Hamas’ terroristic assault on Israel appears to have been triggered by more than deep hatred for the Jewish state. Many believe that Israel is plotting to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Jewish temple in its place. According to a recent story from CBS News, a group of evangelical Christians and orthodox Jews have cooperated to import red Angus heifers from Texas into the Jewish state. Their motivations are theological: they believe that Biblical prophecy foretells the arrival of these heifers as the first presage of the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and inaugurates the Second Coming of Christ. 

While the motivation is understandable, it’s based on bad theology, and worse yet it launched a dangerous conspiracy theory, Perhaps it’s a lesson of what happens when Biblical prophecy is interpreted in in a novel and controversial way.

The idea of importing the heifers started with the Orthodox Jewish nonprofit Uvne Yerusalim, which is dedicated to the preservation and rebuilding of historic Jewish sites, including the temple mount. They cooperated with Christian ranches in Texas who owned red Angus to bring the cows to Israel in recent months.

Specifically, they reference Numbers 19 as theological instruction, a passage that contains a purification ritual: “Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come” (Numbers 19:2). Then, the heifer is slaughtered as a “sin offering” for Israel’s impurity (19:9).

Last year, a representative from Uvne Yerusalim told media, “And we hope that in a year and a half from today, we can make here in this area the ceremony of the red heifer that actually will be the first step to the Temple.” And that is where the controversy with the Islamic world lies. The sacrifice of these heifers requires a valid location: namely, a rebuilt Jewish temple in place of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Thus, the words and intended actions of Uvne Yerusalim and their American Christian allies implicitly, if not explicitly, require the removal of one of Islam’s holiest sites and its replacement with a renewed Jewish one.

It’s no coincidence that Hamas dubbed their October 7 terrorist attacks “the Al-Aqsa wave.” In the words of a Hamas spokesperson, “This round of conflict is being waged by the resistance under the name ‘Al-Aqsa Flood.’ It is not for the sake of Gaza or the West Bank, but rather for the sake of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.” Muslims around the world, including Hamas, have become convinced that Israel is intent on destroying their holy site.

Of course, radical Islamic terrorists have not presented the situation accurately. Leaders in Hamas and Hezbollah have managed to convince many Muslims that the actions of private groups like Uvne Yerusalim and the Temple Institute (which trains future priests to perform these sacrifices) indicate that the secular government of Israel intends to destroy Al-Aqsa. Of course, this is nonsense.

Scholar Paul Marshall noted that it’s also true that the allegations of Israel replacing Al-Aqsa, whether they are true or false, have a major detrimental effect in the region. Advocates of rebuilding the Jewish temple and reinstituting sacrifices should consider the potential destabilizing and provocative geopolitical effects of their actions.

Even beyond geopolitical considerations, the most fundamental reason why the importation of these red heifers is wrong is because it misinterprets Scripture. The purification sacrifice of Numbers 19 is not a binding guide for “purifying” the secular State of Israel today. Christians believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of every word of Scripture, but the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament must be read in their covenantal context. Numbers 19 does not include a directive that the Jewish temple must be rebuilt prior to Christ’s second coming. 

Americans also should recognize the dangers of political conspiracy theories: this story is a perfect example of how they can lead to conflict and corrode trust in legitimate and just government. A less violent version of this is seen in America, where theories on both Right and Left about stolen elections and bureaucratic plots cause some to reject the legitimacy of our constitutional order and even become violent (e.g. January 6 and BLM riots).

Whatever triggered Hamas’ violent terroristic assault on Israel, we can be sure that rebuilding the Temple and reinstitution the sacrificial system cannot solve millennia of ethnic hatred in the Middle East. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ provided the ultimate sacrifice that provided for forgiveness of sins 2000 years ago. His sacrifice was far greater than that provided by the blood of bulls and goats. And until both Jews and Muslims accept what Christ accomplished, they’ll continue to sacrifice their children on future battlefields.