The Gospel According to Joe

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Joseph Farah, editor of WorldNetDaily.com, recently set his sights on former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley, who has written and lectured widely on the subject of Israel, the Israeli lobby, and American foreign policy. Farah hasn’t quite mastered that really complicated distinction between explaining an event and excusing an event. Because Findley points to our country’s unswerving support for Israel as a source of ongoing irritation and frustration in the Muslim world, he is, in Farah’s view, guilty of "blaming America" for the September 11 attacks.

Findley, says Farah, "shares that view with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Syrian President Bashar Assad, the mullahs of Iran, the sheikhs of Hamas and the fanatical terrorists of Hezbollah."

Subtle, Mr. Farah isn’t. By the end of the article, Congressman Findley is being described as an "anti-Semite," though Farah has done exactly nothing to substantiate the charge. (Shocking and unheard of, I know, to see reckless charges of anti-Semitism being thrown around.) And he’s apparently drawing from the National Organization for Women’s playbook: You’re against abortion? Well, so are Syrian President Bashar Assad, the mullahs of Iran, the sheikhs of Hamas….

According to Farah, one of Findley’s sins is that he "thinks most Americans don’t understand the complexities of the Middle East debate because they have been hoodwinked and deceived." Now no one in his right mind denies the existence of an Israeli lobby, least of all the Israeli lobby itself, which has repeatedly and publicly taken great pride in its achievements on behalf of Israel. If I wanted to open up that can of worms, I could cite a practically endless series of quotations from prominent members of that lobby, in which they openly and proudly boast of their influence. But I trust most readers will appreciate that Farah is simply being disingenuous here.

Moreover, it’s just a fact that most Americans don’t understand the complexities of the Middle East, regardless of the reason why. They just don’t. Ask ten ordinary Americans what Zionism is, and you’ll get a blank stare from at least nine. Ask them about the terms of the UN partition plan of 1947, and you may as well be speaking Chinese. I find this routinely in my classes, even in the evening courses I teach, where the average age is about 38 and the skill level is fairly high. These are successful adults looking to take extra courses or earn an additional degree. And by and large they don’t know a thing about the history of the Middle East.

Farah proceeds to give us a point-by-point explanation of why evangelical Christians support Israel so steadfastly, and why they are right to do so from a biblical point of view. Consider several of these:

  • The strong evangelical church in America can read the Bible and see that the Jews’ only historic home is in Israel.
  • Most Christians understand that Jesus was a Jew who lived in a Jewish state, albeit one under the colonial rule of the Roman Empire.
  • They understand that God chose to reveal Himself to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.
  • They believe God made certain promises to the nation of Israel and that today’s Jewish state is a manifestation of those promises.

It’s all very simple, says Farah.

Here’s the problem with Farah’s view: no one in the first 1800 years of Christianity would have recognized it. Why do we hear nothing from the early Fathers, or indeed even from Martin Luther or John Calvin, about the Jewish people’s alleged right to return to Palestine? Indeed, if Farah’s points are as obvious as he implies, why did no one within the Christian tradition draw Zionist conclusions from them for 1800 years?

For that matter, the Jews themselves would not have recognized Farah’s position. The idea that the Jews’ return to the land could be hastened through human effort rather than brought about miraculously at a time of God’s choosing is not to be found anywhere within Jewish thought until the nineteenth century. Yet if, according to Farah, this is precisely how God’s will is to be done, isn’t it a little strange that the Jews themselves had known nothing about it?

A complete answer to Farah’s claims would require an extensive discussion of dispensationalism, an influential trend within some (but by no means all) sectors of Protestantism since the early nineteenth century. I refrain from including that discussion here only because I have a lengthy article on the subject coming out in a Catholic newspaper in the coming months. Rather than directly critiquing the Farah/Robertson/Falwell position here, then, let me set forth the traditional Christian view — which, by implication, must at least throw the recent and utterly novel F/R/F view into serious doubt.

Christians have traditionally interpreted the Old Testament in the light of the New. In the Old Testament we are presented with the shadows that become New Testament realities. The Old Testament is filled with what are referred to as types of things to come under the New Covenant of Christ. The sacrifice of animals (and foodstuffs, as with Melchisedech) was a type of the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Mass. The manna from Heaven prefigures the Eucharist. St. Paul speaks of the festival days of the Old Covenant as having been "a shadow of things to come" (Col. 2:17). The old law, likewise, is a shadow of the new. According to O. Palmer Robertson, a Protestant writer, "The very nature of the old covenant provisions requires that they be viewed as prophetic shadows, not as permanent realities."

The traditional Catholic position has essentially been that the promises made to the Jewish people have been literally fulfilled in the person of Christ and in the Catholic Church, and that to look for physical fulfillment is to miss what separates the New from the Old Testament. Non-dispensationalist Protestants, while of course not looking to the Catholic Church as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, have generally held that the Christian community broadly conceived is what inherits the divine promises. This is the uninterrupted Christian tradition of 1800 years.

Beginning with the New Testament and continuing through the Church Fathers, one finds a clear continuity throughout Christian thought on the question of Israel, the Jews, and the idea of a chosen people. According to St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, the idea of the "seed of Abraham" is to be understood in a spiritual rather than a racial or nationalistic sense, for "they who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7). "And if you be Christ’s, then are you the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29).

The traditional and mainstream Christian view of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the idea of the land was recently summed up by Fr. Majdi al-Siryani, a legal advisor to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. "[F]or the extra-majority of the believers in the Bible," he wrote, "the restoration of Israel came true in a greater spiritual reality, that is the coming of the Messiah and the election of the Church. In this understanding, the realities of the Old Testament are not abolished or replaced but raised to a greater reality."

Fr. Labib Kobti, who holds a doctorate in canon law from the Lateran, notes that Scripture does not give one group "all the land, nor even a part of the land exclusively, or make the people who have lived there for thousands and thousands of years…submit themselves as illegal immigrants."

This happens to be the view of the present Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, who writes: "The concept of the land had then evolved throughout different stages of Revelation, beginning with the physical, geographical and political concept and ending up with the spiritual and symbolic meaning. The worship of God is no longer linked to a specific land. A specific land is not the prime and absolute value for worship. The sole and absolute value is God and the worship of God in any place in the world."

Many American Protestants side with Farah, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others because they believe that is the only legitimate position for a Bible-believing Christian. Although this suggestion is repeated endlessly, it is ludicrously at odds with reality. The truth is very much the opposite: any Christian prior to our age would have considered Farah’s view bizarre, unbiblical, and absurd.

There are many reasons a Christian might lend his support and sympathy to the Jewish state. For instance, for humanitarian reasons following World War II, or if he sees Israel as a useful ally to the United States.

The point here is much more narrow: although a Christian may support the state of Israel if he believes certain secular considerations weigh in its favor, he is not obligated to believe that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 constituted the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Indeed the overwhelming bulk of Christian thought and history testify against such an interpretation.

Yet perhaps in Farah and Pat Robertson we are blessed with greater theological and exegetical minds than Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Cyril, Jerome, and John Chrysostom. Or maybe those were all anti-Semites.

Professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [send him mail] holds an AB from Harvard and a PhD from Columbia. He teaches history, is associate editor of The Latin Mass Magazine, and is co-author (with Christopher A. Ferrara) of The Great Faade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church (2002). The book (as well as a sample chapter) is available at greatfacade.com.

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