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Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews and the Idea of the Promised Land, by Shalom Goldman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.  367 pp.  $35.00.

 

Zionism is normally viewed as a Jewish political cause. This is the picture presented by such works as Arthur Hertzberg’s 1959 anthology, The Zionist Idea, which makes no mention of Christian precursors of the Zionist idea. Recently, however, a number of works have focused on Christian Zionism, such as Stephen Sizer’s Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon. Goldman’s informative and lucidly written volume supplements such studies by providing an illuminating account of Christian engagement with Zionism through six narratives set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

              The first three chapters, dealing with the period before the creation of the Jewish state, relate the stories of three personal and political relationships: the poet Naphtali Herz Imber and the British diplomat and journalist Laurence Oliphant; the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl and the Anglican cleric William Hechler; and the Hebrew University professor Joseph Klausner and the Hebraist Herbert Danby.

              The next three chapters, set in the twentieth century, focus on organizational issues. Chapter Four tells the story of the Vatican’s engagement with the State of Israel. Chapter Five deals with three modern literary figures: Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Graves, and Vladimir Nabokov and their support for the State of Israel. The final chapter focuses on modern Christian Zionism.

              These six chapters are preceded by an extensive discussion of Zionism as a political movement which treats such themes as the notion of the promised land, the Anglican communion, and the Protestant churches’ view of the return to Zion, the United States and the restoration of the Jews, early scholarship on Christians and Zionism, Zionism and the Jewish-Christian relationship, and evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Israel. This material serves as a helpful background to the studies which follow. Yet it would have been better to have a sweeping survey of the history of Jewish and Christian Zionism from its early origins to the establishment of the Jewish state. This would have enabled the reader to place the figures mentioned in subsequent chapters into a coherent chronological context.

              Yet despite the diffuse nature of Goldman’s narrative, the detailed accounts of diplomats, thinkers, poets, and scholars are illuminating. The discussion of Laurence and Alice Oliphant’s encounter with Naphtali Herz Imber, for example, gives a fascinating insight into the thought-world of early supporters of a Jewish homeland. Similarly, the chapter dealing with Theodor Herzl and his Christian associates fills in the gaps of most historical accounts of Herzl’s involvement with William Hechler and others. Again, the final chapter which deals with Jewish settlers and Christian Zionists from 1967 to 2007 affords an insightful overview of the growing Christian Zionist movement and its involvement with Israeli politics. Although Goldman does not seek to provide an historical overview of the Christian involvement with Zionism, his book nonetheless adds an important dimension to the understanding of Christian-Jewish encounter in the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Dan Cohn-Sherbok

University of Wales