Death, violence, turmoil, strife and fire reigning down from the sky are the current headlines from the Middle East. It should strike no one as surprising that the roots of this chaos are historical, but it may surprise some readers how far back this mayhem goes.
One of the most exciting ways I have drawn parallels in foreign policy in my new book, The International Relations of the Bible, is through a story about CIA officer James Fees and then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger.
The year was 1973, the same year as the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) War, where Fees informed Kissinger that a memo existed detailing the turmoil in the Middle East, including the problems in the Sinai and Iranian expansion into places like Yemen.
Kissinger was shocked. He assumed someone was leaking classified information until Fees revealed to him that the memo was written in 700 B.C. We are reminded of the book of Ecclesiastes 1:9: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
In 2021, we see the parallels of all three events, the one from 700 B.C., from 1973 and this week. The same geopolitical entities that shaped the Middle East for millennia continue to do so now.
Iran was the root of the problem in 700 B.C. and is the number one sponsor of Hamas today. The strategy is also the same; the Arab armies used a religious event to surprise attack Israel in 1973 and Hamas began its rocket barrage around Shavuot.
In another parallel to 700 B.C., my mind went back to a counter-terrorism conference I was part of in Israel in 2009, where one of the speakers said, “If Yemen is set on fire, the Gulf will burn.”
International relations dominate the Bible and, through God’s hand, determined the fate of the Jewish people and Israel today. Whether it was the Babylonian and Egyptian Empire, the influence of Greek Hellenism or the critical role of the Romans, international affairs are an omnipresent backdrop.
There can be no story of Exodus, no Babylonian captivity, no consistent crossroads of war, no publicans or Roman governors, no judgment by Pontius Pilate and no St. Paul’s story as a Roman citizen, without considering the role of international affairs.
A few examples highlight the multi-millennial depths we must extract to understand the events in the Middle East today. The battles between the Hyksos and the Egyptians set the stage for enslavement and the Exodus. The Jews engage in crusades against heathen kingdoms such as the Hittites, Amalekites and Canaanites.
Israel’s geopolitical situation was comprised of a three-way division that arguably still dominates the Israel-Palestinian conflict today. The first area was the coastal plain, which evolved into a more cosmopolitan, trade-oriented and worldly.
Second, there was a hilly northern region dominated in part by the harder, warlike Galileans. It was where invaders would be funneled into the Megiddo plain (Armageddon).
Lastly, two deserts helped to protect Israel from invaders. The problem area for Israel primarily came from the north, which provides few natural barriers except for the Litani River.
Israel was an international affairs convergence zone for any land empire expanding southward or eastward. The period in the Bible where a unified Kingdom of Israel exists dates from circa 1020 B.C. to 930 B.C. This encompassed the kingships of Saul, David and Solomon.
The Philistines (where we get the word “Palestine”) were warlike and pagan people. They occupied Canaan and posed an existential threat to Israel. This is how far we must reach into antiquity to understand the roots of today’s events where words like rockets and iron dome replace spears and shields.
There were attempts by some Jewish rulers to enter the great game of international politics by trying to play Egypt and Assyria off each other, often becoming vassals of one or the other. This was further exacerbated by the enmity between the northern and southern kingdoms.
The period where biblical international relations focused on the Kingdom of Judah showed a dangerous typology of international affairs and the Jews. It was one where there was a rebellion against God and a miscalculation in foreign affairs, where the people were crushed and the kingdom despoiled.
This Persian period illustrates another typology, the Persian model, where the Jewish people allied themselves with a greater imperial power in exchange for autonomy. The Persian Wars that liberated the Jews were also the wars that would lead to the downfall of the Persians and the conquest of Israel by the Greeks.
The Hellenization of Israel and the reaction against it serves as one of the most telling aspects of the Old Testament and international relations. The Jews, who had been favored subjects of the Persians, fell under the Greek world. This led to the establishment of larger Gentile colonies, which were often populated by Greek veterans.
Great power conflict in international relations again determined the fate of the people of Israel. They were caught between two Greek empires due to Alexander’s death and here is where a new player emerges: Rome.
Civil war among the Jews played a huge role during this period and their attempts to ally Rome on one side or another was another point of international affairs history that did not end well for them.
It was ended only by Roman intervention by Pompey the Great in 63 B.C, who was frustrated with all Jewish factions. When these factions attempted to resist Rome, Pompey became even more aggravated. This led to his decision to take Jerusalem and incorporate what would now be known as Judea into the province of Syria.
Rome was now the master of the people of Israel. Four hundred years pass between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Many Christians term this period the intertestamental time.
The entire New Testament revolves around Jesus, who is born, lives, dies and is resurrected during Roman rule. It is, therefore, impossible to explain the international relations, foreign policy and diplomacy of this period without a complete understanding of Roman rule.
Three factors led to the Romans dominating the region. The first was the aforementioned civil war, where both sides invited them in to restore order; the second was the dissolution of the Greek empires and last was the rise of Parthia (Iran).
The biblical lands changed hands between Parthia and Rome. They were caught up not only in the Roman-Parthian conflict but also in Rome’s civil wars following the assassination of Julius Caesar.
The international relations world changed in 31 B.C. due to the Battle of Actium, where Octavian triumphed. It secured the Roman Empire for the Julio-Claudian dynasty, changing Rome into an imperial monarchy and becoming the reigning superpower on the planet.
The New Testament begins under the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. He was the emperor at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. Augustus ordered the census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem under the authority of his governor, Quirinius.
The ministry of Jesus occurs during the Roman occupation and the shadow of the Parthians. The trial of Jesus must be seen in the context here described. Rome looked through a grand strategy lens, with order being the primary goal.
Rome would initially have had no interest in a Jewish religious leader that did not preach violence or revolution. Pilate would ultimately be recalled to Rome. The trial he presided was the most important legal trial in history, including its impact on international affairs.
The end of the Bible and international relations ends with the coming Great Revolt of the Jews. The city finally fell in 71 A.D, fulfilling the prophecy made about Jerusalem by Jesus.
The end of the revolt concluded with the destruction of the Temple, the very Temple at the heart of the conflict this month. This resulted in the diaspora of the Jewish people and the destruction of a Jewish homeland until the re-creation of Israel in 1948.
This piece originally ran on Newsmax on 20 May 2021.