England and Palestine

Bible and Sword was written by Barbara Tuchman. She was Jewish and the granddaughter on her mother’s side of Henry Morgenthau (Snr), US President Woodrow Wilson’s ambassador to the Ottoman empire during World War I.

Throughout her book, Tuchman traces the histories of England and Palestine to show how often they intersect and to demonstrate how Palestine has been in the heart and mind of English people from the earliest times. She highlights how there are twin motives in this development, that of the cultural (or moral) and the imperial (or material), hence the title of the book, Bible and Sword.

Within two hundred years of the death of Christ, contemporary writers were referring to Christian communities in Britain. According to English legend, Joseph of Arimathea brought Christianity to England. Legend or not, the idea helped connect the English to the land of Palestine.

Early interest in Palestine was based on the land, the land where the Saviour trod. This interest was reflected in believers undertaking pilgrimages to the Holy Land. There was no interest in the Jews themselves who were considered to be killers of Christ.

Tuchman details English involvement in the Crusades and suggests that the Bible may never have taken such root in the English body if English blood had not been shed over so many years.

Influence of the English Bible

In 1538, Henry the VIII issued a proclamation ordering the placement of an English Bible in each church in England. The history, traditions and moral law of the Hebrew nation became part of English culture. Even given the strategic factors which later came into play, it is doubtful that without the English Bible the Balfour Declaration would have been issued. Wherever the Reformation took hold the Bible replaced the Pope as the final spiritual authority. The Palestinian origins of Christianity were stressed more and more to reduce the pretensions of Rome.

Tuchman goes on to outline the different religious views of Christianity over the years and how that influenced English attitudes to the Jews and to Palestine. She also details some of the many people who tried to influence the British government to take an interest in the cause of the Jewish people. Amongst these people were Lord Shaftesbury, Charles Henry Churchill and perhaps of particular interest, Colonel George Gawler, who had served as the second governor of South Australia and consistently tried to influence the British government to support Jewish settlement in Palestine. He also urged financial support of the scheme in expiation for Britain’s treatment of the Jews. Brother John Thomas published a pamphlet written by Gawler on the return of the Jews to Palestine in the Herald of the Kingdom and the Age to Come, commencing in Volume 3, Number 10 (October 1853), page 217, with the second part published the following month from page 241.

Strategic Interests

Tuchman also outlines the various political alliances over the years and the strategic interests that Britain had in the Middle East and in Palestine in particular. British trade with the Ottoman Empire began in Queen Elizabeth’s reign with the establishment of the Levant Company. This alliance continued up to World War I. Once Britain purchased the Suez Canal, her strategic interest in the region only increased. Although Britain had no love for the Ottomans, she supported the Ottoman Empire rather than have the land occupied by some other European power, particularly the Russians. Britain fought with the Ottomans against Napoleon who, with ideas of equaling the glory of Alexander the Great anticipated conquering Syria, Turkey, Persia and India. Britain put an end to his dreams at Acre. Interestingly, Napoleon, in seeking Jewish recruits for his army, made a declaration that he supported the restoration of the Jews to their ancient home.

The Balfour Declaration

The book outlines the various cultural and political forces that operated throughout Europe that changed the Jewish outlook, from one of passively waiting for divine intervention to fulfil their prayer of “next year in Jerusalem” to taking an active role in seeking its fulfilment. Herzl spearheaded this effort but he died before his vision could be accomplished.

British influence played a large part in the final and dramatic steps toward the Balfour Declaration. Once again the twin motives of imperial power and the influence of the Bible were intertwined. Both Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour had an upbringing based on strong religious beliefs concerning the Jews in the purpose of God. At the time that the final draft of the Balfour Declaration was being considered, the British army, including the ANZACs, was chasing the Ottoman from the Middle East. On the 2nd November, 1917, two days after the charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, the declaration was made public.

This year in November will mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Even after all this time, the Balfour Declaration still arouses great emotion. Jews see the declaration as the first concrete step towards their own state. Palestinian Arabs see the declaration as a betrayal by the British and have recently declared their intention to sue the British government. For their part, the British government has responded that it is proud of its achievements1.

The book is easy to read and full of interesting facts and quotations and a reminder that God indeed works among the nations to achieve His purpose. The writer states that no other nation could have performed the role of Britain. To which agree the words of the prophets and of Bro John Thomas: “ They will emigrate thither as agriculturists and traders, in hope of ultimately establishing their commonwealth, but more importantly of getting rich in silver and gold by commerce with India, and in cattle and goods by their industry at home under the efficient protection of the British power”.

The book is available from online bookshops.


  1. http://www.timeso srael.com/uk-tells-palestinains-there-will-be-no-no-apology-for-balfour-declaration/