Literary Romanticism

Another important influence upon Christian attitudes toward Zionism in the 19th Century had to do with the growing literary fascination with the Jews and the Holy Land, what Sharif calls, 'the literalization of the Hebrew World'.123 She describes this genre of literature as 'Romantic racism', that is a Romanticism infatuated with Zion, and offers extensive quotations from the writings of Robert Byron, Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, Robert Browning and George Eliot to illustrate it.124 Eliot, for example, was a devout evangelical who at the same time was familiar with contemporary Judaism, apparently regularly attending synagogue services and dialoguing with Jewish Rabbis. In 1874 Eliot began working on Daniel Deronda, described by Sharif as, 'the first truly Zionist novel in the history of non-Jewish fiction.'

Eliot dispenses with the theories of amalgamation or affinity between Christianity and Judaism. The hero of Daniel Deronda is not a Christianized or 'gentilized' Jewish national hero who discovers his Jewish heritage under the influence of non-Jews. Nor are there appeals to Anglican England to follow the example of Cyrus and help to bring a Jewish return to Palestine. Eliot's debt to Shaftesbury and Evangelism (sic) though unacknowledged, must be considered. The gentile author created in Daniel Deronda a true Zionist hero who discovers for himself his Jewish nationality and heritage. The novel represents the apex of non-Jewish Zionism in the literary field, the culmination of a long tradition that began with the Protestant idea of Restoration, but had initially demanded the conversion of the Jews as a first step towards the Palestine goal. Then it was allowed that conversion might happen after Restoration and, by the 19th Century, conversion had been completely dropped as a necessary requirement. Restoration had instead become identified with a return to the Hebrew heritage.125

Through her fictional character Mordecai, a Jewish mystic, Eliot graphically expresses a concrete manifesto behind the 19th Century Christian Zionist vision.

Looking towards a land and a polity, our dispersed people in all the ends of the earth may share the dignity of a national life which has a voice among the peoples of the East and the West - which will plant the wisdom and skill of our race so that it may be, as of old, a medium of transmission and understanding... There is a store of wisdom among us to found a new Jewish polity, grand, simple, just, like the old - a republic where there is equality of protection, an equality which shone like a star on the forehead of our ancient community, and give it more than the brightness of Western freedom and despotisms of the East. Then our race shall have an organic centre, a heart and a brain to watch and guide and execute... And the world will gain as Israel gains.126

Sharif concludes, 'Daniel Deronda was the 'literary introduction' to the Balfour Declaration, which made the presence of a Jewish polity in Palestine a historic necessity.'127

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