Preface Franz Kobler
"The Vision Was There"
Part One 

Franz Kobler
"The Vision Was There.
A History of the British Movement for the Restoration of the Jews to Palestine"

London, 1956

Britain, Zionism,
and the Creation
of the State of Israel


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        THE connection of the people of Israel with the Land of  Israel goes back to the very origins of the Hebrews. The idea of this inseparable bond permeates the Scriptures. From Abraham's calling to the speeches of the last Prophets. Canaan is the goal of the people delivered from Egyptian bondage; Zion the hope of the captives in Babylon. There is no other space on earth into- which the Jewish genius projected its Messianic daydreams. "For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem ."

        No tyranny that swayed the land, no new happiness attained by the people in other countries, have been able to sever the link between the Jewish people and its land: On the contrary, it grew ever stronger, supported by memories and venerable rites, by prayers, teaching and poetry; and developed into an historical power; revolt after revolt flared up, kindled by the flame of the great love. Such darings were doomed, yet the hope of the return could not die.

       As the centuries went by, thousands upon thousands of Jews from all the corners of the Diaspora found their way to the country which, though desolate, was still the Promised Land. Cruel persecutions added a powerful impulse to the spiritual longing. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and later from Portugal, carried waves of immigration into the ancient homeland.  Soon afterwards appeared David Reubeni, who proposed to the Pope and to the King of Portugal to raise an army for the re-conquest of the Land of Israel. He and his enthusiastic follower, Solomon Molko, had to pay with their lives for their Messianic dreams; their eccentric deeds were only a prelude to the Messianic activities and movements which, on an unprecedented scale, followed in the seventeenth century.

        At that juncture Jewish Messianism was joined by an analogous and yet different spiritual current of Christian origin, flowing in the same direction. For the restoration of the Holy Land and, particularly, of Jerusalem to their former and even more splendid glory, constitutes also an essential part of the Christian eschatology as developed by the founders of the Church. Their principal expectations, based chiefly on the Book of Daniel and on the Revelation of St. John, were the return of Jesus ("The Second Coming of Christ") and his victorious struggle against the Antichrist whose fall would lead to the Millennium, the heavenly kingdom of peace bound to last a thousand years and to be followed by the Last Judgment (Rev. xx). The Christian fathers -Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius, and others- imagined these events as impending, with the Holy Land and Jerusalem, the latter miraculously rebuilt, as their setting. Although the national revival of the Jewish people did not enter into the theories of the early Fathers, their vision -for which the terms Chiliasm or Millenarianism have been coined- shows a character similar to that of Jewish Messianism.

       Origen, in the third century, was one of the first authors who opposed these expectations. He branded them as the views of those who "believing in Christ, understood the Divine Scripture in a sort of Jewish sense". The most radical change of the millennial hope was, however, caused by St. Augustine at the beginning of the fifth century. In his famous book De Civitate Dei he created the doctrine according to which the Church itself embodies the millennial Kingdom of God. Gradually, as Augustine's views became predominant, Millenarianism ceased to be a significant feature of Christian theology.

       But the disappointment of later generations, after a thousand years of the Christian era, led to a revival of the millenarian ideas. In the twelfth century the Italian monk Joachim of Fioris was the first prominent protagonist of this trend whose followers regarded the establishment of the Millennium as imminent. Beliefs of this kind lay at the core of the Hussite and Anabaptist movements of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They also influenced the German and Swiss Reformation. Calvin, in particular, with his inclination towards the Old Testament and Theocracy (or rather "Bibliocracy") established a strong link with Millenarianism.

       It was, however, not on the Continent but in the British Isles that the new millenarian ideas came to full fruition. There, after the break with Rome under Henry VIII, the Church had lost her place as the only religious guide of the English people, a place which was taken by another spiritual power:  the Bible. In the words of John Richard Green, in his Short History of the English People, "England became the people of a book and that book was the Bible". This statement was confirmed in our own day by G. M. Trevelyan: " . . . though Shakespeare may be, in the retrospect, the greatest glory of his age, he was not in his own day its greatest influence.  By the end of Elizabeth's reign, the book of books for Englishmen was already the Bible." With its faith rooted in the Holy Writ, the eyes of England began to turn towards the establishment of the Kingdom of God or, as it were termed alternatively, the Kingdom of Christ, an aim to be realized by and within England. These views were accepted by leading English Protestants and became current during the second part of the sixteenth century. The England of rising Puritanism was powerfully drawn to the marvellous story of the ascent of the Hebrew people from slavery to freedom and of its struggle for the Promised Land. The fighters for the Kingdom of God saw themselves treading a similar road, and began to identify themselves with Israel. The sacred promises and the prophecies were applied by the English to themselves. Zion became the symbol of their own national future.

       It is true that the millennial hope of establishing another theocracy on British soil seems to be far removed from the original millenarian idea of a glorious earthly Zion to be built in the Holy Land. In Puritanism there was, however, from the outset a tendency to literal interpretation of Scripture closely linked with purely spiritual aspects. What later developed into the doctrine of special radical sects, such as the Fifth Monarchy Men, was already present in the teaching of many Puritans during the first stages of the movement. To them, as to the early Christians, there appeared the vision of a Zion which was to take the place of Rome and bear out the Biblical prophecies by becoming the heart of a kingdom of peace and justice. The profound faith of the Puritans in the Word of God enjoined moreover the acceptance of all the promises explicitly and unmistakably relating to the Jews, as contained in numerous passages of the Scriptures and the New Testament. Thus the Puritan millenarians created a particular Christian-Jewish Messianism, the doctrine of the Restoration of the Jews to Palestine.

        That this development took place in a country where almost no professing Jews had been seen for centuries, in consequence of their expulsion in 1290, may be regarded as one of history's strangest paradoxes. And yet the contemporary Jewish world was by no means without influence on the emergence of the British doctrine concerning the future of the Jewish people. The fundamental changes inside Christianity coincided with the utter destruction of the flourishing Jewish settlements on the Iberian Peninsula and the resulting widespread migration of Jews. The tremendous impulse given by this upheaval to Jewish Messianism culminated in a re-interpretation of the Messianic conceptions by the great masters of the Kabbalah. These events profoundly influenced Christian thought in England as elsewhere. The drawing-together of the English and the Jewish peoples was hastened still further by the flight of Portuguese Neo-Christians. The Marrano communities founded in Tudor England by these victims of persecution were the first pioneers of the Jewish resettlement in Great Britain. A strange mixture of esteem and mistrust, admiration and hatred is the characteristic of the relationship of English society with this "underground" Jewish colony, an attitude reflected in numerous allusions to the Jews by contemporary authors. Marlowe's Jew of Malta and, above all, Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice provide ample evidence that during the same period when the "ancient people of God" became the model for the English nation, the contemporary Jews aroused acute attention.

       While professing Jews remained barred from Britain, intensive Hebrew studies, travels, and correspondence paved the way for a more intimate approach to them. Converted Jewish scholars, such as John Immanuel Tremellius and Philip Ferdinandus, helped the great English Hebraists to educate the generation which created the Authorized Version of the Bible (in 1611) and contributed to the spreading of rabbinical wisdom. It was from this stock also that the first outstanding advocates of the Restoration of the Jews originated.

 Preface Franz Kobler
"The Vision Was There"

Part One 

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