Zionism and The History of The Jews

By Joseph Delli Gatti –

This article was originally written as a response to someone on FaceBook who asked about the origins of the Zionist movement, and asked why Jews have to live in Israel at all.  My approach to answering this inquiry was as follows:  as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe in the Bible: in its historicity, and in its doctrine.  Most of my understanding of Jewish history comes from the Old and New Testaments, from modern Prophets like Joseph Smith, Jr., and from LDS Scriptures like the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants.  It’s from this perspective that I responded (see below).  

Here’s a quick history of Israel over the course of the Old Testament (off the top of my head). If I’m getting any details wrong, feel free to correct me.

In Old Testament times, about 2100 BC, a man named Abraham (renamed from Abram) received a promise from God that his posterity would be as numerous as the stars.  But Abraham’s  wife was barren and too old to have children. So, in order to help her husband take advantage of that promise from God, Sarai (later renamed Sarah) allowed him to have a child with her handmaid who was an Egyptian woman outside of the “covenant”.

The baby’s name was Ishmael.  Ishmael would be the principle ancestor of a large portion of the Arabs/Muslims, and of Muhammad, the last Prophet of Islam. Ishmael may have also eventually married an Egyptian woman.

Later, Sarah also conceived (through a miracle and according to the words of an angel), and they named the child, Isaac. Isaac was born in the covenant, and was eligible to hold the birthright and the Priesthood of his father.  When the two women began gaming for the alpha-female spot (and for the favored son spot), Abraham was pressured by Sarah to send his first son away with the handmaid.

So, the birthright was passed down from Abraham to his son Isaac. Isaac eventually became the father of Esau and Jacob (Jacob was later renamed Israel). Esau was a hunter and was supposed to get the birthright as the first of the twins, but ended up nearly starved and gave his birthright to his brother Jacob in exchange for a bowl of lentil stew. Later, Jacob also received a blessing (the spiritual birthright) from Isaac in place of Esau. Esau vowed to destroy Jacob.  Esau is also the principle ancestor to the Edomites.  Some Edomites worshipped idols and hated the Israelites, and others eventually converted back to living the Law of Moses and lived among the Israelites.

Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and he ended up having 12 sons from a few different wives (from which came the infamous 12 tribes of Israel). One of those sons was Judah. Another son’s name was Joseph.

Joseph ended up working in a really high position with the Pharaoh in Egypt.  He prophesied and interpreted the Pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cows and seven skinny cows.  He told the pharaoh that it represented a warning about a seven-year famine.  Joseph also helped the Egyptians prepare for the famine.

Joseph’s brothers and parents eventually came to Egypt for food when they couldn’t survive the famine. Joseph ensured that they had food and lived. However, shortly after Joseph died, the family lost its land, fell into debt, and became impoverished in Egypt (except for a group of the Levites that refused to live among the Egyptians), and over time, became slaves to the Egyptians. Their posterity, which had become several thousand people by then, remained slaves for hundreds of years until Moses freed them and took them out of Egypt.

Map of Israel
Map of Israel courtesy of Wikipedia creative commons

The original Israeli government consisted of no government at all – just living by the religion that gave their father Abraham his promise. But eventually judges were established to rule in civil matters and doctrinal disputes as people’s hearts began to turn away from God and towards worldly possessions and selfishness. They wandered in the desert for many years in preparation to enter the promised land – encountering occasional hostile people along the way. They were promised the land of Israel, but couldn’t figure out how to get their land back from the people who had taken over and settled around there.So, the Israelites turned to battle and war, and often lost. They banded together and decided they needed a king to help them win.  They were tired of waiting on the prophets, the judges had become corrupt, and in the eyes of the people, the judges needed higher civil oversight (sort of like the UN providing oversight for all of these corrupt countries now).

Once they got a king anointed by their Prophet, they started winning some pretty ugly battles, and eventually made it into the promised land of Israel. II Samuel 5:7 Nevertheless David took the strong hold of [Zion]: the same is the city of David (Jerusalem).

Once in Israel, the kings ruled, and with the counsel of the prophets, lead Israel into prosperity and world trade.  During the reign of David’s son Solomon, a huge and beautiful temple was built that served as a national treasury, a home for the infamous Arc of The Covenant, a city center, and a place to conduct religious rites and ceremonies.  The Israelites began to be active and successful in international commerce, and became a wealthy nation worthy of alliances, lavish gifts, and visits from foreign national dignitaries.  Then, against the warnings of the prophets, Israel began to fall into idolatry, marriage outside of the covenant, pride and sin, and then eventually failure.

Many of the tribes got sick of disputing who should be the next king, etc., and decided to leave Jerusalem and the surrounding area, and to have another king up in the northern land. They left the Jews (decedents of Judah) and the tribe of Benjamin in the Southern Kingdom. The Jews continued to observe the law of Moses (for the most part) and keep the religious traditions alive in and around Jerusalem.

The northern kingdom generally fell away from observing the law of Moses and religious traditions, and began engaging in idol worship, etc. The northern kingdom began to be conquered by several nations, and eventually the Jews fell as well. Still, for the most part, Israelites/Jews were permitted to live their religion while under foreign rule, and at times, permitted to have their own government – but always under the watchful eye of the higher government.

The Israelites, and especially the Jews, awaited a Messiah promised by the prophets who would save them from their slavery and misfortune. During this time period, a Prophet named Isaiah began to preach to the Jews. Isaiah 59:20 says, “And the Redeemer shall come to [Zion], and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord.”  Here, Zion is thought to refer to Jerusalem.

Jesus Christ came and professed to be that Messiah; but many of the religious leaders/judges and civil judges (or interpreters and enforcers of the Mosaic and the civil law) didn’t think he fit the bill. They were expecting the messiah to be some kind of great hybrid prophet/king who would lead them to victory over their enemies. These government and church officials watched Jesus very closely, and tried to catch him creating political unrest and rallying the people to overthrow the government.  They did whatever they could to expose and punish him for his blasphemy.

Jesus was careful, taught in parables – especially while near Jerusalem and the areas overseen by the Romans. He often used rhetorical or provocative questions to answer questions.

Jesus’s way to free the people wasn’t by force – instead, it was by changing their understanding and attitudes, and by helping them to live a better moral code that would naturally strengthen them and lift them out of slavery and poverty. But the Jews were someone what hypocritical and self righteous – blind to their sins, and wanted to be saved while sinning.  Jesus taught them that they could only be saved by repenting.  He was trying to save their souls, and they were trying to save their land and their stuff.

Jesus gained the respect and admiration of a lot of the people; however, eventually the Jewish civil and church leaders opted to kill Him on a cross without a fair and legal trial after petitioning the Roman Prefict (like a Roman governor) to sentence him to death, and being denied.

The Bible records that Jesus was resurrected three days later. Jesus’ apostles went out of Israel and preached in the Middle East and the lower parts of Europe to the non-Israelite nations.  Eventually all of Christ’s Apostles were martyred, killed or died in exile, etc. The history of the Jews as recorded in the Bible ends there.

The followers of Jesus Christ’s teachings became known as “Christians” (followers of Christ).  Christians all over the world today try to live the teachings of Jesus, and believe that Jesus was resurrected. I believe that He was resurrected, and that He is the Messiah. I  live my best according to Jesus Christ’s teachings too.  Many of the Christians were of Jewish or Israelite heritage; however, many were not native to Israel.  This becomes important later on.  The Jews of today don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah or that he was resurrected – although many Jews and Muslims refer to Him as a prophet.

Rome continued to rule Israel until about AD 325, at which time, it split, and the converted Christian half (the Byzantines) ended up ruling Israel. This was also around the time the Bible was compiled.

In 6-something AD, the Byzantines lost the land to the Arab Islamic Empire. The Arabs ruled, converted, and killed off a large part of the Jews in the land. The Muslims built the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque – establishing the Temple Mount as an Islamic Holy site – right where the original Jewish temple used to stand.

Then the Christian “Byzantine/Roman”, Pope-sanctioned crusades took Palestine back around 1100 AD, and wiped out a ton of Jews and Muslims. Gradually, some Jews and Arabs immigrated back, but the Jewish population remained very small.

Then the Turks took over Israel in the 15th century, and allowed the Jews to live their religion. Gradually, the Jewish population began to grow, and even more Jews immigrated back when the Sultan at that time granted permission for a tiny Jewish state to be established. In the mid 1600s, more Jews fled to this tiny state from persecution and violence against them in the Ukraine.

Eventually, in 1917, the British took over a large chunk of Syria that included Israel. And that leads us to this explanation of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that began in the early 1900s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngFYOLOkmaI

Zionism has been around for a very long time – perhaps from as early as 3500 BC. In fact, the Mormon church was established in the early 1800s, and promoted a form of Zionism rooted in the principles and promises of God made to Israel.  The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) were written in 1851 and state the following:

10 We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”

The Old and New Testament prophesy that the Jews would return to [Zion] or Jerusalem in the last days, and that all of the descendants of Israel would be gathered. See Luke 21:24, and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Return_to_Zion

Jews are prophesied in the Bible to return to Jerusalem before the Second Coming of Christ.  Jews believe that the land of Israel is the land of their inheritance – and that it was promised to them by God.  It has traditionally served as a place to flee to in the event of life-threatening circumstances in other countries (like the holocaust of the 1940s).  Many Jews want and need a place to practice their religion to its fullest – something that can only be facilitated by a Jewish State.