‘Beyond the Two-State Solution’, by Jonathan Kuttab, is a short introduction to the ongoing crisis in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism have been at loggerheads for over a century. Some thought the two-state solution would resolve the conflict between them. Kuttab explains that the two-state solution (that he supported) is no longer viable.Continue reading
Tag Archives: Palestine
Palestine and the Church of England: The Right Revd Riah Abu El Assal
The Right Revd Riah Abu El Assal, the retired Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, speaks candidly about how to achieve a just peace in Palestine and his frustrations with the Church of England for failing to engage constructively in the process.
Bishop Riah’s biography, ‘Caught in Between’ is available from Amazon
Glory to God in the Lowest- A Book Review: Dr Donald Wagner
This is a truly inspirational story of how a young conservative white evangelical Christian became a passionate life-long campaigner for Palestinian rights.
The book reveals the heavy price Don has paid for his commitment to justice, peace and reconciliation. Don clearly stands in the subversive but non-violent tradition of Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella.
I simply could not put this book down. It is a compelling, detailed, eye-witness commentary on the unfolding tragedy of Palestine over the past 40 years. It is also a searing indictment of the failure of the West, tragically with the complicity of the Church, to hold Israel accountable to its obligations under international law and repeated UN Resolutions.Continue reading
A Biblical Critique of Apartheid
What does the Bible say about apartheid? How has the Bible been used to justify supremacism, segregation and racial purity? How is apartheid easily refuted from the Bible? This presentation will provide some answers. The introduction gives a brief historical overview showing the lineage of European supremacism, slavery, segregation and apartheid. It also examines why apartheid has been designated a crime against humanity, and shows the similarities between the South African and Israeli variants.
Download a copy of this presentation here
- A brief history of apartheid tracing its roots from European colonialism, white supremacism and black slavery, through to segregation in the US, Fascism in Germany to Apartheid in South Africa and Israel.
- A summary of how the Bible has been used to justify white supremacism, segregation and apartheid.
- A biblical refutation of apartheid.
- A Bible study to encourage personal reflection as well as group discussion.
This presentation examines how biblical texts have been used by proponents of segregation in the USA and apartheid in South Africa. It does not elaborate specifically on how Christian Zionists use the Bible to justify Israeli supremacism, the subjugation of Palestinians or the colonisation of their land. These are addressed more fully in my book Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? . Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church, provides a more detailed study of the biblical texts concerning the two key elements of apartheid theology – supremacism “Chosen People” and colonisation “Promised Land”
Download a copy of this presentation here
You may also download a Bible Study for personal reflection or group discussion and read a short reflection based on Isaiah 65. For a more detailed examination of the biblical relationship between Israel and the Church (and deconstruction of Christian Zionism), download Seven Biblical Answers.
Kairos Palestine: Developments within the Evangelical Movement in relation to Palestine
Donald Trump has probably accomplished more for Israel in his short time in office than any other US President since Harry Truman unilaterally recognised the State of Israel in May 1948. President Truman did so, going against the advice of his State Department, US Mission to the United Nations and ambassadors in the Middle East.
President Trump seems to have continued that unilateral, idiosyncratic tradition but with gusto. In December 2017, for example, reversing decades of US foreign policy, President Trump announced the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel andordered the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. On 14 May 2018 – the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding – the US officially moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.Also, in May 2018, President Trump announced that he was unilaterally withdrawing the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or Iran nuclear deal.Continue reading
Light Force: Brother Andrew
Reading this book may seriously put some at risk – at risk of facing latent prejudices and stereotypes caused by selective reading or biased reporting on the Middle East. I am delighted that Hodder has had the courage to publish Brother Andrew’s book Light Force in Britain, because it could not have been an easy decision. There will be many who will wish this book does not receive the wide readership it justly deserves. Elizabeth Elliott, for example, lost many ‘friends’ when she wrote her similarly controversial book, Furnace of the Lord (published in 1969 also incidentally by Hodder & Stoughton), in which she describes her empathy for the suffering of the Palestinians and her overriding concern for people rather than so called ‘prophecy’.
In his first book, God’s Smuggler, Brother Andrew describes how the Lord provided an open door through the Iron Curtain enabling Western Christians to sustain and equip the suffering Church in Eastern Europe to withstand the onslaught of atheistic Communism. Eventually, however, he became too well known, a marked man. Brother Andrew was therefore led to focus his ministry on supporting another persecuted Church, this time in the Middle East, caught between Jewish Zionism and Islamic fundamentalism.
While many have succumbed to the temptation to make an all too brief visit and write yet another superficial account of their impressions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Brother Andrew has waited 35 years to publish his diary, revealing with great candour, his many unpublicized visits to strengthen the suffering Church.
The Bible and the Land: Gary Burge
Gary Burge has written not one but two short and very readable books for Zondervan – The Bible and the Land and Jesus, The Middle Eastern Storyteller. Both are about 110 pages long, easy to read and bursting with glorious photos and simple maps.
Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller
In Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, the parables of Jesus come alive as never before when Gary uncovers the culture that gives them their deepest meaning. His expert, illustrated guide shows in everyday terms how the customs, literature and values of the ancient world can inform and grow your faith in today’s digital age.
Storytellers made history, and Jesus was the greatest of them all. But how can modern readers know what he actually meant in such iconic parables as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan? Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller combines the readability of a popular novel and the authority of scholarship to uncover the hidden meaning of references too often misinterpreted or left shrouded in mystery. The first volume in the Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series drives to the heart of readers’ desire to know the culture behind the Scriptures. Colorful maps, photos, and illustrations enhance the context of the times that shaped Jesus’ vivid communication of core truths. This expert guide is an invaluable resource for study groups, teachers, leaders, and inquiring Christians who want to dig deeper and enrich their spiritual life.
The Bible and the Land
In The Bible and the Land Gary offers a rare exploration into the world of the Bible and how its land, culture, and traditions contribute to a unique understanding of a life with God. Insights into numerous biblical passages reveal how cultural assumptions lie behind countless biblical stories.
As the early church moved away from the original cultural setting of the Bible and found its home in the west, Christians lost touch with the ancient world of the Bible. Cultural habits, the particulars of landscape, even the biblical languages soon were unknown. And the cost was enormous: Christians began reading the Bible as foreigners and missing the original images and ideas that shaped a biblical worldview.
This new book by New Testament scholar Gary Burge launches a multivolume series that explores how the culture of the biblical world is presupposed in story after story of the Bible. Using cultural anthropology, ancient literary sources, and a selective use of modern Middle Eastern culture, Burge reopens the ancient biblical story and urges us to look at them through new lenses. Here he explores primary motifs from the biblical landscape—geography, water, rock, bread, etc.—and applies them to vital stories from the Bible.
Listen in on a Q & A with Gary over these two new books:
Q: Does culture always affect one’s understanding of spiritual life?
A: Every community of Christians throughout history has framed its understanding of spiritual life within the context of its own culture. Byzantine Christians living in the fifth century and Puritan Christians living over a thousand years later used the world in which they lived to work out the principles of Christian faith, life, and identity. The reflex to build house churches, monastic communities, medieval cathedrals, steeple-graced and village-centered churches, or auditoriums with theater seating will always spring from the dominant cultural forces around us.
If it is true that every culture provides a framework in which the spiritual life is understood, the same must be said about the ancient world. The setting of Jesus and Paul in the Roman Empire was likewise shaped by cultural forces quite different from our own. If we fail to understand these cultural forces, we will fail to understand many of the things Jesus and Paul taught.
Q: If we fail to consider cultural context, are we in danger of misinterpreting scripture?
A: We must be cautious interpreters of the Bible. We must be careful lest we presuppose that our cultural instincts are the same as those represented in the Bible. We must be culturally aware of our own place in time-and we must work to comprehend the cultural context of the Scriptures that we wish to understand. Too often interpreters have lacked cultural awareness when reading the Scriptures. We have failed to recognize the gulf that exists between who we are today and the context of the Bible. We have forgotten that we read the Bible as foreigners, as visitors who have traveled not only to a new geography but a new century. We are literary tourists who are deeply in need of a guide.
Q: Why did you write the Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series?
A: The goal of this series is to be a guide-to explore themes from the biblical world which are often misunderstood. In what sense, for instance, did the physical geography of Israel shape its people’s sense of spirituality? How did the story-telling of Jesus presuppose cultural themes now lost to us? What celebrations did Jesus know intimately (such as a child’s birth, a wedding, or a burial)? What agricultural or religious festivals did he attend? How did he use common images of labor or village life or social hierarchy when he taught? Did he use humor or allude to politics? In many cases-just as in our world-the more delicate matters are handled indirectly, and it takes expert guidance to revisit their correct meaning.
In a word, this series employs cultural anthropology, archaeology, and contextual backgrounds to open up new vistas for the Christian reader. I wrote the first two volumes of the Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series to connect modern readers with ancient life. If the average reader suddenly sees a story or an idea in a new way, if a familiar passage is suddenly opened for new meaning and application, this effort has succeeded.
Q: Do I really need to understand ancient Middle Eastern culture in order to understand the Bible?
The stories we read in the Bible sometimes presuppose themes that are completely obscure to us (e.g. the scarcity of water; see next question). Moreover, when we read the Bible, we may misrepresent its message because we simply do not understand the cultural instincts of the first century. We live two thousand years distant; we live in the West and the ancient Middle East is not native territory for us.
Q: How does water highlight the simple yet profound differences between ancient Middle Eastern life and ours today?
A: Those of us who live in North America or Europe think little about water. Rainfall averages are generally ample; if anything, we may experience flooding. This is the opposite of life in the Holy Land. The people of the Middle East think about water constantly: it is the “oil” of the Holy Land. And if you control it, you have power. Glimpses of this reality are hidden behind many political struggles. When the rains failed to come during biblical times, the springs dried up and the wells went dry, drought and famine became a reality.
Judaism also distinguished between “living” water (which came from the hand of God via rain, a spring, a river) and common water (held in a cistern or “lifted” by human hand). Many Jewish purification rituals had to take place in such living water; living water had the power to cleanse and purify. So when Jesus offers “living water” to the Samaritan woman at the well, he is offering an inner life-giving spring for cleansing. This significance would not have been lost on a woman who had probably been barred from her community’s ritual baths of purification.
Q: How is an understanding of the Holy Land’s geography, topography, and agriculture vital to interpretation of scripture?
A: The Holy Land itself gives us a window into God’s purposes for life. The Promised Land is not an easy land-it is not paradise, neither today nor in biblical times. The land has a spiritual architecture that incorporates elements we desire (good cities with ample rainfall and rich soil) and things we would prefer to avoid (wilderness). But this is life. And when God brought his people to this land, he built into it those elements that would provide a framework for his people to understand life with him.
The land is itself the cultural stage-setting of the Bible. Biblical stories assume we know something about altars, sheepfolds, cistern water, and the significance if the wind blows west out of the desert. To project European or American notions of farming (seed distribution) or fishing (cast and trammel nets) or travel (at night or day) onto the Bible is to immediately distance oneself from what the Bible may have intended to say.
Q: How did Jesus’ storytelling fit the context of his culture?
A: Jesus lived in a storytelling world and he was well known for his ability as a storyteller. Jesus himself was theatrical, and this was feature of his teaching strategy. Rather than giving a speech about a corrupt temple, he ransacked it. His culture valued the clever image, the crisp story. Jesus himself was clever and in this brilliance, people intuited his sophistication. However, Jesus’ best figurative stories contain a surprise. They are like a box that contains a spring-and when it is opened, the unexpected happens. They are like a trap that lures you into its world and then closes on you.
Q: Do we need to become more like the ancient world in order to live biblically?
A: No, we do not need to imitate the biblical world in order to live a more biblical life. This was a culture that had its own preferences for dress, speech, diet, music, intellectual thought, religious expression, and personal identity. And its cultural values were no more significant than are our own. Modesty in antiquity was expressed in a way we may not understand. The arrangement of marriage partners is foreign to our world of personal dating. Even how one prays (seated or standing, arms upraised or folded, aloud or silent) has norms dictated by culture. There is no ideal cultural standard; we must each learn how to live biblically within the context of our own culture.
Gary M. Burge (PhD, King’s College, Aberdeen University) is a professor of New Testament in the Department of Biblical & Theological Studies at Wheaton College and Graduate School.
The Battle for Jerusalem
The Battle for Jerusalem from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.
What provides you with most security? After your faith and your family, what comes next? Probably your home.
It is probably your largest monthly financial expense or, if the mortgage is paid, your most valuable asset. You may have only just moved in yesterday. Your life, your memories, your hopes and dreams are still carefully packed away in those unopened boxes, but it is still your home. Or you may be living in your parents home. You may have been born there, grown up there, never spent a night anywhere else. What ever, your home is your security. The place where you can lock the door, feel secure, be yourself, protect your loved ones, raise your family.
Now imagine losing it. Not to a mortgage company through repossession, not because of a divorce settlement or an act of nature be it fire or flood, but lose it violently to a foreign government. Imagine being woken at 6:00am by riot police with dogs and bulldozers. They force you out at gun point.
They give you 15 minutes to remove your possessions.
They demolish your home in front of you. Then a week later, they send you the bill. It happens every day. Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh live in Anata, a village to the east of Jerusalem.
In June, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that their home could be demolished – for the fifth time. Four times it has been demolished and four times friends and international volunteers have rebuilt it.
With God on our Side
I am delighted to endorse a new film being launched this autumn produced by Porter Speakman Jr and Rooftop Productions.
“With God On Our Side takes a look at the theology of Christian Zionism, which teaches that because the Jews are God’s chosen people, they have a divine right to the land of Israel. Aspects of this belief system lead some Christians in the West to give uncritical support to Israeli government policies, even those that privilege Jews at the expense of Palestinians, leading to great suffering among Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike and threatening Israel’s security as a whole.
This film demonstrates that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel, a theology that doesn’t favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians.”
Launch: Autumn 2009. More news soon.
A Critique of Christian Zionism: Tony Higton
Published in Mishkan, A Forum on the Gospel and the Jewish People: Issue 55/2008
The following quotations are taken from an article by Tony Higton published in Mishkan which includes a response to my book, Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon?
Tony Higton is Rector of North and South Wootton near Kings Lynn. The fact that I was married in South Wootton and my mother in law lives in the parish is purely, if delightfully, coincidental. Tony previously served as the General Director of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People and Rector of Christ Church, Jerusalem. Before publishing my book, he read the draft sections pertaining to CMJ, made comments, and these were all incorporated in the published version.
I warmly commend his article and the case he makes for Moderate Christian Zionism, and invite you to read it and decide whether the selective quotations below, which specifically pertain to my views or book, are in any way taken out of context.
In his introduction, Tony writes:
“After years of sparring, Stephen Sizer and I met up and found we had wide areas of agreement. Having worked in Jewish ministry for seven years, half of them in Jerusalem, I have seen the best and worst of Christian Zionism. Insofar as it combats anti-Semitism, defends the existence of a safe homeland for Jewish people, promotes evangelism among Jewish people, and supports reconciliation in the Holy Land, it is good.
However, Sizer is right to criticize the serious failings of some Christian Zionism. I agree with him in rejecting the following errors which are held by many Christian Zionists:
- Lack of godly compassion for the Palestinians, and of concern for their human rights and about their legitimate aspirations.
- A negative attitude toward Palestinians, and Arabs in general, to the point of racism.
- Uncritical support for Israel (a secular, sinful state like any other), justifying all its actions against the Palestinians.
- Neglecting or even opposing and forbidding evangelism of Israelis, sometimes believing that Jewish people can experience salvation through Judaism.
- Being more interested in the fulfilment of prophecy than in application of kingdom principles such as justice and reconciliation.
- Opposing the peace process.
- Sometimes advocating the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the Holy Land.
- Sometimes supporting the rebuilding of the temple regardless of the problematic theological implications and the danger of provoking extreme violence.” (p. 18)
In the second section entitled, “Dangers of Unbiblical Views” Tony writes:
“I am grateful for Sizer’s book because it stimulates thought and, in my case, underlines many of the questions I have been asking about Christian Zionism in recent years. And I speak currently describing myself (provocatively) as a pro-Palestinian Christian Zionist!”
“Having said that, I am unhappy about calling myself a Zionist because of the prevalence of extreme Christian Zionism which Sizer describes. I attended a week-long conference on Christian Zionism held in Jerusalem by the Sabeel Palestinian Liberation Theology Centre. Initially, I was quite irritated by what I felt was their extreme model of Christian Zionism. I thought it was a caricature and the moderate view I held was the majority view. But one of the main things I learned from that conference was that it is American Christian Zionism (which is very influential among Messianic believers in Israel) which is dominant, and it is very extreme. British (and other moderate) Christian Zionists need to understand this.” (pp. 19-20)
In the fourth section entitled, “Putting Principles into Practice”, Tony writes:
“Sizer seems not fully to understand the Israeli need for security. We once stood together in Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem, at the foot of the security wall – ten meters of concrete towering above us. He asked me: “Well, what do you think of the wall, Tony?” I replied: “I think it is obscene. But terrorism is even more extreme.” (p. 24) – on this I concur.
In the fifth section in which Tony makes the case for “Moderate Biblical Zionism” he writes:
“It seems to me that Sizer, in his convert’s passion for justice for the Palestinians, tends to throw the baby out with the bathwater with respect to Christian Zionism. One result is that he does not treat the biblical material seriously enough… I still believe that a biblical case can be made for (balanced and moderate Christian Zionism).” (p. 25)
“Sizer raises various criticisms of the biblical justification Christian Zionists claim. In particular he claims that Christian Zionism has an “ultra-literal” and futurist hermeneutic. It is, of course, very simple to make out that all the prophecies referred to by Christian Zionists are not to be taken literally as referring to the Jewish people. In one stroke it removes all sorts of questions and difficulties. But, as we shall see, there are difficulties with this view.
I am also aware that the New Testament radically develops the teaching of the Old Testament. The Old is the bud and the New is the flower. In rightly stressing the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, we must never forget this radical development, which Sizer stresses. So there are important developments of land to world, temple to Jesus, etc.” (p. 25-26)
“I is true that some, including some Orthodox Jewish people, think that such a re-establishment of the state is not the real thing prophesied in Scripture, which could only be established by Messiah. Others, including Sizer, think Israel, because of disobedience to God, could lose the land again.” (p. 28)
“Sizer writes: “Belief in the final restoration of the Jews to Zion is also based on a literal and futurist reading of selective Old Testament prophecies. However, the texts themselves indicate that such a return occurred under Ezra and Nehemiah and that no further return is to be anticipated. It may be argued that Jesus repudiated any such expectation. New Testament writers apply such Old Testament promises to both believing Jews and Gentiles.”
However, there are OT prophecies which scholars believe relate to a time much later than the return under Ezra and Nehemiah, and are often in a messianic context. I refer to Isaiah 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jeremiah 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezekiel 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17, 20; Amos 9:14-15; Zechariah 12:2-3, 10-11; and 14.” (p 29)
“In conclusion, then, I agree with much of the criticism Sizer makes of Christian Zionism and particularly of its lack of commitment to justice and reconciliation. Like him, I too reject the extremes of Christian Zionism, seen particularly in the USA and Israel. However, I believe Sizer throws the baby out with the bathwater, particularly by not dealing seriously enough with the biblical material, which I believe forms a credible foundation for a balanced, moderate Christian Zionism.
Moderate Christian Zionists will:
- Pray for the Israelis and the Palestinians, showing compassion for their needs, pain, and fears, and an awareness of their faults.
- Pray for and, where possible, take action to promote reconciliation, peace, security, and justice for both people groups and an end to violence on both sides.
- Pray for and support evangelism among both people groups.
Having read Sizer’s book carefully, I remain a pro-Palestinian Christian Zionist who is passionate about justice and reconciliation and sensitive to the needs, pain, and fears of both Palestinians and Israelis.” (p. 29)
It was in part to encourage further dialogue on the interpretation of Scripture regarding the relationship between Israel and the Church that I wrote the sequel, Zion’s Christian Soldiers. I look forward to further conversations with Tony Higton on the case for Moderate Christian Zionism.