Nearest East

Nearest East: American Millenialism and Mission to the Middle East

Hans-Lukas Kieser
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 224
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    Nearest East
    Book Description:

    Long before oil interests shaped American interaction with the Middle East, the U.S. had a strong influence on the late Ottoman and post-Ottoman region. Covering the period from approximately 1800 to the 1970s, Hans-Lukas Kieser's compellingNearest Easttells the story of this intimate, identity-building relationship between the U.S. and the Near East.

    Kieser chronicles how American missionaries worked to implement their belief in Biblical millennialism, enlightened modernity, and a modern Zion-Israel. Millennialism was part of an American identity that constituted itself religiously in the interaction with and the representation of the "cradle of Zion." As such, "going Near East" was-at least to American evangelical Protestants-in some ways more important than colonizing the American West. However, many Ottoman Muslims felt threatened by the American missionaries perceiving their successful institutions as an estranging challenge from the outside.

    Measuring the long twisted road from the missionary Zion-builders of the early 19th century to the privileged US-Israeli partnership in the late 20th century,Nearest Eastlooks carefully on both sides of the relationship. Kieser uses a wide range of Ottoman, Turkish, French, German and other sources, unfamiliar to most Anglophone readers, to tell this story that will appeal to historians of all stripes.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0224-0
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Departing from Beirut in June 1911, looking back from the ship, an Ottoman Muslim journalist described his thoughts: “The city in front of us is a picture of a passage. My eyes automatically turned to the American Protestant Establishment [the Syrian Protestant College, later the American University of Beirut] and remained fixed on those great, majestic buildings. But they could not penetrate inside the walls. There is the spirit of today’s Beirut, in these and similar buildings. There, a young world is nourished. But this nourishment is poison to Ottoman identity.” A deep resentment, a distressing feeling of exclusion and...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The United States and the Near East, circa 1800
    (pp. 15-33)

    For revivalist Protestants in Europe and America, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were the threshold of a new age, the “dawn of the millennium.” Millennialism and modernity were, for them, synonymous. What historiography calls “modern times” in history, the period since the late eighteenth century, was for them “latter times,” the eve of the Kingdom of God on earth. Seemingly unworldly biblical sayings made sense for their vision of contemporary history, since they refused to separate history from the apocalyptic history of salvation. They considered the two particularly inextricable with regard to the Near East.

    Christianity, indeed, was...

  6. CHAPTER 2 A Quest for “Zion” and Peace on Earth: Mission to the Bible Lands
    (pp. 34-62)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century, a London paper aptly observed that, despite the far stronger British presence in the eastern Mediterranean world, “the American people are more generally and keenly interested in Turkish affairs than are the people of Great Britain,” relating this to the work of American missionaries in the Near East.¹

    The initial strategy of the American missionaries had followed the belief in the restoration of the Jews to Jesus and to Palestine. This Palestine-centric approach was soon replaced by an Armenia-centric strategy of “Christianity revived in Asia Minor,” the main American missionary strategy in the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Dream and Trauma: Missionary America and Young Turkey, 1908–1923
    (pp. 63-97)

    In 1908 the U.S. Progressive Era met the era of the Young Turks. Postmillennialist missionaries met the stark patriots of the Committee of Union and Progress, of whom most believed in positivist progress. Americans and Young Turks both set high hopes on “Young Turkey,” but in different terms. Missionaries and Young Turks had shared independently of one another the conviction that a reactionary despotism and “fanatical Islam,” as represented by the Hamidian system, were among the main reasons for the catastrophe of 1895 and other problems in the country. In contrast to the CUP, however, “true religion” for the missionaries...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Oil, Palestine-Israel, and Empire of the Good
    (pp. 98-136)

    In the early twentieth century, the United States was in the Progressive Era, perhaps its most carefree period of growth, self-confidence, and mass immigration. In this period, however, fell the trauma of missionary America: the failure of its vision and the destruction of those it had most worked for, to whom it had tied its work in the Bible lands—the Anatolian Armenians. After 1918, there was no more missionary America in the sense of the century before; no more confidence and commitment for a postmillennialist mission, a Jesus-centered building up of modern institutions and civil society. Mission nevertheless took...

  9. CHAPTER 5 American Steps and Shortcuts to “Zion” after 1967
    (pp. 137-152)

    A mix of affections, convictions, loyalties, and religious legacy had drawn, in Abba Eban’s words, “the strongest and the smallest democracy together with imperishable lines.” Both the United States and Israel were creations of the modern era by existentially threatened or disquieted men who were on the move and cultivated strong explicit or implicit ties to the Bible. Both countries remained in the making, fascinatingly open and unfinished projects, linked in identity to global issues. Against this background they produced particularly dynamic performances, beyond the dynamic historical settlement processes that had taken place on the ground. Nevertheless, the relationship between...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 153-164)

    Biblically projected or not, the modern era has not led to the millennium, as hopefully anticipated by enlightened Americans in the early nineteenth century—in particular, those who set out to build up “Zion” in the Near East because they knew their young republic was not the future Zion or a prefiguration of the Kingdom of Jesus on earth. The particular modern dynamics in the United States emerged from religion and modern discoveries; from a fascinating synergy of enthusiasm for the Enlightenment, a prophetic reading of the Bible, and successful republican state building. Often smiled at by continental European theologians,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 165-196)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 197-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-213)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 214-214)