships with Jewish Zionists, it would seem appropriate that those being highlighted actually were Christian. This doesn't appear to be the case with the Oliphants. Laurence Oliphant, a British diplomat and journalist, became a member of an American religious cult and then set himself to supporting British and Zionist interests in Palestine in the 1880s. However, "the Oliphants assured Imber that they had 'left Christianity'" (61). The problem of the "Christians" highlighted in this volume is also found in Theodore Herzl's relationship with the Hungarian Orientalist Arminius Vambery. Vambery "was a Christian in only a limited sense for he had been born into a Jewish family and later converted to Islam and then to Christianity" (117). Even Herzl felt that "he is more Turk than Englishman, writes in German ... and has professed five religions" (125). The choice of those who were not Christian or had abandoned Christianity in a book about the Christian "Zeal for Zion" seems problematic and the decision to include them is not altogether clear.
The story of Herbert Danby in chapter 3 is a fascinating one. Danby, an Oxford-educated Anglican priest, was hired by the anti-Zionist Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Rennie Miles MacInnes, to be an "interlocutor with the city's various Jewish communities" (138). It was an odd but good choice for Danby, who was not only a truly committed Zionist bur an expert translator of the Mishnah and proved a brilliant editor of the Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society. Goldman highlights his relationship with Joseph Klausner, a "prolific historian and literary scholar" (146), who was also a right-wing Zionist and professor at the newly opened Hebrew University. Here the author reveals an interesting story, that Klausner was pushed out of his desired professorship by "the political and cultural orientation of the university's founders" (146).
The Catholic relationship with Israel, both intellectual and historical, is one that remains to some degree unexplored. Uri Bialer's Cross on the Star of David (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005) began to reveal the political relationship, and Goldman has now provided insight into its other nuances. G. K. Chesterton and Jacques Maritan "exerted considerable influence on Catholic intellectuals in the United States" (166), and Maritan "transformed the Dominican order's attitudes towards Jews and the State of Israel" (167). Similarly, the light the author sheds on Jorge Luis Borges's interest in the Jewish state is a fascinating exploration of one side of this literary giant's life.
By choosing to highlight relationships rather than present a thematic or chronological all-encompassing history, the author breaks his subject up into a variety of case studies. This allows the reader to better digest the material and provides a clearer window into the special relationships that molded Zionists to their Christian fellow travelers. However, oddly, there is very little synthesis or analysis drawn out of the six studies. This results partly from the fact that there is no connection between, for instance, American Christian fundamentalists (chapter 6) and Catholic thinkers on Zionism (chapter 4). The addition of a conclusion, tying together the various strands, charting the waters that have just been navigated, and providing a needed contrast would have improved the text greatly. Nevertheless, the material that has been drawn on and the way in which new light has been shed on a diverse group of Christian supporters of Zionism is a most welcome and important addition to the literature.
Seth J. Frantzman
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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|Author:||Frantzman, Seth J.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2011|
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