A Q & A with Honors student Rachel Jenkins
Honors student Rachel Jenkins '16 presented her honors thesis to a group of faculty and her peers last week. Her thesis was titled, " Apocalyptic Abomination: Sacrificing Peace for a Temple through Interpretation of Scripture." In her project, she wanted to examine dispensationalist Christian interpretation and Jewish interpretation of scripture, specifically in regards to the Antichrist and the Third Temple, and whether or not this was hindering peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Jenkins is majoring in political science and philosophy with a minor in history.
Q. How did you become interested in this topic?
A. As I kid I read the Left Behind series for Kids, and the fictionalized version of Revelation captured my curiosity and imagination. Then, my freshman year I took "History and Politics of the Middle East" with Scott Waalkes, and I realized that there were various ways to interpret end times events, specifically in regards to the role Israel plays in those events.
Additionally, I realized there were Christian and Muslim Palestinians who also valued Jerusalem. But I think the inspiration for this project really took off after my first trip to Israel in 2014. I met Christian Palestinians and saw the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in person. At that point, I began to connect abstract beliefs with real people who had real stories. I began to wonder if perhaps Christians' views of the end times were contributing to this tension between Israelis and Palestinians, and whether or not there might be a link between interpretation of scripture and action.
This past summer I had the opportunity to go back to Israel and this solidified and provided the remaining inspiration for the thesis. I was able to talk to Muslims on the Temple Mount and to visit places that once again were able to ground my abstract work with real places and real issues. I saw my thesis topic unfold before my very eyes.
Q. Can you explain some of your findings?
A. To start, I had four areas of research that I collected. First, I performed a content analysis of relevant books by John Hagee (who is a well-known dispensational Christian Zionist) to see what his thoughts were about the Antichrist and the Third Temple. To briefly sum up his views, he sees peace as unattainable. Additionally, he believes that the Antichrist is needed for a Third Temple, a temple is needed for the Antichrist to defile it, and both are needed for Jesus to return.
For a Jewish perspective, I turned to the Temple Institute. This is located in Jerusalem and has devoted themselves to researching and creating elements needed for a Third Temple. Surprisingly, I found that they have already completed everything needed for a Temple except for two elements: a large external altar (because they cannot store it) and The Ark of the Covenant. However, this reveals a conflict because the Ark of the Covenant cannot be made and must be found. They believe the Israelites hid it, and that it is currently underneath the Dome of the Rock (Muslim's third holiest site and home to the earliest passages of the Qur'an). So, the Muslims would not simply move the Dome of the Rock and it would be incredibly provocative to try and blow up the Dome of the Rock. So, there is this tension of Jews are ready to build a Third Temple, and the only obstacle that remains is to regain control of the Temple Mount and to destroy the Dome of the Rock.
To try and connect scripture interpretation to action, I turned to two Israeli newspapers (Jerusalem Post and Haaretz). Through all the interesting data, I found that the discussion of a Third Temple became more popular in 2015 and the articles about it in 2016 have already surpassed the numbers from 2014. Along with that, the content of the articles revealed this religious Jewish desire for a Third Temple is gaining support and is no longer a fringe activist movement but a mainstream opinion. Additionally, just recently in May, a temple activist was elected into the Israeli Knesset which is significant because he could try to work on legislation in support of a Jewish temple.
(Currently, the Temple Mount is under control of the Muslims and not the Israeli government, but the temple activists are trying to change this).
Lastly, I looked at the same newspapers but this time at articles discussing violence on the Temple Mount. I found that there was a dramatic increase of violence in 2015 which also correlates to the spike in the Third Temple newspapers. And again the 2016 data for violent outbursts already was higher than 2014. The reasons why? Well, there are more Jews going on to the Temple Mount and this is seen as threatening to Muslims especially when Jews are coming up during Muslim holidays. When I was on the Temple Mount this past summer, I actually witnessed this. Jews came onto the Temple Mount and the entire atmosphere and overall demeanor of the Muslims there changed. They became visibly distressed. A Muslim man I was talking to said this was becoming a more common occurrence because as he articulated, Muslims are worried because they know the Jews want to destroy the Dome of the Rock.
So just briefly in conclusion, this tension is so complicated and is rooted deeply in Christians, Muslims, and Jews. However, I concluded in a way that tried to offer a glimmer of hope by arguing there could be peace here. I said that for Christians to be peacemakers, as the Bible commands, that we must have a balanced theological and political view of this conflict. Peace is attainable and worth working towards. And so in this regard, scripture interpretation would help the peace process.
What was your favorite part of working on this project? How has the Honors project contributed to your experience at Malone?
Through this process, I discovered that I love to research and to write about it, and the Honors program provided that opportunity for me to discover this. Additionally, while traveling usually is not a part of the Honors thesis experience, I am so thankful that I could travel the region where my thesis research was rooted. I think that helped to deepen my understanding and analysis in my thesis. I definitely believe this process and the Honors program have helped me to grow to become a better person both academically and spiritually.
What is your dream job after graduation?
I honestly have no idea. However, I would love to incorporate my love of researching and writing and then my passion for the Middle East into my future job. I definitely see myself either in Israel or in Washington D.C. in the future.
Any parting words of wisdom?
If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Israel, I would strongly encourage you to go. It is such an amazing place filled with fascinating people and cultures. Additionally, it deepens your understanding of the Bible and Jesus Himself.