Jim West takes me to task for using a term, “Zionism,” in reference to a strand of biblical eschatology. I am, of course, using the term in accordance with established precedent (see below for a short bibliography).
To be sure, it is more common in biblical studies to use a term like “Zionstheologie.” But this term is not as descriptive as one might like. “Zion theology” in its various forms within Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition has far-ranging religious and political implications that are swept under the rug with the use of a cover-term like “Zion theology.”
It is ironic that it is Jim West who protests the use of the term “Zionism” in biblical studies. I have heard anti-Zionist members of the Sheffield school of biblical studies – among whose number, I think, it is fair to say Jim belongs – say things to this effect: the Old Testament is basically a Jewish Zionist propaganda document.
So which is it, Jim? Members of your own school are among those who have shown that Zionism has deep roots in biblical literature. Beyond that, Zionism, and more generally, political messianism, are constants within Judaism. Insofar as early Christianity was a strand of Judaism, it is not at all surprising that it contains a Zionist hope and political messianism in a variety of forms.
Post-Zionists in particular are clear-eyed about the extent to which Zionism characterized Judaism up until the last two centuries. Since then, Zionism has enjoyed a historical realization of major proportions – thanks to the efforts of secular and religious Jewish Zionists alike, and with an important assist from non-Jewish British Zionists, religious and secular, like Arthur Balfour. But Zionism has also become a much-contested concept, within and outside of the august confines of “modern political” debate to which Jim West wants to relegate it.
Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, the ubiquity of the Zionist hope and political messianism in pre-modern Judaism cannot be gainsaid. For starters, I would refer the interested reader to the scholarship of Laurence Silberstein. Here is the opening paragraph of a review essay of his published in 1974:
Since the end of the eighteenth century, the Jewish community has been engaged in a continuous debate concerning the nature of Judaism and the Jewish community. Prior to that time, a combination of factors created a consensus among the Jews whereby the term “Jew” functioned simultaneously as both an ethnic and a religious category. Jews, in addition to sharing a body of sacred tradition, viewed themselves as members of a distinct community sharing common origins and [a] common historical lot. In addition they, at least in theory, considered their existence outside of the land of Israel to be unnatural and anomalous, and looked to the messiah to restore them to their homeland and reconstitute their political autonomy under a revived Davidic monarchy.
The Jewish community of the first century of this era, of which Christianity as attested in the New Testament was a part, partook of the consensus of which Silberstein speaks.
Avi Erlich, Ancient Zionism: The Biblical Origins of a National Idea (New York: Free Press, 1995); Nur Masalha, The Bible and Zionism: Invented Traditions, Archaeology and Post-colonialism in Palestine-Israel (London: Zed Books, 2007); J. F. A. Sawyer, “Isaiah and Zionism,” in Sense and Sensitivity (ed. A .S. Hunter and P. R. Davies; JSOTSup 348; London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002) 246-60; Ulrich Schoen, “Jüdische, christliche und islamische Zionismen. ‘The land is holy to all three,’” Dialog der Religionen 7 (1997) 191-196.
A Short Laurence J. Silberstein Bibliography
“Religion, Ethnicity and Jewish History: The Contribution of Yehezkel Kaufmann,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 42 (1974) 516-531; “Exile and Alienhood: Yehezkel Kaufmann on the Jewish Nation,” in Texts and Responses: Studies Presented to Nahum N. Glatzer (ed. Michael Fishbane and Paul R. Mendes-Flohr; Leiden: Brill, 1975) 238-256; “Historical Sociology as Ideology: A Prolegomenon to Yehezkel Kaufmann's Golah v'Nekhar,” Essays In Modern Jewish History: A Tribute to Ben Halpern (ed. Frances Malino and Phyllis Cohen Albert; New York: Associated University Presses, 1982) 173-195, The Postzionism Debates: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture (London: Routledge, 1999).