Exactly 120 years ago, Theodor Herzl invited ten Christians to the First Zionist Congress, thereby paving the way for the modern state of Israel while adhering precisely, and perhaps unconsciously, to a Biblical prophecy.
August 31 marks the summation of the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland. Convened and chaired by Theodor Herzl, 208 delegates from 17 countries and 26 press correspondents attended the event. Preceding the Balfour Declaration by 20 years and the declaration of the state of Israel by half a century, the secular Zionist movement was supported by a minority of Jews. Both the Reform and Orthodox streams of Judaism opposed it.
Surprisingly, there was support from some Christians for a Jewish State and 10 non-Jews were invited to attend the congress. Even more surprising was that despite Herzl’s decidedly non-Biblical approach to the process of establishing a Jewish state, he – probably unintentionally – fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy by inviting exactly ten non-Jews.
Thus said God of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold—they will take hold of every Yehudi by a corner of his cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that Hashem is with you.” Zechariah 8:23
The Christian connection to the Jewish return to Israel is still alive today. Tommy Waller, head of Hayovel, an organization that brings Christians to Israel as agricultural volunteers, feels that he is continuing that connection and can understand those original ten Christians.
“Those ten men were very brave,” Waller told Breaking Israel News. “There were Messianic-driven movements that supported early Zionists, in prayer and action, but at the time, anti-Semitism was mainstream. For a Christian to grab hold of a Jew, to stand up and identify with the Jews, was huge. In some ways, it still is.”
Waller explained that even today, many Christians who support Israel for religion-based reasons are ostracized by their own churches. Nonetheless, he feels it is an essential transition Christians must make. The very existence of the State of Israel is transforming the Church by challenging replacement theology, what Waller feels is an unhealthy and unsustainable aspect of the Christianity.
“The real test of replacement theology is when Christians begin to have the humility to go to the Jew and say, ‘I am with you, we are working together’,” Waller said.
“There have been Christians all throughout history who have encouraged Jews to do the right thing and start moving in the right direction towards Israel. That is our job as non-Jews, is to surround the Jews and tell them not to quit. Israel is not just about the Jewish world. It’s about the whole world. Christians need the Jews to do this.”
Though little is known about the Christians who attended the Zionist congress, one Christian Zionist is mentioned extensively throughout Herzl’s diary as having an enormous influence on him and on the fledgling Zionist movement. Reverend William Henry Hechler, a Restorationist Anglican clergyman, believed that a major event would occur in 1898 that would lead to the Restoration of the Jews. In early March 1896, Hechler happened upon Herzl’s book, Der Judenstaadt (The Jew State), which had been published just a few weeks earlier. Hechler used his political connections to introduce Herzl to leaders and influential people in order to advance his mission.
The other nine Christian attendees were Lt. Colonel C. Bentick from England; I. W. Bouthon-Willy of Vienna; daughter of the Protestant Bishop of Jerusalem, Mrs. Maria Kober Gobat, who contributed the gavel used to open the Congress; German Protestant missionary Pastor Dr. Johann Lepsius of Berlin; Baron Maxim von Mantueffel of St. Michele, France who maintained a training farm for young Jewish agriculturists; the Reverend John Mitchell; member of parliament and president of the Swiss National Council Professor Paul Speiser; and the author,Professor. F. Heman of Basel, and Henry Dunant.