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  • Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy: The Promised Land, America, and Israel, 1917-2002
  • Paul C. Merkley (bio)
Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy: The Promised Land, America, and Israel, 1917-2002. By Irvine H. Anderson. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005. x + 187 pp.

Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy is offered as "a case study of the influence of cultural tradition on international relations, specifically of the influence of the Christian Bible on British and American Middle Eastern policy in the twentieth century" (ix). Its thesis is that "Christian familiarity with and interpretation of the Bible created the seedbed" within which Zionist lobbying took hold and flourished (2). To understand why American support of Israel has been so constant, one has therefore to understand the elements of "biblical interpretation" and their place in our culture. This being so, Anderson embarks at once upon some biblical interpretation of his own.

Anderson's biblical exegesis is disconnected, bouncing from one colorful point to another, showing no acquaintance with the traditional theological or biblical commentaries, propping things up with quotations from deconstructionist populizers. Magnus Magnusson's Archaeology of the Bible (1977), a coffee-table book based upon a television documentary series, is Anderson's authority for the Old Testament; for the New Testament, he depends upon the same Jesus Seminar types who have inspired the Dan Brown books [The Da Vinci Code, (2003), et al.] and, of course, the egregious Karen Armstrong, author of The Battle for God (2000). In his preface, he names and acknowledges the many scholars who "provided considerable help with recent biblical scholarship" (ix)—but it is surely from none of these that he learned that "the first ten books of the Bible [are] . . . called the Pentateuch" (15).

Given that the rationale for Anderson's excursus into biblical hermeneutics is to demonstrate the monumental damage that follows from the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God, Anderson really ought to demonstrate a modicum of appreciation for what that term means as it appears in the long, learned, and sophisticated tradition of Christian dogmatics. Instead, there is nothing in Anderson's bibliography to suggest that he has ever dipped anywhere into biblical scholarship prior to the 1980s. Having glanced into university textbooks on biblical literature, he feels equipped to summarize the literature on textual criticism in a few [End Page 499] cloudy lines, but seems totally unaware of the scholarly assailants of the documentary hypothesis such as R.K. Harrison1 or Umberto Cassuto.2

Anderson's summary of the vast and vital tradition of Christian eschatology, in particular, is sadly underwhelming. The section of the Gospels which scholars call the Synoptic Apocalypse (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21: 5–36) he casts out scornfully on the advice of his Jesus Seminar sources, from whom he has learned: "There has been considerable controversy as to whether or not Jesus actually made the statements about his Second Coming attributed to him" (142, n. 44).

Anderson's examination of the mind of faith belongs to the well-known visiting-anthropologist-from-Mars school:

The human brain is a fascinating phenomenon. . . . Faced with unclear or ambiguous information, it tends to organize incoming data around old beliefs . . . . Having grown up hearing Bible stories of Abraham, Joshua, and the Promised Land, or having read about or listened to accounts of the End Times and the ingathering of Jews to Palestine as a prelude to the Second Coming, it is not surprising that many, though certainly not all, Americans simply assume that it is right and proper for Jews to return to Palestine and create their own state there".


Anderson distrusts religion because it recruits disproportionately the weak-minded elements in our democracies, inducing them to imagine that they understand what they cannot possibly understand—what he calls the "ambiguous" things, like economics and geopolitics. "In troubled times, religion in general and fundamentalism in particular provide an explanation of the world, a sense of purpose, a guide to action, and the satisfaction of being part of a social group of like mind. The prophetic view especially provides reassurance that God is, indeed, in charge. He has a plan, and...


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