A New Museum Tracks the History of Christian Zionists

The Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem offers a fascinating (if occasionally overdone) view of the movement.

The Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. Nati Shohat/Flash90.

The Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. Nati Shohat/Flash90.

March 11 2020
About the author

Diana Muir Appelbaum, a writer and historian, is at work on a book about nationhood and democracy. Her museum reviews have appeared in the Claremont Review, the New Rambler, and elsewhere.

Michael (Mike) Evans, an American author and journalist, and a Christian who has made supporting Israel his life’s work, has now built a cutting-edge museum inside a cluster of old stone buildings in downtown Jerusalem. The building, the Friends of Zion Museum, offers both an education about and a tribute to the Christians who helped make a Jewish state possible.

Who were, and are, these Christians? Although the term had not yet been coined, Christian Zionism, defined as the idea that God’s promise to Israel should be advanced by helping human hands, goes back hundreds of years, a child of the Protestant Reformation. By the mid-1600s, it had won proponents among Dutch, English, Scottish, and early-American Calvinists, few of whom had ever seen an actual Jew. In the early 1800s it grew in popularity in England, and later in that century found strong echoes in the United States. Church-going evangelicals today, intimately familiar with the story of the ancient Israelites, have tended to retain the same perspective.

Added to all of this in the 20th century was an even more powerful rationale for Christian Zionism: namely, the miracle of modern Israel itself. Although, in 1948, in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, most decent people were sympathetic to the plight of the Jews in Palestine, the more sophisticated “knew” that the fledgling Jewish state did not stand a chance against the combined force of invading Arab armies. Then the miracle of 1948 happened, followed by another miracle in June 1967, and another, more closely-run one, in October 1973.

Simultaneously, the biblical promise of the ingathering of exiles could be seen fulfilled on camera and in real time as surviving Jews emerged from Nazi death camps, and others from villages in Morocco, Kazakhstan, and Yemen so remote that they seemed to be from another century. Christians living in Western societies where the sophisticated claimed that God was dead could see that the miracles being wrought before their eyes were definitive evidence to the contrary.

It is these people whose history is told by the Friends of Zion Museum.

Let’s take a look.


As an operating institution, the Friends of Zion Museum is one in a burgeoning category of interactive museums that house no physical artifacts. It displays no oil paintings, no historic photographs, no original documents in glass cases. Instead, its many rooms make up a virtual showcase of the “Visionaries,” the “Dreamers,” and the “Brave” among Christians who advocated the creation of a Jewish state long before the prospect seemed politically realistic.

Touring the museum begins in a large room whose floor is painted the color of the sea, with, rising from the water’s edge, a relief map of the territories of the twelve tribes in the ancient Land of Israel. Above the map, a screen fills the wall. After a video welcome by Shimon Peres , you are flown over stunningly beautiful views of the deserts and hills, farms, cities, ancient ruins, and modern skyscrapers of Israel while the melody of Hatikvah plays faintly in the background.

The music rises to a crescendo as on the screen Evans walks up a ridge with sweeping views of the Negev behind him. Three-thousand years ago, he tells us, the Jewish people passed this way in response to a divine promise. The Jewish kingdom they created was destroyed again and again, ultimately to be reborn as God had promised it would be, a rebirth so remarkable that “even the skeptics call it a miracle.”

From here, the exhibits guide the visitor from God’s promise to Abraham to modern statehood along a path of sound, image, and dramatization. The purely electronic aspects of the displays vary. In some rooms, historical figures appear to step out of frames to speak with visitors; in one, large sculptures become video screens as the lights dim; in another, Alice and Lawrence Oliphant, Josiah Wedgewood, and other historical personages emerge from a surrounding mural to explain their individual roles.

Take Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. Born in 1801, Shaftesbury was both a member of the Church of England and an evangelical Christian convinced that bringing the Jews home to the land of Israel would hasten the second coming of Jesus. But he was also a politician, elected to a seat in Parliament in 1826 and elevated to the House of Lords after the death of his father in 1851. A strong voice domestically in movements of social reform, in the realm of foreign policy he argued that a Jewish state would prove a useful ally in holding open for England the route to India via Suez. In 1838, as president of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, he persuaded Lord Palmerston to appoint the first British consul in Ottoman-controlled Jerusalem.

In an exhibit entitled “The Brave,” Colonel John Henry Patterson, another friend of Zion, steps out of his portrait to relate how the British army in the Middle East during World War I needed local men to help fight for the Allied cause but didn’t want Jews. Patterson, at the urging and with the indispensable help of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor (although neither is mentioned), formed and commanded the Zion Mule Corps: a volunteer unit of Palestinian Jews, later expanded and renamed the Jewish Legion, that participated in the successful British effort to oust the Ottoman empire from Palestine.

More familiar figures are also here. They include Queen Victoria, patroness of the Palestine Exploration Fund, and Edward Robinson, Bible scholar and archaeologist: two Victorian-era Christians whose faith led them to support projects of archaeological reclamation in an age increasingly—if wrongly—persuaded that biblical people, buildings, and events were mere myths backed by no material evidence.

Among influential politicians in the early 20th century, two featured figures in the museum are Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, signer of the famous November 2017 document declaring British support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” and Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who ensured that the Declaration was approved and played a key part in gaining for Britain the postwar mandate for Palestine. Each had grown up in an evangelical family and each was far more sympathetic to Zionism than were most Anglicans (with such notable exceptions as Queen Victoria and later, of course, Winston Churchill).

Probably the most unexpected Christian Zionist in the museum is George Bush, a professor of Bible at New York University and a cousin of future American presidents. In 1844 Bush published The Valley of Vision; or, The Dry Bones of Israel Revived, arguing that the moment was at hand for the Jews to return to the Holy Land, establish a government, convert to Christianity, and become Christian missionaries. Bush, who appears to have been a bit of an intellectual crank, then abandoned traditional Christianity to become a Swedenborgian.

As these and other examples make clear, Christian Zionism has historically encompassed a wide range of types, from the theorizing of a Professor Bush, to the active training program for Palestinian Jews spearheaded in the late 1930s by the senior British army officer Orde Wingate, to the readiness of President Harry Truman to cast the American vote for Jewish statehood at the United Nations. What they all have had impressively in common is support for a Jewish state in the Holy Land.


There is one peculiarity to be noted. In telling its story, the Friends of Zion Museum likens the contributions made by Christians to the Zionist cause with the heroism of Righteous Gentiles who saved Jewish lives in Nazi-occupied Europe. The case goes something like this: for most of modern history, Zionism has been a socially and politically incorrect position. True, there was a brief hiatus during the second half of the 20th century. But, in our time, Zionism has again come under stigma, if not anathema. Being a Christian Zionist has therefore required special courage.

In pursuit of this analogy, the museum devotes a large section to the stories of Christians like Corrie ten Boom who in Nazi Europe displayed a decidedly greater order of courage. A Dutch Calvinist, the never-married ten Boom had expended a great deal of time and money on building Christian girls’ clubs and helping the poor. Then, in 1941, together with her sister and father, she became part of the underground movement that hid Jews and managed to smuggle some of them out of the country.

Corrie ten Boom was captured but survived Nazi prison; her father and sister did not. In 1983, Mike Evans purchased the building where the ten Boom family once lived and turned it into a museum. At the Friends of Zion Museum, visitors can now see images of the secret spaces where Jews were hidden and admire the Christian convictions that drove this family to risk their own lives to save Jews and others fleeing arrest by the Nazis. Indeed, we are told, “Without their courage, there would have been no one to build a nation when the time had come.”

Clearly, museum creators are no more resistant than others to unseemly exaggeration.


Not surprisingly, some Jews harbor reservations about Mike Evans—though less for his exaggerations than for other reasons. For traditional Jews, the reasons largely stem from the fact that in the 1970s he led a group, the B’nai Yeshua, dedicated to converting Jews. Today, however, like most deeply committed evangelical Christians, he appears to have put on a back burner the core Christian imperative to share the Gospel. Himself the son of a Christian father and a Jewish mother, Evans still maintains the hope that all the world’s people will someday accept Christianity. Meanwhile, though, he has devoted decades of his life to actively supporting the Jewish state—most recently by building this impressive Jerusalem museum that is a love song to Zionism.

To be sure, so variegated has the landscape of Jewish sentiment become that among those Jews who dislike or distrust Christian Zionism are many who have also become uncomfortable with the Jewish state. For its part, the museum welcomes visitors of all faiths and all viewpoints, and little or nothing in it is likely to make most Jewish visitors actively uncomfortable.

Truth be told, however, the Friends of Zionism Museum wasn’t really built either for Israelis or for Jews. It is, rather, a wonderful addition to the places in Jerusalem that Christian tourists will want to visit, and where, witnessing and reliving the many Christian contributions to Jewish statehood, they will find ample reason to feel good about themselves.

In the final exhibit, surround sound and video images back Evans up as he reminds visitors that, with defeat and exile two millennia ago, God’s promise to Israel “seemed to be over.” Thereafter, he continues, in century after century, the Jews “encountered rejection, persecution, and even faced death at the hands of those who did not believe the promise . . . and had no intention of letting it be fulfilled.” And yet, Evans declares:

The Jews found others who believed in the ancient prophecies, who offered their help to see it fulfilled. In their own way, like the patriarchs of old, when their time came they, too, would say “Here am I” to the promise and to the people of the Land of Israel. They would be called Christian Zionists.

This is their museum.