[(Continued from p.4)]the poetry and history of the ancient Israelites, as well as the passion and tragedy of post-Biblical, post-exilic Jewish history, seem to have been missed entirely. If one were to suggest that the wellsprings of Western civilization are fed partly through currents that originate in Judea, Samaria, and the Galilee, a statement which no serious student of the West would, in the past, ever have denied, these people, as they jaywalk obliviously through the history of the West, would flatly deny; quite a few would even deny, as well, the existence of this "Western civilization."
But the Old Testament heritage is expressed everywhere in American life, in toponyms and on old tombstones, in the very rhythms of American literature, in the sermons and songs and speeches that employ Hebraic parallelisms, a rhetorical device transmitted intact by careful translators, from Wycliff and Tyndale and those who gave us the King James version. The Old Testament influence, in manner, is apparent most obviously in Whitman; in matter it is everywhere, from early Michael Wigglesworth to late Robert Frost; in the writings of our statesmen; in sermons, from the Mathers through later day evangelicals; in songs, from church hymns and Negro spirituals to Delta blues and modern gospel music. The titles alone express the Old Testament stories that have not lost their enduring significance in American life: Let My People Go, Exodus, the Battle of Jericho, the land of Goshen, Roll Jordan Roll, Moses in the Bulrushes, Joseph and his Brothers, Daniel in the Lion's Den.
The most memorable utterances of American presidents have almost always included recognizable Biblical phrases. When George Washington sent his famous letter about religious liberty to the Jews of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island on August 17, 1790, he assured them that the United States would be a place "where every man can sit under his vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid." The words were borrowed from Micah 4:4 ("They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree") and came to his mind as easily as we, today, may remember an advertising jingle or a retort by Ralph Kramden or Homer Simpson.
This source of rhetorical strength was on display this past February when the Columbia shuttle blew up. Had it not been an American but a French shuttle that had blown up, and were Jacques Chirac having to give such a speech, he might well have used the fact that there were seven astronauts, and evoked an image of the Pleiades first named in pagan antiquity. The American President, at a solemn national ceremony that began and ended with Biblical Hebrew, did things differently. He took his text from Isaiah 40:26, which led to a seamless transition from mingled wonder and awe at the heavenly hosts brought forth by the Creator, to consolation for the earthly loss of the crew: "In the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.' The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth, yet we can pray that all are safely home."
The Pleiades would have been brittle, classical, and cold as the night sky. The invocation of Isaiah, and the Bible, was exactly right. It commanded beliefeven from the non-believer.
The third development that encouraged Christian Zionism were the visits of so many clergymen along with other visitors to the Holy Land. Some saw the desolation, and wept; some saw it, and also saw possibilities. The best-known clergy who visited in this period include the English Anglican Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, who wrote two books based on his travels to the Holy Land, Sinai and Palestine and Sermons in the East, the latter based on a trip he took there in 1862 when he accompanied the Prince of Wales. The American W. M. Thompson decided to settle, in order to write his study of the Biblical sites he had carefully tracked down and described in the two fat volumes of The Land and the Book.
In the 1880s, the Reverend De Witt Talmage arrived. He was the most famous Protestant preacher of his day and his church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, the most famous church in America. He began to take notes for his Twenty-Five Sermons on the Holy Land, published in 1890. Here is an excerpt:
"Montefiore, the philanthropist, and Rothschild, the banker, and others of the large-hearted have paid the passage to Palestine for many of the Israelites, and set apart lands for their culture; and it is only a beginning of the fulfillment of Divine prophecy, when these people shall take possession of the Holy Land. The road from Joppa to Jerusalem, and all the roads leading to Nazareth and Galilee, we saw lined with processions of Jews, going to the sacred places, either on holy pilgrimage, or as settlers. All the fingers of Providence nowadays are point-
[(Continued on p.6)]
seven Columbia astronauts:
Michael Anderson * David Brown
Kalpana Chawla * Laurel Clark
Rick Husband * William McCoo
Born of the sun they traveled a
short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.
March 2003 - 5 - Outpost