Jerusalem through Evangelical Eyes: Nineteenth-Century Western Encounters with Palestinian Christianity
British travelers
Christian Zionism
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Evangelical Protestantism
nineteenth century
Orthodox Christianity
Palestinian Christians

This essay explores Western attitudes to Christianity in Palestine as recorded in the accounts of nineteenth-century travelers, especially British Evangelical Protestants, to Jerusalem. Nineteenth-century Evangelicals shared a hostility towards non-Protestant Christian denominations, an unwavering belief in the Bible as a historically infallible document, and an attitude towards Palestine and the Jewish people that led them towards what is now recognized as Christian Zionism. In Jerusalem, the essay argues, travelers came face-to-face with a “Christian Orient” which lay far beyond their previous conceptions of Christianity. This was exemplified by travelers’ attitude to the event that is held most sacred by Palestinian Christians: the Easter ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Evangelicals attended the Easter service not as worshippers, but detached observers. Denying completely the sacred importance of the ceremony, they viewed it as a tradition setting the Christians of the Orient apart from themselves, as shown through analysis of their reports of the event. Ultimately, the essay contends, Western travelers’ repeated ideological attacks on the practice of Christianity in Jerusalem served to delegitimize the Palestinian Christian community in Western eyes, informing the outlook of British Mandate officials and the Christian Zionist Evangelicals of today.

Author biography: 

Gabriel Polley completed his PhD in Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter in 2020, focusing on the representation of Palestine in British travel literature, 1840–1914. In 2014–15 Polley worked in Palestine and attended Birzeit University in the West Bank. His research interests center on European colonialism and support for settler-colonial projects in late Ottoman Palestine, extending to the contemporary political ramifications of this period of Palestine’s history. He is currently working on a monograph on this topic, to be published in 2022 by I. B. Tauris.

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