Whether we like it or not, if we are to have any chance of understanding what went on in the lead up to Balfour’s fateful letter, we need some history. But, I’m not doing the job of a proper historian – these are ‘snapshots’ to make us think and be more aware.
In her fascinating book, God, Guns & Israel, (History Press. 2004.2009) Jill Hamilton traces the ‘roots of the present conflict in the Middle East’ to include ‘the influences of Protestant Nonconformism and the Old Testament’.
Access to the Bible in their own language gave Christians in Britain the opportunity to read, study and reason for themselves. The Old Testament, received by the common people previously through stories and miracle plays, and often taught by clergy little more literate than their flock, was now read and absorbed with fascination. No longer needing translation, everyman became his own interpreter. This had benefits as well as demerits. It is hardly surprising given the ‘atmosphere’ of Protestantism, that a desire to ‘restore’ Jews to Palestine was directly associated with the expectation that the Jews would convert to Christianity.
(God, Guns & Israel. page 76)
The Church in the West may have woken from a centuries-long sleep but the nightmare of heretic burning that had accompanied its awakening was followed by division and sectarianism that haunts the Faith to this day.
In 1840 Lord Palmerston attempted to persuade the Sultan of Turkey that allowing large numbers of Jews into Syria-Palestine would be to his advantage. Mindful of the increasing threat from Russian expansionism, and that most of those Jews would be ‘Russian-European’, the Sultan refused. 100 years later, with the Caliphate no more, European Jews had poured into Palestine in numbers causing vast disadvantage to the people living there and to the whole region.
The Balfour declaration, driven by both antisemitism and philosemitism, may be viewed as a human attempt to preempt God’s purpose, rather like the Maccabees. Sadly, many of the texts used by those Christians are taken from their context. It is one thing to treat words literally, it is another to ignore the context within which they are used. On which more, later