When two young american missionaries left their country and began, ten- tatively, to enter the near east in 1819, soon to die of fever and exhaustion, they followed the idea of a necessary, salutary new order and a mission of peace, both in the near east and globally, for which the Gospel, including the “restoration of israel,” would be the leaven or mustard seed. nearly two centuries later, when U.s. troops invaded iraq in 2003, some of the rhetoric was similar, but the main american agencies in the near east—military might versus powerless missionaries—differed significantly.
This books attempts to measure this long, twisted historical and mental road. it is a personal book. it takes up questions with which i was confront- ed, partly at least, as a teenager when my father, a pastor of the evangelical- reformed state Church of Zurich, died prematurely at the age i am now. This occurred in the years after the six-day War and the 1968 youth revolu- tion, still during the vietnam War. Unfinished discussions unfolded at the large family table, often with guests, where we listened eagerly to the news of swiss radio Beromünster (among them, the daily comparative american body counting). The United states, israel, the near east, and World War ii were strongly present in our talks, as were the meaning of the Bible, of history, and of the term Kingdom of God. as a child of swiss protestantism; later, a student of philosophy, literature, history, and theology at universities in Zurich, Basel, and paris; finally, a historian of the near east; and by mar- riage, half a near easterner myself for two decades, i have dared to come back to some old questions. it is no accident that, in substance, the book ends with the 1970s, with the (tentative) answers that could not, the youngster strangely felt, be given to him or that he could not understand at that time.
“america” and “american” in this book mostly stand for the United states, if the context is clear. “millennialism” (variants: millenarism, millenarianism) or “chiliasm”—from the latin mille anni, “thousand years,” and the Greek χιλια ετη—respectively, refers to a vision in the revelation or apocalypse. This last book of the Christian Bible is a source of apocalyptic spiritual- ity and forms the grammar of Christian apocalyptic imagery. “They [the slain Jesus-believers] came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (rev. 20:4). millennialism, accordingly, is the belief that Jesus Christ and his saints will one day openly reign on earth for a thousand years; millennium is the term for this reign. referring to this vision in the revelation, millennial- ism is a more specific term than messianism, the belief in the saving role of a messiah or a “messianic force” (e.g., communism, Zionism, perhaps “ameri-