An Unexpected Zionist

 Bart Casey has written a fascinating book: The Double Life of Laurence Oliphant.  It was published by Post Hill Press and was released on December 8, 2015.  It can be purchased at any book store and is of course available from

Laurence Oliphant was born into privilege in 1829, the only son of Sir Anthony Oliphant, a member of the Scottish landed gentry.  He spent his early childhood in Ceylon and later toured Europe with his parents.  Later he studied law in England for awhile, before leaving to tour Russia which resulted in his second book, The Russian Shores of the Black Sea, published in 1853.  Although he served in various British government diplomatic posts and eventually was elected to the House of Parliament, his primary focus for much of his life was writing and traveling; in the end, he wrote dozens of books.  For fourteen years he, his mother, and his wife Alice were under the influence of the spiritualist prophet Thomas Lake Harris. They lived with him for years in the communities he founded, first in Brocton on Lake Erie and later in Santa Rosa, California.  Casey covers Oliphant’s time with Harris in good detail, explaining the spiritual quest which led him to Harris, his devotion to spiritualism, and his eventual disillusionment with Harris an individual, though not with Harris’ teachings. 

After breaking with Harris, Oliphant and his wife Alice became involved in the Zionist movement.  They eventually moved to Palestine and worked at promoting Jewish settlement there. Together, they hoped to alleviate the suffering of the Jewish people then being heavily persecuted in Eastern Europe and Russia.  He and his wife lived in a house in Haifa and sometimes in the Druze village of Daliyat al-Karmel on Mt. Carmel.  Laurence Oliphant’s secretary in Palestine was Naftali Herz Imber, better known as the author of the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva.  Alice died in 1886 and Laurence died about three years later in 1888.

Bart Casey writes with clarity and grace.  Laurence Oliphant is a fascinating individual, someone who easily carries the label “eccentric.”  But he carried it with humor and grace, while leading a fascinating and exciting life.  And because he was a man of strong convictions, who genuinely cared for his fellow human beings, he helped numberless Jewish people escape persecution and set up new homes in what would eventually become the modern state of Israel.  His story is one that most people have never heard, but it is a story that deserved to be told.  Bart Casey has told it very well indeed.

The book has a nice bibliography and index, including a list of other biographies on Oliphant and Harris along with a listing of several of Oliphant’s books.