The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign should widen its scope to target non-Israeli companies who contribute significantly to the oppression of Palestinians. As part of this broader strategy, priority should be given to one of the most egregious offenders, the prestigious British publisher, Oxford University Press. As unlikely as it may seem, the world’s largest university press is responsible for one of the greatest obstacles to justice for Palestinians — The Scofield Bible.
Since it was first published in 1909, the Scofield Reference Bible has made uncompromising Zionists out of tens of millions of Americans. When John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, said that “50 million evangelical Bible-believing Christians unite with five million American Jews standing together on behalf of Israel,” it was the Scofield Bible that he was talking about.
Although the Scofield Reference Bible contains the text of the King James Authorized Version, it is not the traditional Protestant Bible but Cyrus I. Scofield’s annotated commentary that is the problem. More than any other factor, it is Scofield’s notes that induced generations of American evangelicals to believe that God demands their uncritical support for the modern State of Israel.
Central to Christian Zionist belief is Scofield’s commentary on Genesis 12:3. For the sake of clarity, Scofield’s notes have been italicized in the following passage:
“‘I will bless them that bless thee.’ In fulfilment closely related to the next clause, ‘And curse him that curseth thee.’ Wonderfully fulfilled in the history of the dispersion. It has invariably fared ill with the people who have persecuted the Jew – well with those who have protected him. The future will still more remarkably prove this principle.”
Drawing on Scofield’s speculative interpretation, John Hagee claims, “The man or nation that lifts a voice or hand against Israel invites the wrath of God.”
However, as Stephen Sizer points out, in his definitive critique “Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon?”, “The promise, when referring to Abraham’s descendants, speaks of God blessing them, not of entire nations ‘blessing’ the Hebrew nation, still less the contemporary and secular State of Israel.”
Apparently unaware of this more orthodox reading, The New Scofield Study Bible, published by Oxford University Press in 1984, enhanced Scofield’s interpretation by adding, “For a nation to commit the sin of anti-Semitism brings inevitable judgement.” Reading such tendentious comments, a Bible-believing Christian could easily assume, for example, that God will punish the 114 countries which endorsed the Goldstone report.
“Sustained by a dubious exegesis of selective Biblical texts,” Stephen Sizer concludes, “Christian Zionism’s particular reading of history and contemporary events … sets Israel and the Jewish people apart from other peoples in the Middle East….it justifies the endemic racism intrinsic to Zionism, exacerbates tensions between Jews and Palestinians and undermines attempts to find a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, all because ‘the Bible tells them so.'”
The incredible Scofield
In his 2008 book, “The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State”, Jonathan R. Adelman describes the crucial support Israel receives from Christian fundamentalists as “totally fortuitous.” The incredible career of the man who wrote “the Bible of Fundamentalism,” however, casts considerable doubt on that assertion.
Two years after Scofield’s reported conversion to Christianity in 1879, the Atchison Patriot was less than impressed. Describing the former Atchison resident as the “late lawyer, politician and shyster generally,” the article went on to recount a few of Scofield’s “many malicious acts.” These included a series of forgeries in St. Louis, for which he was sentenced to six months in jail.
Being a “born again” preacher, however, did not preclude Scofield from becoming a member of an exclusive New York men’s club in 1901. In his devastating biography, “The Incredible Scofield and His Book”, Joseph M. Canfield comments, “The admission of Scofield to the Lotos Club, which could not have been sought by Scofield, strengthens the suspicion that has cropped up before, that someone was directing the career of C. I. Scofield.”
That someone, Canfield suspects, was associated with one of the club’s committee members, the Wall Street lawyer Samuel Untermeyer. As Canfield intimates, Scofield’s theologywas “most helpful in getting Fundamentalist Christians to back the international interest in one of Untermeyer’s pet projects – the Zionist Movement.”
Others, however, have been more explicit about the nature of Scofield’s service to the Zionist agenda. In “Unjust War Theory: Christian Zionism and the Road to Jerusalem”, Prof. David W. Lutz claims, “Untermeyer used Scofield, a Kansas city lawyer with no formal training in theology, to inject Zionist ideas into American Protestantism. Untermeyer and other wealthy and influential Zionists whom he introduced to Scofield promoted and funded the latter’s career, including travel in Europe.”
Absent such powerful connections, it is hard to imagine “this peer among scalawags” ever getting a contract with Oxford University Press to publish his Bible. Nevertheless, it remains a mystery why OUP chose to endorse such a sectarian work.
If there had been no Scofield Bible, American presidents influenced by Christian Zionism, such as Truman, Johnson, Reagan and George W. Bush, would most likely have been less sympathetic to Israeli demands, and consequently more attentive to U.S. interests. Moreover, the American people might have been spared the well-publicized pro-Israeli rants of John Hagee, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, not to mention the lucrative End Times “prophecy” peddled by Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye.
But it is the people of the Middle East who have suffered most at the hands of an expansionist Israel, emboldened by the unswerving allegiance of America’s Christian Zionists, who were led to believe that Scofield’s words were God’s will.
Although much needless suffering has already been caused by the Scofield Bible, perhaps it’s not too late for Oxford University Press to publicly disavow its harmful book. Among its many victims are 3.5 million Palestinian refugees whose right to return is fervently opposed by Christian Zionists, who believe that the land belongs exclusively to “God’s chosen people.” At the very least, OUP could demonstrate remorse for its role in promoting ethnic cleansing by compensating those refugees with the considerable profits accrued over the past century from sales of its Zionist Bible.