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Evangelical Anglicans of the 19th century played a central role in the process that led to the establishment of the State of Israel, according to documents to be made available for the first time next week by the Christ Church Center near Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem.
"It is impossible to understand the Balfour Declaration of 1917 without first understanding the theological developments that reached their peak in 1850," said Kelvin Crombie, a historian and member of the Christian Missionary Among the Jewish People (CMJ).
"In the 19th century, evangelical Christianity had a major impact on Britain's political leadership," said Crombie. "There was a strong belief among British political leadership that the second coming of Jesus would not happen until the Jews returned to the Land of Israel."
On February 4 the CMJ will officially open the Conrad Schick Library and Archive to historians. The two most important documents to be made available to researchers are Jewish Missionary Intelligence, a scholarly journal published by the CMJ since 1809, and the diaries of central evangelical figures who were active in Israel.
Schick, who was influenced by Evangelical Anglican theology, was a building contractor who was instrumental in the construction of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Mea She'arim and Rehavia.
Prof. Haim Goren, a historian and dean of students at Tel Chai Academic College, said the thesis that British Evangelicals helped pave the way for a Jewish state was gaining legitimacy.
"Only in the 1970s did Israeli historians begin to admit to the involvement of Christians in the establishment of the State of Israel," he said. "Until then there was apologetics. Jews felt the need to justify their right to the Land of Israel and to emphasize what they had done."
Researchers connected with the CMJ said they had a clear agenda in opening up the archives to historians.
"We want Jews to be aware of Christianity's positive approach to Zionism," said one researcher, who admitted that several people at CMJ were involved in missionary activities among Israelis.
Known by Christians as "the restoration," the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and their eventual conversion to Christianity was central to the eschatological beliefs of leading figures of 19th century Britain.
"The idea was to bring Jews to Israel before the end of days so they would get the 'right' religion," said Goren.
During this period the Anglican Church was heavily influenced by evangelical theology, said Crombie.
"The tail end of the evangelical trend in the Anglican Church was marked by the Balfour Declaration," he said. "By 1920 the Anglican Church was becoming decidedly pro-Arab and anti-Zionist, due primarily to British oil interests."
Surprisingly, when the Jewish people were finally granted a state, many of the Messianic Jews and evangelical Anglicans left Israel.
"I think many of them had a hard time accepting the gory, blood-and-guts reality of a Jewish people with an army that waged war," said Crombie. "Most had a sort of idealized vision of redemption."