Timothy Weber has written a fascinating theological/political history in his book, _On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend_. It covers a strange and often neglected alliance between a subset of Christian Protestant evangelicals (specifically, "dispensationalists") and the political aspirations of Zionism and Israeli expansionism in the Middle East. It also covers in detail related topics such as evangelical missions to convert Jews in the US, Messianic Judaism, Jews for Jesus, popular works of dispensationalist literature, Israeli tours in the Holy Land, and charities formed to Russian Jews in Palestine.
Dispensationalist theology developed in the 19th century at the hand of a British minister, John Darby, who carried his message to the United States. The dispensationalist method of Bible interpretation owes greatly to the Scofield Reference Bible (1908). Central to dispensationalist theology is the idea that God has dealt with humanity in a series of "dispensations" where man has been judged based on whether or not he has responded to God's demands correctly. After Christ, believers are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus and may attain to resurrection from the dead and heavenly glories. Central to God's plans for humanity in this age, as Weber focuses on in this book, is the return of Jews to Palestine. In order for Christ to return, the Antichrist needs to set up a one world government and command himself to be worshipped as God in the reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem. The Antichrist will persecute Jews who will in turn come to recognize Christ as their savior and repent of their unbelief. In the interim, an estimated two-thirds of Israel will be destroyed by the ravages of the Antichrist. However, believing Christians will not have to suffer this persecution because they will be "raptured" before the global strife (Tribulation) begins. After Christ returns he will set up a millennial kingdom in Israel as the Jewish Messiah in literal fulfillment of such prophecies found in Ezekiel and Revelation.
Dispensationalists are reactionaries against theological liberalism and are not connected to established Christian churches. Many of their pastors base their ministries on charisma and preaching rather than institutional authority. Many have built up huge media-ecclesiastical enterprises in the past thirty years. The most popular of the early dispensationalist book was of course the _Scofield Reference Bible_ and a number of books from the early 1900s, many of which dealt with coming destruction of the world, political conspiracies and Jesus' eminent return. In the later 1900s, dispensationalist publications such as Hal Lindsey's _The Late Great Planet Earth_ (1970) and the _Left Behind_ series (late 1990s/early 2000s) by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins sold tens of millions of copies. Other notable dispensationalist enterprises include John Hagee's 17,000-member Cornerstone Church in Dallas Texas and Pat Robertson's media network such as his Christian Broadcasting Network. Probably the most notorious involvement of dispensationalists in the political arena was that of Jerry Falwell's pro-Regan Moral Majority during the 1980s.
Because of their belief in the eminence of the Apocalypse, Weber has catalogued how dispensationalists have reacted to the various episodes of political turmoil, especially in the Middle East during the 1900s. Dispensationalists were generally pro-American in WWI but were not the War's strongest supporters. They were pleased after the Ottoman Empire fell to British forces and signing of the Balfour declaration when the British government promised to establish a homeland for Jews in Palestine. World War II was met with mixed responses. Some dispensationalists read "signs of the times" in the Jewish sufferings at the hand of Hitler. After the WWII, the British were reluctant to continually allowing Jews to emigrate to Palestine in the wake of Arab protest and subsequent civil unrest. However, the State of Israel declared its independence in 1948 as a Jewish State after terrorist and diplomatic pressure forced the British to capitulate. Isreal's founding was viewed as a veritable miracle. Dispensatinalists were especially pleased by Israel's lightning fast war in 1967 against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, West Bank (which includes the ancient Biblical regions of Judea and Samaria) and most importantly, East Jerusalem, were returned to Jewish hands for the first time in 2,000 years. Israel could also count on American dispensationalist support for its bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Furthermore, Dispensationalists attempted to read prophetic events into Israel's conflict with Saddam Hussein, who was "exposed" in several sensational pieces of literature as a new Nebuchadnezzar bent of destroying Israel because Iraq occupies similar territory as the ancient Babylonian Empire around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In contrast to the Persian Gulf War in 1991, dispensationalists were rather silent when Gulf War II broke out in 2003 and when Saddam was eventually captured by US forces.
Since much of dispensationalist eschatology centers around the Jerusalem Temple, some have gone so far as to condone violent attacks to destroy the Dome of the Rock (such as those attempted by Gush Emunim and Yoel Lerner). Dennis Rohan, an Australian Christian inspired by apocalyptic beliefs about the eminent return of Christ, even managed to set fire to the shrine to the angst of Palestinians against the Israeli government. Although the Dome of the Rock is still intact, Jews are technically prohibited against entering the Temple site anyway because of an obscure rule in Leviticus which requires the ashes of a red heifer sprinkled on a Jew because of ritual uncleanness derived from contact with dead bodies. Webster points out how red heifers that meet rabbinical standards are extremely rare. However, Israeli rabbis have developed ties to American cattle breeders to empower Israel's beef industry and hopefully breed a red heifer successfully. Thankfully, this task has not yet been accomplished.
I cannot recommend Weber's book enough. He demonstrates an excellent knowledge of the history and theology of this unusual movement in evangelical Christianity and its political alliance with Jewish nationalism.
For anyone trying to understand how Israel/Palestine came to be, the story is in here. I'm not finished with the book yet, but have read the chapters on the history of how the occupation started up through the early 1970's.
From what I've read of the remaining, I'm not sure I can agree with the previous review. I understand the dispensationalists to be a specific 'sect' if you will of the evangelical right, not entirely binary, but I don't understand all evangelicals to be dispensationalists. Hoping this doesn't confuse people... Dispensationalist was a new word for my vocabulary with this book.
My own reaction to the whole concept of dispensationalists is disturbing, and I read the parts of the book I have with disbelief. Humbling, how much I don't know! I was put in that place, for sure!
This book should be read by any who have the slightest interest and feel the need to know more about the conflict in the middle east.