Some of them even blow red, white, and blue shofars.
Wilkinson: So what are Christians doing with shofars, then? I suspect that Christians who’ve encountered a shofar today have mostly encountered them in a particular denomination, or in a political context.
Burge: That’s right. So let’s be absolutely clear about one thing: Evangelicals don’t all use shofars. Let’s be really clear about that. But, okay, so how did this suddenly surface? I think there’s an explanation for this, and it has to do with an infatuation among some conservative evangelicals with all things Jewish and all things Israel.
In the late 19th century, there’s the dawning of Zionism. It takes hold inside of Judaism as a way to reclaim ancient legacies. But also you have Christian Zionism, which really does take form around the turn of the century. Christian Zionism not only anticipates the return of Jews to the Holy Land, but it also becomes deeply interested in the recreation of Jewish practices. This can be complicated to explain, but after World War I, Europe had destroyed itself. The  Spanish flu kills 50 million people. The stock market crashes in ’29. And Europe is warming up for another war after that. The whole world is wondering, What is going on? The wheels have come off the bus in this very interesting period.
And conservative evangelicals and other conservative Christians who were invested in Zionism said, “This is the end of the world.” It’s very simple. This was also connected to prophecies about how things [foretold in the Bible] are being fulfilled [in world events]. So what happens is there is an investment in Jewish practice. After 1948, when Israel becomes a state, and after their major military victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, what you have is this amalgamation of prophecies about the end, which we call eschatology, with this remarkable commitment [among some conservative Christians] not just to the state of Israel but this investment in all things Jewish. This forms in the 1970s and ’80s and ’90s, and it’s a thread that has moved through this aspect of evangelicalism.
So you might, on a church platform, have seen the Israeli flag. That’s not even a religious object. You have this blending of Israeli politics, American conservative politics, conservative religious values, and an infatuation with Jewish culture. Some examples would be singing songs with a Hebrew cadence, or singing songs in Hebrew. I was at a church gathering once at a conference where I was a speaker. They said, there’s a pledge of allegiance in Israel, like the one we have in America — and then the church said it together. It was remarkable. It was a political thing. I thought, Wow, what in the world?
As they rummage around inside of Jewish culture, and what they think to be Hebrew Old Testament culture, they’ve taken on these cultural instruments. That would include music and “Hebrew” dancing. I think some Jews look at this and say, “Wait, that’s just Eastern European culture, or Yiddish.” But [these Christian groups] don’t discern very well that so much of modern Judaism is a dynamic faith, just like Christianity. It’s evolved over the years. So they’ve taken on these contemporary — or really, European — Jewish things. They think by loving Jewish culture, they’re actually loving a culture that God loves most of all.
There’s your key. They almost sanctified or divinized one culture. They think by recreating some features of it, there you have it.
I think the shofar specifically only really came into life in the last 30 years. Someone might get onstage and launch a [Christian] conference with a shofar. Or at a rally of some kind, they’ll pull them out and use them. What they think they’re doing is rousing emotional drama with it. Originally, that probably was its intent, like any bugle or trumpet would be. In the American military, the guy who plays “Taps” on the trumpet at a funeral — it’s the same thing.
They have appropriated this thing. Their movement is a mash-up of conservative religion and pro-Israel Zionism, all blending together in this one segment of the evangelical world right now. The shofar for them now has become a way to say, Rally the troops. Let’s march.
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