06 September 2010

RFIA Draft Paper on Christian Zionism

Is Christian Zionism Based On “Bad Theology”?
Judith Mendelsohn Rood & Paul W. Rood Biola University
The current criticism of Christian Zionism (hereafter CZ) comes from many quarters: secularists (both Jews and Gentiles), many religious Jews, Christian Arabists, and Islamists (Hamas cleric Ahmed al-Tamimi identified CZ as “the greatest danger to world truth, justice, and peace”). Ironically, Christians are among the most vociferous critics of CZ. An evangelical critic of Zionism, Hank Hanegraaff, writes "much of American Middle East policy is influenced by a huge voting bloc of evangelicals who are taught not to question Israel’s divine right to the land… fueled in part by bad theology.” Anglican theologian Stephen Sizer maintains that a distinctive theology embraced by many evangelical Christians, known as dispensational pre-millennialism, is foundational to CZ and a root cause of the deadlocked Israel-Palestinian Arab conflict. He writes, “bad theology is probably the reason why many Christians don’t seem to care …. they hope to be raptured to heaven and avoid suffering the consequences of the coming global holocaust” that the policies they support will ignite. This caricature is unfair to Christian supporters of Israel and an intentional distortion of dispensationalism. Evangelical Gary Burge has deployed theology to demolish any Jewish connection to Zion, an interpretation that Christian Arab Mitri Raheb vigorously challenges, emphasizing the importance of the land in Palestinian theology and Jewish and Church history. The fact that some people claim to find theological justification for bad political policies does not necessarily indicate bad theology; bad policy more often springs from bad interpretations of history and contemporary events, interpreted with bad applications of ethics and theology.
What is “dispensational theology”?
The distinctive theological tenets of dispensationalism include belief in the authority of the Bible and a philosophy of Providential history framed within respect for the prophetic writings in the Bible, in which the unique past, present and future role of the nation of Israel occupies a central role in God’s plan. The term itself seems to imply that what is distinctive about this theology is its division of human history into distinct “ages” or “dispensations” (most dispensationalists identify seven ages, or more, stretching from the Creation of man through the future millennial age). However, all Christian theologies hold to some division of history into different eras, and Christians holding to traditional orthodox doctrine also affirm the authority of Scripture and historical Providence as well as distinctive historical periods in biblical history. What is most distinctive about dispensationalism is its belief in a future literal fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, including the restoration of the Jewish nation in the Holy Land during the Millennial Age.
Other systems of theology hold that God’s covenant with Israel was transferred to the Christian Church, which became the new Israel at Pentecost. Sizer says “(CZ) errs most profoundly because it fails to appreciate the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the ways in which the latter completes, fulfils and annuls the former.” In his view, the “bad theology” of dispensationalism, leads to blind support for the modern Jewish state of Israel and its “unjust” and “racist” policies. Sizer argues that the ethne, or People (Hebrew: ‘am) of Israel has no continuing theological significance during the Church Age, including no continuing or future role in providential history, nor a continuing valid connection to the land of Israel. Instead, in this view, there is no reason for the Jews to exist as a separate People of God because individual ethnic Jews, (like individual Gentiles), find fulfillment of their covenants and calling in Christ and His Church, in which they gain a new identity in Christ. Thus, they are no longer Jews, but Christians. This confusion of Israel as people with a territorial homeland, like the all the nations of the world, and Israel as a priesthood that leads them in the worship of God from Zion, as they did once and which they will do again, is a common error, an error which has led to Christian Anti-Semitism throughout the Church Age, the Age of the Nations.
Following the Holocaust, the Catholic Church articulated important theological statements concerning Israel and the Church in order to affirm that the Jewish People has a continuing significance in God’s plan. Similarly, some non-dispensational theologies give recognition to an enduring promise and blessing for Israel, believing the Kingdom of God as not fully realized until Christ’s future Second Advent when the redeemed from all of the nations, including the Jewish People, will be united in the Millennial Age. Other theological views are more explicit regarding Israel’s replacement, or fulfillment in Christ, and the “Kingdom of God” instituted in the Church, and completed progressively in history. In 1907, during the heyday of Progressivism, liberal theologian Walter Rauschenbusch spoke confidently of helping “to build the coming Messianic era of mankind” through a social gospel of the Kingdom. Similarly, many Jewish theologians, while rejecting the notion that God had replaced Israel with the Gentile Church, view the “Messianic Kingdom” as an activity of human progress, rather than the future accomplishment of Israel’s Messiah.
The wars and genocides of the twentieth century sobered many. Reinhold Niebuhr, a social gospel progressive of the 1920s who briefly flirted with Marxism, formulated his sober perspective of “Christian Realism” during WWII. While not embracing the dispensational system he commented favorably on its grounding in realism: “these various apocalyptic visions point to an interpretation of history in which there is no suggestion of a progressive triumph of good over evil, but rather a gradual sharpening of the distinction between good and evil.”

Current Concerns About Christian Zionism
According to a 2005 survey commissioned by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, evangelical Protestants are significantly more likely to believe that “God gave the land of Israel to the Jews” (72%) and that “Israel fulfills the Biblical prophecy about Jesus’ second coming” (63%). Many critics of CZ object that any faith in the literal fulfillment of prophecy is dangerous in and of itself; that “anticipation of the inevitable”, makes apocalyptic catastrophe more likely.
Others see less reason for alarm, appreciating CZs’ participation in the ongoing dynamic process by which contending perspectives check and balance each other, keeping American foreign relations grounded in our core values. Walter Russell Mead comments that for most evangelical Protestants, the “preservation of the Jews and their return to Israel is seen as proof that God acts in history — a very reassuring thought for people concerned about the dangers of modern life.” Mead notes that while some CZs may have their political judgment disoriented by apocalyptic speculation, “there are many others for whom it means just the opposite…. (that) this God is still around, still faithful to his promises, and still guiding humanity through the dangers that surround us. To be pro-Israel is to be pro-hope.”
Well, if mainstream CZs are relatively benign, how dangerous are the most zealous? The political philosopher Erik Voegelin warned of the dangerous desire to actualize eschatological events, describing this as the attempt to “Immanentize the Eschaton” by transfiguring reality through esoteric deeds, rituals or violent practices. Dispensationalism’s eschatological seriousness has led some errant adherents to become infected with a pathology which overrules or even violates their faith in Divine prophetic fulfillment. A few extreme outliers may attempt to use their own power to implement policies or create conditions to initiate the apocalypse. Responsible religious leaders need to guard against this deceit and guide their congregations toward a rational and normative obedience to the moral law and the Gospel.
Today, the most visible of the CZ organizations, CUFI (Christians United for Israel) and the ICEJ (International Christian Embassy in Jersusalem), provide necessary advocacy to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, promote Israel as a liberal democracy and support Israel’s legitimate security needs. As Christians, they are motivated by a sense of shame about the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, and indebtedness to the Jewish people for the faith of their Patriarchs, and their transmission of Holy Scripture to mankind. However, to varying degrees these organizations have lost the sober bearings of earlier Christian Zionists and normative dispensationalists, who accepted the brute reality that Israel (like all states, churches and people) is fallen, with a capacity to violate rights and commit acts of injustice – the very sins condemned by the Hebrew prophets -- and that such violations of God’s eternal moral law could never be justified by the necessity for prophetic fulfillment. Examples of our areas of concern are summarized below.
Territorial Compromise and Peace Negotiations
CZ media channels frequently send out dire warnings over any threatened loss of occupied territory. Strategic defense, civilian safety and security measures are factors for legitimate concern; it is another thing for some CZ leaders to view the territories currently under Israeli occupation as Jewish by right of divinely ordained conquest, causing them to view territorial compromise as unbiblical, opposing diplomatic negotiations that might lead to Palestinian self-government. Over the centuries, the three monotheistic faiths have battled over the sacred spaces in the Holy Land. Israeli fundamental law is committed to maintain the peaceful shared use of the holy sites, so some compromises over sacred geography must be acknowledged, rather than strenuously opposed by extreme CZ leaders.
Many dispensationalists have spoken out to guide their followers away from these dangerous positions. The full extent of the land promised to Abraham’s seed (Gen. 15:18), expounded further by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 47:15-20), has never been under the control of a sovereign Jewish state. While the People of Israel is regathering and their homeland re-established, the territorial restoration of the Jewish nation, and their service to their King and Savior Jesus Christ, is a future eschatological event. The late Louis Goldberg, wrote in 1997, “all of the land which God has provided cannot be a current concern for negotiation. Some Israelis lay claim to the land now, but it will only be a reality when …. an entire generation of Israelis, in the midst of frightful pressures, call upon the Lord in their land…then, and only then, will Israel take title to all the land God promised through His prophet Ezekiel.”
Although most dispensationalists believe that in the last days Israel will enter into a peace treaty for seven years, later broken after 3 ½ years, marking the beginning of the catastrophic events of the Tribulation, they understand that no peace treaty made by men lasts forever, and many treaties are preferable to no treaty. No one can be sure this or that treaty is the end of days treaty mentioned in Daniel 9:27. Dispensationalist theologian, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, expressed a pragmatic view: “I am not against Israeli withdrawal from either the Gaza Strip or from segments of the West Bank. It may save Jewish lives….concerning the roadmap for peace … whatever peace is attained through human effort will be temporary at best.” The Israeli people and their government are in the best position to make pragmatic policy decisions concerning negotiations with the Palestinians, and their Christian friends should support their diplomatic efforts.
CZ and Compassionate Justice
Many CZ leaders view the humanitarian and political crisis of the Palestinian Arabs, as self-inflicted, and some would say, even divine retribution for their opposition to the State of Israel. Whatever truth may lie in this perspective, it is no excuse for indifference toward the suffering of innocents and failure to support programs for Palestinian education, development and reconciliation. CZ organizations fund West Bank Jewish settlements, ignoring projects that seek to strengthen civil society and public safety in the West Bank and Gaza. Fortunately, there are a few Christian organizations, like Seeds of Hope in Jericho, that empower Palestinians with education and micro-business projects that bring hope and healing to both Jews and Palestinians. CZ leaders have also failed to advocate for full religious and political rights for Christian Palestinians and Messianic Jews. Christians who want to show their love for the Jewish people should be willing to share about the One who loves us so much, and to defend the rights of those who do. Indeed, local Israeli Messianic and evangelical Arab congregations are among the groups most actively involved in reconciliation ministries.
Dr. Mark Bailey, President of Dallas Theological Seminary, considered the pre-eminent center of dispensationalist theology, notes that Ezekiel’s prophesy of Israel’s return is to a land with non-Jewish peoples, including their ancient Arab kin, “You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” (Ezekial 47:21-22). He urges, “We act most like Christ when we seek to bring God’s perspective and peace to a situation.”

Was early Christian Zionism different?
Dispensationalism did not produce any heavyweight political ethicists or international relations theorists like Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Ramsey, or neo-Christian Realist Jean Bethke Elshtain. Nevertheless, dispensationalists are clearly more (though not entirely) futurist regarding the Kingdom of God and fundamentally in agreement with the pragmatism of the realists, who recognize as operating principles the need for deterrence and restraint of evil, activated by an ethic of compassionate justice for a suffering world.

The politicized form of CZ that has risen to prominence today differs greatly from the earliest CZ perspectives of a century ago. Proto-CZ emerged out of the Protestant Reformation, drawing from both Hebrew Scriptures (the Tanakh) and the early Church. These interpretations of prophecies focus on the regathering and restoration of the People of Israel to their ancient homeland, as well as the spiritual redemption of the nation which will enable them to practice their spiritual calling on behalf of all the nations of the world. As many recently published historical studies have documented, these early perspectives varied significantly, some focusing on the spiritual redemptionist aspect of large masses of individual Jews turning to faith in Jesus as Messiah; others focused on the restorationist miracle of Jewish preservation and their modern regathering in their ancient homeland. Most held to elements of both.
Political Zionism arose only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nearly all Jewish leaders opposed the movement, as did quite a few dispensationalist Christians. Support for political Zionism gradually emerged across a broad spectrum of Anglo-American Christians and Reformed Jews, largely motivated in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the suffering of millions of displaced Jews expelled by rising forces of nationalism and anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe.

In 1878, Chicago businessman and dispensationalist William E. Blackstone, wrote a best-selling theological book, Jesus is Coming, outlining the Biblical prophecies concerning the restoration of national Israel as a preparation for Jesus’ second Messianic return. He did not become a CZ activist until ten years later, when he witnessed and compassionately responded to the mass expulsions of over two million poor, stateless Jews from the Russian Pale of Settlement.
In 1891, Blackstone drafted and circulated the historic “Blackstone Memorial Petition” proposing an international conference to establish a refuge for homeless Jews in Palestine. Signed by over 400 of America’s leading citizens, statesmen and religious leaders, the Petition addressed issues of humanitarian justice and natural-rights, opening with the words “What shall be done for the Russian Jews?” The Petition urged the European and American heads of state to convene an international conference addressing the following: expulsions and property seizures in Europe, immigration/emigration to Palestine, and territorial issues leading to “security and autonomy in self government”. It noted that the equitable resolution of these issues involved a bundle of competing rights and claims – but it contained no theological statement concerning prophetic fulfillment. The only religious connection was to acknowledge and seek to repair the long history of Jewish persecution in the Christian nations by appealing to an appreciation of their shared biblical heritage.

The principles laid out by Blackstone were remarkably similar to those of the Balfour Declaration and League of Nation’s Mandate for Palestine three decades later. This is why Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, leader of the American Zionist Movement, asked William Blackstone to reissue his Memorial Petition in 1916, believing it incorporated the principles upon which a just and humanitarian Jewish homeland movement could be founded. Brandeis hailed “that document, ante-dating as it did Theodore Herzl’s own participation in the Zionist movement, is destined to become of historical significance” and called Blackstone “the true founder of Zionism.”
Early Christian Zionism and the Arabs
Other early dispensationalists were similarly grounded in realism, clearly appreciating the rights and hopes of the Arabs in Mandatory Palestine (in this period it was the Jewish residents of Palestine who were called “Palestinians”. After 1948, the usage shifted as they became “Israelis” and their Arab neighbors in Israel and the places they were scattered began to be called “Palestinians”.) Jewish Christian Rev. Sabbtai Rohold, founder of the evangelical Haifa Mission in 1920, wrote: “I believe with all my heart and soul in the absolute, full restoration of the Jew, and I believe also at the present time in the partial return of the Jew to Palestine, but there are many difficulties…. Modern Zionism is the result of anti-Semitism, but six hundred thousand Arabs cannot be brushed aside…. As for the great plans and pretenses, good offices, and the sympathy of the nations, that is beautiful; but let me tell you, and I repeat it emphatically, that the undercurrents are too many.” Rohold was adamant that his Haifa Mission school, Jewish immigrant shelter, and medical clinic would maintain warm and supportive relations with his Moslem and Christian Arab neighbors. In Rohold’s school, Jewish immigrants would learn Arabic first, and then Hebrew. His Hebrew congregation would celebrate the Biblical feasts and also join with the Christian Arab congregation for Christmas Eve and Easter Morning worship. The clinic and school staff were a mixture of Arabs and Jews. Rohold pursued his pragmatic program of humanitarian refuge, reconciliation and gospel witness through each difficult day and week from 1921, through the Arab riots of 1929 and the ensuing years of violent resistance to Jewish immigration, up until his death in 1931.
Bible scholar David L. Cooper, whose classic works of dispensational theology shaped several generations of theologians and Christian Zionists, wrote in 1939 on the growing tensions between Arab and Jew in Palestine: “Those who know God and His Word have a sympathy and love for every race, tribe, tongue, and people. Especially so, the Arabic people because they too are descendants of Abraham. …These people have a right to live in the land because of the history of the past one thousand years…. To them this is their home.… The birthright of every individual coming into the world grants him an opportunity to live and pursue peace and happiness…No man or group of men are able…to harmonize the conflicting claims of the Jews and Arabs in Palestine…Thus with ill-will toward none, but with the kindliest feelings toward all parties concerned, we shall pray very earnestly to God to have His will in this matter and to unravel the difficulty for the advancement of His cause among men.”
Blackstone, Rohold and Cooper were among the most widely known dispensational Bible teachers in America, yet their pragmatic foreign policy and international relations views were remarkably consistent with those expressed a generation later by the Christian Realist and Zionist Reinhold Niebuhr. The more liberal Niebuhr scorned the prophetic literalism of evangelical revivalists, stating “we feel as embarrassed as anti-Zionist religious Jews when messianic claims are used to substantiate the right of the Jews to the particular homeland in Palestine”. Nevertheless, he shared with other early CZs a case for Zionism framed in the language of justice. Niebuhr’s clear response to the anti-Semitism of Europe and the racial policies of the Nazi’s, was to affirm that “many Christians are pro-Zionist in the sense that they believe that a homeless people require a homeland”. Ten years after its dramatic establishment, Niebuhr wrote, “History is full of strange configurations. Among them is the thrilling emergence of the State of Israel.” Dispensationalists viewed these events as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Nevertheless, their faith did not fundamentally overrule their profound pragmatic realism nor deter them from following an ethic of compassionate justice.
Tony Maalouf presents a scholarly interpretation of the interwoven history and Biblical prophecies concerning the shared destiny and blessing of the Jewish and Arab peoples in his book Arabs in the Shadow of Israel. Maalouf, an evangelical Arab theologian, and self-described progressive dispensationalist, views the current divide between many evangelical CZs and anti-Zionists as “a crisis of interpretation of history and theology.” Maalouf counsels Christians to prioritize “the redemptive mandate over the political agendas…and invest in the spiritual awakening predicted among both the Arabs and the Jews. Removing unwarranted biases against Arabs, which neither Bible nor history sustains, would play a healing role in the Middle East conflict”.
The crisis of contemporary Christian Zionism is not “bad theology”, but “bad praxis”. The faithful Gospel witness and ethic of compassionate justice demonstrated by the early Christian “lovers of Zion” is a model that can restore this movement to be a pragmatic, constructive and healing partner.

03 September 2010

God's Work in History or Tikkun Olam?

Sep 3, 2010

Beyond Repair
Is tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of “healing the world,” as dangerous as David Horowitz says it is?

By Marissa Brostoff | Tablet Magazine [Online] Sep 3, 2010 at


At long last the concept of Tikkun Olam is being interrogated for its emphasis on our ability to achieve justice in the world. Only God can do this. It is time for us to begin to reframe the rabbinical paradigm which Neusner surfaced in his study of Jewish historiography. Biblical history is not allegorical; and the escape to Talmud was a response forced upon Jews by their loss of sovereignty and their sense that God had removed Himself from history. We need to reconsider the concept of providential history and recover our sense of God’s ongoing work in world history. Dispensational Premillennialists, normally understood as Evangelical Fundamentalists, represent a stream of Jewish thought did recognize the import of the end of Jewish Temple service and sovereignty in 586 B.C. and understands the shift to the Age of the Nations that some rabbis discerned in the Tanakh. Messianic Judaism appeals to Jews who have confidence that God is acting providentially in history, and that His Tikkun Olam is yet future, in the Messianic, Millennial Kingdom when Israel will be fully restored to its service to the Nations from Zion. At that time all of the nations created God will worship Him from Zion, just as God promised. The injustice and imperfection of our age is a function of the international state system that is governed by human passions and interests in disobedience to God. However, it is impossible for them to obey Him through their own efforts. Only by working in the will of God, revealed in His Word, the Bible, can rebellious mankind repent and be reconciled with God. In this Age we have an opportunity to relate to God in our Savior, the Jewish messiah, who atoned for the sins of the Jewish people and all nations, and at the end of this Age, God will come to judge the nations and establish His Kingdom. Before that happens, the doors of the Kingdom will finally be closed to those who don’t recognize Yeshua as God and King. This understanding of human history is at the heart of Christian Zionism and Messianic Judaism.

08 April 2010

What We Choose to Remember: Jerusalem in World History

What We Choose to Remember: Jerusalem in World History

As I prepare to participate in a conference called “What We Choose to Remember” at the University of Portland on the Holocaust and the Arab-Israel Conflict next week, I have been thinking more and more about the controversy over a parcel of land in the district in West Jerusalem called Mamilla.

Readers who recognize the place name, Mamilla, will know that this is the site that was chosen by the Jerusalem municipality to be the future home of the L.A.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance. The Muslim community in Israel brought the case to the Israeli Supreme Court, which has ruled that although it had served as an important Muslim cemetery for centuries, because the Mufti had closed the cemetery and that it had been unused for many years, there were no legal grounds to prevent the construction of the museum.

The court did not consider the fact that the parcel remained a property of the Salahiyyah Waqf, evidently on logic that since the Muslim authorities themselves had decided to develop the land for commercial and educational purposes it was no longer a cemetery, and that the State, as the custodian of public land—which in Israel often had been endowed to the Muslim community for centuries—had the right to dispose of as it chose. Muslim descendants of those buried in the cemetery have taken their case to the U.N. in the hope that the international community will intervene. Clearly this case has enormous consequences for deciding land tenure disputes between Palestinians and Israelis, especially in light of Hamas’ claim that all land in Palestine is Waqf endowed in perpetuity to the Muslim community—including all Jewish and Christian properties in Israel and Palestine.

There has been scarce mention of the horrific massacre of Byzantine Christian residents by Jews in the extensive coverage of the museum controversy. Although the incident is well-attested in the historical record, despite the discovery and analysis of the physical evidence over almost twenty years and the fact that it is the subject of an important scholarly article on the way that the massacre has been treated by Christian, Jewish and Israeli historians, its significance has been ignored in the public controversy over the museum.

History is stranger than fiction, and the kaleidoscope of alliances and conflicts in the Middle East is strange indeed. One of the darkest chapters of the history of Jerusalem occurred during a great superpower conflict in the seventh century A.D. between the Christian heirs of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Christians, and their inveterate enemies in Persia, the Sasanian Zoroastrians. This chapter was unearthed in 1992, as the ground was being prepared for the construction of a municipal parking lot in West Jerusalem, not far from the King David Hotel and the YMCA in the Mamilla commercial district of Jerusalem, not far from the Old City. The construction crew uncovered a cave bearing the Greek inscription, “Only God Knows Their Names” and filled with thousands upon thousands of bone fragments.

Israeli archeologist Ronny Reich excavated the cave, verifying that it was a mass burial site for the victims of a well-known massacre committed during the epic Byzantine-Sasanian War. Jews and Persians joined forces in the Galilee, and together destroyed Byzantine churches and other Christian buildings up and down the coast from Antioch to Gaza in 614 A.D. All of the churches and Christian buildings in Palestine, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem were destroyed, and the remnants of the True Cross was taken triumphantly to Persia. The Persians ransomed their hostages to the Jewish fighters, who then marched them to the Mamilla Pool and slaughtered them. The only church that remained untouched at this time was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, because the Persians, recognizing the Magi depicted in a mosaic as Persian sages, decided to leave it unharmed. The war permanently shaped the Christian built environment in Jerusalem and its rural hinterlands, the Galilee, and along the Lebanese coast. Christian chroniclers preserved the memory of the massacre. Ultimately, the Persians withdrew in 617 A.D. and the Byzantines began to rebuild. All of this occurred before the beginning of Islamic history

The Biblical Archeology Review published Reich’s discoveries in 1996. In 2000, physical anthropologist Yossi Nagar reported the results of studies conducted on the forensic evidence and published on the Israel Antiquities Authority website. That evidence shows that the Greek-speaking Christian population of the city was neither Jewish nor Arab. Of the estimated 24,000-90,000 victims reported by chroniclers at the time of the massacre, only 526 individuals could be identified, although the large number of fragments suggested that thousands of victims were interred in the cave. The ratio of 38 males to 100 females indicates that those slain in the massacre were primarily Christian women, aged 30-35 years old. The archeologists speculate that this was because most of the city’s male inhabitants were fighting at the front, and the women stayed behind. Many of these were nuns. Apparently there were few children or elderly inhabitants.

When Umar took the city from the Byzantines in 636 he agreed to the surrendering Greek patriarch’s request that Jews not be allowed back into the city, although ultimately the Muslims did permit them to return; the first time during the Umayyad Period, and the second when Saladin conquered the city in 1187 A.D. Umar is famed in Jerusalem for his humility in resanctifying the site of the Temple and for leaving the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Christian hands. Among the Muslim tombs, there are Christian sepulchres dating from the Crusader Period in the small remaining area of the cemetery. When Saladin defeated the Crusaders in 1187, he endowed the Mamilla district, where he had established his headquarters, as a trust in his charitable foundation, called the Salahiyah Waqf. This trust, logically, also administered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other Christian and Muslim institutions established before 1187 and during the Ayyubid period. The Waqf Administration continued to administer these even under British, Jordanian and Israeli rule. During the British Mandate, the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini, co-founder, with Hassan al-Banna, of the Muslim Brotherhood, closed the cemetery and rededicated the parcel, still part of the Salahiyyah Waqf, for the purpose of building an Arab university on the site. The Palace Hotel, a beautiful example of late-Ottoman architecture recently demolished and currently being rebuilt as luxury condominiums and boutiques, was built to provide income for the development of the future university. The Muslim authorities envisioned the university as a centerpiece of the new commercial district, which had been developed primarily by non-Jews during the Mandate Period.

The Palace Hotel was taken over for use by the Israeli government at the time of the ceasefire. The cemetery at Mamilla became an overgrown corner of Independence Park, covered by trash and weeds an unsafe place for anyone to go. The Muslim community, however, remembered it and the notables who were buried there, but few others were even aware of it. Retired Muslim judge Shaykh Muhammad As’ad al-Imam al-Husseini gave me a guided tour of the cemetery in 1986, pointeing out some of the graves of dignitaries, including former mayors of Jerusalem and other notables I was writing about in my doctoral dissertation.

Theological differences between the three Abrahamic religions have become more and more pronounced as secular nationalism has failed to solve political and social conflicts in the Middle East, allowing fundamentalist religious ideologies to fill in the gap. The legacy of Christianity and Islam in Jerusalem is slowly being effaced through the neglect of the city’s non-Jewish architectural legacy and the emigration of the city’s secular Jewish and Palestinian Muslim and Christian inhabitants. While the significance of the Holy City to Jews and Muslims threatens to ignite apocalyptic warfare, the significance of the city to Christians nearly has been buried in the ashes of the Holocaust.

The idea believers in the God of Abraham, Jews, Muslims and Christians together should hallow the blood-soaked ground of Mamilla may not be the strangest of all the options for this blood-drenched parcel of land.

Jerusalem, in the words of an Islamic court document written in the 19th century, is “desired by all the nations.” Each generation has left its own imprint. The Israeli Supreme Court, in a decision about the excavation of King David’s Palace in the tiny village of Silwan just outside the walls of the Old City in East Jerusalem, ruled in favor of the dig, explaining that,

"the rich historical past of the country… is folded layer upon layer in its earth. The chronicles of the country and the land, the nations who dwelt there, have been relegated to the pages of history books, buried over the course of years under the earth and have turned into its hidden treasures. …Though Israel is a young country, it has deep roots in the history of mankind and throughout the length and breadth of the country, the earth is saturated with the remnants of ancient civilizations that lived in and created on this land for thousands of years, both before and after the common era.”

Like the City of David, Mamilla

has both national and international importance, and is not only important to the Jewish people, rather it has importance to anyone who wishes to investigate the history of the area which is the cradle of the monotheistic religions. The importance of the archaeological research isn't only to understand the history of the land and to verify the truth of the facts we know from our sources, but … sheds light on the development of human culture. Therefore, its importance overrides nations and borders.

The Mamilla Massacre is a dark chapter in the annals of the Jewish people, a sobering and necessary reminder of what hatred and the desire for revenge can breed in the human heart. If Jews, Christians, and Muslims can come together to find a way together to create a hallowed space for confession, repentance, and reconciliation, perhaps Mamilla can serve not only as a place of commemoration and warning, but also as a place of sanctification, where we can stand in awe and terror before God, pleading for mercy and forgiveness for what has been done in His name and praying for those whose names only He remembers.

Mamilla offers two lessons. The first lesson, that Jews have committed outrages against their enemies, is one that the Jewish people must remember and acknowledge. At a time when Jewish-Muslim relations have never been worse, and Jewish-Christian relations are continually strained, the second lesson, that Jerusalem is a city of world historical importance to non-Jews, is of no less consequence.

03 January 2010

Sabbatical Beginnings

As I participated in various services and gatherings building up to Christmas day, I was deeply saddened that no one prayed for peace between Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians, Palestinians and Israelis, and the Jewish People and the Church in the land where our Savior was born.

I've struggled to understand why American evangelicals avoid praying about Israel and her neighbors, especially at Christmas. With all of the nativity scenes, cards depicting the maji, the celebration of the advent, when we are all thinking about the miracle in Bethlehem, why no prayers for the people who are living daily with the consequences of God's appearance in human history?

Salim Munayer, the founder and director of Musalaha Ministry, wrote a letter this Christmas reflecting on this very question. He thinks that God’s message of peace and reconciliation in Christ is central to the meaning of Christmas.

I'm copying it here verbatim because he passionately writes that this message "should be the center of our focus, a message that we live and share with others." Salim's thoughts are poignant to me, and I want to share them with you. Following his letter, I write a little bit more about my upcoming sabbatical plans:

"Recently, while I was touring a visitor around Bethlehem, I took the time to stop and look out over the fields traditionally known as Shepherd’s Field, where the shepherds are said to have been keeping watch over their flocks when an angel of the Lord appeared to them in Luke 2. I was reminded of this story as Christmas time is near, and thought to myself that the fields must not have been much different than they are now. As I stood there, something else caught my eye. Just a few kilometers away, stands the imposing mountain-tower of Herodian. Herodian was Herod’s hill-top, summer time palace, overlooking the town of Bethlehem. The proximity of the two historic locations struck me, especially given the extent to which they were interwoven in the narrative of Christ’s birth. They represent two polar opposites, the political, arrogant power of Herod’s palace, and the simple, rustic fields where the shepherds slept.

Seeing these two spots also brought into sharp focus the politically subversive nature of the angel’s announcement on that starry night. The angel spoke to the shepherds, saying “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Luke 2:10) Most people interpret this to mean that the shepherds were afraid of the angels. But I can imagine them casting a nervous glance over the angel’s shoulder towards Herod’s palace, knowing that he would not be happy about a “Savior” being born in the “city of David.” Essentially what the angel was suggesting could be perceived as an act of rebellion against the cruel reign of Herod. The palace of Herodian did not instill in them feelings of loyalty or pride. They knew it was there as a reminder of Herod’s military power and the Roman power behind him. It was not there to watch over them, but to watch them. In spite of this, they still chose to obey the angels and go see Jesus.

We are always faced with choices concerning loyalty. We chose to whom our loyalty goes. Are we loyal to the worldly, political power, or to the message of good news? We’re not always forced to make this choice, but sometimes we are and there are consequences that stem from our choices. For example, Herod’s power was real, and in his paranoia, he ordered all the male children in the Bethlehem area to be killed, a massacre of the innocents. Jesus and his parents Joseph and Mary had to flee into exile in Egypt, and only returned after Herod’s death. From the beginning accepting the message of Jesus has come with a price. But the power of God’s message is stronger than all earthly expressions of might. Mary was also faced with a frightening situation when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, telling her that she would bear the Messiah. She immediately questioned because she was a virgin. She knew that a pregnancy for her, as an unmarried woman could mean death. But Gabriel calmed her fears, and told her, “with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

This is the kind of attitude we need, especially when we try to work towards reconciliation. Stepping out and calling for an end to hatred and violence will always leave you vulnerable to accusations. You will quickly be labeled a “traitor,” and someone who betrays their own people. It is easy to be discouraged, to look at the conflict and think it is impossible to stop. But “with God nothing will be impossible.” This is a promise from God. Where is Herod now? What has happened to the mighty Roman Empire? God will do great things with us and through us if we are willing to take up his message, and join the angels in singing, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.'"

Thus ends Salim's message.

As I begin my sabbatical, my focus will be turned fully to my lifetime study of Middle Eastern and Islamic history and how I can deploy what I know to foster reconciliation with the tools of the historian. I am praying that I will be able to go to Jerusalem again in March, this time as a Fulbright Specialist, to help al-Quds University develop curriculum for its new honors college.

In January I'll be travelling to Dallas to meet with the other 399 North American delegates to Cape Town this October, where we will join the other 1100 delegates from around the world to discuss the issues facing the Church and its calling on Earth.

My writing projects all revolve around the issue of God's mission for the nations, the Arab-Israel Conflict, and Islam today. I pray that God will use me and that I will be able to do all that He asks. I thank God for the support Biola University has given me and I just pray that I will use my time well, that I will be strong and healthy enough to undertake these trips, trusting that the Lord will provide for all of my financial needs, and that these opportunities and adventures will enrich my classes to benefit my students.

Near East Update: Follow this link to view the video on Saddam Hussein in which I appear.

Near East Update: Follow this link to view the video on Saddam Hussein in which I appear.