An excerpt from “Zionism’s un-Christian Bible” by Maidhc A Cathail at Online Journal explains how one of the defining political doctrines of our time was fostered by the selective promotion of one heretical interpretation of the Bible.
Note: My comments are at the end under the heading, “My Comment”; the article is in light gray text; the quotes from the Bible have been underlined; the Bible commentary by Scofield and Hagee that the article cites are in italics, as are titles of books and reports; the quotes from all other authors, including Sizer, Adelman, and various newspapers, as well as subheadings, are bolded] :
“Central to Christian Zionist belief is Scofield’s commentary on Genesis 12:3. For the sake of clarity, Scofield’s notes have been italicized in the following passage:
“‘I will bless them that bless thee.’ [Bible]
In fulfilment closely related to the next clause [Scofield]
‘And curse him that curseth thee” [Bible]
Wonderfully fulfilled in the history of the dispersion. It has invariably fared ill with the people who have persecuted the Jew — well with those who have protected him. The future will still more remarkably prove this principle.” [Scofield]
Drawing on Scofield’s speculative interpretation, John Hagee claims,
“The man or nation that lifts a voice or hand against Israel invites the wrath of God.”[Hagee]
However, as Stephen Sizer points out, in his definitive critique, “Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon?”,
“The promise, when referring to Abraham’s descendants speaks of God blessing them, not of entire nations ‘blessing’ the Hebrew nation, still less the contemporary and secular State of Israel.” [Sizer]
Apparently unaware of this more orthodox reading, The New Scofield Study Bible, published by Oxford University Press in 1984, enhanced Scofield’s interpretation, by adding,
“For a nation to commit the sin of anti-Semitism brings inevitable judgment.”[Bible]
Reading such tendentious comments, a bible-believing Christian could easily assume, for example, that God will punish the 114 countries which endorsed the Goldstone Report.
Stephen Sizer writes,
“Sustained by a dubious exegesis of selective biblical texts, Christian Zionism’s particular reading of history and contemporary events . . . sets Israel and the Jewish people apart from other peoples in the Middle East . . . it justifies the endemic racism intrinsic to Zionism, exacerbates tensions between Jews and Palestinians and undermines attempts to find a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, all because ‘the Bible tells them so.’” [Sizer]
[Lila: I am not sure if I agree entirely with the statement that “racism is inherent to Zionism.” I have made a similar argument in “The Language of Empire,” (2005) but would like to qualify it, because of the special circumstances of the Jewish people in relation to European Christianity, as well as their relatively small numbers compared to the ethnic populations around them. However, those small numbers must be balanced against the enormous power wielded by Israel and its support by the US and UK government, as well as the corporate economic structure.
In sum, without demonizing Israel, it’s necessary to ask if its exceptionalist religious narrative – in which Zionism is inextricably intertwined – isn’t ripe for modification, the same modification that state Christianity underwent during the enlightenment (and thereafter), and that Islamicism is, rightfully, being asked to undergo today].
The incredible Scofield
In his 2008 book, The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State, Jonathan R. Adelman describes the crucial support Israel receives from Christian fundamentalists as “totally fortuitous.” The incredible career of the man who wrote “the Bible of Fundamentalism,” however, casts considerable doubt on that assertion.
Two years after Scofield’s reported conversion to Christianity in 1879, the Atchison Patriot was less than impressed. Describing the former Atchison resident as the “late lawyer, politician and shyster generally,” the article went on to recount a few of Scofield’s “many malicious acts.” These included a series of forgeries in St. Louis, for which he was sentenced to six months in jail.
Being a “born again” preacher, however, did not preclude Scofield from becoming a member of an exclusive New York men’s club in 1901. In his devastating biography, “The Incredible Scofield and His Book,” Joseph M. Canfield comments,
“The admission of Scofield to the Lotos Club, which could not have been sought by Scofield, strengthens the suspicion that has cropped up before, that someone was directing the career of C. I. Scofield.” [Canfield]
That someone, Canfield suspects, was associated with one of the club’s committee members, the Wall Street lawyer Samuel Untermeyer. As Canfield intimates, Scofield’s theology was
“most helpful in getting Fundamentalist Christians to back the international interest in one of Untermeyer’s pet projects – the Zionist Movement.” [Canfield]
Others, however, have been more explicit about the nature of Scofield’s service to the Zionist agenda. In “Unjust War Theory: Christian Zionism and the Road to Jerusalem,” Prof. David W. Lutz claims,
“Untermeyer used Scofield, a Kansas city lawyer with no formal training in theology, to inject Zionist ideas into American Protestantism. Untermeyer and other wealthy and influential Zionists whom he introduced to Scofield promoted and funded the latter’s career, including travel in Europe.”[Lutz]
Absent such powerful connections, it is hard to imagine “this peer among scalawags” ever getting a contract with Oxford University Press to publish his bible. Nevertheless, it remains a mystery why OUP chose to endorse such a sectarian work.
If there had been no Scofield Bible, American presidents influenced by Christian Zionism, such as Truman, Johnson, Reagan and George W. Bush, would most likely have been less sympathetic to Israeli demands, and consequently more attentive to U.S. interests. Moreover, the American people might have been spared the well-publicized pro-Israeli rants of John Hagee, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, not to mention the lucrative End Times “prophecy” peddled by Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye.
But it is the people of the Middle East who have suffered most at the hands of an expansionist Israel, emboldened by the unswerving allegiance of America’s Christian Zionists, who were led to believe that Scofield’s words were God’s will.
Although much needless suffering has already been caused by the Scofield Bible, perhaps it’s not too late for Oxford University Press to publicly disavow its harmful book. Among its many victims are 3.5 million Palestinian refugees whose right to return is fervently opposed by Christian Zionists, who believe that the land belongs exclusively to “God’s chosen people.” At the very least, OUP could demonstrate remorse for its role in promoting ethnic cleansing by compensating those refugees with the considerable profits accrued over the past century from sales of its Zionist bible.”
Not many people know about the role of the Scofield Bible in fostering one relatively marginal interpretation of the Scriptures, the dispensationalist views of John Darby, a 19th century minister of the Plymouth Brethren.
Dispensationalism went onto become so influential among American Protestants that it changed the political dynamics of the country. However, while the article cited above demonstrates how financial interests actively promoted the Scofield Bible, it wouldn’t have become so influential if the culture into which it was introduced wasn’t already receptive to it at many levels.
This is the argument I make in “Language of Empire” (MR Press, 2005), in which I analyzed the influence of Christian Zionism on the practice of torture as well as on the rhetoric that justified the war on terror.
You can find the core of the argument in “Christian Zionism: An Ideological Tower of Babel” (Counterpunch, January 15, 16, 2005), finished a year before the book actually came out. The main point I make is that while Christian Zionism is important to the justification of American empire and of Israel’s role in it, it isn’t the only source of justification. There are broader streams in American religious and intellectual history with which Christian Zionism coincides. Those streams are identified below in the Counterpunch piece, which forms a concluding chapter in the book. Note, I’ve defined them below each part of the excerpt):
“Both secular and religious exceptionalists also share a unique relationship to the law that suggests that law and legal institutions are themselves implicated in the policies of Abu Ghraib and clarifies why it may not be possible to look to them alone for salvation.
[Legalism – the tendency to turn every moral/political/social debate into a courtroom drama over technical legality]
Both groups share the heritage of covenant theology which reads holy scripture as the record of legal contracts between God and man, a heritage which both privileges the law while simultaneously also promoting a sense of not being subject to it. The written contract binds us, but the interpretation of that contract remains with the state whose favored status has been granted by the law.”
[Voluntarism – the belief that the essence of divinity is not rationality, but will, and that God’s acts are beyond or even contradictory to reason]
“Dispensationalists read the final book of the Bible, Revelations, as a literal account of a post-war progression to a world-consuming conflagration, Armageddon. In doing so, they discount the importance of reason, learning, or social consensus in their interpretations in favor of what they see as a literal reading of the Biblical text. Parallel to this is their reading of the unfolding of human history as also a literal record where that text transparently reveals itself.”
[Dispensationalism – the belief that Biblical prophesies can be seen unfolding in history today and that God’s promises in the Bible relate to the political state of Israel]
“Just as fundamentalism disdains mediation, an anti-intellectual culture might find an oral tradition based on a continuing interpretative dialogue between past and present actually less attractive than the fixed guidelines of a written contract, whether made between one nation and another or between nations and God.”
[Literalism, Anti-intellectualism – the acceptance of the literal meaning of texts, the devaluation of interpretation, and a dislike for intellectual theories and intellectuals]
“From Biblical righteousness, the Promethean sense of the state as virtue incarnate; from Christian dominionism, the impetus to expand; from apocalyptic ruminations, the Promethean obsession with terror. And through all of these runs an unexamined sense of supreme moral satisfaction, a Puritan certainty about the nature and precise physical location of evil in the other that is translated not simply in the messianic language of Americanism but even in the shibboleths of liberalism. Evil is outside, out there in the world, radically disordered, deserving of eradication.”
[Dominionism, Puritanism, Apocalyptic Millenarianism — the belief that society should be ordered by the Christian religion working through the state; the belief in the essential depravity of human beings and the need for salvation by grace that is unearned and not universal; a belief in the return of Christ as prophesied in Revelations, accompanied by a world-wide confrontation with the forces of evil, followed by a golden age of a 1000 years]
How these beliefs impact policy-making in the west can be seen most clearly and stunningly in the Declaration of the first Jerusalem Summit (October 12-14, 2003) which reads in part thus:
“ISRAEL AS THE KEY TO THE HARMONY OF CIVILIZATIONS
Billions of people believe that Jerusalem’s spiritual and historical importance endows it with a special authority to become a center of world’s unity.
Israel’s unique geographic and historic position at the crossroads of civilizations enables it to reconcile their conflicts. Israel’s unique spiritual experience enables it to find a golden mean between the fault lines dividing civilizations: between tradition and modernity, religion and science, authority and democracy.
We call upon all nations to choose Jerusalem, the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel, as a center for this evolving new unity. We believe that one of the objectives of Israel’s divinely-inspired rebirth is to make it the center of the new unity of the nations, which will lead to an era of peace and prosperity, foretold by the Prophets.”
Note: Many religions and nations have exceptionalist narrratives.
The unique problem at work here is in the lack of self-awareness of this innate chauvinism and the role it plays in the political positions taken by the US, UK, and Israel (the Anglo-sphere), as well as by their allied and client states.
This unique problem becomes a global one when the chauvinists, disguised as universalists, possess extraordinary nuclear arsenals and corporate power, and when the “deep capture” of the media and of legal and academic institutions has reached the point when there is no internal check whatever to its pretensions. The threat posed then is no longer simply to immediate victims of specific policies (say, Iraq) but to the entire world (the global financial crisis), and, indeed, the future of humanity (control of the gene pool, food and water and the dangers posed by bio-weapons and nuclear contamination).