Book Review: Restoring the Fortunes of Zion: Essays on Israel, Jerusalem and Jewish-Christian Relations on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Six-Day War
In an age dominated by social media, “fake news,” and a dearth of informed print journalism it is impossible to know who or what to believe about current events, including news “far away.” This is especially true of Israel – or even the mention thereof – which has become a lightning rod for world problems in microcosm. The same is true for Hamas, the PLO, Hezbollah, Zionism; these names evoke a strong and often ill-informed response tinged with a sense of noch einmal. Whether it’s the latest UN resolution on the plight of displaced Palestinians making the headlines so favoured by the left, or the hyper apocalyptic response of a conservative right Christian constituency that gorges itself on American television networks, balanced analysis and comment is hard to find, if not impossible.
In Restoring the Fortunes of Zion author, Rob Yule, offers a unique perspective hewn from a deep pastoral, academic, and experiential interest in the recent history of the land. The recent jubilee of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War of June 1967 prompted Yule to collate his own essays and reflections from a variety of sources and present them in this insightful and attractively-presented book. From the author’s earliest days in ministry as an ecumenical chaplain at Victoria University in the mid-1970s, and then in pastoral parish roles, he has had a steady and growing interest in these events, and through wide reading, travel, and relationships with Jews and Christians of many persuasions, he has successfully built-up an impressive if not unique understanding among parish ministers. The tone of the book is firmly Christian, evangelical, and prophetic, and his experiences with Jewish people from all walks of life temper and add reality to the essays. The result is an informative and readable book which will appeal to anyone seeking a perspective that is not available or appreciated among a general readership.
Always deferential to the Jewish people and the broad political goals of Zionism, Yule offers an essentially personal reflection grounded in a thorough knowledge of recent history from 1948, and especially since the stunning military victory of June 1967. The essays should be read with this in mind: Yule is writing as an informed individual with an expansive appreciation of the times and issues. This is not an academic book per se but personal views are backed-up with statistical research and a wealth of additional information (pleasingly, there are footnotes rather than chapter endnotes or appended notes at the back of the book). A good proportion of the book is taken up with the appendices, a glossary, bibliography, a bibliographical supplement, and differentiated indices (subjects, names, and biblical references), all of which add to the quality and scholarly attention to detail that characterise the book. The text is supported by numerous illustrations including many taken by the author. All images are properly credited and supported by dates and sources. Some appear rather small and dark with a loss of detail, but this reflects on the publisher and printer, rather than the author. The quality of the images may have been improved with a separate section of photographs printed in colour and on gloss paper stock, but this would have increased the unit price and impeded the complementarity of text and image which has been preserved in the present format.
The author is surprised and disappointed that some essays he has included had previously been spurned by even reputable evangelical publications and institutions. Being committed to a full and free exchange of ideas, Yule is rightly dismayed by this. The only reason, he concludes, is an embracing of replacement theology and/or a deep ideological support for the Palestinian cause. The basic thesis running through the text is that an overwhelming volume of Old Testament predictive prophecies concerning the Jews (a term properly used only in a post-exilic context) should not be addressed within a replacement theology rubric; rather, recent migrations returning to Israel provide a clearer and more specific evidence of their fulfilment while also foreshadow events yet to occur. For Yule, revival among the Gentile nations is dependent on this re-gathering and subsequent conversion of the Jews.
Given the sensitivity and range of theological and political views that exist concerning Israel, the author provokes lively debate but discerning readers will of course, draw their own conclusions. Like every author, Yule intends to persuade, but his judgements are invariably considered, informed, and clearly articulated. He writes well in an engaging style. Whether or not one agrees that recent developments in the modern nation state have significant prophetic import, it is incredible that Israel survives and even thrives despite the hostility of Muslim neighbours and UN opposition. At the very least, this must be acknowledged as a remarkable phenomenon of modern times.
This is an important book which deserves to be widely read and debated among biblical scholars, preachers, and pastors. It also needs to be read by journalists and lay people; indeed, anyone interested in the significance of ancient diasporas and their reversal in modern times, and the ever-present dangers of antisemitism that are fuelled by ignorance and prejudice.
Michael Reid is on the staff of St. Andrews College, Christchurch, where he teaches English.