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Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Church of Scotland has big problems with the Old Testament

The Church of Scotland just released a pseudo-scholarly paper called "The inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land’".

As the JC writes:
A discussion document compiled by the Church's church and society council suggests that Jews’ claim to the land of Israel could be invalidated by their treatment of Palestinians.

The report will be voted on by the 700 Church members who attend the annual general assembly - the Church's sovereign body - when it meets later this month. If it is passed by a majority, it will become "the considered view of the Church", a spokesperson said.

The goal of the report is to use the mirage of Biblical scholarship to deny Jewish rights to historically sacred Jewish lands.
Since 2003, two new insights have been noted by the General Assembly: in 2007, in the report What Hope for the Middle East?2 the Church of Scotland responded to a declaration from Church leaders in Jerusalem, and endorsed their criticism of Christian Zionism and encouraged members of the Church of Scotland to reject it, and in 2009 Christians in the Holy Land came together and produced Kairos Palestine: a moment of truth, offered as a word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian Suffering.

With the co-operation and support of the World Mission Council, we present this report in 2013 as our latest reflection on the ‘questions that need to be faced’, as the political and humanitarian situation in the Holy Land continues to be a source of pain and concern for us all.
According to the paper:
In general terms there have been three main ways of understanding the promises about land in the Bible:
1. A territorial guarantee
2. A land held in trust
3. A land with a universal mission.
After quoting a number of Hebrew Bible verses that support the first idea literally, where God unconditionally promises the Land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Church has no real response - only "questions:"

i) How do we understand biblical texts that tell us that occupation of the land must go hand in hand with obedience to God’s law and God’s concern for justice?

ii) Did the prophets not warn that pursuit of power and wealth would lead to inequality, injustice and the loss of land, as it did in the Exile?

iii) What land is being discussed? Is it the land claimed by Joshua, or the land of David and Solomon, or Judah, or the Northern Kingdom of Israel?

iv) How do we view the narratives on the occupation of the ‘promised land’ in Joshua and Judges? (Violent ethnic cleansing was apparently condoned by God in some passages, while others suggest assimilation.)

v) Do any of the Hebrew Bible accounts really sanction future occupation of the land and the driving out of the people already there? For example, the occupation of the land by Jewish immigration in recent times and the violence used to deprive some 750,000 Palestinian people from their homes at the time the State of Israel was established in 1948? (This is known by the Palestinian people as Al Nakba – the catastrophe).

vi) Clarence Wagner describes the creation of the modern state of Israel as a ‘miracle’. What is meant by ‘miracle’? Was Al Nakba a ‘miracle’ – driving people from their ancestral land and property with no right of reclaim; the creation of the Gaza Strip; all the refugee camps; the occupied Palestinian territory with the destruction of community life; and the impoverishment of the Palestinian people?

vii) Justice is a major theme in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. For example “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) and “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33). Are these not a challenge to the policies of the State of Israel?

viii) How can Christians support the violation of human rights in the name of alleged divinely conferred exclusive rights to a specific area of land?
9/11 "Truthers" and others use a similar appalling lack of logic - they simply "ask questions" to cast doubt, without providing any alternative explanations. Has any Church of Scotland member ever asked a Christian Zionist how to answer these questions, let alone a knowledgeable Jew?

Beyond that, these questions are not meant to honestly find out answers, but they are loaded questions that presuppose lies:

  • They assume a mass expulsion of 750,000 Arabs in 1948, which is a lie. 
  • They bizarrely blame Israel for the creation of the Gaza Strip, which was where Egyptians dumped all Palestinian Arab refugees in 1948-49 to keep them out of Egypt proper. 
  • They blame Israel for the existence of "refugee camps" 65 years after the fact - when in fact every other refugee population gets assimilated into their host countries, and the Arab nations are the ones that have kept them stateless and miserable for so many decades.  
  • They assume that Israel, by its very existence, is a violation of human rights. 
  • They also skirt close to antisemitic stereotypes by claiming that Zionist Jews today are only engaged in the "pursuit of power and wealth." This is a perverted and thoroughly offensive description of modern Israeli priorities and accomplishments.


All of these "questions," therefore, are not quests for the truth, but attempts to promulgate lies under the rubric of "simply asking questions" - just like 9/11 "truthers" and Holocaust revisionists.

If they can explain how their disgusting "questions" are any different than those other immoral haters, I'd love to hear it. As it is, this section of the paper proves how dishonest and sickening these people are.

The second idea, that Israel is given to the Jews conditionally on their performing God's will, is dismissed by the Church - by arrogantly deciding that Jews are doing the opposite, and that the "Zionist project" is invalid, without a single proof-text:
As long as Zionists think that Jewish people are serving God’s special purpose and that abuses by the state of Israel, however wrong and regrettable, don’t invalidate the Zionist project, they will believe themselves more entitled to the land than the Palestinian people.
Again, the Church is assuming guilt and then twisting the facts to fit their preconceived ideas. They even give the following quote, calling it a "difficulty":

“Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I have carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you here to me. If only you will now listen to me and keep my covenant, then out of all peoples you will become my special possession; for the whole earth is mine. You will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation. Those are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’”

From a theological perspective, it is a difficulty for the anti-Zionist Christians, not to anyone else. Assuming that God controls the world, He apparently has given the Land to Jews, at least at the moment. Whether it is a test or a precursor to Messianic times no one can say for sure, but to dismiss the current miraculous Jewish state - only a vague idea a century ago - as nothing more than an excuse to oppress Arabs who lived there at the same time is not exactly theologically supportable. Indeed, it is another perversion of the truth.

Finally, the Church comes to what it believes is the true meaning of Israel - that the entire idea of Zion is symbolic and universal, with nothing at all to do with Jews.

I cannot speak for the New Testament concepts written in the paper to support this idea, but their interpretation of the Hebrew Bible is laughable.

The prophetic writings especially were developing a different understanding. In Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, force is used to achieve Israel‘s nationalistic goals. This is continued by the Maccabees in the 2nd century BC and the Zealots in AD 1st century. That exclusivist tradition implied Jews had a special, privileged position in relation to God. But the prophetic tradition stood against this. Narrative of the Babylonian captivity demonstrated that God was not confined to ‘their’ land, or was concerned only for  ‘them’. 
How exactly were prophets such as Samuel against war? David was also a prophet - as well as a warrior. Was he, and the Psalms he wrote, not part of the "prophetic tradition"?

And why should God's promises towards the Jews imply that God ignores them when they are in the diaspora?
The book of Jonah is a key text for understanding the Hebrew Bible’s promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants. Written at a time when Jewish people were turning inwards, the book presents Jonah as a Jewish nationalist to drive home the point: God‘s universal, inclusive love is for all. God in Jonah is merciful, gracious, a liberator of the oppressed and sinful who looks for just living. The people of God even include the hated Assyrians. So Jonah suggests a new theology of the land, because God was not confined within the land of Israel, but also embraced the land of Assyria. 

God's special relationship with the  Jews in the Bible in no way implies that He has nothing to do with the other nations, as the Church bizarrely implies here, any more than a father would ignore his neighbor's kids.  Jewish tradition teaches that all people - not just Jews - can be rewarded by God. God spoke directly to Balaam, a non-Jewish prophet - as well as to at least one Pharaoh. There is no "new theology" in Jonah.

If the Church simply wanted to argue that the Hebrew Bible is outdated by the New Testament - which is in fact its strongest argument - then why try so hard to twist the Old Testament to support their anti-Zionist thesis?

Obviously they feel that the Hebrew Bible is their biggest challenge, one that does not fit in the least with their political theology, and this embarrasses them. The result is ten pages of hand waving to misdirect their readers away from the problems posed by the Hebrew Bible, and to discount the actual words of God - in their own theology - in order to justify their hatred for Israel.

This is not exactly how one would expect a religious institution to act.

(h/t Gidon Shaviv)