By Sam Hodges,

FILE 1977/The Associated Press The late Johnny Cash made five trips to Israel with his wife, June Carter Cash. The country music legend also was baptized in the Jordan River.

Who says a weeknight academic lecture can’t also be a ripping good show?

Professor Shalom Goldman will speak Tuesday, November 9, at Southern Methodist University on “Johnny Cash in the Holy Land: Christian Zionism and the American Popular Culture.”

Goldman promises he’ll wear a black suit jacket in honor of the Man in Black. He’s bringing photographs and film clips. He’s also lined up singer Lisa Deaton to perform some Cash songs.

Goldman, a specialist in Hebrew and Middle Eastern studies at Emory University in Atlanta, won’t be doing backup vocals, though. “You don’t want me to be the music,” he said.

Christian Zionism generally refers to conservative evangelical Christians who staunchly support the nation of Israel, based on their reading of the Bible and understanding of the end times.

The Rev. John Hagee of San Antonio may be the most conspicuous of today’s Christian Zionists. The Rev. Jerry Falwell was a key figure of the recent past. Before him was the Rev. W.A. Criswell of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

Goldman, author of the new book Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land, argues that Christian Zionism in America actually is much older and broader than most realize and involves an understanding of America as a kind of Israel-like promised land for people escaping religious and political persecution.

He believes the movement also has various strains.

“Johnny Cash symbolizes for me the American popular culture enthusiasm for Israel,” Goldman said. He notes that Cash and wife June Carter Cash made five trips to Israel and that Cash was baptized in the Jordan River.

Cash made a movie in Israel called The Gospel Road and wrote a novel titled Man in White about the Apostle Paul’s years in Judea. While he’s best known for such songs as “Ring of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” “I Still Miss Someone,” and “A Boy Named Sue,” Cash recorded many gospel tunes. One of his albums was The Holy Land.

“Johnny Cash understood Israel to be important not only because it fulfills God’s prophesies but because it’s where Jesus walked,” Goldman said.

Goldman will be giving the Nate and Ann Levine Endowed Lecture in Jewish Studies at SMU. He was recruited by Serge Frolov, who holds SMU’s Nate and Ann Levine Chair in Jewish Studies. Frolov said he looks for topics of interest to both Jews and Christians, and he hopes for a lively presentation. He’s sure Goldman – who has given the Cash lecture at Emory, at Columbia University, and in Israel – will deliver.

“Usually we just have a straight-up lecture,” Frolov said. “We’ve had a PowerPoint presentation, but never music.”

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