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Reviewed by:
  • Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews and the Idea of the Promised Land
  • Evyatar Friesel (bio)
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.

There is a compelling message in Shalom Goldman's book: whatever understanding of Zionism we adopt, it would be a mistake to consider the establishment and unfolding of the Zionist movement unrelated to the non-Jewish world. Goldman concentrates in this book as well as in his former work—see especially an earlier review essay in American Jewish History—on Christian attitudes towards Zionism and, in the last decades, also towards Israel.1 The theme addresses, then, an ideological and religious expression in Christian society, but we should keep in mind that the relationship between Zionism and Western society has a still broader span and encompassed—and also still encompasses—other trends.

The question hovering over the work is what exactly was the influence of so-called Christian Zionism on the development of the Zionist movement. In the past I expressed doubts about the significance of such a role. The present historical perspective brings me to refine my position. Even if we think that Zionism is a movement essentially rooted in Jewish history and Jewish self-awareness, Zionism also absorbed ideas from the European environment and developed in a world that was either neutral or, to some degree, positively disposed towards modern Jewish hopes in Palestine. In recent decades that ideological atmosphere has changed. Influential sectors of public opinion in the West, not to speak of the Muslim world, have adopted critical views with regard to Israel, and implicitly also with regard to Jews and to Zionism. Progressive public opinion, especially in the so-called Left, which supported Zionist hopes [End Page 187] until the 1960s, has made a quite astonishing turn-about and tends presently to a much more critical stance. That new public atmosphere certainly colors the political international conditions in which the Jewish state exists. The relationship of Christian circles regarding Jews, Israel, and the Holy Land represents yet another approach among non-Jews and, as such, is certainly important.

Implicitly, Goldman seems to agree that Christian Zionism, in its diverse expressions and mutations, was not a movement but rather an attitude. Five of the six chapters of his book deal with individuals—writers, popes, thinkers—of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is only in the last chapter that he presents two parallel trends built on the idea of the return of the Jews to the Holy Land that come near to semiorganized or organized expressions: the American evangelicals and the settlers' movement in contemporary Israel. Goldman, who throughout his book is aware that he is treading on an ideological and religious minefield, is extremely careful, albeit undoubtedly clear, in his description of both these trends. The picture that emerges is that we are dealing here with diverse conceptual planets precariously bound by a similar theme. Goldman does not formulate the question that literally imposes itself: what happens if the Jewish side rejects the eschatological view of those Christians who are deeply convinced that Jewish labors in the Holy Land are only a prelude to the final victory of the Christian message? As Yaakov S. Ariel has shown in his work on American evangelicals, their attitudes towards Jews, Judaism, and Israel have a deeply inbuilt ambivalence, and frequently it is difficult to distinguish between philosemitism and antisemitism.2

Nevertheless, Goldman shows that, in spite of the theological equivocations required in certain Protestant circles to champion Jewish hopes and creations in the Holy Land, evangelical support for Israel has remained remarkably steady. He also observes that the position of the Catholic Church towards Israel, which in the past was critical, has developed in a much more positive direction, albeit for reasons that have no affinity with those of the Christian Zionists he examines.

It turns out then that in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries there has been a shift in non-Jewish Western society with regard to Zionism and Israel. Support comes now rather from the right than [End Page 188...


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pp. 187-189
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