I have a new article out in the most recent American Jewish History on journalist and political commentator Dorothy Thompson’s relationship to the Zionist movement and Israel.
Thompson was a remarkable figure. She was the first woman to lead an American newspaper’s overseas news bureau (as the Berlin bureau chief for the Philadelphia Public Ledger). She endured a lively but tumultuous marriage to Sinclair Lewis (for a time). She was the first American columnist to interview Hitler, whom she mocked as “insignificant” and “formless” in a 1932 profile for Cosmopolitan. During the crises of the 1930s, Thompson became perhaps the foremost American advocate of a political solution to the growing international refugee crisis (as well as privately supporting a number of individual refugees). After the initial outbreak of WWII in 1939, she used her platform as one of the most widely-read political commentators in the US to urge American support for the Allies.
What prompted my interest in Thompson, though, was that she famously went from being a fervent supporter of the Zionist movement in the early 1940s to one of its leading critics after the establishment of Israel in 1948. This shift alternately puzzled, excited, and angered her contemporaries. How and why did it happen? Read “‘Weizmann to her was God’: Dorothy’s Thompson’s Journey to and From Zionism” to find out…
“…this text is a fantastic academic resource. Robins’ careful and expert analysis of primary sources–from small Baptist newspapers to presidential recollections–and secondary sources on all manner of topics–Palestinian history, Jewish history, history of Baptists, evangelicals, and Christian Zionism–is highly commendable. His emphasis on how personal, contextual encounters shape theological and ideological commitments of anti-/pro-Zionism should be seriously considered and employed by future histories focusing on American Christian perspectives on Palestine. Rather than merely reciting the prevailing political and theological positions of a given period from merely established scholars and authorities, following Robins’s method can provide future histories on Christian Zionism with all the nuance, complexity, and problematics a denominational missionary, leader, and layperson encounters.”
Last semester, I taught a course on public history called “History Outside of the Classroom.” This was my first time teaching that course–really, it was my first time teaching that kind of course at all. I was interested in it, though, because I thought that the pandemic presented a unique opportunity for students to do a different kind of historical work than they usually do in my classrooms.
So, I organized the class around gathering materials for an online exhibition about the Merrimack community’s experiences during the pandemic. Students were tasked with legally and ethically acquiring relevant artifacts and interviews, as well as preparing them for exhibition. Altogether, they did a fantastic job–as I told them repeatedly, I think they created something of real historical value. I’m very pleased to now share their work with the public. Please have a look at Experiencing the Pandemic: a Merrimack College Public History Project.
Like everyone else, I’m starting a newsletter. It’s free, it will be updated whenever I feel like it, and it’s called Stupid History. Basically, it’s about investigating stupid historical photos from the Library of Congress online archives. Photos like this:
Read the first post and sign up for the newsletter here.
From Eve Spangler in the Journal of Religious History: “Robins correctly identifies the ways in which Orientalism shaped the major questions that constituted the internal Southern Baptist conversation about Israel and Palestine: the suffering of the Jews, the call to missionary zeal, and the ambitions of the Western powers for global dominance even before the Cold War. He uses archival materials adroitly and thoroughly. He writes gracefully and clearly. He takes us deftly through a rich array of debates to show how the original Southern Baptist scepticism about Zionism and Israel morphed into unconditional and aggressive support….Robins’ book is an important contribution to the history of American religious communities’ role in the Middle East. It will be useful as a text for courses in theological seminaries and in the sociology of religion.”
I’m happy to report that another review of Between Dixie and Zion just dropped. Thomas Kidd reviewed the book for Church History and, thankfully, posted it publicly for readers of his blog at The Gospel Coalition. Kidd, who co-wrote the book on Baptist Christianity in America, raises some good questions about the extent to which early twentieth century Southern Baptists can be described as “evangelical.” I might post some thoughts on those questions here if I can find some time during the semester. In the meantime, check out Kidd’s thoughtful review of “a book that anyone interested in Baptist history or American views of Israel should definitely read.”
This week, I did an interview for Tavis Smiley’s new show on KBLA 1580 about the evangelical-Israel relationship (prompted by this piece in The Conversation). As usual, I was double-billed with Dame Dash.
“Between Dixie and Zion is impressive in the extent and depth of its research. Unearthing a large array of primary sources and refusing to follow convention perceptions, Robins weaves a fresh and complex portrayal of Baptist images of and involvement with Palestine and its peoples….Students of religion in America will therefore find Robins’s book highly instructive. They will join readers who are interested in the history of Christianity and the Holy Land, as well as the development of Christian attitudes towards Jews, Zionism, Arabs, Muslims, and Eastern Christianity.”
“…for those seeking a meticulously researched account of formative encounters of Southern Baptists that shaped their perspectives on the question of Palestine, this book is just that and more. It makes a significant and judicious contribution to the body of scholarship of the engagement of evangelical Christians with the complexities of Israel/Palestine.”
I’ve learned a lot from the work of both of these scholars in studying American evangelical engagement with Jews and Zionism over the years, so I am very grateful to have my own work so thoughtfully reviewed by them.
If you want to buy Between Dixie and Zion, try here or here or here. If you’re looking to borrow it, start here.
Anyone who has stumbled their way to this particular website will find this article by the Forward‘s Molly Boigon of interest. It explores how vaccine skepticism among American evangelicals might affect tourism to Israel when things begin opening back up–and the role that the leading Christian Zionist organizations are playing in assuaging any hesitancy. Check it out–this will be worth keeping an eye on in the coming months. (I’m also, as someone trained in Jewish history, very proud to have a cameo in the Forward.)