Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday's Child

Linda Chaikin, a Christian romance novelist, has a surname that would suggest Jewish ancestry or a Jewish husband. Her website gives no indication of this, however. But Monday's Child, published by Harvest House Publishers in 1999, clearly has both romance and Jewish conversion on its mind.

One of several Jewish characters in this book is Jorden Keller, an Israeli Mossad agent (who grew up in Texas). Another is Stella Cohen (who goes by the pseudonym of Ava St. John, supposedly an actress), who is an American Jew and a former Mossad agent. Other Israelis in this book (all Mossad agents) include Ziv, Meir, and Avi Hirschel. The Israeli agents are looking for a Nazi war criminal. Stella Cohen is looking for a family heirloom and a secret Swiss bank account lost in the Holocaust. The main character of the book, Krista von Buren, is a devout Christian who discovers that her mother was born a Jew and then was adopted by Christians when her parents (Krista's grandparents) were sent to Auschwitz.

Krista "considered the Jews beloved for the Father's sake. Why should one loathe the family from which Jesus had been born? But many did, accusing them of the crucifixion of Christ. In blindness, the Jewish religious rulers had rejected Him, but it was the Romans who had executed Him." (p. 42).

Paul states [regarding Jewish inquiries into money deposited into Swiss banks during World War II], "The Jews come here demanding! Demanding! They're offensive!" [Krista] smiled stiffly. "It is your manner that is offensive." (p. 67).

Paul is Krista's boyfriend? Wandering Jude thinks he knows where this is heading....

"The stars [in a ring] could also pass for the Christian cross. [Jorden] knew why a Christian cross might be arranged in the center of the star of King David. There were friends who were trying to prove to him that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. He had to admit that the Old Testament prophecies pointed to Jesus' fulfillment. Since he hadn't been raised Orthodox, considering Jesus as the Messiah didn't disturb him as it apparently did many religious Jews. Also, his mother was a Gentile and about as Texan as one could get." (p. 111).

Sounds like Jorden is almost a Christian already. Wandering Jude predicts that it won't take much for him to convert.

Krista's boyfriend Paul says to her: "I wish you wouldn't go off on a crusade for the Jews every time he mentions them." "I didn't. I just don't feel comfortable when the family makes anti-Semitic remarks..." "That's absurd. No one is against the Jews. You look for such remarks. One would think that you were one." (p. 151).

Oh, Paul. What are you going to do when you discover the truth about your girlfriend, whose secret (and as yet unknown even by her) ancestry will reveal her to be a Jewess? Wandering Jude hopes to high heaven that Krista will drop Paul before this anti-Semite finds out the truth. (But will Krista change her very non-Jewish name?).

Jorden thinks to himself of the "Throne of Judgment": "What of me?... The words of the Christian Jewish group who had been witnessing to him in Dallas came to mind suddenly: Yeshua is our Passover Lamb." (p. 183).

Wandering Jude must interject here to point out various non sequitors here. For instance, the whole concept of Passover Lamb is kind of strange. Anyone who reads the story of Passover in the book of Exodus or in any Passover Haggadah will notice that the Passover lamb plays a very tiny role in the story. And another thing. The Passover lamb as a symbol for forgiveness seems to be a mixed metaphor. In the original Passover story, the lamb's blood protected the Hebrews in Egypt from the Angel of Death that passed through the land. But the metaphor of Jesus as the Passover Lamb is focused on the concept of forgiveness, which seems to be more of a "Day of Atonement" idea than a Passover concept. Think about it.

Jorden's "soul found a new path of thought, one he had not asked for, nor explored to its inevitable end. The Old Testament scriptures the Jewish Christian group in Dallas had patiently pointed out to him came to mind as they often did in the silence of the night, when he least expected to be thinking about them: Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. He had memorized them as a boy in Synagogue school. The rabbi said that it spoke of Israel as the suffering servant of Yahweh, but Jorden knew this did not fit. Israel was not the righteous suffering servant. Israel had rebelled and was in need of a great Day of Atonement for its national sins. The servant Isaiah wrote about was a person. A person rejected by his own and horribly abused, yet cherished by the God of Abraham.... The Jewish group insisted the prophecies spoke of Yeshua -- Jesus. ... Who else could Isaiah and David have been writing about except Jesus? ... Why don't you ask Yahweh? Why don't you read the New Testament the Jewish Christians gave to you? Why do you keep it close in your bag, but never open it? What are you afraid of?" (p. 201-202).

Wandering Jude thinks this paragraph is so....fertile. First of all, what Jewish kid memorizes Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22? Nope, not going to happen. Second of all, the question of "who else could Isaiah and David have been writing about?" is ludicrous. Both passages are poetry, for one thing, written several hundred years before Jesus was born. And a simple reading of the text clearly leaves a lot of room for ambiguity in terms of the subject of these poems. One would hope that Jorden, a reasonably intelligent and educated person, would consult some scholarly sources like Jewish commentaries (or liberal Christian commentaries, for that matter) before basing his conversion to a different religion on the word of some religious fanatics back in Dallas.

Jorden says to Krista (about a friend of his): "The lady is a Gentile friend of Israel. Throughout her life she's worked for Jewish causes at personal risk. She was married to a Jewish doctor who survived Birkenau. She led him into Christianity and later he went to theology school and became a missionary to Jews in Switzerland." (p. 286).

And this proves...exactly what?

Krista asks Jorden, "The CIA isn't accusing me of selling jewelry from Holocaust victims, are they?" "No. They're not into Jewish justice," he stated flatly. That's left to Israel and her unrelenting secret police." (p. 302).

Krista and Jorden begin to fall in love, but Krista is hesitant. She says to him: "You don't share my faith." "I believe in God and the Old Testament Scriptures. Doesn't that count?" "Yes. Oh, Jorden, don't you see?" "No," he stated quietly.... "What if we fell in love?" He smiled. [Krista says] "No matter how honorable and courageous you are, or how much I care ... how would we resolve the issue of marriage, of children, of everything? Would you let me send our children to a Christian Sunday School?" (p. 344). Later Krista prays: "Please Lord, help Jorden come to know you as Messiah, Israel's Redeemer whom the Old Testament Scriptures foretold." (p. 345).

Ah, the dilemma of the Gentile Christian woman who falls in love with the brave, handsome Israeli Jew. Interfaith marriage was never so romanticized!

Discussing Wilhelm's suicide, Krista says: "Horrible, isn't it? I hate to think where he is now -- having rejected God's provision for forgiveness." Stella [Cohen] looked offended. "Do you think it even matters after what he did? Are you trying to tell me that a just God could forgive a man like Wilhelm? A Gestapo agent? A murderer of thousands?" Krista knew she must be careful in her answer. "I like to remember what Isaiah wrote before predicting the sufferings of Christ: 'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the Lord, 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow...'" "But the prophet wrote that to Israel. And since then many Jews have suffered. What do the sufferings of Christ have to do with forgiving wicked men like Wilhelm?" "Because ultimately, all sin is against God. He is the only one who can forgive it. And you are right, because God is just, He can't just dismiss it. That is where the suffering Messiah comes in. Only the Creator of all men was great enough to make possible the forgiveness of all men's sins." Stella toyed with her glass. "It sounds like you're saying Jesus is like the Passover Lamb. I'll need to think about that. I've heard Jorden say much the same thing." (p. 355).

Again with this Passover Lamb business. Wandering Jude is getting annoyed with Stella the Israeli Mossad agent. The only way she could come up with the ferkakta idea of the Passover Lamb is through the puppetmaster writer of this dreck. When John the Baptist in the New Testament says "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," methinks he was not alluding to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But maybe that's just me.

Krista discovers that her mother was Jewish, that she and Stella are second cousins, and that her grandparents had died at Auschwitz. "All these years she had been hotly against anything hinting of anti-Semitism, but she had done so as a Gentile. Now she was suddenly Jewish." (p. 357).

OK, that explains a lot! Wandering Jude is suddenly relieved. But won't you change your name, Krista?

"It's not the genocide alone that grieves me, but the grizzly, diabolical ways in which the Nazis went about killing us. Satan hates the Jews because God used them as a depository for His truth. He used them to write the Scriptures and to fulfill His promise to send the Messiah through the tribe of Judah." (p. 360).

Not grieved by genocide?? Um.....OK. If that's the way you want it. But Wandering Jude thinks genocide by itself is a pretty nasty business.

Franz says to Krista (about Jorden): "We had a long discussion in the car tonight on the way back from the safehouse. I feel he's very close to believing in Christ as the promised Messiah. You must be patient. Don't push him, but pray. Let the Spirit of God do the convicting. Jorden already knows the Scriptures. I was amazed at how much." Krista also lowered her voice: "There's been a Christian lady who has been praying for him for five years." "He's close to a decision. Rest the matter with the Lord." (p. 370).

He's close.... he's close. Don't push him. (Wandering Jude might even suggest reverse psychology. Why not play the devil's advocate and suddenly begin to argue against Christianity? That might really bring Jorden's conversion about much more quickly!)

Jorden says to Krista: "Isn't there a verse in Hebrews that says, "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts?"" "Yes. So you've been reading the New Testament?" I've worked my way through it once and am now reading Matthew for the second time." (p. 371-372).

Oh, Jorden. Wandering Jude had such high hopes for you. After all, it's not many Texas Jewboys who end up in the Mossad.

Jorden is thinking to himself about how bad Eichmann was, but then he hears a silent voice say to him: "What about your sins?" Mine!? "In the sight of a holy God you too are guilty of breaking the Mosaic Law. Have you kept all Ten Commandments perfectly, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, year in and year out?" No. "Then you let me take care of men like Eichmann. You make certain of your own soul, otherwise you too will stand before the throne and be judged by what is written in the books. But if you turn to Me, and accept My substitutionary death for you on the cross, I will wash away your sins. Like Jacob, your name will be changed to a prince with God. You will be a true son of Israel, and I, your true Father." ... My conscience, he thought. He knew it was more than that. What had Saul of Tarsus said on the Damacus Road on his route to persecute Christians? "Who are you, Lord?" Jorden already knew his name; it was Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew. He had just called Jesus "Lord." He knew enough about the Scriptures to realize that to own Jesus as Lord meant that he also acknowledged Jesus as the true Passover Lamb, the one true offering to atone for sin. Why else would Jesus have died on the cross at Passover time?" ... Savior and Lord, Lamb of God, King of Israel, Head of the true Church made up of both Jews and Gentiles. What else had Saul said on the Damascus road? "Lord, what will You have me to do?" (p. 380-381).

People obsess about Eichmann a lot in this book. Wandering Jude thinks it might be better to obsess about Mengele or another Nazi who escaped justice. After all, Eichmann was hanged in Jerusalem. He got his just reward.

And the Passover Lamb again rears his ugly head.

"Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ that should come into the world. ... If Jesus Christ was alive at the right hand of God, if Jesus had conquered sin, the grave, and hell, if He had a future for Israel and a plan for the world, then all was not lost. Jorden felt no tidal wave of emotion, only conviction. He must act on the truth. "Lord Jesus, I believe You are the promised Messiah, and I accept you as my Savior and King." Peace filled his mind and spirit, along with a joy he had not previously known. Peace with the holy God -- through His beloved Son! Peace with God -- at last!" (p. 382).

Peace at last. Wandering Jude is happy that Jorden is finally at peace with himself. Just don't try to justify it with a theological mishmash.

When Krista learns of Jorden's new beliefs, she gives me the choice of a celebratory meal of sandwiches made with either "sausage and egg or cheese and bacon." (p. 386).

And what's wrong with a good pastrami on rye with mustard?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wings of Refuge

Romance is in the air. Wandering Jude sees the writing on the wall, and it's mostly love stories. That's right. Conversion narratives masquerading as romance novels. Over the next few weeks we'll discuss a variety of evangelical Christian novels that have at their core both romance and conversion to Christianity. Wandering Jude warns the reader not to get too excited. These are not "bodice-rippers." There is no sex to speak of; these love stories are definitely PG or in some cases even G. Nothing remotely close to PG-13 or R territory.

Lynn Austin, a master of the Christian romance genre, wrote Wings of Refuge in 2000. In this book, Benjamin Rosen is an Israeli secret service agent, an Orthodox Jew, and a horticulturalist. He befriends the protagonist of the novel, Abby MacLeod, but is murdered by terrorists. His cousin is Hannah Rahov, who is an archaeologist that Abby works with on her trip to Israel. Hannah is a "Jewish believer in Yeshua." Ari Bazak is another archaeologist that Abby meets. Many other Israelis are featured in this novel of romance and (some) suspense. The novel also uses a common device and portrays a number of early Jews and Jewish Christians from the 1st century.

Wandering Jude usually avoids pointing out inaccuracies in these books, given that they are so common, but this time he couldn't resist. E.g., it's unlikely that Rosen would touch Abby in the way he does on the plane since he is an Orthodox Jew. (p. 24). Rosen also writes in a Bible. No-no. Also, Wandering Jude doesn't think that Ari is short for Aaron. (p. 34).

Here are some excerpts from the book:

"Abby stared. "Excuse me if this sounds rude, but aren't you Jewish?" "Yes." "but ... you just quoted Jesus." "I'm a Jewish believer in Yeshua -- Jesus, the Messiah promised in the Jewish Scriptures," Hannah said. ... "I hope there will be an opportunity to share my own spiritual journey with you before this summer is over." (p. 51). Later, speaking to a group of Christians, Hannah says, ""And the, on a star-filled night during King Herod's reign, Jesus the Messiah was born."... "He offered a solution to the crisis in their lives. But in spite of all the words that the prophets had spoken, the answer Jesus offered was not what any of them wanted -- or expected."" (p. 61).

""How long have you been a Christian, Hannah?" Abby asked. ... "I've been a Messianic believer for about five years now.... My daughter, Rachel, became a believer first. And I have to tell you that I was quite upset when she told me about her faith. When a Jew hears the word Christian, we immediately think of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition and all the other horrors committed in the name of Christ. We've quite forgotten the fact that Jesus was Jewish, as were all of his disciples, the apostle Paul, and most of the earliest Christians."" (pp. 61-62).

Hannah states: "The central belief of the Jewish faith is that God is working to redeem mankind. Once I saw that Jesus already brought about that promised redemption -- my redemption -- my faith was completed, not altered." Abby glimpsed Ari's face in the rearview mirror and saw by his frown that Hannah's words made him uncomfortable." (p. 62).

Some of the Christians in the group make negative comments about the Pharisees. Hannah disagrees with them, saying: ""the Pharisees were men of great courage -- heroes who were willing to face death rather than deny their faith..... But by Jesus' day, the outward form of their religion had become more important than the state of a man's heart or his relationship with God. They were carefully straining their food to avoid swallowing a gnat -- the smallest of the unclean creatures -- while at the same time, by neglecting mercy and grace, they were swallowing camels, so to speak -- the largest unclean animal." (pp. 72-73). ""Besides keeping the faith alive during times of persecution," Hannah continued, "the Pharisees made another very important contribution. They helped develop an educational system, teaching the Torah in local synagogues. It was because of the Pharisees' devotion to teaching God's Law that the average person in Jesus' time knew what the Bible prophecies said, even if he was a humble fisherman or a carpenter. And so the Pharisees prepared the people for Christ's coming."" (p. 73).

Wandering Jude notes that this description of the Pharisees seems much more fair and even-handed than most others found in Christian novels. In other words, kudos to the author.

"Her life is a gift from God," Jake told her. "Whatever happens, we can trust Him with it because His love reaches to the heavens, His faithfulness to the skies. And that's a very long way." Hannah had learned the morning prayers from Jake. They recited them together before they began each day." (p. 130). Hannah asks why people want to destroy the Jews. Jake answers, "Because we bear witness to the Holy One's plan to redeem mankind. In fact, His redemption will come from our race, from Abraham's seed. If Satan can destroy us, he thinks he can destroy all memory of God and keep mankind under the curse. But Satan's plans won't succeed." .... "But I also believe that what our enemies intend for evil, God is going to turn to our good."" (p. 131).

"She gave a nervous laugh. "You know me, Hannah. I wouldn't know what to do inside a synagogue even if they did let me through the door." "I wasn't raised in a religious home, either, but I've been attending Sabbath services with Jake ever since we were married..... You won't be surprised to learn that his faith has started to rub off on me after six years of marriage. I didn't know how to pray either, so I started by praying the psalms. Try it. With this crisis, it helps keep my fear down to manageable proportions."" (p. 138). ""Jake was reading the prophecies of Ezekiel to me the week before he left.... a huge army coming against Israel after the Jewish people are gathered here from many nations....And it says that God will allow them to come so that He can show His greatness and His holiness before the eyes of the whole world."" (p. 138). "Two day later, Hannah attended Sabbath services with Devorah. It comforted her to imagine Jake and Ben and a minyan of ten men reading the same Torah passages and reciting prayers...." (p. 139).

""I hate the Arabs for putting us through that." Jake [said]: "Don't hate them, Hannah. They win if you hate. The Holy One is a God of redemption, and it's our job to show His redemption to the whole world. We can't do that if we hate."" (p. 144).

""Do you call it coincidence, Ari, that millions of followers of the three great world religions all come to worship God within these ancient walls?" "I call it unfortunate," he said, frowning again." (pp. 149-150). ""They are also united by a common ancestor," Hannah said. "All three religions trace the roots of their faith to Abraham -- the Jews and the Christians through his son Isaac, the Arabs through his son Ishmael."" (p. 150). "God expects us to live our our faith in a real world of pain and strife until His redemption is complete," [Hannah said]. (p. 151).

""Christians often forget that Yeshua -- Jesus -- was Jewish," Hannah continued. "He didn't come to start a radical new religion but to fulfill the revelation of redemption that the Jewish people had already been given. All His life, Jesus carefully followed Jewish Law."" (p. 153).

Abby notices a difference between the Jew Ari and the Jewish Christian Hannah: "But what she couldn't understand as she walked home that night with him and Hannah was why Ari's heart had been hardened by his enemies, while Hannah's remained untouched by hatred." (p. 218).

The Israelis celebrate Shabbat with the Christian group: "The Richmans accorded Hannah the honor of lighting the Sabbath candles. Abby listened appreciatively as the family recited the prayers and blessings in Hebrew.... After a ritual hand washing, Judith uncovered two fragrant loaves of challah." (p. 215).

On Yom Kippur, Jake talks to his daughter: "Every Yom Kippur we rehearse for the day when we will face God's judgment. We think about death by fasting and denying ourselves all of the usual pleasures of life for twenty-four hours. Then we confess our sins and repent -- which means we turn away from them -- and we promise to live better by God's strength." (p. 261). Rachel, Jake's daughter, says: "I'll pray for you every day, Abba, and ask God to keep you safe.".... "If it's His will, Rachel . . . we must always yield to His will. Otherwise, we're putting ourselves in God's place, telling Him how to run the universe. No one must sit in God's place." "But why would it be God's will for you . . . to die?" she asked. "Who can know the mind of the Almighty One? Many good men died in the last war, Rachel, and we don't know why. We can't see His design because we stand too close to it."" (p. 265).

Hannah grieves her dead husband, killed in the Yom Kippur War: "Rachel wanted to continue attending the synagogue, so Hannah fulfilled all of the rituals with her, performing her lines by rote. When Yom Kippur rolled around each year and the rabbi promised that "Those who trust in the Lord shall exchange strength for weariness," she wanted to shout aloud that it was a lie, that God was a cruel tyrant. She and Rachel said prayers every morning... but they were words -- empty, meaningless words." (pp. 279-280). Later, Hannah prays: ""How could you take him from me? How could you let Jake die? What kind of a God are you?" Jake was dead. God had cruelly snatched him from her.... God alone was strong enough to heal her wound, but she had turned from Him in anger, instead of turning to him for refuge.... "I can't go on, God.... Please help me!"" (p. 284).

Rachel, Hannah's daughter, becomes a Christian: ""You know what surprises me the most, Mama? How Jewish this Yeshua was. The Christian Bible has him celebrating Passover and all the other feasts, quoting Jewish prophets, attending synagogue.... He really wasn't starting a new religion at all. He was simply a Jewish rabbi with a breathtaking interpretation of Judaism. He was trying to move a very corrupt religious system back to what God originally intended. And the God he describes is the same one I believe in -- a God of redemption." Hannah was alarmed. "You've studied history, Rachel. You know all the atrocities that Christians have committed against our people in that name." "His followers did those things, Mama, not Him."" (p. 343).

""But I am still a Jew! I haven't given up any part of our faith or our heritage. I don't have to. Yeshua the Messiah is the fulfillment of the Jewish faith."" (p. 346). As they celebrate the Passover seder, Rachel explains each ritual in light of her newfound faith in Jesus.

Hannah comes to faith in Jesus in part through the death of her daughter, who dies in a terrorist bombing, and in part through the witness of an Arab Christian pastor who visits her in the hospital.

Hannah says: ""All my life I've dug through ruins to prove that this land belonged to our Jewish ancestors. Now these Christian symbols on the floor of a Jewish home prove that some of those ancestors believed in Yeshua the Messiah! .... to prove to him that Rachel was right, that Yeshua was Jewish. And that He was the Jewish Messiah our ancestors had been waiting for."" (p. 363). In the end, Ari also becomes a Christian.

The last word:

Wandering Jude concedes that this is not a bad book. The plot, the characters, the story, the writing, everything is OK. But it's still propaganda.

Why does the Jewish character Jake always sound so much like a Christian when he pontificates and theologizes? Could it be ... that this is the author's way of telegraphing her intention to make him a Christian right before he dies? (A common ploy among evangelical conversionist authors).

Most of the arguments that are made on behalf of Christianity in this book are fairly reductionistic. The most common one is that since Jesus was Jewish (he was very very Jewish, yes he was), then it's only logical and natural that Jews 2000 years later should convert to the religion that follows his teachings. Um, there are, of course, a few problems with this argument. One is that IT MAKES NO SENSE. Another small problem with this line of reasoning is that IT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. OK, Wandering Jude now formally ends his rant.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Historical Christian Fiction (with a Jewish Flavor)

Wandering Jude does not normally put 1st century historical fiction in the same category as conversionist novels, simply because 1st century Christianity was really a nascent form of Judaism, one of many Jewish sects. But some authors seem to think that 1st century Jews are alike in every way to their 19th, 20th, or 21st century co-religionists. Not so, says the Wanderer. Here are some samples:

Joel: A Boy of Galilee.

Annie Fellows Johnston, our favorite authoress of Chattanooga Jews and Shirley Temple vehicles, wrote this in 1904. She states in the preface that "it has been the purpose of the author to present to children ... as accurate a picture of the times of the Christ as has been given to older readers through "Ben Hur." With this in view, the customs of the private and public life of the Jews ... have been studied so carefully that the descriptions have passed the test of the most critical inspection. An eminent rabbi pronounces them correct in every detail. While the story is that of an ordinary boy, living among shepherds and fishermen, it touches at every point he gospel narrative, making Joel, in a natural and interesting way, a witness to the miracles, the death, and the resurrection o fthe Nazarene."

Throughout the book, Joel seems to be quick to believe in "Rabbi Jesus", especially when he notices (or others point out) the apparent fulfilled messianic prophecies. When Jesus dies there are some doubts all around, but after witnessing the risen Jesus, Joel believes anew, as does his Aunt Leah. She says "Oh, I believe then that He is the Christ!" ... "I have thought all the time that it might be so, and the children are so sure of it." "And Uncle Laban?" questioned Joel. She shook her head sadly. "He grows more bitterly opposed every day." (p. 250).

Uncle Laban is not the only Jew opposed to Jesus in this book. But every book must have its villain, no doubt.

The Bronze Bow.

Acclaimed children's novelist Elizabeth George Speare won the 1962 Newbery Medal Award for The Bronze Bow. "Set in Galilee in the time of Jesus, this is the story of a young Jewish rebel who is won over to the gentle teachings of Jesus." Wikipedia describes the controversy, which has not been insignificant.

Forbidden Gates A Story of Stephen, the First Martyr.

Denise Williamson wrote this historical novel in 1990. The blurb on the back cover tells us that "Nathan Bar Benjamin was only one day away from the ceremony marking his entry into manhood when he met a boy named Dorian on the streets of Jerusalem. Dorian's quest to enter the forbidden gates of the Temple led Nathan to break the Jewish law and become a fugitive. But it was Dorian's older friend Stephen who showed Nathan what it means to be a real man of God."

Nathan and his father are among the Jews in this book who become believers in Jesus (although their conversion doesn't occur until near the end of the book).

Wandering Jude notes that scholars disagree whether the modern bar mitzvah ceremony has its roots in the 1st century or earlier, but we won't quibble about this minor detail.

A Voice in the Wind

Well-known and prolific Christian novelist Francine Rivers wrote A Voice in the Wind in 1993. The main character, Hadassah, is a young Jewish woman in first century Rome who becomes a believer in Jesus. A question that is implied in the following article from the San Francisco Jewish Bulletin is this: Is it legitimate for Christian authors to use Jewish characters for Christian means (and ends) if they are writing solely for a Christian audience? See http//

Wandering Jude answers this implied question with a qualified yes. Be careful out there, Christian novelists. Writing religious fiction (which can easily become propaganda) is tricky enough, but utilizing main characters from another religion can put your book on dangerous shoals. Be honest about what your protagonists are really doing and who they really are. Avoid stereotypes and try not to convert too many characters to your own personal philosophy of life.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ivan and Esther: A Tale of Jewish Life in Russia

Wandering Jude would like to return, for a moment, to the conversionist novels of the late 19th century. Ivan and Esther: A Tale of Jewish Life in Russia tells the story of (you guessed it) Ivan Kaufmann and Esther Blitz, a Russian (Christian) young man and Jewish (Christian) woman (living in Russia but of German Jewish extraction) who live a life of hardship in Czarist Russia. (The novel was written in the late 19th century but its setting is in the early 19th century).

Our heroine Esther has, by the time the novel begins, already converted to Christianity. And not just any Christianity, but an evangelical form of the religion that sees Russian Orthodox Christianity and traditional Judaism as equally misguided. We have described for us several incidents of anti-Semitism, including the burning of a Jewish-owned factory and the roughing up of some Jewish men. Meanwhile, Esther deplores her situation: the Jews despise her for being a Christian and the Christians despise her for being a Jew.

Raphael Blitz is Esther's father, a kindly person but a man of business, and not one to feel sentimental about religious matters. But he knows he is a Jew, and he's proud of it. He can't understand his daughter's religious convictions, but nevertheless, she is his daughter and he remains loyal to her.

There is quite a bit of turmoil afoot in Russia; pogroms go hand in hand with talk of revolution against the Czar. The upheaval reaches Ivan and his girlfriend Esther, and they and their families become homeless, with no source of income (due to the destruction of Raphael's factory). Ivan is conscripted into the Russian army (which was often a death sentence in those days), and Esther and her father feel that there is no choice for them but to flee to Palestine.

After a few years in Palestine, we discover that Raphael has become a Christian through the constant badgering of his daughter. Did Wandering Jude say "badgering?" He meant to say "witness." At any rate, whether Raphael's conversion was through sincere conviction or because he simply wanted to please his daughter after so many years of pressure from her and persecution for both of them, one cannot say for sure. There continues to be a small allotment of anti-Semitism in Palestine, doled out at the hands of the Turkish Mohammedans. But this is nothing in comparison to the anti-Christian behavior of the Jewish authorities, who assault the ears of Raphael and Esther regularly with polemical diatribes.

Raphael Blitz is no longer a businessman. He is a missionary to his former co-religionists, though it's not clear how he makes any income out of this. No matter. The Blitz family lives modestly, and in any event the final third of the book is taken up with their conversion efforts toward Jacob Cohen, Raphael's former business partner and now an old, poor blind Jewish man living in Jerusalem. Esther visits Jacob at the house of "Rabbi Joseph," who chastises Esther for her "outreach" to Jacob:

"He leaves your house because you take advantage of his weakness, and would fain make an old man turn from the true belief of a long life, and in the end dishonour God."

Touche! What can the missionary say to this?

But Esther responds with with her strongly worded testimony of faith in Christ, and the two combatants engage in a bit of theological repartee. After a couple of pages of this, Esther leaves but not before Rabbi Joseph expresses his desire to burn all Christian books (and the Christians who read them).

Eventually Jacob Cohen does succumb to the pressures of his Jewish Christians friends and becomes a believer in Jesus. This enrages Rabbi Joseph and his minions (or should we say, minyans?), and they proceed to excommunicate Jacob and burn all the books and pamphlets belonging to Raphael and Esther that they can get their hands on.

But Jacob does not yet learn his lesson. Intent on leading his Jewish acquaintances to Christ, he goes to the synagogue one day and begins to preach the gospel. This does not go over well with the Jews of Jerusalem. They call Jacob all sorts of filthy names ("Christian dog!") and push him out of the synagogue. Being blind, he falls down the marble steps, bangs his head sharply, and before we know it, he's dead. A martyr for the cause.

So Jacob has died in the service of his Lord, but Esther and Raphael remain to carry on the work of missionizing the Jews. They are sad that their old friend is gone but they know he is in a better place. And who should now return upon the scene but Ivan, who was having a hard time in the army (sent to Siberia at one point because he wouldn't stop talking about Jesus), but is miraculously released and reunites with his gal Esther in Palestine. Ivan talks of returning to Russia with Esther to be a missionary, but how can he afford to do that? Raphael steps in, provides a large amount of money (that he had secretly saved up) to support the young couple, and the two of them head back to the "land of exile" to perform the work of Christ.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Mark of the Beast

The Mark of the Beast is Sydney Watson's sequel to In the Twinkling of an Eye. I was somewhat disappointed when I read Beast, because I had hoped to learn of the fate of our anti-heroine, Rachael Cohen, who had been left behind after her newly converted family were raptured up into heaven. But sadly, Mrs. Cohen does not make an appearance in this book. There's not a trace of her. One wonders....

The reader finds him/herself in the 7 year Tribulation period, and Lucien Apleon, who we discover is the antichrist, is revealed to be Jewish on page 69. But thankfully there are also some more noble Jews imagined in this novel. For example, a "Rabbi Cohen" is a character in this book who is chosen to be the first high priest of the new Temple in Jerusalem. His acquaintance, Ralph Bastin, who is a bit of a wet blanket, says to him, "I wish, dear Cohen, you, and your dear people could see how futile all this work is! I do not want to hurt you by speaking of Jesus of Nazareth. .... And that, dear Cohen, will be the end of your beautiful temple -- it will be destroyed in Judgment, and soon -- all too soon -- it will be cursed and defiled by the abomination of desolation...." (p. 83).

Ralph goes on in describing the horrors of the tribulation period to Rabbi Cohen:

"I could weep with very anguish of soul, dear friend, at all that you, and every truly pious Jew will suffer; when, at the end of the three years and a half ... the foul fiend whom you are all trusting so implicitly, will suddenly abolish your daily sacrifice of the morning and evening lamb, and will set up an image of himself, which you, and all the Godly of your race, will refuse to worship. Then will begin your awful tribulation, 'the time of Jacob's deadly sorrow.' It is in your own Scriptures, dear friend, if you would but see it." (p. 84).

Eventually Rabbi Cohen sees the truth of Ralph's words, after he witnesses the desecration of the temple by the antichrist. "Brethren, of the House of Israel, the Lord our God is one God. I am no Mehushmad, but in common with many of our rabbis, I have read the Gentile New Testament, and there, in the words of the Nazarene Prophet, ... He prophesied exactly what has come to pass this morning in our beautiful Temple." (p. 182).

The two witnesses in Jerusalem, said to be Elijah and Enoch reincarnated (or something like that!), are both depicted as Jewish. Which makes sense. Sort of. Well, maybe Elijah. But Enoch? Jewish? That's a bit of a stretch. Or so thinks Wandering Jude. But then again, judge for yourself.

There is a fair amount of intrigue and suspense as many Jews flee from Jerusalem in the wake of the antichrist's abomination of desolation. (For those readers not "in the know" about these things, the abomination of desolation is where the antichrist will supposedly sacrifice a pig on the altar in Jerusalem, ala Antiochus Epiphanes). The fleeing Jews include Rabbi Cohen, his daughter Miriam, and her boyfriend Isaac Wolferstein. This is termed "the flight of the Believers" (p. 204). Around the same time, Miriam "turned unto God and unto the Messiah who was so soon to come to deliver His people and to set up His kingdom" (p. 203). Eventually both Miriam and Isacc are tortured to death by the antichrist and his followers.

At the end of the tribulation period, Jesus returns to earth (the Second Coming) and a large number of Jews still living believe in him.

Final Thoughts:

(1) Wandering Jude wants to point out that designating the Antichrist as Jewish is an old tradition in Christianity. It was popular during the 1970s to speculate that Henry Kissinger might be the Antichrist. Nowadays it's less popular to aim the Antichrist accusation toward a Jew, but it still happens occasionally in some fundamentalist circles.

(2) In case you didn't realize it, the Beast (from the title of the book) and the Antichrist are synonymous. At least in this novel and in most dispensationalist theological treatises. And the mark of the Beast is the number 666 placed on the foreheads of all who would buy and sell during the Tribulation period.

(3) Is it only Wandering Jude who thinks that dispensationalist novelists (and theologians) take an almost gleeful "I told you so" attitude in describing the horrible persecution that Jews will (supposedly) face during the 7 year reign of terror called the Tribulation period? Let's see, how bad will it get for the Jews? Really bad. Heh heh. Really really bad. Sydney Watson, of course, wrote before the Shoah occurred, but his description of the Tribulation was chillingly prescient. Except that Jesus didn't come back in 1945. Unless you think that Eisenhower was Jesus.

(4) The event described at the end of the novel, where Jesus returns and all the remaining Jews convert to Christianity, is a commonly described event in evangelical apocalyptic novels and theological textbooks. It's based on a rather loose reading of Zechariah 12:10 ("they shall look on him who they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only son"), as well as Romans 11:26 ("and so all Israel shall be saved; even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob"). One problem is that the New Testament says that the passage from Zechariah was already fulfilled when Jesus hung on the cross. Another, even bigger problem, is that it's quite unfair to expect a particular religious or ethnic group (take your pick) to make an unbiased and unpressured decision to change their religion after being hounded and tortured and murdered for seven long years. Wandering Jude thinks that's undue pressure, not exactly what you want in a sincere religious conversion. And besides, many of Wandering Jude's Jewish friends and relatives would more than likely respond to the Second Coming (after those aforementioned 7 years of terror) with a certain hand gesture that is widely used in the Bronx but is considered obscene in most other parts of North America.
And who could blame them?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In the Twinkling of an Eye

The early 20th century had a precursor to the Left Behind phenomenon. Sydney Watson wrote two conversionist apocalyptic novels, the first published in 1918 as In the Twinkling of an Eye. The title comes from a New Testament passage that promises that Christ will come again "in the twinkling of an eye" (to use the King James version of this particular verse). The theology comes from dispensationalism, a 19th century movement that has gained a strong foothold in thousands of conservative churches throughout the world (but especially in the United States).

Abraham Cohen is a Jewish character in this last days novel. He is very religious and pious: "How long, O Lord, shall Thy people be cast off and trodden down, and their land, Thy land, be held by the accursed races?" (p. 39). The fictional Cohen is a craftsman living in England who is busy making ritual objects for the new Temple. His sister in law is Zillah, and his wife is Leah.

Abraham says excitedly to Zillah: "I do think Messiah is coming soon .... Who knows? Perhaps when the Passover comes again, and we set His chair, and open the door for Him to enter, that He will suddenly come." (p. 42). Abraham goes on to recount for his sister in law the reasons why he thinks the Messiah will soon come. One of his reasons is based on the numeric equivalent of a biblical passage (which of course is a Jewish custom called "Gematria").

Tom Hammond, the Gentile protagonist of the book, states that Jews "have obtained and maintained the highest positions, the greatest influence..... It is not simply that they practically hold the wealth of the world in their hands, that they are the world's bankers, but they are dominating our press, our politics.... Then you cannot kill the Jew, you cannot wipe him out. Persecution has had the effect of stunting his growth, so that the average Britisher is several inches taller than the average Jew. But the life of the Hebrew is indestructible." (pp. 52-53). [Wandering Jude notes that these words are of course meant to be compliments, not insults].

Abraham Cohen has a conversation with Tom Hammond, who says to him: "But do you not know ... that ... all Christendom has believed, for all the ages since, that the Messiah came nearly two thousand years ago?" "The Nazarene?" There was as much or more of pity than scorn in the voice of the Jew as he uttered the word. "How could He be the Messiah, sir? ... "Could any good thing come out of Nazareth? Besides, our Messiah is to redeem Israel, to deliver them from the hand of the oppressor, and to gather again into one nation all our scattered race. No, no! a thousand times No! The Nazarene could not be our Messiah!" (p. 104).

On pages 147-150 the custom of "Chalitza" is described (when a man is released from the responsibility of levirate marrriage -- where a man must marry his sister in law if his brother dies).

Tom Hammond says to his Jewish friend, Zillah Robart: "Are you, Miss Robart, ... wholly wedded to the Jewish faith? Do you believe, for instance, that Jesus, the Nazarene, was an imposter?" ... "I can trust you, Mr. Hammond, I know. You will keep my confidence, if I give it to you?" ... "I have not dared to breathe a word of it to anyone, not even to my good brother in law Abraham, but I am learning to love the Christ.... I see how the prophecies of our forefathers -- Isaiah especially -- were all literally fulfilled in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. I see, too, that when next He comes, it will not be as our race supposes, as the Messiah to the Jews, but He will come in the air ...." (pp. 151-152).

When Zillah tells Abraham that she wants to marry Tom Hammond, he replies, with fervor: "He is of the Gentile race, Zillah!" (p. 177).

Later, she tells him: "Abraham! I have found the Messiah! He whom the Gentiles call the Christ; The man-God, Jesus, is the Messiah!" ... "May I tell you why I think, why I know He is the Messiah, Abraham?" she asked.

[She] "began to pour out her soul in the words of the Old Testament scriptures, connecting them with their fulfillment in the New Testament."

"Now I know, dear Abraham," she presently cried, "How it is that Jehovah is allowing our Rabbis ... to be led to dates that prove that Messiah is coming soon? Now I know why God has allowed our nation to be stirred up, -- the Zionist movement, the colonization of Jerusalem and its neighborhood, and all else of this like -- yes, it is because the Christ is coming. Only, dear brother, it is not as the Messiah of the Jews that He comes soon -- He came thus more than 1900 years ago -- this time, when He comes, He will come for his church, His redeemed ones -- Jew and Gentile alike who are washed in His blood that was shed on Calvary for all the human race. For He was surely God's Lamb, and was slain at the Great, the last real Passover, dear Abraham if only we all -- our race -- could see this. What the blood of that first Passover lamb, in Egypt, was in type, to our people in their bondage and Blood-deliverance, so Jesus was in reality." (pp. 178-179)

Zillah continues with her theological lesson: [After the rapture] "our own race will return to Jerusalem ... still believing in the coming of the Messiah." (p. 180)

[At the second coming, at the end of the tribulation period] "Our poor deluded, suffering people will see Him, as our own prophets have said: -- "I will pour out upon the House of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son...." ... "Abraham, why are you thus quiet? Why have you not cursed me for a Meshumed, dear? Can it be that you, too, know aught of these glorious truths?" There was sadness and kindness in his eyes as he returned her pleading glance. But there was no trace of anger. "I wonder why, little sister," he began, "I am not angry, as the men of Israel usually are with a Meshumed, even though the defaulter should be as beautiful as Zillah Robart?" (p. 181)

Abraham tells Zillah about how he recently went to hear a speaker at the Jewish mission, but that he is not fully convinced yet of the truth of the Messiahship of Jesus. Then he blessed Zillah with the Aaronic benediction (which the narrator calls the Nazarite blessing). "She had feared anger, indignation from her brother in law, she received blessing instead." (p. 183). Abraham Cohen took "a New Testament from his pocket, began to study anew the Passion of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels." (p. 184).

It is now Passover. Abraham asks Zillah: "With your newly-espoused faith in the Nazarene, shall you partake of the lamb with us?" "Certainly, I will," she replied, "only I shall take the meal more in the spirit of the Lord's supper, of the Christian Church.... All the time I shall be praying that you may meet the Christ of God, Jesus of Nazareth; and while you seek to remember our people's deliverance from the land of Bondage, I shall be praying that you, dear Abram, may be delivered from the bondage of the legalism of our race." (p. 200).

The Passover seder is described in detail (pp. 201-208).

After the seder, Zillah suddenly breaks into song, singing a Christian hymn about the Lamb of God. Abraham's children join her, for it turns out that they are secretly believers in Jesus, having attended the missionary meetings for children. Finally, near the end of the hymn, Abraham joins them. Lifting his hands up, he cries out: "Thou loving Christ! Thou Precious Jesus! I am Thine -- Thine -- Thine!"

Then he remembers his wife. "Rachael, dear heart," he cried, as he moved to her side. "Rachael, wife of my heart. Jesus is the Messiah!"

"Bah!" she cried. With a thrust of her hand and foot, she kept him from her. Then in tones of withering scorn and disgust, she cried: "Meshumed!" (p. 206).

It is only then that she realizes that her husband, sister, and children have all been raptured!

And thus the book ends. Rachael has been left behind!

Some points to ponder:

(1) Wandering Jude wonders if Sydney Watson's two-part series made him as rich as Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Probably not. But these novels did become popular, and Watson was undoubtedly a sought after speaker in the premillenial circuit.

(2) If you've been reading Wandering Jude for a while, you might remember a similar scene to the one just described (that ends the book). Christian hymns are sung at Passover in The Jewish Twins.

(3) Perhaps this novel should be categorized in the horror genre. Wandering Jude can think of nothing more shocking for a Jewish mother than to have her children, her husband, and her sister suddenly announce their conversion to Christianity during the Passover seder. Yes, sometimes fiction is stranger than truth.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Zonya, daughter of Abraham : the story of her quest for light

Agnes Scott Kent's final novel in her trilogy of conversionist books was Zonya, Daughter of Abraham: The Story of Her Quest for Light, published in Toronto by Evangelical Publishers in 1938.

As usual, the author telegraphs her intentions:

"The purpose of Zonya as regards any Jewish readers into whose hands the story may be led of God is, very frankly, that they may be given a more intelligent appreciation of our Lord Jesus Christ than they perhaps have had.... it is our fervent hope that they may look beyond every false representative and representation of Him, beyond much that has absolutely no claim whatever to Christ and Christianity -- and see Him -- the Lord Jesus Christ Himself -- the altogether Lovely One -- as the only Hope for a sin-cursed, inter-racially convulsed, and sick and weary and war-torn world." (p. 11, from the Author's Foreward).

Our heroine, Zonya Novalensky, is a Russian Jewish girl from the early 20th century. Early in the novel we learn that Zonya doesn't like her rabbi, because during the synagogue service

"he kept reading and reading in Hebrew, which she couldn't understand, from the great Scroll of the Law, until she thought he would never stop.... Another thing she thought was awful. The Kaddish -- the long prayer for everybody's dead relations. All around her the women kept rocking themselves backwards and forwards, and moaning and crying -- while the Rabbi kept saying the prayer in a loud, wailing voice. Zonya hated it. It made her squirm." (p. 19).

Zonya is intuitively suspicious of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is one of the villians (along with Judaism) in this novel. We discover that she is

"afraid of the big hold Cross on the top of the biggest dome [of a Russian Orthodox Church], ... because Grandfather had often told her that the Cross was the sign of Christians, and Christians were the worst people in the whole world! They were cruel and wicked, and always wanted to kill Jews. The Christians ... were the people who broke God's holy Law. The Law said they should have no other gods before Him. But instead of worshipping Him alone, the One and Only True God, the Christians worshipped a Man. And He was the most wicked man that ever lived. He was a Blasphemer, because He treid to make people believe that He was God. His name was Jesus -- Jesus Christ." (p. 19).

Zonya survives a horrible pogrom, but her father, grandfather, and brothers are all killed. She and her grandmother escape, but they cannot seek refuge in just any home because "their features were unmistakably Semitic." (p. 34).

Chapter Five is entitled "The Little Wandering Jewess in Exile."

Zonya emigrates to America and makes a friend, Rose Gitlin. "But alas! within the friendship there lay concealed, all unsuspected, a grave danger to Zonya Novalensky's soul. For Rose Gitlin, Jewess, was a Christian Scientist. And it was not long before she had Zonya deeply ensnared within this insidious cult." (p. 109).

Zonya was already somewhat disillusioned by Judaism, but it gets worse in the United States. Although she had been a regular in her synagogue attendance, gradually it

"dwindled off to an occasional Sabbath and the high Holy Days. The traditional observances, too, became very irksome to her -- very meaningless. She had a strong flair for reality and truth, and much that she saw in Judaism appeared to her as hypocritical. When, for instance, Olga paid tithe of strickly kosher cooking regulations, and at the same time neglected the weightier matters of lovingkindness and sweet temper in the home, it jarred Zonya's sense of consistency. When Levi or Boris scrupled at carrying a hod of coal on the Sabbath, but allowed Matushka or Olga or herself to carry several hods up the five flights of stairs from the coal bin in the basement, on Sunday or Monday morning, Zonya's heart was filled with scorn for Judaism -- and for them. Not only in their own unlovely dwelling, but among their neighbours as well, the letter of the law of Judaism and the spirit of the great Lawgiver, were widely at variance. Quarreling -- as likely as not over some picayune dietary regulation -- loud-voiced wrangling, selfish grasping: all these, to Zonya's view, were far removed from true religion, however pious and frequent the observances within the Synagogue or at home might be. And for true religion Zonya had a deep, heart craving." (p. 111).

"But it was all so terribly confusing. How could she know which was the true religion -- the real path to God? How could one decide which sect to follow?... Her heart cried out for something. She wanted Reality. She wanted to find God. Judaism, she at last decided, was mere husks and sawdust." (p. 112).

"Zonya Novalensky openly declared her allegiance to the Christian Science faith -- into which false faith thousands and tens of thousands of Jews, adrift from Judaism and the Synagogue, are being trapped today by Satan. In New York City alone one hundred thousand Hebrews have entered Christian Science." (p. 113).

But eventually she leaves Christian Science after witnessing a family allow their young son to die because they do not believe in sickness.

Zonya states to a friend:

"I do believe in the Bible -- the Old Testament, fo course; I do not recognize the New Testament. But I believe that the Old Testament -- our Hebrew Taanach -- is an inspired Book given to man, through the prophets, by God." (p. 125).

"Her faith in Judaism -- in Talmudical Orthodoxy -- was dead. ... But she believed in God. And in the Bible as God's Book -- the revelation of Himself to man. And she would hold fast to that belief, she was resolved. In all the awful havoc of her life, the only thing that she had left was God." (p. 133).

Zonya takes a class in Marxism and becomes a Communist and an atheist. But after a time, she starts to search for God again. But then she gets caught up in Spiritism and necromancy and finds it difficult to escape from it. What a long, strange trip this has been for Zonya!

Alex, Zonya's girlhood friend from Russia who is now a rabbi, thought that Zonya was dead because her stepfather had considered her dead after she had renounced Judaism. (p. 178).

Alex thinks to himself:

"Could he conquer sin in her unless he were absolutely sinless himself? No, presumably he could not. And was he sinless? Ah, no! He was obliged to confess with shame, there was not a day of his life that three score at least, of the six hundred and thirteen commandments within the Talmud were not broken. ... But before the stern demands of the Law he knew he was a sinner too, as well as she. In the eyes of a righteous Jehovah both of them stood condemned." (p. 195).

Yom Kippur is described at "the aristocratic Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue [where Alex Ivanov is the new assistant rabbi]. It was a delicate question, therefore, whether the majority of the unprecendented throng that flocked into the pretentious sacred edifice were there more by reason of concern for their sins, or because of curiosity to see and hear the popular new minister." (p. 204).

"On the stroke of ten the great golden organ burst forth." (p. 205).
[Wandering Jude thinks that this organ music seems unlikely for an orthodox synagogue].

"Nowhere in all New York was there such a choir as Shaar Hashomayim's, and never was it in finer form than now on this day of Atonement. In clarion purity of tone the multitude of voices blended in one harmonious ensemble." (p. 206).

The Torah service is described.

"But all the while that he had been performing this most sacred ceremony of the Scroll -- thus magnifying before the congregation of the children of Israel the LAW -- the heart of Alexander Ivanov had been overwhelmed. A sense of utter helplessness and hopelessness convulsed him. For well he knew, as a son of Moses, that whosoever might keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he was guilty of all. And who among all the sons of Israel ever yet had perfectly fulfilled the Law? And though there was this annual Atonement, how futile it all was! The people were standing before him even now, he reflected, believing themselves forgiven and reconciled anew to God. But scarcely would their feet be over the threshold of the Synagogue before they would turn again, he well knew, into the same old paths of sin for yet another year." (p. 210).

"Many from among the throng of penitential worshippers poured out feeling, jovially, quite free from further burden of sin. But the majority remained within the Synagogue, still to pray and weep and fast, thinking thereby to make yet more secure, forgiveness of all their iniquities, and atonement for another year." (p. 212).

After the morning service the rabbi goes to his study, greatly depressed by his own sin and the sins of his people. But he is acosted by a Russian gentile woman who claims to have been of Russian nobility before the Revolution. She says that God sent her to give the rabbi a message, that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. She tells the rabbi that she grieves over the sorrows of the Jewish people, but that the ultimate cause of these sorrows is the Jewish rejection of Jesus.

[Jewish suffering] "is but the fulfillment of their self-pronounced curse: 'His blood be on us, and on our children!' And not until Israel repents of this most awful sin, not until she turns to Him, the Lord Christ Jesus as the Son of God and as her own true Messiah, will her sufferings be ended.... So that is the explanation, Rabbi Ivanov, of my sorrow in your Synagogue this morning throughout your otherwise most beautiful Atonement service; and the reason for my continual sorrow: Israel's lamentable blindness still -- her perpetual futile searching for atonement while still rejecting Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God, in Whom alone full and complete Atonement, once for all, has been forever made." (p. 218).

The woman also gives the rabbi a New Testament, which he later reads voraciously until key passages related to sin and atonement are firmly impressed on his mind and heart.

Rabbi Ivanov comes to "love Jesus Christ," but he cannot bring himself to believe in the divinity of Jesus. He dialogues with a Christian minister about this and other doctrinal matters. The rabbi visits the minister at his home in Canada, where he attends church with him, goes fishing with him, and continues the theological discussion.

Finally, in a dramatic conclusion, Rabbi Ivanov comes to faith in Christ through the prayers of Christians and through a savage storm that shakes the foundation of his soul.

"And in that instant the veil upon the heart of Alexander Ivanov was done away in Christ. With open face he beheld as in a glass the glory of the Lord. ... "My Saviour -- my Messiah -- my Lord Jesus Christ -- my glorious Redeemer -- I come, I come to thee." The heart of the newborn babe in Christ ... was fully ... calm.... He experienced within his deepest being, with unutterable joy, the peace that passeth all understanding. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace with God through Jesus Christ his Lord. He was accepted in the Beloved." (p. 290).

The rabbi's good friend, Mark Rosenbaum, a secret service agent, tells him about Catherine Korolenko, the woman who had spoken to the rabbi on the Day of Atonement: "Miss Korolenko is a Christian with a very ardent interest in our Jewish people -- particularly in respect to our Messiah, Who, she has always claimed is Jesus." ... "I may say, parenthetically, she has been successful in convincing me . I'm not ashamed to own it, Ivanov, -- through her testimony I too believe in Jesus Christ. Even though I know it is going to cost me nearly everything on earth I hold dear, I have accepted Him as my personal Messiah and Redeemer." (pp. 296-297).

The rabbi is delighted to hear this, since he himself was recently converted. "How have we been blind to Him so long?" [says the rabbi]. "I do not know, Ivanov. I marvel at my own blindness and hardness of heart. And I deplore the blindness of our Nation in its rejection of our glorious King! From now on, it is my solemn purpose to be used of Him in any way I can be, to make Him known among Israel." (p. 297).

Finally, at the end of the book, Zonya declares to Alex (her soon to be husband) that she is now a believer in Jesus too.

"Oh, I do, I do! I do let the Saviour in. Yes, I take Thee, dear Lord Jesus, as my own Messiah! Forgive me! O forgive me all my sin! (p. 304). ... "The transformation was instantaneous, complete... She stood before him triumphant, radiant -- a new creation in Christ Jesus. "O Alex! O Alex!" she exulted. "I see Him! I see my Lord, my Saviour Jesus Christ! And I am free -- Oh, gloriously free! My sins are all forgiven! I am free in Him, Beloved free!"" (p. 305).

The rabbi is compelled to leave his synagogue-owned apartment.

"For that luxurious abode was designated particularly for Rabbi Ivanov of Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue. And Alex was no longer Rabbi Ivanov. For he was a chosen vessel unto Jesus Christ.... [and] as a new man in Christ Jesus he must be forever free from Judaism." (p. 305).

"Loud was the lamentation throughout the Synagogue when it became knwon that he -- their idol almost -- was a "Meshumed." The Hebrew mothers and daughters wept; the Hebrew fathers employed, some of them, strong argument; others -- malediction.... But Dr. Abrahamson, more than any one else, expressed a grief that knew no bounds -- that one of such brilliant promise should have been thus easily seduced into "the heretical faith of Christianity." But he loved Alexander as his own son. Therefore there was no word of reproach -- only tears of bitter, bitter sorrow." (p. 306).

Dr. Arnold (the Canadian minister) says to the others: "For in these days of Jewish extremity and anguish, by reason of the rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout the world, as the Day of Jacob's Trouble rapidly approaches -- no ministry ... will be of greater value to the Kingdom, or will bear more fruit until salvation and unto His eternal praise, than the loving, sympathetic, wide open hospitality of Christian homes and Christian churches -- to the Jews." (p. 308).

Zonya and Alex are married by Dr. Arnold in an Anglican ceremony. "As the bride and bridegroom then knelt before Him, the Rector raised his hands above them in fatherly blessing. They remained kneeling. The organ played softly. And then, with swelling harmony, the vested choir sang their wedding anthem: an arrangement of carefully selected verse from Myers' beautiful St. Paul." (p. 309).

Some Final Thoughts:

Wandering Jude points out that the story of Zonya, like the other novels by Agnes Kent, is a Bildungsroman, a novel of moral development where a young person faces challenges and hardships but overcomes them all to emerge a stronger person. WJ isn't saying that this makes it a good book, but he is simply pointing out the genre.

As the perceptive reader will have already noticed (but Wandering Jude will point it out anyway), Zonya is a novel filled with florid prose and a blatantly religious agenda. It stereotypes Jews and other religious minorities, and it is highly problematic in its theological conclusions. But other than that, it's an OK read (if one has nothing else to do).

The author's reference to "growing anti-Semitism" in the world was a clear reference (in 1938) to Germany and the war against the Jews. One of her characters predicts that the world will soon be in the midst of "the time of Jacob's trouble," which is an evangelical term for the Great Tribulation, the last days when Jews will suffer immensely and the antichrist will reign supreme for 7 years. The Rapture didn't occur back then, of course, but nonetheless the Holocaust can surely be termed (in retrospect) as the time of Jacob's trouble, without all the theologial baggage that Dispensationalists have given it.

It is troubling and offensive to know that many evangelical Christians of the 1930s and 1940s believed that the suffering of the Jews stemmed from their rejection of Jesus. Does that same theology hold sway today among conservative Christians? Wandering Jude believes so, although to a much lesser degree. Part of this change has to do with a much greater level of religious pluralism in the United States; it's more difficult to demonize those of a different religious persuasion if you live next door to them, participate in civic activities with them, work with them, etc. But another part of it stems from a more "muscular" form of Judaism that is lived and practiced today. The most obvious example of this is the state of Israel, but other examples include the Anti-Defamation League and (oy vey) the Jewish Defense League. Jews may still suffer persecution today, but to a much greater degree than before the Holocaust there are attempts to fight back and to rescue the persecuted. Evangelical Christians still bemoan the Jewish rejection of Jesus, but it is no longer commonly thought to be at the root of Jewish suffering, because anti-Semitism is no longer the problem that it once was, at least in the Western world. Jews in the state of Israel are besieged by Muslim anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, but Israel can (and does) defend itself. Still, a minority of Christians today see a connection between anti-Semitism and Jewish "unbelief" in Christianity. It's the old "blame the victim" mentality.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Our current literary missionary, Agnes Scott Kent, wrote another conversionist novel in the 1930s, this one with a female protagonist. Published in Canada like her first book, Rachel (like Kent's earlier novel David) follows the travails of a young Jew who is brought into the fold of Christianity by an earnest missionary.

In her preface, the author gives us a glimpse into the models used for her work of fiction: "[Rachel Mendelssohn Kalinsky] is a fictitious composite of three actual Jewish girls, personally known and beloved by the author.... Max Kalinsky has his prototype in a young Jewish husband who lives not far from us. He represents the Hebrew secret-believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom doubtless there are thousands.... Deborah Kalinskys are numbered by the score; while the gentle Esthers, the sweet old Grandmother Kalinskys, the caustic Sarahs and Jacobs, and the captivating Little Abies are legion among the Jewish people."

A Jewish wedding is described in chapter one. The six bridesmaids are presented as "rich-skinned and dark-eyed" (p. 12). Max's mother, Deborah Kalinsky, is described as overbearing and domineering. At the wedding supper, the rabbi (Rabbi Mordecai Moses) warns the newlyweds:

"to adhere strictly to all the tenets and observances of orthodox Judaism; they were to worship always and only the one true God. And, above everything, they were to be vigilant against all Christians -- especially against those pernicious Christian missionaries who would seek to lead them astray into paths of idolatry and blasphemy -- enjoining upon them the worship of three gods instead of one" (p. 19).

At the wedding supper, Deborah Kalinsky "was the focus of attention. Conspicuously and deliberately she made herself the center of magnetic attraction on this proud occasion of the marriage of her youngest son. The son himself and his beautiful bride were mere adjuncts to her glory. Above the purple velvet her swarthy, heavy-featured face beamed with complete self-satisfaction. The contrast between her stolid pridefulness and the gentle grace and sweetness of her new daughter-in-law was striking in the extreme" (p. 20).

[Wandering Jude notes that it is unlikely that organ music or Lohengrin's wedding march would be played at an Orthodox wedding in New York in the 1920s, as is described in this chapter.]

Mrs. Kalinsky's accent is written as follows: "Vot! No more tea! Vot iss the matter mit all of yous? Sure you vill haf tea.... Und see, here it iss a leetle vedding cake yet. Eat it! It vill gif you luck!" (p. 23). Along with her Yiddish accent, Mrs. Kalinsky is described several times as "shrewd."

Our protagonist Rachel is described at the market as "haggling over the bargain as all Jewish housewives do" (p. 38).

Rachel meets a Gentile Christian missionary (Violet Hamilton) and an elderly Jewish couple, the Saramoffs. Violet says to Rachel:

"Mrs. Kalinksy... would you not like to join us in our reading [of the New Testament]? We were just enjoying together such a wonderful story about a Jewish young man and his two sisters in the little town of Bethany" ... Rachel was overwhelmed with confusion. She could not show discourtesy to so charming a young woman nor to her host and hostess in their home. But on the other hand her rigid orthodox Jewish convictions had been rudely assailed. She faltered lamely, "But Miss Hamilton, that is the New Testament, is it not? The Christian Bible? I am a Jewess!" ... "A Jewess!" she exclaimed. "Oh how wonderful, Mrs. Kalinsky, it must be to be a Jewess! A daughter of Abraham! One of God's own Chosen People -- a jewel for His diadem! Dear Mrs. Kalinsky, if you only knew how I envy you that honor!" Rachel gasped in amazement. Never before in her life had she heard a Gentile say such a thing as that. She had always believed firmly that the Gentile attitude toward the Jew was one of condescension if not of actual aversion.... "Since you are a Jewess then, Mrs. Kalinsky," she urged, "the New Testament is the very Book that you would most appreciate." "Why?" interposed Rachel in frank astonishment. "Because," Miss Hamilton continued, "this is the Book that tells the story of the most wonderful Jew that ever lived" (p. 68-69).

After hearing the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life, Rachel exclaims:

"Oh, Miss Hamilton, how marvelous a story! Jesus was, yes, He surely was, a wonderful, wonderful man!" Miss Hamilton seized the opportunity with challenge. "A man, dear! Did you say a man? Oh, Mrs. Kalinsky, can you not see, on the evidence of that miracle alone -- that He is infinitely more than man? What man could raise the dead to life? No, dear Mrs. Kalinsky, Jesus Christ is God -- the Son from Heaven -- the true Messiah!" [Mrs. Saramoff said]: "Yes, dear, Jesus is the Son of God." "And our Messiah!" joyfully added Mr. Saramoff -- "the Messiah of our people Israel!" Rachel attempted weakly one last defensive. "But you are Hebrews!" she exclaimed. "He is the Messiah of the Christians!" "He is the Messiah of us all -- of all who will accept Him," Mrs. Saramoff replied. "And we ... are Christians -- Hebrew-Christians!" (p. 70-71).

Rachel begins to study the New Testament. "Hour after hour she would study it with deepening absorption, comparing the New Testament Scriptures with the Old with gradual growing and irresistible conviction" (p. 74). Wandering Jude thinks he knows what's coming. Careful study in conversionary novels only leads to one result: conversion. But we get ahead of the story, because first there is great drama to unfold.

One day Rachel is studying the Bible with Miss Hamilton, and her mother in law comes in and hears them talking. And that's when the dreck hits the fan!

"How did you dare to? Vot iss it you vus doing? You cannot fool me nothings. I know it vot it iss -- that Book which you vus reading yet. It iss a Noy Testament! Beliefe me I am telling you, I know it is a Noy Testament ven I see vun! Vot for you dare to haf it in mein sohn's house? A book which it vus a Christian's book -- a Jesus book? Und you a Jewvish wife! You vill answer me -- vot youd are to mean by all such things?" In a fury she seized the Testament from Rachel's hands and flung it into the stove. Then she turned in violent rage upon Miss Hamilton. ... "Vot you trying to do mit her -- to change her from Jewvish into English?.... I know you vot you vus -- ein mees-ion-aire! -- ein vicked mees-ion-aire! I am telling you, you shall nefer learn mein dear daughter about Jesus He iss so vicked a mans which it couldn't be so vicked -- You go avay!" (p. 77).

But our gentle mother in law, who would have been a match for Kaye Ballard in her heyday, is not through yet:

"Vot for you bring a Noy Testament into a Jewvish house? Don't you know ve Jews nefer touch mit our leetle fingers such a book? It iss poison! Ve should spit at it! .... Vot you say? Jesus! Jesus He is the Mescheach? How dare you go for to talk such vickedness? Jesus He iss not Mescheach! Mescheach He iss not came yet.... Haf God got a sohn? How could God haf a sohn ... Beliefe me, I am telling you, you are talking vicked, vicked foolishness! ... Jesus He iss Himself God? Vot! God iss Father, Sohn und Holy Speerit? Three Gods iss vun God? Are you crazy? Iss three vun und vun iss three?" (p. 78).

But then an interesting event occurs that brings a bittersweet death into the plot. Grandmother Kalinsky, the sweet little old Yiddishe bubbie, "received the good tidings [of Jesus as the Messiah] with great joy" (p. 96). And when she died, "she would behold her own Messiah face to face" (p. 97).

"In the orthodox Jewish home there followed the traditional eight days of mourning. They were terrible days for Rachel. All the shades were closely drawn and the house was hushed and weird. No member of the family went out of doors. Friends and neighbors all came in to mourn with them, sitting around the dreary parlors on boxes, or on the floor as they wailingly intoned the Kaddish -- the Jewish prayer for the dead -- while the long wax candles burned heavily. Amid all the perfunctory and professional evidences of sorrow, one heart there was that grieved sincerely -- Rachel's" (p. 97).

Rachel is now at a crossroads in her life. Will she stay or will she go?

"Was Jesus Christ truly the Son of God and Israel's Messiah, or was He not? Were His claims authentic or were they blasphemous and false? ... It was not many days ... before she had arrived at a definite intellectual conviction that the claims of Jesus Christ were true.... Her intellectual assent to Christ's Messiahship was now qualified and clear" (p. 99).

"For in that moment, ... as she opened wide the door to Jesus Christ, receiving Him by faith as her Messiah -- her Saviour and her Lord and King -- in that moment the darkness of Judaism fled before the Dawn -- the Light streamed in -- and Rachel Kalinsky passed from death to Life" (p. 101).

The Kalinsky family celebrates the Passover seder together. During this time Sarah (Rachel's sister in law) finds Rachel's Bible (including the New Testament). Again the sparks fly (literally).

"Mrs. Kalinsky snatched the sacred Book from Rabbi Moses' hands and flung it violently into the fire burning on the hearth. [Just as she had done, Wandering Jude points out, with the New Testament that Rachel had been given by Violet Hamilton]. Rachel uttered a sharp, quick cry of grief and protest. Instantly a buzz of shrill, angry voices burst upon her as all the witnesses of the strange scene crowded menacingly around her chair. She grew dizzy before them. She tried to speak. She must confess her Lord. This was the time, yes, right now, she was sure. "O Christ, give strength, give strength," she breathed in fervent prayer. But the words of confession choked in her throat" (p. 117).

Rachel thinks she is dying, and she finally gains the strength to stand up for her beliefs. "Before I die I want to tell you all ... I am a Christian! I believe in Jesus Christ! I confess Him now before you all as Israel's Messiah and my own Saviour. I love and worship Him with all my heart. I am going to Him now my Lord my King" (p. 120).

Rachel speaks to her newborn son: "And soon, Little Abie, you will be a big, big laddie and ... go to Church and Sunday School and learn the most wonderful things of all -- all the lovely stories about the dear Lord Jesus.... He died upon the Cross for you and me and for our dear, dear Daddy. And that is why we must all love Him so -- because He is our Saviour, our own Messiah, and our King. Yes, Little Abie, the Lord Jesus Christ is the true Messiah of the Jews. Only the awful thing, Baby, is that so many of our dear, dear people do not believe in Him. It was the Jews, darling, who crucified Him. ... But some day, Little Abie, they will believe because you are going to tell them.... You are going to tell our own dear Hebrew people about their true Messiah, the Lord Christ Jesus. Yes, my Son, you are going to be a Missionary -- a Hebrew-Christian Missionary to the Hebrews" (p. 126).

Now Rachel starts working on her husband:

"You know, Max ... that I am a Christian, and I want my child ... to have a Christian training -- never, Max, a Jewish one." [Max replies sharply]: "You are not a Christian. And my son shall never be a Christian -- never on your life!" ... [Rachel responds]: I am a Christian. I love the Lord Christ Jesus with all my heart, for I know, dear Max, that He is our true Messiah." ... [Max responds]: "Of course He's the Messiah! I know it, Ray, as well as you. No one can help knowing it if he reads the New Testament at all intelligently, as I have done, out of curiosity, a dozen times. Jews everywhere are reading it today.... Certainly He is the Messiah. Without a doubt He is. Thousands of Jews believe it. Jewish rabbis believe it, lots of them. Why, I'd be willing to wager this very moment anything I've got that Rabbi Moses himself is a secret believer in Jesus Christ. But does he confess Him? Not on your life he doesn't! It would mean his bread and butter. You can't hold down a job as Chief Rabbi of a synagogue and say that you believe in Jesus Christ" (p. 130).

And soon Rachel experiences the requisite persecution that is always found in conversionist novels:

"Jacob was choking with rage. His ugly face was purple. The veins stood out upon his neck and forehead.... With a savage growl he suddenly rushed forward and struck the children brutally, ordering them off upstairs instantly. They fled from the room screaming. Then Jacob seized Rachel viciously by the shoulders and shook her until her teeth chattered. "You Meshumed," he hissed. "You dare to! You dare to talk to my children ever again about that blasphemous Jesus Christ and I'll wring your head from your neck like a hen's"" (p. 136).

And speaking of wringing a chicken's neck....

"It was on Yom Kippur -- the great Day of Atonement -- the day of humiliation and abasement. Throughout the Ghetto of New York, and throughout the world, Jews everywhere were gathered in their respective synagogues, from early morning until sunset, with weeping and fasting and penitential prayer -- as they confessed their sins" (p. 136).

Rachel refuses to go to synagogue on Yom Kippur. She sees a conflict between her newfound Christian faith and the traditions of Judaism.

"Dear Max," urged Rachel, "we have received full atonement forever through our Lord Christ Jesus. We need no yearly sacrifice. He offered up sacrifice for all when He offered up Himself. ... Our sins and iniquities He remembers no more forever against us."" ... "It would be compromise... I am a Christian. I am free from all the Jewish law: free from the ceremonial and the Talmud and the synagogue. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.... Never again, Max, shall I be entangled in the yoke of Jewish bondage. I am free in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made me free."

Max groaned aloud. "But Rachel," he argued, "if you persist in being a Christian, at least you need not be a narrow one. I know Hebrew-Christians who keep up their Judaism just the same. Look at Otto Goldberg. He's been a Christian thirty years -- but Otto will be at the synagogue all right tomorrow."

Rachel responds:

"Yes, I know he will. But I won't be. For all Otto claims to be a Christian -- and I believe he is sincere -- he is nevertheless entangled in the bondage of tradition. I have come farther out of Judaism in six months than he has in his entire thirty years."

Max provides his rejoinder:

"No, it's not that at all. Otto Goldberg has consideration for the feelings of his family. He knows the grief it would cause them if he were to separate himself from their orthodox observances. It is the offense of that, more than anything else, Rachel, that breaks up Jewish families when a Jew becomes a Christian."

And Rachel (Ray) gives her surrejoinder:

"Ah no, dear Max! That is not the offense. The offense is the Cross of Jesus Christ! And I have taken up that Cross.. If in consequence I, too, must meet offense -- amen, dear Lord, so be it!" Deeply moved she bowed her head in reverent prayer" (p. 138-139).

On the Day of Atonement, Rachel decides to not go to synagogue. On the principle of the matter she also decides to eat breakfast.

"Purposely she left the dishes and the food on the table that the family ... might see and understand. Then she spent the morning alone with her God and with her child. ... [When Mrs. Kalinsky returned, she was furious]. "Food on Yom Kippur! And breaking kosher too! Eating meat and milk together! And using the same knife to cut both meat and butter! Horrible! Horrible! And daring not to go to synagogue! Refusing to confess her sins before her God! Well, He would surely damn her now! She was no longer a Kalinsky! Forever she would be Meshumed!" (p. 141).

In a scene worthy of the stage or screen, Rabbi Moses says to Rachel:

"You have forsaken your God. You have gone over to the blasphemous apostates. You have confessed the name of Jesus Christ within this house. You have transgressed our most holy Law. You have broken fast on Yom Kippur. You have broken kosher. You have defied the worship and commandments of the synagogue. You have embraced an alien faith. You have proven traitor to all the holy traditions of your people. You have proven false to your husband, to his family, to your friends. You have renounced the one true God. In His Holy Name I pronounce you now Meshumed -- accursed of God and man." ... "What shall this righteous Israelite do with this apostate woman?" The Rabbi appealed the question to the court. A chorus of frenzied cries responded instantly: "Dee-worce her! Dee-worce her! She is Meshumed! Dee-worce her, Max, dee-worce her!" ... To Rachel's anguished heart the scene recalled another court -- another angry crowd -- another infuriated cry: "Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" She experienced a thrill of holy joy above the anguish. She was being crucified with Him. She was one with Him in the mysterious fellowship of suffering." ... "Rachel Mendelssohn, you are accursed! Your child is accursed! You are divorced forever from this family. You are cut off from Israel. You are cut off from God. Go - both of you -- to your damnation!" Fiercely Rabbi Moses pointed to the open door" (p. 144-145).

Rachel tries to find food and shelter, but all of the Jews of the neighborhood will have nothing to do with her. Likewise, because of anti-Semitism, most of the Christians will also not help her, even at a Church (a "modernist" church). Finally she finds help and solace in the Christian Mission to the Jews. She enrolls in the local Bible college and lives in the dormitory.

But the Jewish community is not yet finished with Rachel. First she is offered $5000 to renounce her new Christian faith. When she refuses, she is tied up by the rabbi and her 3 brothers in law and her child is kidnapped. One of them says to her as he leaves with the little boy, "All right, my girl, stay a Meshumed. Stay an accursed Christian if you want to be one. But your child is a Kalinsky and a Jew" (p. 185). [Wait. Wandering Jew remembers that the rabbi had said that the child was cursed and cut off from Israel. Now they want him back?]

Later, when the police investigate, the family has moved to California and the rabbi denies involvement.

The Kalinsky family tries a ruse to get Rachel to California. But Dr. Nathan (the head of the mission) sees through this ruse. "But well he understood the duplicity of the unregenerate Jacobs of his race" (p. 194). Still, Rachel falls for it. Later the narrator talks about "the tragedy of Satan's fury against a Jew who had become a Christian." (p. 198).

Rachel is held captive "in a small basement room, securely imprisoned behind barred windows and a bolted door. Here she would remain, she was angrily informed, on bread and water fare and all alone, until she recanted her belief in the despised and hated Jesus..... Morning and evening her tormentors came to her with their sinister question: "Rachel Mendelssohn, do you renounce your faith in that blasphemer, Jesus Christ?" ... Day after day they grieved her gentle heart with cruel mockings." "Her enemies, infuriated by her strength of purpose, at last had resorted to the Inquisition. And their torture was excruciating to the last degree. For the rack they chose to use was Little Abie." (p. 198-199).

Eventually the Kalinskys have Rachel sent to a mental hospital (although after one night there Violet Hamilton rescues her).

Rachel had become "an easy prey to Satan's wiles, always directed with malignant fury against any Jew who dares to become a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ" (p. 203).

"Each day at the noon hour she would gather around her a group of Jewish girls -- girls whom first she had won to herself by little acts of kindness -- and these she would tactfully and lovingly instruct out of the New Testament Scriptures, in those things concerning their Messiah.... Seldom was there a Sunday when one Jew at least did not find, through Rachel's radiant testimony, his true Messiah." (p. 207).

But not every Jewish child was Rachel's friend. Some children would throw stones at her "with jeers and curses. More than once a Jewish boy -- instigated by his parents -- spat in her face and hissed "Meshumed" (p. 210).

Mrs. Kalinsky (Rachel's evil mother in law) dies in a horrible car crash. Rachel wonders if the death was "swift and fearful retribution" for Mrs. Kalinsky's crimes against her (p. 214). But then she realizes that Deborah Kalinsky was not all bad, and that she may even have had a conversion experience in the hospital before she died.

At Rosh Hashanah, after Tashlich, the narrator says that the Jews of New York "wended their way westward and homeward, complacently self-satisfied that they now were wholly righteous" (p. 217).

Max returns and repents, "sobbing in heartbroken shame and sorrow, with utter self-abasement he made confession of his sins -- of all his contemptible cowardice and selfishness and greed; of his awful cruelty to Rachel and their little son; and of his base disloyalty to Christ -- in Whom as a child he had believed, but Whom he had never manfully acknowledged as his own Messiah.... and back of them all had been his lust for gold. For filthy lucre he had almost lost his soul" (p. 222).

Some final thoughts:

Mrs. Kalinsky appears to not only fulfill the stereotypical image of the overbearing Jewish mother, but she's a serial book burner as well. It's no surprise that she never converts to the Christian faith. Unappealing characters seldom do in conversionist literature.

Early in the book the narrator contrasts the difference between "the darkness of Judaism and the Light of Life" (p. 72). Sadly, this metaphor continues to be used among the conversionists of today.

The kidnapping of Rachel reminds us of Muppim's predicament in The Jewish Twins, as well as the real life claims of Ken Levitt in Kidnapped for My Faith.

Max's claim that there are thousands of secret Jewish believers in Jesus strains credulity. (It's also an ironic twist on slightly more reliable legends of the Converso who outwardly practiced Roman Catholicism but secretly remained a Jew). But the idea of closet "Hebrew-Christians" is a popular rumor that continues into modern times, both in fiction and in "real life." While it is possible that a 1920s era Jew might be economically damaged by conversion to Christianity, it is inconceivable that the same threat holds in the 21st century (except, possibly, in insular communities like the Hasidim). Still, the idea of thousands of secret converts, including rabbis, would mean (if it were true) that these individuals lived a life of extreme cognitive dissonance. In any event, here is one story of a secret believer (a rabbi, no less) that very well may be true. But one true story does not make thousands of true stories. Wandering Jude thinks that the "closet believer" motif is the exception, not the rule. But as always, Wandering Jude may be wrong.