The Nature of Israel

Throughout this tract we translate ‘am and laos as “people”, goy and ethnos as “nation”, qahal and ekklesia as “church”.

Israel is a people which does not count itself among the nations (Nm 23:9). Israel is a church (Nm 20:10-12). The word gentile, “non-Israelite”, comes from Latin gens, “nation”. Israel did indeed go down into Egypt and there become a great nation (Dt 26:5), but the Sinai experience turned that nation and its hangers-on (Ex 12:38) into a church. At the beginning of Joshua (5:8) we read that the nation was circumcised, but after that the Bible does not approvingly call Israel a nation.

In general, Israel gets contrasted with the nations (e.g. Ez 6:21), notably in that Israel has been given the Law and no nation has (Ps 147:20). When Israel does get called a nation, it is generally because God is annoyed with it (e.g. Ml 3:9).

How then can we briefly and usefully portray this church? First we note that it was founded at Sinai and absorbed many tribes and nations in Canaan (Ez 16:3), eventually fixing its central shrine in Jerusalem (2 S 6). It had a state of sorts to protect it in its formative centuries, but this state split (1 K 12:17-20) and so did the church (v. 28-29). One of the successor churches we call the Jews, the other the Samaritans. Each has its own history up to the beginning of the Common Era, when another great split took place.

Because churches have doctrines to teach, both branches of Israel, but especially the Jews, made converts outside the two states. The Book of Jonah proclaims Israel’s duty to spread the doctrines. By the beginning of the Common Era there were Jews from Barbary to Babylon and beyond.

Israel expected a Redeemer, a Messiah (Is 61:1-2 and many other places). At the beginning of the Common Era, Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the Messiah (Lk 4:21, Jn 4:25-26). About the year 50, at the Council of Jerusalem (Ac 15:5-29), his followers renewed Israel. In the year 70, when the Romans were about to destroy Jerusalem, premessianic Jews stayed in the city while Christians fled beyond Jordan. The Emperor gave permission to rebuild the Temple, but instead the premessianic-Jewish hierarchy stayed in Jamnia, also known as Yavne. About the year 90 the Council of Jamnia founded the Rabbinical Jewish church as a continuing premessianic branch of Israel. Thus the Jews split into Christians and Rabbinical Jews, the most obvious difference being the question of whether Jesus was the Messiah, the most important perhaps the question of which matters of the Law are the weightiest (Mt 23:23 etc.).

Meanwhile we find a reference (Jn 11:48-52) to the people of the Holy Land as a nation, presumably a result of the Herodian conquest’s unifying effect. The chief priest would certainly not call Israel a nation, and John would not make the mistake of putting such a mistake in his mouth. This is the nation we now call Palestine, the first majority-Jewish nation.

Both Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity continued evangelization, the Christians by the year 200 converting a majority of the Palestinians from Samaritanism and premessianic Judaism – an apostasy for which some Rabbinical Jews have not yet forgiven them. The Palestinians remained majority-Christian until after the Crusades. Christians converted most of the Roman Empire, whereas Rabbinical Jews converted several Central Asian peoples, most notably the Khazars, from the remains of whose Empire the original Zionist settlers came.

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