Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bible Belters repent at Knesset

Surreal deal. A whole passle of Christian Zionists are in town to mark the 40th anniversary of Jerusalem's unification (when Israel reconquered the walled city where the Second Temple once stood, during the Six-day war). About 200 of them showed up at the Knesset to read a belated letter of repentance, an abject apology for two millenia's worth of Christian atrocities against the Jewish people. Coincidentally, this is an act many of them reckon will hasten the "End Days" before the Second Coming of Christ. The bloodbath of Middle Eastern current events leads some to believe that the prophesized "Time of Tribulations" is already underway in the Promised Land. The unusual prayer service was sponsored by the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. The mixed Israeli and Evangelical audience belted out Israel's national anthem with vigor, as if it were a martial Zionist hymn.

After the tearful apology came the love fest. Seymour Kook-- a pastor from South Carolina with a name right out of a Bart Simpson cartoon-- read aloud a touching collection of love letters from born-again Christians to the "God of Israel." These expressed gratitude "for the root of God's olive tree (and) for every Jewish father of the faith... we stand in faith in our branch, without arrogance, with humility toward your God and the fathers of Israel, who took us in when we could not deserve him and could not find him."

"May Jacob be blessed by us, not scattered to the nations, but brought back on eagles wings, not inheriting his land divided, but yours, returned to you to steward until the messiah comes, and then forever and ever and ever." The room erupted in applause. Prayers were addressed to the "mighty God of Israel as your holy people, Jews and gentiles, one people as you would want us to be." (No mention of the Jews needing to worship the Messiah, post-Rapture, or else being condemned to hellfire. A minor oversight?)

Meanwhile, as Christian Zionists communed with the Chosen People, the Israeli foreign ministry skipped a long-planned meeting with the Vatican, which would have touched on their strained relations and touchy subjects like taxes on the Catholic Church's Jerusalem properties. This last-minute snub understandably left the diplomats from Holy See quite cross, and they issued a press release to this effect. The High Church in Jerusalem attracts mainly Arab Israelis or Palestinians, both in the priesthood and among the local congregation. Some of their leaders had lashed out at Christian Zionists last summer for misuse of the Book of Revelation as a latter-day Gospel scare tactics. This Knesset prayer session may have been a tatty diplomatic tit-for-tat for the Christian Zionists to relish. Or just a scheduling conflict, as the government asserted. Condi Rice's flit-through was another excuse not to meet Pope Benedict XVI's posse. The German Pope says he will be happy to come visiting once there is peace in the Middle East. Yeah, right. He also says Hell "exists and is eternal," and did not specify when it might freeze over.

Texas twangs and soft Nigerian accents were much in evidence at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum before the Knesset meeting, and bus loads of evangelical tourists had rumbled up to Yardinit, the latter-day mass baptism spot on the Jordan River which the Kibbutzniks of Kinneret have set up next to their gargantuan souvenir stall. (The actual site of Jesus' baptism is located inconveniently in the West Bank near Jericho. That did not prevent baptisms and re-baptisms of many soggy and joyous bus riders.)

Even though Christian missionaries officially are persona non grata in Israel, and Messianic Jews, who accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, must be stealthy about spreading their conversion doctrine, the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus has official approval. Its appeals to evangelical Christians in the US and elsewhere yield large donations , along with prayers of solidarity and political opposition to a two-state solution with Palestine. The government tourist board, wounded by scary media coverage of the Intifadas and conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon, is ecstatic over the popular Evangelical tourist circuit emerging in the Holy Land. Prayer is all the protection these true believers think they need from Qassam rockets or potential suicide bombers, and they continue to arrive in droves. An amusement park, with televangelist Pat Robertson's inimitable input, and a plush Robert Trent Jones-designed golf courses near the Mt of Beatitudes are being developed expressly for Evangelical Christians who seek holy sites beyond Jerusalem. For Chrissakes, what next? One purported attraction is a plexi-glass platform just inches under the surface so visitors can take snapshots of each other walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee.

painting at top by Salvador Dali, 1951: Christ of St John of the Crucifix
cartoons courtesy of preterist archive