Christian Zionism is a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy. The term began to be used in the mid-20th century, superseding Christian Restorationism.
Hippolytus and Irenaeus foresaw a Jewish return from exile, despite their unbelief in Jesus. Traditional Catholic thought did not consider Zionism in any form and Christian advocacy of the restoration of the Jews arose following the Protestant Reformation. A contemporary Israeli historian suggests that evangelical Christian Zionists of the 1840s "passed this notion on to Jewish circles".
Some Christian Zionists believe that the gathering of the Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. This belief is primarily, although not exclusively, associated with Dispensationalism. The idea that Christians should actively support a Jewish return to the Land of Israel, along with the parallel idea that the Jews ought to be encouraged to become Christians, as a means of fulfilling a Biblical prophecy has been common in Protestant circles since the Reformation. Many Christian Zionists believe that the people of Israel remain part of the chosen people of God, along with the "ingrafted" Gentile Christians. (See [Romans 11:17-24] and dual-covenant theology.)
- 1 History prior to the First Zionist Conference
- 2 Recent political analysis and developments
- 3 Disapproval by other churches
- 4 Biblical interpretations
- 5 Notable proponents
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
History prior to the First Zionist Conference
Christian advocacy of the restoration of the Jews on their land was first heard following the Protestant reformation, particularly in the English-speaking world among the Puritans. It was common practice among Puritans to anticipate and frequently pray for a Jewish return to their homeland. John Owen, a prominent 17th century English Covenant theologian, for example, wrote: "Moreover, it is granted that there shall be a time and season, during the continuance of the kingdom of the Messiah in this world, wherein the generality of the nation of the Jews, all the world over, shall be called and effectually brought unto the knowledge of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ; with which mercy they shall also receive deliverance from their captivity, restoration unto their own land, with a blessed, flourishing, and happy condition therein." John Gill took a similar position.
Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scottish theologian, expressed the ardent spirit of prayer of many of his contemporaries: "O to see the sight, next to Christ's coming in the clouds the most joyful! Our elder brethren the Jews and Christ fall upon each other's necks and kiss each other! They have long been assunder, they will be kind to one another when they meet. O day! O longed-for and lovely day-dawn!"
O that the chosen band
Might now their brethren bring,
And gather'd out of every land
Present to Sion's King;
Of all the ancient race
Not one be left behind,
But each impell'd by secret grace
His way to Canaan find!
Christian support for Jewish restoration was brought to America by the Puritans who fled England. In colonial times, Increase Mather and John Cotton, among others, favored Jewish restoration, but it was not until the early 19th century that the idea gathered impetus.
Ezra Stiles at Yale was a prominent supporter of Jewish restoration. In 1808, Asa McFarland, a Presbyterian, voiced the opinion of many that the fall of the Ottoman Empire was imminent and would bring about Jewish restoration. One David Austin of New Haven spent his fortune building docks and inns from which the Jews could embark to the Holy Land. In 1825, Mordecai Manuel Noah, a Jew who wanted to found a national home for the Jews on Grand Island in New York as a way station on the way to the Holy Land, won widespread Christian backing for his project. Likewise, restorationist theology was among the inspirations for the first American missionary activity in the Middle East.
Many Christians believed that the return of the Jews to Judea, as prophesied in the Bible, was a necessary preliminary step towards the Second Coming. In this particular interpretation, after the Jews returned they would both accept Jesus as their savior and rebuild the Temple, which would usher in the Second Coming of Christ.
Dispensationalism and pro-Restoration detractors
As the demise of the Ottoman Empire appeared to be approaching, the advocacy of restorationism increased. At the same time, the visit of John Nelson Darby, the founder of dispensationalism, to the United States, catalyzed a dispensationalist movement and an evangelical revival. This was expressed at the Niagara Bible Conference in 1878, which issued a 14-point proclamation, including the following text:
"... that the Lord Jesus will come in person to introduce the millennial age, when Israel shall be restored to their own land, and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord; and that this personal and premillennial advent is the blessed hope set before us in the Gospel for which we should be constantly looking." (Luke 12:35–40; 17:26–30; 18:8 Acts 15:14–17; 2 Thess. 2:3–8; 2 Tim. 3:1–5; Titus 1:11–15)
The dispensationalist theology of John Nelson Darby which motivates one stream of American Christian Zionism is often claimed to be the foundation of American Christian Zionism. He first distinguished the hopes of the Jews and that of the church and gentiles in a series of 11 evening lectures in Geneva in 1840. His lectures were immediately published in French (L'Attente Actuelle de l'Eglise), English (1841), German and Dutch (1847) and so his teachings began their global journey. While there is no doubt that it had a great influence through the Scofield Bible, Christian support of the restoration of the Jews preceded the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible (first published by OUP, 1909) for nearly a century, and many prominent Christian Zionists and Christian Zionist organizations such as the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem do not subscribe to dispensationalism. Many non dispensationalist Protestants were also strong advocates of a Jewish return to their homeland, C H Spurgeon, both Horatius and Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M'Chyene, and J C Ryle were among a number of prominent proponents of both the importance and significance of a Jewish return to Israel. However Spurgeon, for example, famously reported of dispensationalism, 'It is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed one at a time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement'.
|“||We look forward, then, for these two things. I am not going to theorize upon which of them will come first — whether they shall be restored first, and converted afterwards — or converted first and then restored. They are to be restored and they are to be converted, too.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon The Restoration And Conversion Of The Jews. Ezekiel 37.1-10, June 16th, 1864
Dispensationalist Christian Zionism was popularized in the United States by the evangelical Cyrus Scofield (1843–1921), who promoted the doctrine that Jesus could not return to reign on Earth until certain events occurred. In the interim, prior to these last days events, Scofield's system taught that the Christian church was primarily for the salvation of the Gentiles, and that according to God's plan the Jewish people are under a different dispensation of God's grace, which has been put out of gear so to speak, until the last days, when the Christian Church will be removed from the earth by a miracle called the Rapture.
Scofield, writing in the 1900s, said that in those last days the Bible predicts the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and particularly to Jerusalem. Scofield further predicted that Islamic holy places would be destroyed and the Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt, signalling the very end of the Church Age when the Antichrist would arise, and all who seek to keep the covenant with God will acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah in defiance of the Antichrist.
The crumbling of the Ottoman Empire threatened the British route to India via the Suez Canal as well as sundry French, German and American economic interests. In 1831 the Ottomans were driven from Greater Syria (including Palestine) by an expansionist Egypt, in the First Turko-Egyptian War. Although Britain forced Muhammad Ali to withdraw to Egypt, the Levant was left for a brief time without a government. The ongoing weakness of the Ottoman Empire made some in the west consider the potential of a Jewish state in the Holy Land. A number of important figures within the British government advocated such a plan. Again during the lead-up to the Crimean War (1854), there was an opportunity for political rearrangements in the Near East. In July 1853, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, who was President of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, wrote to Prime Minister Aberdeen urging Jewish restoration as a means of stabilizing the region.
Late 19th century, non-Messianic Restorationism was largely driven by concern over the fate of the Jews of the Russian Empire, beset by poverty and by deadly, government-inspired pogroms. It was widely accepted that western nations did not wish to receive Jewish immigrants. Restorationism was a way for charitable individuals to assist oppressed Jews without actually accepting them as neighbors and fellow-citizens. In this, Restorationism was not unlike the efforts of the American Colonization Society to send blacks to Liberia and the efforts of British abolitionists to create Sierra Leone. Winston Churchill endorsed Restoration because he recognized that Jews fleeing Russian pogroms required a refuge, and preferred Palestine for sentimental reasons.
Early religious views in Protestant America
In 1844, George Bush, a professor of Hebrew at New York University and the cousin of an ancestor of the Presidents Bush, published a book titled The Valley of Vision; or, The Dry Bones of Israel Revived. In it he denounced "the thralldom and oppression which has so long ground them (the Jews) to the dust," and called for "elevating" the Jews "to a rank of honorable repute among the nations of the earth" by allowing restoring the Jews to the land of Israel where the bulk would be converted to Christianity. This, according to Bush, would benefit not only the Jews, but all of mankind, forming a "link of communication" between humanity and God. "It will blaze in notoriety ...". "It will flash a splendid demonstration upon all kindreds and tongues of the truth."
Herman Melville expressed the idea in a poem, Clarel; A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land
"... the Hebrew seers announce in time
the return of Judah to her prime;Help reinstate the Holy Land ...
Some Christians deemed it then at hand
Here was an object. Up and On.
With seed and tillage help renew -
The tycoon William Eugene Blackstone was inspired by the conference to publish the book Jesus is Coming, which took up the restorationist cause, and also absolved the Jews of the need to convert to Christianity either before or after the return of the Messiah. His book was translated and published in Yiddish. On November 24–25, 1890, Blackstone organized the Conference on the Past, Present and Future of Israel at the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Chicago where participants included leaders of many Christian communities. Resolutions of sympathy for the oppressed Jews living in Russia were passed, but Blackstone was convinced that such resolutions—even though passed by prominent men—were insufficient. He advocated strongly for the resettlement of Jewish people in Palestine. In 1891 he lobbied President Benjamin Harrison for the restoration of the Jews, in a petition signed by over 400 prominent Americans, that became known as the Blackstone Memorial. It read, in part: "Why shall not the powers which under the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Servia to the Servians now give Palestine back to the Jews? … These provinces, as well as Romania, Montenegro, and Greece, were wrested from the Turks and given to their natural owners. Does not Palestine as rightfully belong to the Jews?"
Views in the British Empire
Ideas favoring the restoration of the Jews in Palestine or the Land of Israel entered the British public discourse in the 1830s, though British reformationists had written about the restoration of the Jews as early as the 16th century, and the idea had strong support among Puritans. Not all such attitudes were favorable towards the Jews; they were shaped in part by a variety of Protestant beliefs, or by a streak of philo-Semitism among the classically educated British elite, or by hopes to extend the Empire. (See The Great Game)
In 1839, the Church of Scotland sent Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, Alexander Black and Alexander Keith on a mission to report on the condition of the Jews in Palestine. Their report was widely published. They traveled through France, Greece, and Egypt and, from Egypt, overland to Gaza. On the way home they visited Syria, the Austrian Empire and some of the German principalities. They sought out Jewish communities and inquired about their readiness to accept Christ and, separately, their preparedness to return to Israel as prophesied in the Bible. Alexander Keith recounted the journey in his 1844 book The Land of Israel According to the Covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. It was also in that book that Keith used the slogan that became popular with other Christian Restorationists, a land without a people for a people without a land. In 1844 he revisited Palestine with his son, Dr George Skene Keith (1819–1910), who was the first person to photograph the land.
In August 1840, The Times reported that the British government was considering Jewish restoration. An important, though often neglected, figure in British support of the restoration of the Jews was William Hechler (1845–1931), an English clergyman of German descent who was Chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna and became a close friend of Theodor Herzl. Hechler was instrumental in aiding Herzl through his diplomatic activities, and may, in that sense, be called the founder of modern Christian Zionism. When it came to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, it was noted by the editors of the English-language memorial volume that William Hechler would prove “not only the first, but the most constant and the most indefatigable of Herzl’s followers”.
Recent political analysis and developments
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With the Jewish settlement of Palestine thereafter, and the establishment of a modern Jewish state on May 14, 1948, dispensationalism (already popular among American Protestant fundamentalists) enjoyed an immediate boost of credibility. It seemed to many that biblical prophecy was being explained by the headlines of the newspaper, sparking an intense interest in events in the Middle East, which has continued unabated. Modern Christian Zionism is a politically potent consequence of this religious interest in the modern state of Israel, as contemporary events are interpreted in light of their relationship to biblical prophecy.
The role of certain Christians in supporting the establishment of Israel is well known; and it is regarded by some critics as, in part, a kind of self-willed fulfillment of prophecy. Given this, some are alarmed by what some Christian Zionists envision being done to bring about the conversion of the Jews and the end of the world. As an example, Hal Lindsey, one of the most popular American promoters of dispensationalism, has written in The Late Great Planet Earth that per Ezekiel 39:6–8, after Jews fight off a "Russian" invasion, Jews will see this as a miracle and convert to Christianity. Their lives will be spared the great fire that God will put upon Russia and people of the "coastlands." And, per Zechariah 13:8–9, one third of Jews alive who have converted will be spared.
In United States politics, Christian Zionism is important because it mobilises an important Republican constituency: fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants who support Israel. The Democratic Party, which has the support of most American Jews, is also generally pro-Israel, but with fewer theological underpinnings.
Sociologically, Christian Zionism can be seen as a product of the peculiar circumstances of the United States, in which the world's largest community of diaspora Jews lives side by side with the world's largest community of evangelical Protestants. There has historically been a somewhat antagonistic relationship between these two communities, largely based on the generally liberal/progressive social policy tendencies of the Jewish community with the more 'rugged individualist' leanings of the American Protestant communities, more so than any theological dispute. Their mutual reverence for the texts of the Hebrew Bible has brought them together, however, as has their common ground against generally leftist pro-Palestinian and/or anti-Israeli factions in American politics.
The mobilisation of evangelicals has tended to bolster the so-called neo-conservative policies of the Republicans, because Christian Zionists tend to favor a hawkish foreign policy and have less sympathy for Palestinian claims than do the Democrats.
Examples of Protestant leaders combining political conservatism with Christian Zionism are Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, leading figures of the Christian Right in the 1980s and 1990s. Falwell said in 1981: "To stand against Israel is to stand against God. We believe that history and scripture prove that God deals with nations in relation to how they deal with Israel." They cite part of the blessing of Isaac at Genesis 27:29, "Those who curse you will be cursed, and those who bless you will be blessed."
The government of Israel has given official encouragement to Christian Zionism, allowing the establishment in 1980 of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. The main function of the embassy is to enlist worldwide Protestant support for Israel. The embassy has raised funds to help finance Jewish immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union, and has assisted Zionist groups in establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The Third International Christian Zionist Congress, held in Jerusalem in February 1996, issued a proclamation which said:
- God the Father, Almighty, chose the ancient nation and people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to reveal His plan of redemption for the world. They remain elect of God, and without the Jewish nation His redemptive purposes for the world will not be completed.
- Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and has promised to return to Jerusalem, to Israel and to the world.
- It is reprehensible that generations of Jewish peoples have been killed and persecuted in the name of our Lord, and we challenge the Church to repent of any sins of commission or omission against them.
- The modern Ingathering of the Jewish People to Eretz Israel and the rebirth of the nation of Israel are in fulfilment of biblical prophecies, as written in both Old and New Testaments.
- Christian believers are instructed by Scripture to acknowledge the Hebraic roots of their faith and to actively assist and participate in the plan of God for the Ingathering of the Jewish People and the Restoration of the nation of Israel in our day.
Popular interest in Christian Zionism was given a boost around the year 2000 in the form of the Left Behind series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The novels are built around the prophetic role of Israel in the apocalyptic End Times.
Disapproval by other churches
Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (Catholic), the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, in 2006 published the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism, which rejects Christian Zionism as substituting, in its view, a political-military program in place of the teachings of Jesus Christ. It criticizes Christian Zionism as an obstacle to peace and understanding in Israel-Palestine.
The General Assembly of the National Council of Churches in November 2007 approved a resolution for further study which stated that the "theological stance of Christian Zionism adversely affects:
- justice and peace in the Middle East, delaying the day when Israelis and Palestinians can live within secure borders
- relationships with Middle Eastern Christians (see the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism)
- relationships with Jews, since Jews are seen as mere pawns in an eschatological scheme
- relationships with Muslims, since it treats the rights of Muslims as subordinate to the rights of Jews
- interfaith dialogue, since it views the world in starkly dichotomous terms"
The Reformed Church in America at its 2004 General Synod found "the ideology of Christian Zionism and the extreme form of dispensationalism that undergirds it to be a distortion of the biblical message noting the impediment it represents to achieving a just peace in Israel/Palestine." The Mennonite Church published an article that referenced what is called the ongoing illegal seizure of additional Palestinian lands by Israeli militants, noting that in some churches under the influence of Christian Zionism the "congregations 'adopt' illegal Israeli settlements, sending funds to bolster the defense of these armed colonies." As of September 2007, churches in the USA that have criticized Christian Zionism include the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ.
The film With God On Our Side, by Porter Speakman Jr. and Kevin Miller (the latter of whom also co-created the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed), criticizes both the underlying theology behind Christian Zionism as well as its negative influence on the church.
The Church of Scotland, despite its Restorationist history, has recently been critical of Zionism in general, and in turn has received strong criticism over the perceived injustice of its report, "The Inheritance of Abraham: A Report on the Promised Land", which resulted in its republication in a briefer form.
Church of England
On the 9th July 2012, the Anglican General Synod passed a motion affirming support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This was criticised by the Board of Deputies claiming the Synod 'has chosen to promote an inflammatory and partisan programme'. The advocated group was simultaneously criticised for its publication of a call for sit-ins at Israeli Embassies, the hacking of government websites to promote its message, and support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. The Church has been consequently criticised for its advocacy of a body that selectively ignores terror attacks against Israelis and solely blames Israel for the conflict, along with the 'demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel'.
Some Christian Zionists interpret the prophetic texts as describing inevitable future events, and these events primarily involve Israel (taken to mean the descendants of the Biblical patriarch Jacob) or Judah (taken to mean the remaining faithful adherents of Judaism). These prophecies are seen as requiring the presence of a Jewish state in the Holy Land, the central part of the lands promised to the Biblical patriarch Abraham in the Covenant of the pieces. This requirement is sometimes interpreted as being fulfilled by the contemporary state of Israel.
Among the principal didactic references are the New Testament books of Romans (especially chapter 15; q.v. "if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual benefits, then they are obligated to minister to Jews in material needs.", and chapter 11; "a hardening in part has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and thus will all Israel be saved"), and especially Hebrews, which elaborates the history of Judaism, relating the events of the Torah and Ketuvim as a "foreshadowing" of the Christian era, and describes the relationship of the Jewish people to God in a continuing context. In Romans 11, Paul wrote: "I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." It continues with a parable of a grafted olive tree, the point of which is disputed. Some say that it is the restoration of Israel to promised land, while others say that it is gentiles being grafted into the covenant of God with Israel's faithful remnant.
Prophetic and Messianic texts
Among the principal relevant prophetic texts are those found in the Jewish Bible or Old Testament in the Book of Daniel, the book of Isaiah and the Book of Ezekiel, and those found in the New Testament in the Book of Revelation.
Although many Christian Zionists believe that conversion of the Jews to Christianity is a necessary adjunct of the Second Coming or the End of Days, conversion of the Jews is not part of the theology of prominent Christian Zionists such as John Hagee and was not thought to be required by the nineteenth century restoration advocate William Eugene Blackstone.
Both pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist schools of Christian thought may be influenced and motivated by the description found in Revelation 3:9:
Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.
This description is often offensive to Zionist Jews who otherwise find some common ground with Christian Zionism in their support of an ethnic Jewish state in the Holy Land. Nonetheless, it forms one of the foundational ideas underlying some support for Christian Zionism and plays a definitive role in its eschatological script of prospective events.
Christian schools of doctrine which consider other teachings to counterbalance these doctrines, or which interpret them in terms of distinct eschatological theories, are less conducive to Christian Zionism. Among the many texts which address this subject in counterbalance are the words of Jesus, as for example in Matthew, "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it", and the writer of Hebrews's discussion (echoed in 1 Peter) of the Christian church as fulfilling the role previously fulfilled by the faithful Jews and the Temple, and the doctrine of Paul, expressed in Galatians, that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek".
In Defending Christian Zionism, David Pawson, a prominent Christian Zionist in the United Kingdom, puts forward the case that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is a fulfilment of scriptural prophecy, and that Christians should support the existence of the Jewish State (although not unconditionally its actions) on theological grounds. He also argues that prophecies spoken about Israel relate specifically to Israel (not to the church, as in "replacement theology"). However, he criticises Dispensationalism, which he says is a largely American movement holding similar views. Pawson was spurred to write this book by the work of Stephen Sizer, an evangelical Christian who rejects Christian Zionism.
- Bishop Michael Alexander
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- Simeon Ashe
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- Glenn Beck
- William Eugene Blackstone
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- Christian Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, p. 131, Wesley Haddon Brown, Peter F. Penner, 2008, 11, "Western Restorationism and Christian Zionism: Germany as a Case Study", WILRENS L. HORNSTRA: "Two things, not one: Restorationism and Christian Zionism are two terms, and we are indeed speaking of two things here, not just one."
- Proceedings of the ... World Congress of Jewish Studies: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1993: "Once aroused, American enthusiasm for the Restoration of the Jews to Israel would prove more powerful, because more vital and more broadly based in popular Evangelical Christianity, than English Restorationism."
- Hippolytus, Romanus (c. 202 AD). Treatise on Christ and the AntiChrist Sn.54, Translated by Philip Schaff (PDF). CCEL. pp. 537–538 (in pdf file). Check date values in:
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- Regina Sharif, Non-Jewish Zionism, Its Roots in Western History, Zed, 1983, page 10 "Prior to the Reformation, traditional Catholic thought had no place for the possibility of a Jewish return to Palestine nor any such concept as the existence of a Jewish nation."
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- Valley of vision: or, The dry bones of Israel revived: an attempted proof, from Ezekiel, chap. xxxvii, 1-14, of the restoration and conversion of the Jews, George Bush, 1844 "When the Most High accordingly declares that he will bring the house of Israel into their own land, it does not follow that this will be effected by any miraculous interposition which will be recognized as such....The great work of Christians, in the mean time, is to labor for their conversion. In this they are undoubtedly authorized to look for a considerable measure of success, though it be admitted that the bulk of the nation is not to be converted till after their restoration ; for it is only upon the coming together of bone to his bone that the Spirit of life comes into them, and they stand up an exceeding great army."
- Yaakov Ariel, On Behalf of Israel; American Fundamentalist Attitudes toward Jews, Judaism, and Zionism, 1865–1945 (New York: Carlson Publishing, 1991), pp. 70–72.
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- M'Cheyne's friends
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- PROCLAMATION of the 3rd INTERNATIONAL CHRISTIAN ZIONIST CONGRESS
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