Christian Anti-Zionism, Christian Zionism and “the Jews”

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[“Christ in the Night” Marc Chagall]

Martin in the Margins has a twopost series on Christian anti-Zionism that is well-worth reading (and an update, too). I have four comments that I originally intended on posting at Martin’s blog but the comments grew so long I decided to turn them into a post. First, a preliminary statement: the histories of Jews and gentiles, going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, are interwoven. However Jewish–Israelite–identity was predicated on a difference from Greeks and Romans starting with the mark of the covenant and extending to bans on graven images, dietary restrictions and so forth. This notion of intentional, “chosen”, difference between Jews and gentiles predates Christianity.

(1) Rather than ending the piece by mentioning antisemitism, I think we should begin with what “the Jew” represents in the Western mind, the Western heart. Because before you have “the Christ”, you have “the Jew”. It all starts there. Not necessarily Jew hatred, I do not think all Christians are at their core antisemitic. But I am saying that the relationship between the Jewish people and institutional Christian churches, whether Protestant or Catholic, has generally been negative. Thank goodness this has changed. I recognize the strides made in relations between the two faiths. So much that we can speak of a shared “Judeo-Christian” heritage. This was unthinkable not so long ago.

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[Medieval German image of Jews in Hell]

(2) There is great diversity of thought and opinion among evangelicals and across denominations. A very small minority are what are called premillennial dispensationalists.  They believe Jesus will personally return to establish an earthly kingdom, an “end times” and all the other things enlightened secularists snicker at over tea and biscuits. For a good overview of evangelical thought and the divisions among evangelicals–including those who are critics of Israel–take a look at this piece by Robert Nicholson in Mosaic. Quoting at length:

There is no denying an eschatological element in the approach of many evangelicals to Israel—and a minority, emphasizing apocalyptic themes, does try to calculate the exact date and time of the second coming of Jesus. But the reality bears no resemblance to the portrait of cardboard-cutout Jesus freaks itching for the annihilation of the Jews and using them as pawns in their apocalyptic game…

What of the much-hyped mass conversion of the Jews? Many evangelicals do believe that, just prior to the second coming, thousands of Jews will accept Jesus as the messiah they have been waiting for. But these Jews will be making a voluntary choice—they will not be “converted” by anyone, let alone against their will—and will not be “converting” at all in the classic sense. That is, they will not become Christians; they will be Jews who believe in Jesus as their messiah. At this point in history, the old forms of organized religion—churches, baptisms, Sunday schools, even synagogues—will, along with pretty much everything else, be completely transformed, as befits the commencement of a supernatural kingdom on earth.

(3) Writing as a largely secular and increasingly conservative father, I pay more attention to values and actions than theology. I do not know what happens to our spirit after we pass away. Or if we even have a soul. But I do know what we think and what we believe impacts how we behave. I think Jews would benefit by adopting this perspective towards our evangelical brethren instead of constantly worrying about their supposed ulterior motives. Lastly, the majority of Jewish critics of evangelicals are secular leftists who do not believe in God, so it is strange they constantly bring up this theological element.

(4) I realize there is something problematic for religious Jews about the idea of a Jewish Jesus. There are various so-called “messianic” sects that target wayward Jews and, again, history rears its ugly head when the subject of conversion if discussed. However, I think Karen Sue Smith’s interesting review of the Marc Chagal exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York  City (America: The National Catholic Review) provides one of the ways some Jews reconcile Jesus’ Jewish identity and place in our past:

Always Chagall assumes the Jewishness of Jesus, unlike many Christians who have to consciously remind themselves that Jesus was a Jew. Chagall identifies with Jesus’ upbringing, his ritual and biblical tradition and his life under foreign occupiers hostile to Jews…For him Jesus represented all the innocent Jews ever slaughtered. And there were millions…

Chagall’s genius was to use Jesus’ crucifixion to address Christians, to alert them via their own symbol system to the systematic cruelty taking place in the Holocaust. Whenever Christians overemphasize the uniqueness of Jesus’ suffering and death at Calvary, a past event, we risk losing sight of all the crucifixions still being perpetrated. In our day, wanton violence, maiming, torture and other cruelty take place, not only against Jews, which is what concerned Chagall, of course. The value of Chagall’s crucifixions is that each holds up a mirror that says to Christians, Here is your Lord. What will you do to stop this crucifixion?

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[© AP/Kevin Frayer, 2006.]

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