The Old and the New Israel: The Cultural Origins of the Special Relationship

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Understandings of the new American nation as a “Second Israel,” and a prevalent political discourse devoted to the narratives of the Old Testament, were a distinct trait of the early United States. Indeed, the images and narratives of the Old Testament were as common in the formative decades of the United States, in the words of the great historian Perry Miller, as “the air that the people breathed.” This attachment to the Old Testament, and the fact that American nationalism and twentieth century Zionism crystalized around the biblical history of the Israelites, bears considerably on the relationship of the two nations. The “special” bond between the modern countries, which is commonly understood in terms of pragmatism, interests, and shared ideologies, thus rests on a deep cultural connection. The American public’s consistent backing of the State of Israel (one that far surpasses the constituency of evangelical Christian Zionists), which politically translates into a robust, lasting and bi-partisan support that defies the arithmetic of appeals to Jewish voters (or donors) seems puzzling at times. It becomes more intelligible in light of the centuries-long tradition of American public speech describing the nation as a new incarnation of biblical Israel. This usable biblical past, which continues to influence American culture in meaningful ways, adds an important dimension for our understanding of the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-246
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the Bible and its Reception
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


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