In Greenmantle, by John Buchan, the British officer Richard Hannay was on a secret mission in Turkey during First World War, and he was attending a party including Enver Pasha, a prominant Turkish official, and Gaudian, a German engineer. Now he's talking about Enver after meeting him:

The little fellow amused me tremendously, and rather impressed me too. I said so to Gaudian after he had left, but that decent soul didn’t agree.

“I do not love him,” he said. “We are allies—yes; but friends—no. He is no true son of Islam, which is a noble faith and despises liars and boasters and betrayers of their salt.”

That was the verdict of one honest man on this ruler in Israel. The next night I got another from Blenkiron on a greater than Enver.

What does the mention of Israel suggest here? That's its only occurrence, and Enver was actually an official in Turkey!

2 Answers 2


"This ruler in Israel" is a reference to the coming of Christ from Micah 5:2:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel

in which the Messiah is prophesised to be born in Bethlehem. Hannay is talking about Enver Pasha, who was plotting with the Germans to expand the Ottoman Empire by instigating a holy war in the Middle East to drive out the British and the Russians. By making this reference, Hannay is slyly referring to Enver seeing himself as a messianic figure.

  • During the Great War, would anyone have referred to Palestine as Israel if they weren't making a biblical reference?
    – tgdavies
    May 26, 2023 at 0:02
  • 2
    Peter Shor correctly says that the Ottoman Empire ruled Palestine at the time, so as a high ranking official the line "ruler in Israel" is literally true. I think this misses the point though. "Ruler in Israel" is a quote from the Bible that has entered English as an idiom, like "an eye for an eye", or "the writing on the wall" - although it may not be as common as these - and that is the point of using the phrase. May 26, 2023 at 6:20
  • So it's practically a coincidence.
    – tgdavies
    May 26, 2023 at 7:01
  • Almost, but not quite ;) The fact that the action is taking place in the Middle East does lend the phrase some resonance. May 26, 2023 at 7:22

The line is literally true. For several centuries before World War I, Turkey (the Ottoman Empire) ruled Israel, so the leader of Turkey would have also been the ruler of Israel.

From this web site

The Middle East was largely controlled by the Ottoman Empire before World War One — a dominance that had prevailed for half a millennium.

But although the Ottomans still ruled over what is now Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Jordan and parts of Saudi Arabia in 1914, the empire was in decline and had been for decades.

Enver Pasha was a real historical figure, and was one of the "Three Pashas", who collectively ruled Turkey between a coup d'état in 1913 and Talaat Pasha's ascension to Grand Vizier in 1917.

Why does Buchan mention Israel at all in this line, when Israel is not directly involved in the plot of the book? It seems very likely that he is referring to the Bible verse Micah 5:2, as the other answer suggests, so the line is also metaphorical.

  • At the time Greenmantle was written "Israel" would not have been interpreted as a contemporary geographic location. E.g. the Balfour declaration (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration) refers to Palestine. The name "Israel" for the Zionist state was only adopted (following debate) at independence.
    – mikado
    May 26, 2023 at 16:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.