The question of Israel and Palestine looms large in contemporary politics, but it also looms large theologically for many people around the globe. Munther Isaac’s The Other Side of the Wall gives a firsthand account of the land, along with a theological exploration of Israel, Palestine, and lament and hope.
Isaac starts the book with “An Invitation” in which he calls on readers to realize that the situation is probably far more complex than they’ve heard or been taught. So many factors–cultural, political, theological–are competing for attention in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it makes it difficult to sort them all out. Additionally, a simplistic portrayal of the conflict in the United States, particularly among certain theological traditions, effectively erases Palestinian Christian voices from the narrative.
Next, Isaac leads readers on a journey of, as the subtitle says, lament and hope. There’s much to lose heart about when it comes to relationships in Israel and Palestine. But there’s also reason to hope. Too many global Christians ignore the plight of Palestinian Christians, whose rights are often trampled. Additionally, the voices of Palestinian Christians are ignored or even specifically excluded (see, for example, the story Isaac shares on 29ff about his letter to the editor). When people don’t fit neatly into the boxes that Christians have set up related to the conflict, it is easier to ignore them than to engage with them.
Christian Zionism is then analyzed by Isaac, and he notes that it has essentially become a kind of imperialism imposing the will of (largely American) Christians outside the land onto the people of the land. Simplistic readings of the biblical text yield results that exclude Palestinian Christians from the conversation and turn people into instruments. Isaac explores the promises of the land made in the Bible and notes the conditions given related to them in multiple places. He also highlights the problematic language and interpretations of the Bible put forward by many Christians related to Israel and the people living there. The notion that Jews need to rebuild the temple, only to be excluded from the Kingdom of God, is particularly nefarious. Yet this view is extremely common in American Evangelicalism, as people argue that prophecies demand the Temple return to Israel, while simultaneously arguing that Jews will be condemned for not believing in Christ. This turns people into instruments of theological systems in an alarming fashion.
Isaac argues this last point especially forcefully on 125ff, where he notes the teaching of a “prophecy expert” who argued that those Jews who did not believe in Jesus would be massacred, according to the Bible, and the remaining third would embrace Jesus as Messiah during a millennial reign. Isaac also noted that this has created tension in Jewish-Christian relations, as so many “prophecy experts” and evangelical Christians support the state of Israel abstractly while also holding views that treat Jews as objects in their eschatological narratives (126-127).
Isaac constantly challenges assumptions made about Israel and Palestine, noting how easy it is to move from “Arab” to “Muslim” and “not one of us” or an excluded voice (108). This also highlights the knee-jerk reaction of many American Christians to Muslims in general, which is far from reflecting the love of Christ for all our neighbors. He writes, “If You Hate Muslims, You Hate Jesus, Too. If We Love Jesus, We Will Love Hindus” (120, emphasis his).
Isaac wraps up the book with reasons for hope and ways to find love of neighbor and share in that hope going forward.
The Other Side of the Wall is an enlightening read. Isaac provides personal accounts while incisively critiquing (primarily American) Christianity for ignoring the plight of Palestinian Christians and mischaracterizing events in Israel in order to play games with Scripture. It’s a powerful critique, while also providing reasons for hope and a call to follow Christ by truly loving our neighbor. Highly recommended.
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Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)
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The Book of Mormon’s veracity hinges on the claim that the lost tribes of Israel came to America, settled there, and wrote their history on gold plates which Joseph Smith later translated. Such claims at the time of Joseph Smith seemed irrefutable; they simply couldn’t conceive of technology which could test these propositions. Today, however, such technology is available. Unfortunately for Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church, the evidence runs contrary to what the Book of Mormon claims.
Archaeological evidence has long favored the hypothesis that Native Americans crossed into the Americas during the Ice Age from Siberia across a frozen Bering Strait. The Book of Mormon, by contrast, asserts that “…Israelites accomplished at least two marathon oceanic voyages to the New World in approximately 600 B.C… By about AD 400, the descendants of these lost Israelites had multiplied into million-strong civilizations and spawned other migratory groups that went on to colonize additional territory in the Americas…” The Latter Day Saints’ introduction to the Book of Mormon states that:
[t]he record [in the Book of Mormon] gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.
These claims can now be analyzed utilizing DNA evidence. Contrary to the claims of the Book of Mormon, this evidence has shown that there are four major genetic lineages for the peoples of the Americas which are of Eastern Asiatic origin, along with a fifth that is possibly Caucasian.
In order to support the claim that Israelites came to America, the DNA evidence would have to reflect their Israeli genetic lineage, which “resemble[s that] of Europeans.” The only European genetic heritage in America, however, came with Columbus and the European settlers who followed him. Furthermore, Mormons frequently assert that it was the Mayans and Olmecs who parallel the civilizations of Nephi and the Jaredites. This evidence simply doesn’t match the genetic history, which demonstrates that traces of European (and therefore possibly Israelite) origins have been found in the North American peoples and not with the Mesoamerican Olmecs and Mayans—as would be necessary to support this Mormon theory. The assertion that Native Americans descended from the lost tribes of Israel is groundless. The Smithsonian Institute wrote that “The physical type of the Native Americans is basically Mongoloid, being most closely related to that of the peoples of eastern, central and northeastern Asia.” This evidence leads Simon Southerton to conclude that “The ancestors of Native Americans were Asians who unknowingly became the first Americans as they walked across Beringia over 14,000 years ago… Regardless of coincidental cultural, linguistic, or morphological parallels with the Old World, the peoples of the Pacific Rim who met Columbus and Cook were not Israelites.” Native Americans descend from Asia, not Israel. Therefore, the Book of Mormon is strongly undercut by prevailing scientific evidence and genetic data.
Mormonism’s response to this DNA evidence has been threefold. The Mormon apologist counters by arguing that Christianity is undercut by scientific evidence, that science can’t disprove the Book of Mormon anyway, or that the conclusions drawn from the DNA evidence are stronger than such studies warrant. There is little need to argue against the first rebuttal, as it amounts to little more than a tu quoque. It serves only to try to push the burden of proof off the Mormon apologist. Furthermore, it seems very strange, considering the lengths to which many have gone to argue that Mormons are Christians. The second response also has little to recommend it. In an article curiously titled “BYU professor refutes Book of Mormon DNA Claims,” Mark Nolte writes “[Michael] Whiting [a BYU scientist] said the Book of Mormon was not written as a scientific book, and therefore cannot be wholly proved or disproved using scientific methods… it is no surprise that DNA analysis could not find a genetic marker that links American Indians to a Middle-Eastern population. [Whiting said,]‘I would be skeptical of someone standing up and saying, ‘I have DNA evidence that the Book of Mormon is true.’” The assertion seems to be that the Book of Mormon is theology, not science, and therefore cannot be evaluated scientifically. Examining such claims fully is beyond the scope of this work, but it seems like this whole response is glaringly dismissive. The Book of Mormon does claim that the Native Americans are descendants of the Israelites, as Whiting acknowledges, so evidence which demonstrates they are not disconfirms the Book of Mormon.
The third claim warrants further examination. Essentially, Mormon apologists argue that we simply can’t know enough to determine whether or not Israelite DNA is present in Native Americans. The problem with this claim is that the evidence is not at all inconclusive. In fact, the evidence demonstrates that 99.6% of Native Americans are of Asian descent. The .4% of non-Asian Native American lineage is found in those genetic pools which interacted with the early colonizers. Not only that, but even if the .4% of non-Asian genetic lineage could be Israelite (which it is not), the Book of Mormon claims that the Israelites in America were huge civilizations. Why, then, would their genetic footprint be so small? Furthermore, the claims that such methodology is problematic or that we have limited data is also demonstrably false. The genetic data is conclusive, and studies which utilize other methods for determining heritage (such as dental, osteological [study of bones], and molecular studies) confirm that the descent of the Native American is Asian, not Israelite. According to Stephen Whittington, “Archaeologists and physical anthropologists have not found any evidence of Hebrew origins for the people of North, South and Central America.” Genetic evidence therefore provides a strong defeater for the veracity of the Book of Mormon.
We have seen that the Book of Mormon is integral to the faith of Mormonism. If this book is factually incorrect, then there is no reason to suppose its theological message is true. Joseph Smith once said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” I hope that Mormons will indeed receive the truths found in genetic and archaeological evidence.
 Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature, 2004), 73.
 Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 117-118.
 The Mormon Church, “Introduction to the Book of Mormon”, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. http://lds.org/scriptures/bofm/introduction?lang=eng (accessed February 1, 2011).
 Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 89-90.
 Ibid, 129.
 Ibid, 129.
 Ibid, 83.
 Ibid, 129.
 Quoted in Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, 215 and Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? 97.
 Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 130.
 David Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon.” The Latter-Day Saints Foundation for Apologetics Information and Research. http://www.fairlds.org/Book_of_Mormon/DNA_and_the_Book_of_Mormon_2.html (accessed October 29, 2010.
 Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon”; see also, Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 184f.
 A simple search on google for “Are Mormons Christians” turns up 610,000 results (at the time of this writing), many of which argue the affirmative, from a Mormon perspective.
 Emphasis mine.
 Nolte, “BYU Professor…”
 Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon”; see also Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 188.
 Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 187, 192.
 Ibid, 117-118. For just one example within the Book of Mormon itself, see the Book of Alma [one of the books in the Book of Mormon] 51:27, which states “And thus had the Lamanites obtained, by the cunning of Amalickiah, so many cities, by their numberless hosts, all of which were strongly fortified after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni; all of which afforded strongholds for the Lamanites.” The language suggests huge civilizations: “many cities”; “numberless hosts”.
 Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon.”
 Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 191.
 Quoted in Ibid, 191.
This post was derived from an essay I wrote for my graduate studies at Biola University.
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This post is part of a series on Jesus: The Living God. View other posts here.
Recently I wrote a guest post for a fellow Christian blogger (an excellent site, check it out), Chris Reese, on N.T. Wright’s Climax of the Covenant. I wanted to re-blog it for my site and add a bit to it.
A subject that is often ignored within discussions of who Christ is involves Covenant theology, specifically, the theology of the Torah. How exactly does Christ relate to the Covenant that God made with the people of Israel? N.T. Wright discusses this very issue in his book, The Climax of the Covenant.
First, what is the Torah? The Torah, in Wright’s usage, is not just the Mosaic books of the Bible or the Law, but the promise of God to His people, Israel. He states that “…the law… was regarded not merely as a general code of ethics, but as the charter of Israel’s national life” (24). The problem was, of course, that God demanded perfect obedience to the Torah, to the Law. As His covenant people, Israel was to keep the Torah and to cherish it. But Israel constantly strayed. Thus, the power of the Torah became death, the consequence of sin (209).
So how could Israel fulfill the Torah? The short answer is that Israel simply could not. It demanded perfection, and the people of Israel could not be perfect. God had to intervene directly in history in order to accomplish His covenant with His people, and to open this covenant up to all people.
And how did this happen? First, note the relationship between Christ, Adam, and humanity. Wright notes that “Adam has [for the rabbis of Israel] become embodied already in Israel, the people of the Torah, and in her future hope” (25). This, in turn, must be viewed in light that “Israel, the family of Abraham, is God’s true humanity. Her land is God’s land. Her enemies are God’s enemies” (23). This reflects back on the Torah, as discussed above. It is the “charter of Israel’s national life” (24). So there is a relationship between Adam and Israel–Adam, Wright argues, is to be understood as Israel. Jesus Christ, then, became a New Adam for a New Israel. By acting as the New Adam and redeeming Israel, He fulfilled the Torah and seal the charter of Israel. Not only that, but He opened this charter, this Covenant, to all people.
“Jesus, as last Adam, had revealed what God’s saving plan for the world had really been… by enacting it, becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross” (40). The resurrection confirmed Jesus as Christ–Messiah.
Finally, how could God keep this promise in light of the failure of Israel (and mankind at large) to keep the Torah? Christ, argues Wright, is the “Climax” of the covenant. “The Messiah is the fulfillment of the long purposes of Israel’s God” (241). How does this happen? Wright argues that the “…answer must be that sin, by causing death, stood in the way of the divine intention of giving life; when, on the cross, God condemns sin… then sin is powerless to prevent the gift of life” (209). God’s plan of salvation “always involved a dramatic break, a cross and a resurrection written into the very fabric of history” (241, emphasis his). Thus, Torah and Covenant Theology can be summed up by saying that “Christ on the cross is thus the goal of the Torah” (243, emphasis his). It is in Christ that we become the people of God.
Wright, N.T. The Climax of the Covenant. Fortress Press. 1991.
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