While many assume that Zionism is a political ideology founded in distinctly Jewish aspirations, not only has this historically not been the case (as most Orthodox Jews have historically been anti-Zionists, as the Talmud explicitly forbids a political return to Israel), but even today, less than half American Jews believe that God divinely granted the land of Israel to the Jews.
This became evident in a poll given by Pew Research, which revealed that approximately 40 percent of American Jews believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews(Winstanley, 2013). This is lower than most of the public in America, and it is certainly lower than the 82 percent of white evangelical Protestants in America who believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews(Winstanley, 2013).
Oddly enough, the largest Israel lobby in America today is Christians United for Israel (CUFI), founded in 2006 by John Hagee(Winstanley, 2013). So much for being a distinctly Jewish ideology. Indeed, the modern Zionist movement is quite (nominally) Christian, and quite anti- (Orthodox) Jewish. Ignoring the protests of Israelis that political Zionism contradicted their religious beliefs (as the Talmud, as noted before, explicitly forbids it), Europeans Christian Zionists put the Balfour Declaration into effect, promising the inhabited land of Palestine to the Jews, despite the protests of both.
The contemporary European attempt to win Israel is not without precedent. It was during the First Crusade that Pope Urban II implored Europeans to imitate the Jews’ conquest of Israel, encouraging their killing, not only of Muslims, but Jews and even other (Eastern) Christians (many contemporary Christian Zionists seem as unconcerned with Middle Eastern Christians as the Crusaders)(Winstanley, 2013).
But the evangelical roots of modern Zionism do not become readily apparent until the 18th century’s Anglican writer Lord Shaftesbury, who sought a conversion of the Jews in the name of a kind of Jewish-Christian claiming of the land. Shaftesbury has since become a kind of patron saint for Christian Zionist writers, such as Thomas Ice, who praises Shaftesbury on his “Rapture Ready” website(Winstanley, 2013).
The notion that the Jews were destined for an eventual mass conversion is not itself an innovation in Christian eschatology. It has been historically confessed by Christians of all denominations and eschatological persuasions throughout the entire history of the Church, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican or Protestant.
It was only in its distinctly Protestant embodiment, however, that this eschatological position would eventually come to take a distinctly political turn. With the abuses of arbitrary allegorical interpretation of the Bible done away with, the Old Testament promises of God to Israel could once again be taken seriously.
The eventual mass conversion of the Jews played an especially important role in the eschatology of postmillennialist Calvinists, who believed that the conversion of the Jews would presage a mass blessing for the entire world. Sir Henry Finch, a member of the English Parliament, would publish his 17th century work “The World’s Great Restauration (sic) or Calling of the Jews, (and with them) all the Nations and Kingdoms of the Earth, to the Faith of Christ.”
Later in the 17th century, and throughout the 18th century, this postmillennial eschatology became increasingly popular, reaching its apex in the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, who believed that the Gospel would soon usher in the millennium, along with a mass conversion of the Jews.
Then, in the early 19th century, Joseph Frey, a German Christian, formed an organization with the purpose of ministering to the Jews. It was called “The London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews,” or the LJS, as it later came to be known. Their goal? The conversion of the Jews to Christianity. It was in this climate of excitement about the imminent advent of the millennium that European Protestants began militating for the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. Christian Zionism was born.
Edward Irving, a popular 19th century preacher and ardent premillennialist, was eventually invited to preach at the London Missionary Society. He seemed to believe that his generation would see the return of Christ, which would entail the conversion of all nations and the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. Lewis Way, one of the founders of the aforementioned LJS, attended meetings in Albury Park discussing premillennialism, the interpretation of prophecy and the return of the Jews to Palestine. Irving’s own preaching would influence the founder of modern dispensationalism, John Nelson Darby, whose writings further fueled the premillennial speculation of the English during the 19th century.
Darby’s theology reached far and wide over numerous continents, and influenced a great many important evangelical theologians and writers. It is at this point that we return to the aspirations of the important role of Shaftesbury, who both believed that the return of the Jews to Palestine was prophesied in the Bible recognized the importance of such a move for his own nation’s foreign policy.
Ironically, Napoleon had attempted beforehand to secure Palestine for the Jews, for the very purpose of cutting off the British, and establishing France’s own commercial interests; something the British were desperate to avoid. They sided with Prussia and Turkey against the French, who were defeated by British troops in Palestine. Now all they had to contend with was Russia, who also wanted Palestine for themselves.
Sizer, Stephen. The Road to Balfour: The History of Christian Zionism, Retrieved from: http://www.balfourproject.org/the-road-to-balfour-the-history-of-christi…
Winstanley, Asa (2013). Is Zionism more “Christian” than “Jewish”? Retrieved from: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/inquiry/7673-is-zionism-more-…