This was written for my Literary Theory and Faith class last semester. One of our textbooks was David Jeffrey’s People of the Book.
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David Jeffrey, in ninth chapter of People of the Book, discusses the relationship between the Bible and the American myth. Specifically, he traces the notion of American exceptionalism from the Puritans down through Ronald Reagan and contemporary America. The myth being that America is ordained by God to be a light to the nations, the city on a hill that Jesus talked about. Through America’s history, there is a strain of thought that connects biblical, eschatalogical community with America as a socio-political entity. The way the Bible is read in such circumstances, then, is different than how it is read for a spiritual community or as an ancient document: it is read as a constitution of sorts.
The artifact I have chosen is the first part of a sermon by Pastor John Hagee at the Christians United for Israel conference. Hagee is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, a 19,000 person strong charismatic mega church. Hagee has invited controversy in the past with homophobic and anti-catholic comments. Hagee’s sermon directly illustrates one point that Jeffrey makes in that Hagee invokes the American myth as the basis for his call to action in Israel. By describing America as “the greatest nation on the face of the earth,” Hagee sits comfortably in this tradition, though he does condition America’s greatness (here and in other places) on its continued obedience to God (the principles of righteousness that made America great). But, the main point of the sermon, and the point I most want to emphasize, is Hagee’s invocation of God’s blessing on the modern state of Israel. Indeed, out of America’s exceptional place in the world should the heralds of truth walk forward with God’s truth for Israel.
Hagee reads the covenant to the Israelites in the scriptures as God’s continuing covenant to the Jewish people today, of whom the state of Israel is the legitimate representative. Rejecting the notion that the Israelis illegally occupy Palestine, Hagee asserts that one cannot illegally occupy that which one owns. God gave this land to Israel centuries ago, and it is their’s by right. Hagee’s hermeneutic is to read the Bible as corresponding on a one to one basis with contemporary categories. So, when Hagee reads the word “Israel” in the Bible, he immediately thinks of the contemporary nation that calls itself “Israel.” This particular hermeneutic stems from an extreme biblical literalism, the same literalism that gave birth to the Left Behind Series. This hermeneutic, moreover, conceives of the Bible as ultimately authoritative in all that it says. With such a hermeneutic, it isn’t surprising that the modern democratic nation-state is identified exactly with the Kingdom of Israel. The promises for the Kingdom are thus appropriated for the Republic. The result is a biblical justification for the apartheid-like military occupation of Palestine. The result is a disturbing use of the Bible to prop up an American friendly state in a region of the world that has little love for America. In the end, Hagee serves as an effective spokesman for the political and economic forces that prosper from the continued existence of the status-quo.