Biblical Presidents

With the Embassy Move to Jerusalem :

Samuel Goldman ||

Biblical Presidents

For American evangelicals, there is a term of praise for President Trump that falls like a question mark on most everyone else: “You are Cyrus.” That’s what the Christian pro-Israel activist Mike Evans promised to tell President Trump after his announcement that the United States would move its embassy to Jerusalem.

Mr. Evans, who plastered Jerusalem with billboards praising the embassy decision, isn’t the only one to draw a connection to the ancient Persian king. In a 2016 book called “God’s Chaos Candidate,” the minister Lance Wallnau asked, “Could Trump be God’s Cyrus?”

Even some Jews have gotten into the act. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the connection in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee this week, predicting the rise of a new Cyrus. Last week, the Mikdash Educational Center, an Orthodox group, produced a “temple coin” that superimposes an image of Mr. Trump over one of Cyrus.

Obscure though it may seem, pro-Israel activists who suggest that Mr. Trump is a counterpart to Cyrus are drawing on a deep well of religious history that nourishes his current evangelical support. For centuries, American Christians have argued that United States foreign policy should follow biblical models. The desire to see America and its leaders as instruments for the fulfillment of divine intentions remains an important cause of their longstanding sympathy for Zionism and the State of Israel.

King Cyrus, who is credited with allowing Jews to return to Jerusalem from exile in the Babylonian empire, represents the possibility that a nonbelieving leader and state could be used by God to reunite the chosen people and the promised land.

The prominence of the Cyrus trope has revived fears about religious influences on United States foreign policy that have swirled around Republican presidents for decades. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were both accused of allowing their policies toward Israel to be influenced by interpretations of the Book of Revelation that foresee a literal Battle of Armageddon.

And encouraging presidents to take up the mantle of Cyrus is also something of an American tradition. The Chicago-based preacher William Eugene Blackstone — who described himself as God’s “errand boy” — visited the White House in 1891 to present President Benjamin Harrison with a petition. It called on him to use his influence to extract Palestine from the Ottoman Empire and promote a Jewish state. The petition was signed by 413 prominent citizens, including the Supreme Court’s chief justice, Melville Fuller; the future president William McKinley; and the tycoons J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller. Its cover letter explicitly compared the president to Cyrus, offering him a “privileged opportunity” to serve as patron of the Jewish people. For this service, five years before the publication of Theodor Herzl’s “Der Judenstaat,” Louis Brandeis reportedly described Blackstone as the real “father of Zionism.”

Harrison was not even the first president to be imagined as a potential successor to Cyrus. In the 1790s, the New Jersey minister David Austin suggested that the United States under John Adams might help assist the world’s Jews in returning to Palestine. Austin went so far as to purchase ships and warehouses that could be used for this purpose.

Austin’s practical efforts for the cause were unusual. But a fellow resident of Elizabeth, N.J., Elias Boudinot, an aide to George Washington who served as president of the Continental Congress, director of the United States Mint and other important posts, wrote several books urging the new republic to act as patron to the Jews and assist in their return to the territory God promised to Abraham. In a book published in 1816, Boudinot wrote, “Who knows but God has raised up these United States, in these latter days, for the very purpose of accomplishing his will in bringing his beloved people to their own land.”

Why have American Christians been so interested in the fate of the Jews, even decades before the foundation of the international Zionist movement? One reason is that they were members of a society steeped in the Bible. Many historians emphasize the importance of republican sources like Cicero and Livy to the American political tradition. The problem with this argument is that relatively few Americans could read Latin or were familiar with Roman history. Unlike the classics of republican thought, the Bible was universally available and familiar even to those unable to read English. As such, it provided a shared idiom for thinking through matters of public concern.

The availability and familiarity of Scripture made biblical analogies expedient. But the deeper reason the Cyrus model has particularly appealed to Americans is that it placed the United States and its colonial predecessors in what might be called “sacred history” — the Bible’s sweeping story of the creation, corruption and redemption. Since the Puritans, many Americans have wanted to believe that their own endeavors were part of that story. They faced a problem, though: The Bible revolves around the nation of Israel, makes no mention of the New World. By describing their experiences in terms of its central nations, places and figures, Americans have been able to see themselves as participants in the Biblical drama. Some Americans believed that they were themselves a replacement for the biblical Israel, but others contended that they were more accurately compared to Cyrus.

In a political culture formed by the Bible, it has often seemed natural to support a reunion of the people and land that many Americans saw as the model for their own history. Far from representing a weird deviation from norms, evangelicals who see Mr. Trump as a successor to an ancient Persian king are participants in an old American tradition. When, in 1953, former president Harry Truman was introduced as the man who help establish the State of Israel, he grumbled: “What do you mean, ‘helped create’? I am Cyrus!”
Samuel Goldman is an assistant professor of political science and director of the Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom at the George Washington University and the author of “God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America.”
Source: NYT


Netanyahu's Disastrous Rule Is a Dream for an Arab Nationalist

During his time in the office, he has brought rot to every corner of the country. His continued rule will bring disaster to Jews and Arabs alike.

Salman Masalha ||

Netanyahu's Disastrous Rule Is a Dream for an Arab Nationalist

If I were an Arab nationalist, I would pray for Benjamin Netanyahu to be extricated from all the troubles that have befallen him. I would also hope he continues to head Israel’s government for many years to come. Netanyahu is the great boon that every Arab nationalist seeks. After all, no one else has managed to bring rot into every corner of this country the way he has.

Uri Avnery, with his sharp political senses, wants Netanyahu ousted from power because he believes he’s “a disaster for the country” (Haaretz in Hebrew, February 26). Avnery is obviously correct in this assessment. Therefore, if I were an Arab nationalist, I’d pray for Netanyahu to escape all his legal troubles and for this “disaster for the country” to remain in power and go from strength to strength, until all the immune systems of the Zionist state go into total collapse.

And so if I were an Arab nationalist, I’d urge all the Palestinians to sit quietly. They don’t need an intifada or resistance. Let Israel and its leader continue to build settlements and completely erase the Green Line. After all, even if an apartheid regime is imposed in the occupied territories, all these steps will ultimately bring about Israel’s demise. It’s the irony of history that the Palestinian nationalists’ one-state vision will actually be realized by someone who denies the existence of the Palestinian people.

They should sit quietly and wait. Israel under the right-wing’s rule will swallow up the entire territory with all its inhabitants. The demographic trend won’t change, and the day will come when the majority in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will have its say.

No apartheid system can be sustained over time. Perhaps it will work for 10 years, 20 years, even 30. But when the day comes, all the Palestinians will have to do is speak to the world in a language it understands – the language of equal rights for all residents of this land. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and any such apartheid regime is destined to be abolished. That’s the law of history.

But I am not an Arab nationalist. On the contrary, I see nationalism of any type, and especially that which rests on religious foundations, as a cursed disease that destroys everything good in man’s body and soul. The battle over this land, which is gradually becoming infected with the nationalist-religious virus, doesn’t leave any possibility of normal life in a single state in which all citizens would be equal.

The inhabitants of this land aren’t Scandinavians. The Arabs aren’t Swedes and the Jews aren’t Danes, so the disciples of Zionism on one hand and the disciples of Palestinian nationalism on the other aren’t headed for the solution of a Scandinavian-style life. In fact, they’re on the path to a Balkan-style clash.

Explosive charges of hate are scattered throughout the length and breadth of this well-guarded land. Therefore, there’s no road to a confederation as a solution. To arrive at a solution of either confederation or a single, normal state – and I doubt this is possible at all, due to the great bitterness and hostility between the two national movements – it would be necessary for each nation to first pass through the stage of national pride in its own nation-state. Only those who have passed through this national stage and understood the pointlessness of nationalism can someday give up this national pride for the sake of a different kind of civic vision.

If I were an Arab nationalist, I’d vote for Netanyahu, the Zionist “disaster for the country,” as Avnery termed him. But I’m not, and as a native of this land and someone who loves it, I fear for all its inhabitants.

The continued rule of Netanyahu and the messianic right will indeed bring disaster down upon Jews and Arabs alike. This disaster must be prevented while there’s still time.
Haaretz, March 6, 2018

For Hebrew, press here

  • Iran’s Messianic War

    The Islamic revolution, which brought the ayatollahs to power in Iran, awakened messianic demons from their sleep. The rulers dreamed of a greater Iran and acted to export the revolution beyond their borders.

    The decay in the Arab world

    With great sadness, it can be said that in the absence of a sane civil alternative, the Arab world will continue along this path.

    Read more

  • The Massacre of Arab Nationalism

    It must be admitted that the siege imposed on Gaza ever since Hamas took power there isn’t just an Israeli siege. It’s also an Arab one – because a single Egyptian decision would be enough to break the siege on Gaza’s border with Egypt.

    A Feeble Middle East

    The West learned on its own flesh that this region conducts itself by other codes. Iran has continued to entrench its standing by means of its religious ideology. The toppling of Saddam Hussein shattered the illusion of the existence of a unifying “Iraqi identity” .

    Read more

  • Neither Arab nor Spring

    The vicissitudes that have, for some reason, been collectively dubbed the "Arab Spring" are neither Arab nor Spring. One can say that they are actually living proof of the identity crisis and reverberating bankruptcy of Arab nationalism.

    Read more

  • Welcome Back to History

    Islam, like other imperialist ideologies, still needs enemies to flourish. Enemies have served Islam in the past as fuel for its wagons. Without enemies Islam declines and stagnates...

    Read more

  • The pit and the pendulum

    In those days, we did not drink four goblets of wine, because everything that gladdens the human heart is not a part of our custom.

    Read more

  • Solomon’s Mosque

    Religion, every religion, is the No. 1 enemy of nationalism. But under conditions of tension, such as tribal warfare, these polar opposites combine into a toxic soup that consumes all common sense.

    Read more

  • Never-ending tragedy

    The Israeli right, in all its forms, wants exclusively Jewish control over all of the Land of Israel. To the Palestinians who live in this space, it promises residency – temporary, of course, on condition that they keep their heads down, accept their designated status and behave accordingly.

    Read more
  • Hamas in the service of Israel

    Hamas rule isn’t the enemy of the Israeli right. Au contraire, it’s the loyal servant of all the right-wing governments. Since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War, all Israeli governments have devoted all their time and energy to fighting the Palestinian national movement


מיון החומרים


Selected Topics

  • Martin Niemöller

    First they came for the Communists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the Socialist
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Read More

  • Salman Masalha

    Beyond my door which faces west
    Lives a woman who'll never rest.

    She likes to tease my nomad soul
    With words she keeps for gloomy fall.
  • Balkrishna Sama

    He who loves flowers, has a tender heart.
    he who cannot pluck their blooms,
    has a heart that's noble.

    Read more