Did Christians Invent Zionism?

David Klinghoffer of Beliefnet says that modern Zionism was conceptualized by Christians while Jews were still waiting for the Messiah to return them to the Land of Israel.

Gil Student replies to Klinghoffer in a comment, reminding him that the students of Rabbi Elijah of Vilna (also known as the Vilna Gaon) were proponents of immigration to Israel and expected the Messiah to come sooner rather than later.

Klinghoffer responds in a separate post saying that even if the students of Rabbi Elijah can be considered Zionists, certain Christian intellectuals predated them. He quotes Michael Oren in Power, Faith, and Fantasy:

Reviving Jewish statehood was neither new nor unique to American Protestantism. Evocations of the idea can be found in Sir Henry Finch’s 1621 treatise, The World’s Great Restauration, or, The Calling of the Jews, as well as in the poems of John Milton and the philosophy of John Locke. En route to the New World, the Puritans took the concept with them to Holland, where they petitioned the Dutch government to “transport Izraell’s sons and daughters…to the Land promised their forefathers…for an everlasting Inheritance.”

The disagreement between Klinghoffer and Student seems to hinge entirely on the idea that Zionism was invented in modern times and that the connection between the Jews and the Land of Israel was of a passive nature until that point. It may be more correct to view Zionism as an evolving process which began in biblical times and developed over the years. During the long exile from Israel, Jews prayed for return and even occasionally moved to the Land of Israel but the conditions under which they lived in Christian and Arab lands did not allow them to take any practical steps toward establishing a state. When the Jewish situation improved and political changes took place which allowed the dream to become closer to reality, Jews took full advantage. Even then, it was a long process until the dream was fulfilled.

But Zionism is not some modern invention dreamed up by some Christian theologian or philosopher.

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