Jewish people recognise the 9th day of Av as of great significance, the day on which both of the Jewish temples were destroyed, as well as other events in their history. But there is also another day on which a number of key historical events occurred which impacted the Jewish people – in the modern period. That day is 31 October.
Most Australians will immediately think of the charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba in 1917 on that day. This was my initial focus when taking groups down to Beersheba on the ‘In Step with Allenby and the Light Horse’ tours. Then in the early 1990’s while researching in the National Archives in London I read through the Minutes of the British War Cabinet for 31 October 1917 and discovered that the decision for establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine (known as the Balfour Declaration) was also made on that very same day. That indeed was a revelation. But wait – there is more.
A German connection – 31 October 1517
On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church, and effectively triggered off the Protestant Reformation. Despite Luther’s negative attitude towards the Jewish people, as espoused in his publication ‘The Jews and their Lies’, there remained a concern for the Jewish people in Germany, primarily within the evangelical Lutheran movement known as Pietism.
The most important result of Luther’s bold actions in Wittenberg was in availing the key for individuals to enjoy a personal covenant relationship with Jesus. It also resulted in availing the Bible to many Christians, enabling them to read of God’s unwavering covenant responsibility to the people of Israel. Many of these people became the Moses and Daniel of their time and interceded on behalf of the Jewish people.
British interest in Israel’s restoration
The Reformation and availability of the Scriptures played a profound impact upon British society, and both the Puritans and then the evangelicals adopted a keen interest in the Jewish people and the future role of the nation of Israel.
This interest centred upon the two fold restoration of Israel – to their Messiah Jesus, and to the land of Israel, and through the centuries included numerous influential church and political leaders, including William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury and Lord Palmerston.
Geo-politics in the Middle East
While the Bible was slowly changing established mind-sets in Europe concerning the Jewish people, important events occurred in the Middle East. First from 1453 the Ottoman Turks took control over the region, conquering ‘Palestine’ by 1517. In the process they monopolised the important trade routes which brought precious commodities from the Far East through to Europe. This in turn forced the European sea-faring nations to discover alternate routes to those Far East markets. In so doing they by-passed the Middle East.
Then in 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the Middle East in an effort to establish a shorter route to the Far East, and especially to India. This bold move in turn provoked Britain to defeat the French in Egypt and Turkish Palestine in order to protect her interests in the Far East. This strategic region once again took centre stage, and Britain’s policy thereafter was to preserve this region from overt European interference.
British and German evangelical involvement in the land of Israel
The above stated dynamics, coupled with the interest in Israel’s restoration within Britain, witnessed a British evangelical ministry named CMJ establishing its presence in Jerusalem in 1833 and later building Christ Church just inside Jaffa Gate. Then in 1840 King Frederick William IV of Prussia had a ‘dream’ (or revelation) of establishing a world-wide Protestant union, with Jerusalem as its centre point. The visionary king was informed that it would be impossible for German Protestantism to be established in ‘Palestine’ unless they join with the work of CMJ.
The Prussian king took heed of this advice and in 1841 the Anglo-Prussian Jerusalem Protestant Bishopric was established, a diplomatic and ecclesiastical relationship between Britain and Prussia. The first Protestant bishop was a Prussian born former Jewish rabbi named Michael Solomon Alexander, who arrived in January 1842. At the time when Bishop Alexander was appointed, the Prussian king’s envoy, Chevalier de Bunsen, stated: ‘So the beginning is made, please God, for the restoration of Israel1.’
Why would a Prussian envoy and a Prussian king have such an interest in the Jewish people? According to a recent interview I had with Prince Philip von Preussen, a direct descendant of King Frederick William (and potential heir of the Hohenzollern dynasty) the king was influenced by Pietism. The Pietists were basically evangelical Lutherans, many of whom understood God’s covenant relationship with the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, Prince Philip stated, they were not a large or strong movement within the German church – unlike the evangelical movement in Britain.
Apart from the Protestant Bishopric initiative, the Prussian king no doubt had other geo-political and economic considerations in mind in his endeavours to gain a toe-hold in the ‘Holy Land.’ German involvement in the land of Israel increased thereafter.
The Kaiser and Germany’s second 31 October connection
The construction of the Suez Canal in 1869 by the French provoked Britain’s move to take control of that strategic waterway in 1875 and revealed the lengths to which Britain would go in order to preserve its link to the eastern empire.
These moves were simultaneous to the beginnings of the new empire of Germany, in 1871. The new Germany began looking outwards for ‘their own place in the sun.’ One of those ‘places in the sun’ involved forging an economic and political relationship with the Ottoman Turkish Empire.This trend resulted in the annulment of the Anglo-Prussian Protestant Bishopric agreement, in circa 1887. Thereafter Germany was going it alone in the land of Israel and they began to build a new German Church – in the centre of Jerusalem. The German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II was set to open this new church on 31 October 1898 – being Reformation Day!
But the Kaiser’s visit was primarily concerned with forging a stronger relationship with the Ottoman Turks, through a meeting with the Sultan in Constantinople early in October. Also in Constantinople at the time was the leader of the new Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, who desired for Germany to be the patron of the Zionist endeavour to establish a Jewish national entity in the land of Israel.
The Germans though chose to pursue a relationship with the Moslem Turks, and so the Zionist movement was forced to look elsewhere for its European patron.
The Kaiser then entered Jerusalem in a massive show of pomp and on 31 October the new Lutheran Church of the Redeemer was opened. This event showed the world that Germany had arrived on the imperial scene and was forging a relationship with the Ottoman Turks.
1 Bunsen Diary, cited in Hodder, E, The Life and Works of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, p. 200.
Note: The subject matter in this article will be part of a documentary and booklet entitled ’31 October – Destiny’s Date?’ to be released during 2017.