A Forgotten, and Eccentric, Christian Zionist Who Reached Out Directly to Jewish Activists – Mosaic

Posted By on January 28, 2020

Raised in a devout British evangelical family, Laurence Oliphant (18291888) had a successful career as a diplomat, intelligence agent, and foreign correspondent, despite his peculiar personal life and his involvement in various mystical religious movements. At one point he gave up a seat in parliament to join a cult-like sect in western New York with his family. Oliphant eventually embraced the idea of establishing a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Unlike other early Christian Zionists, he cooperated extensively with the pre-Herzlian Zionist movement known as ibat Tsiyon, traveling to Galicia and Romania to meet with Jewish leaders. Philip Earl Steele writes:

[Oliphant was well aware of] the fears of Great Britain that, following the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Russiablocked from further expansion into the Balkans because of the emergence of the new states of Romania and Bulgariawould now attempt to seize areas in the Levant from the Ottomans. Thus, combining his religious and imperial motives, [he] devised his plan for Gilead, presenting it as a way to solve Britains worries by establishing a Jewish colony under the protection of Great Britain.

[The plan] soon obtained the backing of Prime Minister Disraeli (a longstanding Zionist), and he in turn swiftly won over Foreign Minister Salisbury. In late November 1878 the three men met together to discuss the idea with the prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) at Sandringham, one result of which was that Oliphant received his [diplomatic] credentials. In February 1879 he set sail for the Levant on a mission George Eliot also expressed approval for.

Oliphant soon also met Viennas Peretz Smolenskin, the eminent Zionist activist who published the Hebrew-language journal Ha-Shaar (The Dawn). Smolenskin had been very favorably impressed with Oliphants plan for the Jewish colonization of Palestine, and in fact had presented it in Ha-Shaar the previous autumn. In Vienna, in the early spring of 1882, Smolenskin and the Oliphants became friendsLaurence Oliphant and [his wife] Alice even invited Smolenskin to travel on with them to Palestine in the aim of fostering the Jewish colonies anticipated soon to arise there.

Oliphant would enjoy the endorsement of the Zionist impresario David Gordon and even publish in his journal Ha-Magid (The Preacher). In time, Oliphant and his wife would settle in Haifa to pursue his Zionist endeavors and hire as his private secretary Naftali Imber, best known as the author of Israels national anthem. As Steele goes on to detail, Oliphants efforts paved the way for the founding of the early settlements of Zikhron Yaakov and Rosh Pinah.

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More about: Christian Zionism, Hatikvah, History of Zionism, Peretz Smolenskin

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A Forgotten, and Eccentric, Christian Zionist Who Reached Out Directly to Jewish Activists - Mosaic

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