Our understandable fascination with the Middle East, examined through the lens of history, politics, culture, geography and socioeconomics, is colored even further, and complicated, by studying the region from a theological perspective.
The Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam trace their beginnings to the Holy Land, which is positioned in Israel, the Palestinian territories, western Jordan, parts of southern Lebanon and southwestern Syria.
Within the field of eschatology, concerned with the final events of history, the three faiths display certain convergences.
The Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 12 is among the most determinative revelations of scripture. God calls upon Abraham to journey to Canaan, a region approximating present-day Israel, where He promises to make of him and his descendants “a great nation.”
Abraham’s grandson Jacob took the name Israel, and his progeny became known as Israelites. The Book of Deuteronomy states: “God has chosen you to be his treasured people from all the nations that are on the face of the earth.”
More than a thousand years after Abraham, the covenant was renewed with the Prophet Moses, who leads the Israelites out of Egypt after their centuries-long enslavement. They journey through the Red Sea to Mount Sinai, where Moses receives the Ten Commandments.
God speaks to Moses: “After I have brought them to the Promised Land they will reject me and break my covenant.”
Moses spells out the consequences for failing to obey his commands: “Disaster will confront you because you will act wickedly before the Lord, inciting Him to wrath because of your works.”
Moses dies within sight of the Promised Land on Mount Nebo (present-day Jordan). Under the leadership of Joshua, the Israelites enter the land of Canaan and establish the Kingdom of Israel.
Four centuries pass. King David makes Jerusalem the capital, and his son Solomon builds the First Temple, the seat of the Divine Presence. (Both David and Solomon are regarded as prophets in Islam).
However, as decreed, the Jews stray from God and are expelled from Israel.
The Babylonians arrive in 597 BC and set the temple on fire. The Jewish people are invited back to Israel seventy years later under the rule of Cyrus of Persia but the return to their homeland did not amount to sovereignty. Jews are expelled again by the Romans in AD 70 following the destruction of the Second Temple.
So begins a dark and bitter journey. For nearly two thousand years, Jews experience marginalization, persecution and expulsions, culminating in the Holocaust, in which six million Jews are killed.
When Moses warned the Israelites, he also prescribed a cure for the curse: “When all these things happen to you, remember them in all the nations where God has exiled you ... God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you.”
Return to the homeland
From 1517 to 1917, the Ottoman Empire ruled much of the Middle East. But after World War I, the colonial powers carved up Ottoman provinces into arbitrary states, with complete disregard for tribal loyalties and the deep ethnic and religious differences in the region. Palestine came under the British mandate and the Balfour Declaration gave legal basis for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people.”
On May 14, 1948, Israel was officially declared an independent state with David Ben Gurion as the prime minister. “A Jewish state on only part of the land is not the end but the beginning,” he wrote to his son. “We must expel Arabs and take their place.”
After the six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967, Israel took control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, taking East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Confronting feeble Arab opposition, Israel continued annexing more Palestinian territory and expanding Jewish settlements.
Source: Middle East Monitor
Arabs react with incredulity and shock as each new stage of Israeli expansion unfolds, yet, the eschatology is unambiguous. There is no room for a two-state solution. It is foretold in Muslim scripture.
In the Qur’an, there is a passage about the return of the Children of Israel to their land from the four corners of the earth. “They will dwell securely in the