(For this series I owe a lot of thanks to Roland Boer, an Australian biblical scholar and cultural theorist, for helping to flesh out my own understanding about America’s special relationship with Israel through his book Political Myth:On the Use and Abuse of Biblical Themes)
Being raised in a fundamentalist style household, our beliefs were tied to our politics through the works of men like Irvin Baxter and other “End-times” dispensationalist ministers who studied and taught on the book of Revelation. In anticipation of the end of the world, Baxter and others project biblical prophecy onto current events, attempting to identify themes and motifs that could be construed as fulfillment of the text and a mark of the second coming of Christ.
I’m sure most are familiar with at least the general idea. A negative head of state or popular figure is typically identified as the potential anti-christ. Political organizations like the UN are eyed as the prototype for a one world government or a “new world order” as Bush Sr. put it, accidentally inferring those negative overtones. Interestingly enough, globalization and expansive neoliberalism is never considered a threat on the scale of “The Beast”; although suspicions definitely exist in the evangelical and fundamentalist community about a potential single currency like the Euro or the transfer of all their wealth to electronic values, the preconception is that democracy and free markets everywhere is better because individuals will have personal economic liberty. They never seem to question the notion of predatory multinational corporations and the interconnectedness of those interests with state actors.
But anyway, Israel holds a special role in the end-time story because it has a central role in the world war that will summon God back to Earth; it’s relationship to Armageddon is endearing to men like John Hagee, a Texas minister who actively and fervently supports Israel to the point where he is synonymous with Christian-Zionism, a belief that the Jews remain the chosen people of God, have retained their special relationship from the old covenant, and must retain the integrity of their state (with all the racial and nationalist overtones that entails).
The relevance of America from a scriptural foundation comes from a unique interpretation of Revelation’s vision of four beasts. Revelation 4 references Daniel’s vision in Dan. 7, and the first of these beasts is described thus
“4The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.”
Baxter and others interpret this in a modern day context to represent America. Wait, what does a lion have to do with America? Well, they point to the colonies roots under the British Empire. The lion was long a symbol of England since the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II, as it was part of the coat of arms of the Duchy of Aquitaine, and her son, known as the Cœur de Lion (hidden reference to the title of this blog!) popularized it through his slaughter of Muslims in the Holy Land (while all the while ignoring the problems of his people, according to William Stubbs). Obviously we’re talking about Richard the Lionhearted. Anyway, the wings break off the Lion and presumably stand for America… though eagles have long been the symbols of other empires, including the Third Reich, the Romanovs and other extinct regal dynasties, the Napoleonic empire, ancient Rome, and the Byzantines. The above link offers a more interesting source of explanation for the vision, relating it to the Assyrians and Nebuchadnezzar’s madness.
The other beasts in Daniel’s vision include a bear eating three ribs – which when these interpretations arose was presumably Soviet Communist Godless Russia consuming Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan, or any other 3 arbritrary central Asian or eastern European country – a leopard with four wings and dominion – which they interpreted as Germany (because they have “Panther” tanks! no joke, that was the justification) in it’s “Fourth Riech”, a boogeyman of political theorists during the 60s and 70s – and “the beast”. This last one makes all the others look pathetic, with seven heads, ten horns, iron teeth, “terrible” and strong, which stomps all over everything and basically ruins everybody’s day. It also has a little horn with a mouth and it talks and says important stuff, at least in this vision. This and the others are referenced in Revelation, so presumably Paul had the same vision or something.
I keep getting off track. Anyway, dispensationalists with this special belief where end-time prophecy is applied to modern day politics are not the only ones where American consesus for Israel’s significance takes root. But I think it’s important to recognize their importance to the myth of Israel in the religious conciousness.
Going back to the wings of the eagle, in Revelation 12 there’s a “great wonder in heaven”, a woman with mystical, celestial adornments who gives birth, and then a dragon (the Devil) comes out of nowhere, casts the stars around her to earth, and is ready to eat her baby (who delivers a “man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron), but he gets away, and she runs into the wilderness, and there’s a war in heaven, and eventually…
“to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.”
So, now that we’ve established all that, Baxter and others interpret this as America’s providence to defend Jews in disposia, nearly consumed by Nazi Germany, and then the new nation of Israel, nearly consumed by the heathen hordes of Semetic people not Jewish unfortunate enough to have been born in Palestine. The problem with this thinking (not to mention the preferential interpretation to suit the Zionist ideology’s political motives) is that it continues to propegate the idea of the Hebrew race as a chosen people with a special covenant to God, while Jesus and even the diciples went to great legnths to redefine the covenant throught the gospels, Galatians, and other epistles. As Paul writes,
“glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God.”
Hebrews was arguably written because of this debate; whether the Jews ought keep being Jews to please God, or that others need bother with the old law. The current attitude of evangelicals and fundamentalists is puzzling; while they certainly don’t retain the anti-semetic scorn for “the people that killed Jesus,” onenesss apostolics and other evangelicals do not have a very accepting doctrine: “one God, one faith, one baptism” usually means that Jews who are not messianic are still hellbound. Yet they have a special consideration for Israel, despite that the majority of Jews in Israel feel that simply living there and speaking Hebrew is sufficent for God without any othe
r religious observations. Hiloni or Political Zionists enjoy rich herritage and religosity of their country without practicing the more arcane spiritual behaviors. Christian-Zionists (that is, their Jesus-following fans in the US) are oblivious to this; in fact, Hagee claims in his 2007 book that Jesus never claimed to be a savior for the Jews, just for Gentiles. Others have criticised him for this and his apparent claims that Jews should not be converted, yet he denies that he believes this and has promised to explain himself.
Ultimately, the fundamentalist tie to Israeli-American relations is just one aspect of the various cultural roots the Israeli lobby can depend on for support.