Oil Company Stockholders on Spiritual Quest in Israel
Richard Bartholomew printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jun 23, 2007 at 05:19:52 AM EST
Earlier this week saw Christians United for Israel Dallas City Director Rev Stephen Swisher address the Stockholders' Meeting of Zion Oil & Gas. Swisher chose an appropriate Bible verse for his audience:

...I just have a scripture I'd wanted to share from Psalm 133. It's one of Mr Brown's favourite scriptures, I believe, and it's one of mine as well, and I think once you hear it it'll be yours:

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron. Running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion, for there the Lord ordained his blessing for evermore.

Today I'm here to...ask God's blessing upon your work.

A local rabbi, Nasanya Zakon of the Dallas Area Torah Association, then continued in similar vein:

Digging, the concept of digging, the concept of oil, the concept of Israel, these are core concepts in God's world, in humanity...In the Bible we find that the Patriarchs dug in the land of Israel. They dug, not for oil, but they dug for water. But the great kabbalists, the Jewish mystics tell us that their digging was actually alluding to developing the temples. The two temples that we had in Jerusalem, and the third one that we will have...oil represents a very deep spiritual concept. Light comes from oil, from the lighting of oil, and Israel of course represents God's relationship with this world, and the bridge through which God and the spiritual connects with the physical world...may God bless your efforts.

This is a fascinating American reading of the Bible: digging for oil and burning it is a holy, God-ordained, activity - and digging for oil in Israel is particularly pious.

It's an exegesis that has been around for a while; in 2004, when Hal Lindsey brought Zion Oil to wide attention via his WorldNetDaily , he noted the following:

Moses proclaimed blessings on Jacob's sons just before he died. He predicted concerning Asher:

Asher is most blessed of sons; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in OIL.

- Deuteronomy 33:24

Lindsey was inspired here by James Spillman, a pastor who wrote a book entitled Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel's Oil.

On the whole, this works much better in English than in Hebrew, which distinguishes shemen, the anointing oil, and naphtha, the flammable "muddy water". Obviously, the references that so excite Swisher and Lindsey refer to the first word. However, according to a legend in 2 Maccabees naphtha preserved the sacred fire of the First Temple through the period of the Babylonian Exile, and Nehemiah used it to burn sacrifices.

I've been following the fortunes of Zion Oil & Gas for several years now; back in January I noted that it was the first new listing of 2007, and that the CEO and director had been given the honour of ringing the AMEX bell in New York on the first day of 2007 trading. The company was founded by John Brown, an oilman and Christian Zionist who believes that the Bible provides clues to finding massive oil deposits in Israel, and that his involvement was predicted in 1 Kings (8:41), which mentions "a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name's sake". Despite this unpromising background, Brown has built up a significant exploratory company, which employs serious business-people and qualified geologists (one of the ironies of the Zion Oil website are references to drilling through "Triassic" and "Permian" layers of rock - troublesome labels for Biblical literalists). The current director, Richard Rinberg, is actually a rather dry and eloquent British-Israeli businessman.

In fact, all the company needs is to actually get some oil - a detail which so far has proven elusive. The company put out a press release a couple of days ago, concerning its first drilling:

Zion Oil & Gas, Inc. (Amex: ZN) of Dallas, Texas and Caesarea, Israel, announced today that its geological and engineering team have completed its analysis of the test results of the first of four zones in the upper Triassic which had been identified as potentially productive and selected for testing during the remedial workover and completion operations on the Company's Ma'anit #1 well. The results of the tests indicated that the tested zone is non-productive.

The announcement comes just weeks after the final round of its first public offering. Ma'anit #2 is now on the way, and Brown referred the shareholders to 1 Kings 18, in which Elijah sends a servant to look for a raincloud:

"Go and look toward the sea," he told his servant. And he went up and looked. "There is nothing there," he said. Seven times Elijah said, "Go back."

Only on the seventh time does the rain actually come. Rinberg, however, ever-mindful of the SEC rules, kept reminding the audience that such "forward-looking" statements should not be taken as assurances that any oil will ever be found.

The Stockholder's meeting also saw Brown express his deep gratitude to Ralph DeVore, to whom he also made a presentation gift. This was unexpected, since, as I blogged in 2005, documents on the Zion Oil website suggest that DeVore had had quite a spectacular falling-out with Brown and had resigned from the organization. DeVore had claimed that the reason Zion had failed to strike oil was because the Jewish involvement amounted to "syncretism" and that this had angered God ("The MIXING OF GOD'S WORD WITH OTHER RELIGIONS! THE CHRISTIAN BIBLE CALLS THIS REBELLION TOWARDS GOD!"). Brown had been deeply offended by DeVore's comments, to judge from the correspondence - but with DeVore being a director of Hal Lindsey Ministries, and a cousin of Lindsey, the potential media exposure is doubtless just too good to turn down. We can only guess why DeVore has chosen to make up - despite the "syncretism" now including a rabbi who cites kabbalists and who tells his evangelical audience that God's bridge with the world is actually Israel.

Brown is not the first Christian Zionist to hunt for oil in Israel. A 1998 WorldNetDaily article profiled some others:

A $30 million, six-to-eight-month project to uncover the world's largest oil field atop a salt dome at the southwest end of Israel's Dead Sea, is expected to begin in early 1999, according to respected Texas oil man, Harold "Hayseed" Stephens.

...Prominent born-again Christian oilmen have drilled in specific locations in Israel based on their interpretation of various Scripture references. Among them have been Gilman Hill, Andy Sorelle, Jr., and Canadian Lyle Harron. Hill invested $6 million at a drill site near Mount Carmel in the '70s. It came up dry. Sorelle also drilled during the 80's, on the Mediterranean, and spent millions on various leases throughout Israel. Harron spent nearly a decade at a Netanya lease, just north of Tel Aviv.

The efforts of the late "Hayseed" Stephens were explored in the Skeptical Inquirer in 1999.

Incidentally, there's also Givat Olam, an Israeli company hunting for oil under the direction of an ultra-Orthodox Jew named Tovia Lushkin. He also uses the Bible as a guide, and his efforts have excited Christian Zionists.

by Richard Bartholomew on Sat Jun 23, 2007 at 05:29:25 AM EST
There is natural gas off the Gaza coast.  However, I can't imagine how these folks could use a literal reading of the Bible to include it in the Holy Land.  In the shifting Biblical maps, that region was consistently part of Philistia, not Israel or Judah.

If these folks included the Sinai oil as part of God's promised gifts, I expect they are unhappy about Carter's accomplishment at Camp David.  

by Rusty Pipes on Tue Jun 26, 2007 at 04:21:17 PM EST

Evelyn Waugh could have dreamed it up.

by nogodsnomasters on Sat Jun 23, 2007 at 04:34:44 PM EST

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