God's Peoples: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel, and Ulster


404 pages
Contains Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0940-2
DDC 909.08




Reviewed by A.J. Pell

A.J. Pell is rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral in the Diocese of New
Westminster, British Columbia.


Since World War II, three countries have consistently been in the news
as perpetually troubled places: Israel, South Africa, and Ulster. Each
has been a place where political strife of some form, often violent, has
been tinged with religious themes. Akenson, a professor of history at
Queen’s University, examines these three areas, and the conflicts
within each, and discovers a common theme that helps the outsider make
sense of these three very different areas—the biblical theme of

The covenant appears early in the Bible, in Genesis 9, where God makes
an agreement, or covenant, with the whole human race after the Great
Flood. But that covenant is soon replaced by a more specific covenant
with one particular family, that of Abram. They are chosen as the start
of a nation, the Hebrews, who will be the particular agents of God’s
purposes and whose status is marked, defined, and governed by a covenant
with God that evolved over several centuries. Akenson outlines the
nature and content of that covenant and the Hebrew society that grew up
through and around it. Then he takes that covenantal matrix and applies
it to the three late 20th-century problem peoples/areas.

Akenson works from the basis of a simple thesis—all three societies
“assimilated the Hebrew scriptures directly and did not read them as a
mere prologue to the Christian era.” He demonstrates that this is true
not just for Israel, as the reader would expect, but also for the
Christian societies of South Africa and Ulster. Then he traces how the
3000- to 4000-year-old Hebraic life of covenant is mirrored in each of
the societies he studies, and sketches what he believes the future holds
for each. His argument holds up surprisingly well. This makes God’s
Peoples a valuable book for those seeking new insights into the
political-racial-religious mixes that are Ulster, Israel, and South


Akenson, Donald H., “God's Peoples: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel, and Ulster,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/12918.