Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Memoir of Maria, A Converted Jewess

Dying Hours or Narratives Illustrative of the Grace of God to Dying Sinners was published anonymously in 1843 (in Philadelphia) by the Presbyterian Board of Publication. If there was an earlier edition I'm not aware of it. The book contains several conversion stories; the final chapter is entitled "Memoir of Maria, A Converted Jewess." (This chapter has also been published in book form by various publishers as The Converted Jewess: A Memoir of Maria).

A Jewish woman with the unlikely name of Maria suffers a bad fall down a staircase and is laid up in bed. A Christian neighbor tends to her needs and starts to evangelize her. The neighbor reads to her Isaiah 53 and other messianic prophecies, and encourages Maria to believe and acknowledge that these passages refer to Jesus. However, initially Maria remains unconvinced, though she is not opposed to conversing about it and generally not irritated by the Christian's attempt at proselytizing. But later, after more conversations and some soul searching on Maria's part, our heroine comes to believe in Christ.

The rest of the story is taken up in attempts by some Jews to "unconvert" Maria (unsuccessful of course). We also get to witness Maria's baptism, and finally her death. Before she is baptized she tells her father about her newfound beliefs and asks his permission to get baptized. [Why would she ever think that he would give his permission for her baptism??] He of course is upset and tells her that she was born a Jew and will die a Jew. She replies, "I have not forsaken my religion, it is the poor Jews who forsake it. [Yeah, right]. If they would read their Scriptures, they would then know that Jesus is their Messiah! He saves from sin. He alone has made me happy under all my pains. He died for me. It is my dying request" (p. 134).

But she's not dead yet! The final pages of the book are taken up in Maria preaching to the rest of her family (sister, mother, grandmother) before she dies. The author is careful to mention that "the memoir is in no degree a fiction" (p. 142) but is a true narrative, having occurred a short time earlier in a small town in England. The author states that the last name of the family is not mentioned due to concern for their feelings since they continue to adhere to Judaism.

Michael Ragussis comments on the story of Maria in his book Figures of Conversion:

"As with so many other popular forms of nonfiction, the memoir of the Jewish convert was soon translated into novelistic form. Such translations often masqueraded as the original, announcing their autobiographical status in their titles The Converted Jewess A Memoir of Maria -- or Leila Ada, The Jewish Convert: An Authentic Memoir. While both of these texts are written in the third person of novelistic discourse, they go to great lengths to legitimize their claim to the status of memoir. The author of Leila Ada asserts that he uses extracts from diaries and journals which the young heroine composed herself, so that the third-person narrative is interspersed with long passages from the writings of Leila Ada in the first person. In both cases the authors claim to have heard the events of the young woman's life from people who knew her intimately. The authenticity of the account becomes a typical refrain..." (p. 36).

"In these two texts a sick young woman is the focus of the conversion plot.... The theme of illness is used for several purposes. First, it allows the writer to illustrate the fortitude and peace with which the Christian dies, a popular idea in the conversionist novel.... Second, the illness of the young woman makes her sexless, without bodily wishes, entirely devoted to the realm of the spirit.... In each of these novels the reading of Scripture thoroughly occupies the immobilized heroine" (p. 37).

"The last stage of each heroine's illness turns her into a quasi-missionary.... Maria exemplifies the idea that the proof of one's own conversion was realized in nothing less than the desire to evangelize the globe" (p. 38).

Monday, July 30, 2007

Thirza; or, The Attractive Power of the Cross

Thirza; or, The Attractive Power of the Cross, originally written by Hermann Ball as Thirza, oder die Anziehungskraft des Kreuzes, in 1840 or perhaps somewhat earlier. The English translation appeared in 1842. The translator, who I think deserves some credit, was Elizabeth Maria Lloyd. The story of Thirza is also included in the book Narrative of the Conversion and Suffering of Sarah Doherty and the Wonderful Conversions of Two Jewish Maidens.

Thirza's story begins with a female visitor entering a church during the season of Lent. The clergyman talks about the Paschal Lamb and the blood of Christ. He also speaks of Matthew 27:25 ("His blood be on us and on our children"), and the "fearful crime of Israel, in rejecting their King; and contrast[s] their ingratitude with the love and sympathy of the Saviour, who, notwithstanding their rebellion and hardness of heart, still loved them with an everlasting love" (p. 9).

The stranger becomes agitated and starts to weep. The preacher continues with his sermon, talking about the "curse" upon the Jews that culminated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people. Thus, the preacher continues, we have this "dark and melancholy picture as a warning to the Christian world" (p. 10). The stranger lets out a shriek and falls senseless to the ground. The parishioners carry her out to the parsonage.

Maria, the pastor's wife, tries to comfort the disturbed woman, but then suddenly realizes that she is a Jewess. "A closer inspection of her features confirmed this" (p. 13), the narrator says. Of course. No doubt about it.

Maria shares the gospel with the poor woman and offers her peace through the grace of Jesus. The woman responds: "What! Will you not look upon me with hatred -- with abhorrence -- when I tell you to what people I belong? Can you love a poor child of the curse -- a daughter of Israel -- a Jewess?" (p. 16). Maria assures her that she loves her and that she considers her as a sister, not a stranger.

Her name turns out to be Thirza, with the same last name as a prominent (and rich) banker in the city. And apparently she has had a recent change of heart concerning her religious beliefs. "I must tell you freely, that I believe with all my heart, that the Jesus whom you worship is the promised Messiah, the King of Israel.... It is now the chief desire of my heart, that he might be my Saviour also. Oh! that I had been born a Christian...!" (p. 17). Thirza states that her father is a "strict Israelite" and "bears the most bitter enmity to Jesus and to the Christian faith" (p. 18). When she was young she attended a Christian school and read the New Testament, but later forgot about it.

Yes, this recurring theme again rears its ugly head, that of the fictional Jewish child who goes to a Christian school, absorbs the gospel through osmosis, and later (as an adult) becomes a full fledged Christian. The (unintended) moral of the story should be clear to all Jewish parents reading this.

Back to the plot: Thirza had been taught the traditions of Judaism (along with her Christian school education) but her "heart remained untouched" (p. 19). But then her mother died after a short illness and that was five months earlier. Maria comforts Thirza by telling her: "[The Lord] took away your earthly joy, in order to lead you to the true joys both of time and eternity" (p. 20). Maria's husband, the pastor, also joins the conversation.

Thirza tells Maria about "the blindness of my people, and how great a hatred and aversion to Jesus and the Christian faith, is implanted in us from our very infancy" (p. 22). Thirza recalls how in her time of grief she recalled the words of Matt. 11:28 ("Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest") and vaguely remembered that they were from the New Testament. She describes how she found a copy of the New Testament and secretly read it. As she read she realized that the New Testament was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible, especially such passages as Isaiah 53. "It was not long before I was clearly convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and King of Israel... my sins appeared every day more heinous and fearful; for though I firmly believe that Jesus can take away both the guilt and the power of sin, yet I cannot realise that he has shed his blood for me also" (p. 28). Maria and her husband encourage Thirza to believe in Jesus and take advantage of the grace freely offered her, and she does.

But then Thirza is greatly saddened by the thought of her mother having died without Christ, and her father with his "implacable hatred to the Crucified!" (p. 32). On the other hand, she feels guilty when she remembers verses like "whosoever denies me before men...." and "he that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me."

She tries after dinner one night to tell her father, Eliezer, who is an old man, but she cannot and starts to weep. Her father pronounces the priestly benediction over her, and, in trying to comfort her, quotes from the Psalms: "The Lord perform all thy petitions." Thirza replies: "Amen; for the sake of Jesus Christ" (p. 41). Well, yes, that's one way to tell your father you've converted.

"Her astonished father started, and recoiled as if stung by a serpent. His deep-rooted hatred to the Nazarene, his blind and pertinacious adherence to the religion of his fathers, completely mastered his spirit.... "What!" he exclaimed, "and who has done this? That accursed name from the lips of my daughter! Cursed be ___." "O my father, my father, do not curse!" entreated his weeping child -- "Blaspheme not the name of my Lord and Saviour. Dear, dear, father, do not curse Jesus the Messiah of Israel" (p. 41-42).

Eliezer continues cursing the name of Jesus, and then says: "I have no daughter now; the apostate is for ever cast out of my house. Get thee hence, thou accursed one; never shalt thou see me again, till thou abjure the Nazarene" (p. 43). For the next eight days her father avoids her, but Thirza "did not cease to mourn over her father's alienation from her, and to implore God for the salvation of his soul" (p. 47).

Eliezer, meanwhile, is conflicted. He knows he should "examine what the Prophets had spoken concerning the Messiah," (p. 48).... but his bitter hatred of Jesus stifled these feelings. His conflicted emotions lead to a serious illness. Thirza prays for him and finally approaches him in his bedchamber. Eliezer asks her to renounce "that accursed faith" but she refuses (p. 55). Gradually her father becomes more cordial with her as she sits with him for several days through his illness (though it's a sacrifice for her -- she is quite sad that she must miss Good Friday services!). On Easter Sunday she finally decides to leave her father's side and go to church. (you gotta draw the line somewhere!). Her father gets somewhat better, and the doctor attributes this to Thirza staying with him night and day through it all.

A few days later Thirza sits reading the New Testament, and her father (not knowing what she is studying) asks her to read to him. When he discovers that it is the Christian Testament he calls it "all fable and lies," (p. 65) but he allows her to read a little more (John 14 and 15 and the story of Jesus comparing himself to Moses and the bronze serpent in the wilderness). Eliezer is surprised to hear the Hebrew Bible quoted in the New Testament. When Thirza tells him that Isaiah 53 is one of the passages that convinced her of the truth of the Christian faith, he replies that "it is presumptuous for an ignorant girl to interpret the Law and the Prophets. It is the business of the learned, and they have explained that chapter in a very different manner" (p. 69).

Later Eliezer confesses to Thirza that he had heard the words of the New Testament on the lips of her dying mother: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanses us from all sin" (p. 72). He is in agony over thinking that his wife may have become a Christian in her dying moments, but of course Thirza is overjoyed to hear it. After many days of conversation, harsh words (from Eliezer toward Thirza), and conflicted emotions, Eliezer finally becomes a Christian and is baptized (along with Thirza) at the church where the story had originally begun.

Perhaps this novel should be entitled "The Attractive Power of the Curse." The story opens with the preacher talking about "the curse of the Jews." Thirza calls herself a "poor child of the curse." And Eliezer can't stop cursing Christ and those darn proselytizers. (Until he finally takes the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cheap Caricatures of Judaism

In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Simon Gathercole writes a provocative piece called "What did Paul Really Mean? The author tries to explain, for an evangelical Christian audience, the "new perspectives on Paul" movement represented by scholars like James D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright. I like the following excerpt:

"E.P. Sanders rightly detects in much of the traditional Protestant description of Judaism an anxiety about Roman Catholic works-righteousness crouching at the door. This leads us to Sanders' concern with portraying Judaism in a fair and unprejudiced light. This is also an important contribution: There can be no place in the church for cheap caricatures of Judaism. Sanders has encouraged scholars to look seriously at Jewish sources around the time of Paul to understand what they really say."

Gathercole goes on to say:

"We also need to be careful in how we talk about Judaism from the pulpit and in our conversations about Scripture. Christians must avoid cheap caricatures as well as a politically correct anxiety about saying that Jews need to hear the gospel."

To most of this I say, Amen. I do disagree with Gathercole's final assertion (that Christians should not be afraid to state that Jews need Jesus), but Christianity Today is after all an evangelical magazine, so fair enough. Nevertheless, I was struck by his language of "cheap caricatures" and I think that the 19th century conversionist fiction is Exhibit A in this regard. I only wish that the 20th century descendants of Amelia Bristow and company had learned this lesson. Perhaps we'll see more nuanced Christian fiction in the 21st century.

Sadoc and Miriam: A Jewish Tale

Back to England, where most of the 19th century conversionist fiction was written. Today's summary is one of the few examples of evangelical historical fiction (dealing with Jewish conversion) in the early 19th century. Thomas Vowler Short authored Sadoc and Miriam: A Jewish Tale in 1833, and we learn from the preface that this was done under the direction of the

"Committee of General Literature and Education, appointed by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.... The chief object of the Author of the following pages has been to exhibit the Evidences of Christiantiy, as they must have appeared to a Jew, in our Saviour's days.... the Pharisee would not believe, because he had concealed his own private selfishness and ambition under the cloak of religion: the Sadducee was unconvinced, because his worldly-mindedness and love of earthly enjoyments called him away from all religious thoughts" (p. 3).

Anachronism Alert: Modern theological terms like "deist" and "mediator of the new covenant" and "Messiahship of Jesus" are used in this book. This leads us to the conclusion that Sadoc and Miriam was written by a 19th century Christian who wondered what 1st century Jews must be like by imagining what 19th century Jews must be like and then placing the imaginary 19th century Jew in a 1st century context. Confused yet? Now you know how the author of this book must have felt.

Early in the novel we learn that Sadoc and Miriam are the children of Nathan, an older Jewish man living in the 1st century in Palestine, contemporaneous with Jesus. Their mother, Hannah, is deceased. Sadoc becomes a believer in Jesus, convinced by his miracles and teaching. Nathan is afraid that "to follow the Galilean would be to cast myself out of the synagogue," (p. 9), but he promises to listen to the arguments of Sadoc. Sadoc presents prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures to prove his point, that Jesus is the Messiah. Nathan wonders why the Scribes and the Pharisees do not believe in Jesus, and Sadoc responds that they are "blinded" (p. 33).

Nathan goes to visit his friend Darkon, another Pharisee, and his wife Rhoda, and they proceed to talk about Jesus ("the Galilean"). Nathan plays the devil's advocate when the discussion turns to messianic prophecies, and they have a lively debate. But things get heated and Nathan decides to leave before it turns ugly. Darkon, we learn, is vehemently opposed to Jesus. Later he has a discussion with another friend, Gahar, and Gahar says that "the mass of the Pharisees are covetous, are unclean, are hypocrites...." (p. 72).

Talk about a broad brush.

Sadoc and his fiancee, Hatipha (Darkon's daughter), grow stronger in their belief in Jesus, but Sadoc feels guilty about not sharing his faith more openly. Soon after Jesus is crucified, Darkon taunts Sadoc about his faith, and they get into a discussion about his beliefs. It ends with Darkon forcing Hatipha to break off her engagement with Sadoc. They write letters back and forth but their relationship is not resolved. Thus, in some ways this book might be seen as a romantic tragedy, as well as containing the usual condemnations of Judaism (both 1st century and 19th century Judaism).

Judith Bensaddi: A Tale

Conversionary fiction was not unknown on the other side of the Atlantic. Henry Ruffner wrote the novel Judith Bensaddi: A Tale in 1839. The author was a progressive (based on early 19th century standards) Presbyterian minister and the president of Washington and Lee University. The novel is set in South Carolina and is supposedly based on a true story that was recounted to Ruffner by another clergyman.

Trivia enthusiasts should note that the "Wandering Jew" in folklore and fiction, Salathiel ben Sadi, seems to have the same last name as the title character of this book.

J. Michael Pemberton, in a 1984 introduction to this work, writes that "The chief purpose of Ruffner's novel, of course, was not the propagation of the Gospel, for he reminds the reader in strong terms that Christ was a Jew, includes some unflattering portraits of "Christians," and has his protagonist decide to marry Judith even before he learns of her conversion" (p. 21). While Judith Bensaddi: A Tale is not as heavy handed in its evangelistic efforts as the 1830s British novels by Amelia Bristow and others, it certainly makes the case for Jews converting to Christianity. Perhaps Pemberton is correct and Ruffner's primary goal was not to convert Jews, but it's difficult to read this novel without thinking that it was at least a secondary (all right, perhaps tertiary) objective.

The protagonist of the novel (a certain Mr. Garame) has the following thoughts about his new crush:

"True, I have never liked the character of the Jews, either ancient or modern, but she has charms enough to put all such prejudices to flight. And why should I object to marry a daughter of Abraham, the friend of God, and the father of all believers? Were not the prophets and the apostles and the son of God himself Israelites? And am I to feel degraded or mismatched when I marry a kinswoman of theirs? But were the Jews never so vile or loathsome as a people, my Judith has sufficient personal merits to redeem her from all objection and to cover all her people's sins.... But, says an objector, she is not a Christian. But in spirit and feeling she is a far better Christian than nine-tenths of those who make the loudest professions. She loves the rules and the spirit of the Christian religion, and I have no doubt that she only needs to be placed in Christian society and under Christian influence to be soon persuaded to believe fully in Jesus of Nazareth" (p. 104).

Ah, but there is more to come from the fertile mind of Mr. Garame:

"Whatever the cause might be, it so happened that on the third day of my travels the word "Jewess" ... began to strike positively disagreeable impressions upon my mind.... More frequently would that detestable word return and trouble the sweet current of my feelings. "Jewess," "Jewess," would I say to myself.... "Am I really in love with the daughter of a Jew? Am I to connect myself with that accursed race?" (p. 124).

Mr. Garame reveals more of the inner workings of his love-sick mind:

"Yes, a Jewess is to be my wife. My children are to be half-blooded Jews.... When we go to church -- we, do I say? Perhaps she will not go to church but be wishing for her rabbi and her synagogue. But suppose that ... she does go to church; then every eye is upon her -- whispers go round, "The Jewess has come to church! Do you know whether she is likely to be converted?" and so on. Then the minister preaches at her and deals out anathemas against the unbelieving Jews...." (p. 125).

Sadly, Mr. Garame receives a letter from Judith near the end of the novel:

"[A new friend] had learned that I was a Jewess, and he labored faithfully and eloquently for my conversion to Christianity. By the blessing of God he succeeded in removing all my remaining doubts and difficulties respecting the Christian faith." ..... "Now my faith in Jesus of Nazareth is my chief consolation, and the eloquent and pious who won me finally to Christ has also gained so much of my esteem and affection that I have, after much hesitation, accepted his offer, and we are betrothed" (pp. 143-144).

This was entirely unexpected, but wait, there's more. In the sequel to Judith Bensaddi, entitled "Seclusaval," Judith breaks off her engagement to the Englishman (the "new friend" that she had mentioned in her letter to the narrator) and ends up marrying Garame. This ending, while perhaps satisfying to the romantics among us, is, well, somewhat anti-climactic compared to the potboilers of Bristow and others where the heroines either die or become missionaries to the Jews.

And one more thing. Whatever Ruffner's motivations were, I realize that it's unfair to judge Judith's conversion to Christianity by 21st (or even 20th) century standards. Henry Ruffner was simply a product of his time, and what he wrote about Jews was probably fairly progressive for the era in which he lived. A 21st century ending might have Garame converting to Judaism instead of Judith's conversion to Christianity. But that ending couldn't have been written in 1839, at least not by a Presbyterian minister.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Amos Armfield; or, The Leather-Covered Bible

Amos Armfield; or, The Leather-Covered Bible was published by the American Tract Society in 1848, although an earlier edition was printed in 1846. Since the stories take place in England, one assumes that the first editions were published there.

This book contains various stories centered around the title character, including one that includes Jewish characters (although strangely enough, no conversions of Jews take place in this story).

"Amos Armfield was not only a kind man to children, and to his neighbors around him, but also a kind-hearted Christian man to strangers. One proof of this shall now be given. It happened that a Jew, with a long beard, came through the village, calling here and there to sell quills...." (p. 87).

A boy named Abel Green "called the Jew reproachful names" (p. 88), and when Amos Armfield hears of it, he rebukes Abel saying, "The Jews were God's favored people; and if we value our Bible we ought not to despise them, seeing that they are the people through whose hands we received it. Every one who fears God ought to love all mankind, for all mankind are brethren" (p. 89).

Then Amos recites a poem, which apparently contains his "Golden Rule" philosophy: "Do good to every living soul, Turk, infidel, and Jew; For he who truly loves the Lord, Will love his brother too" (p. 89).

Amos tells the children: "Perhaps I can tell you something about a Jew that will make you feel more kindly towards Jews in general." Amos then proceeds to tell Abel and his two friends the biblical story of Mordecai and Esther, although he talks about it without using their names and he tells the story as though it were happening in contemporary England.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Miriam; or, The Power of Truth. A Jewish Tale

In 1842, Charlotte Anley published Miriam; or, The Power of Truth. A Jewish Tale. Anley, we are told on the title page, was the author of Influence. Apparently she sometimes used the pen name "C.A."

The reader is informed in the preface that

"[t]he tale of "Miriam" now offered to the public is founded on an anecdote said to be a well attested fact, which the author met with some months ago in the 'Cottage Magazine,' where the narrative is briefly detailed with great simplicity and elegance; of an American Jew, converted to Christianity by the death of his only child, a beautiful girl whom he had reared with no common care and affection. She embraced the Christian faith unknown to her father until with her dying lips she confessed to him her apostacy from Judaism, giving him at the same time a Testament, with a solemn injunction to believe in "Jesus of Nazareth." This anecdote appeared to the author a good outline for a more elaborate work, as furnishing ample subject for imagination, and considerable ground for instructive information" (p. 5).

[I would note one clear difference, which is that the actual story in Anley's novel takes place in England, not America].

We are introduced on page 25 to "Imlah Durvan, a rich Jew." We also meet his daughter Miriam, and Rabbi Mendez, an older man. Miriam expresses her hope for the coming Messiah when she will "wave the banners of our faith amidst the bleeding heaps of those detested Christians" (p. 32). Her father answers her that "Messiah tarries long, and God hides his face from us for sins perhaps yet unatoned; but, for our great prophet's sake, he will not always chide" (p. 33).

Miriam is subjected to religious proselytizing by her friend Helen Stuart, who gives her a Bible to read. The rabbi is very concerned when he discovers this and speaks to Imlah, but Imlah does not appear to be upset.

The characters, especially the Jewish ones, speak in a style that can only be described as "high falutin." For example, the rabbi says to Imlah, "May the spirits of our fathers descend and calm the anger of your soul, my son.... and defend us from the dangers of these dark times;" (p. 83) and "Fond and sanguine fool! whose soul can feed upon such fatal, such absurd sophistry, rather than mar the wayward fancies of a spoiled and self-willed child!" (p. 84).

Imlah and the rabbi are involved in a secret plan to return the Jews to Palestine (sort of a subplot in this book).

Miriam tells her father that "I wish to convince Helen that our scriptures are divinely authorized, and that the New Testament cannot possibly prove that the predictions respecting our Messiah were really fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ..." (p. 89). But her father tells her to keep away from the Gentiles and not to bother with trying to convince them of anything, that she should wait for "when the avenging sword of our Messiah shall slay these proud usurpers" (p. 90). He warns her that "every curse a parent can call down from Heaven should be the forfeit of your apostacy" (p. 92).

Christians are called "apostates" throughout the book (and not just Jews who convert to Christianity). It seems to me that this broadens the word apostate so much that it almost loses its meaning.

Helen explains many messianic prophecies to Miriam. They have a formal debate, and the local pastor (Mr. Howard) joins in and it's actually he who debates Miriam in what seems like a medieval disputation, almost a boxing match (Miriam brings with her a copy of the Talmud, carried by her servant Cora, her "second"). Miriam loses the debate. Eventually, after more discussions with her rabbi (who later dies) and with Mr. Howard and Helen, she becomes a Christian. She tells her father before she dies that she now believes in Jesus of Nazareth, and after her death he too becomes a Christian. Eventually he becomes a missionary to the Jews, which is a recurring theme in conversionary novels (the evangelized becomes an evangelist).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tales of a Jewess: Illustrating the Domestic Manners and Customs of the Jews

Madame Brendlah wrote Tales of a Jewess Illustrating the Domestic Manners and Customs of the Jews. Interspersed with Original Anecdotes of Napoleon in 1838. Brendlah, according to Linda Gertner Zatlin in The Nineteenth-Century Anglo-Jewish Novel (1981), was a "Jewish apostate", "scornful of [her] former religion," whose book was "vituperative in its conversionist stance. Appended notes purport to explain Jewish rituals and customs but actually denigrate Jews and Judaism as foolish and superstitious" (p. 56).

Nadia Valman, writing in "Speculating Upon Human Feeling: Evangelical Writing and Anglo-Jewish Women's Autobiography," a chapter in the book The Uses of Autobiography (1995), goes even further when she states that this novel (along with others by Bristow and Heighway), claims "to be based on authentic autobiography but also claims to be fictionalized for a variety of reasons, [but is] in fact a "fake." Valman believes the "information about Jewish customs ... is garbled and seems second-hand. There are also more general mistakes.... [The narratives are] formulaic, showing the awakening of a woman to Christianity through reading the New Testament, her persecution by her family, her inquisition by rabbis and finally her escape or death."

But the critics notwithstanding, let's take a look at what Brendlah has to offer us. In the Introduction the author writes:

"Let not the reader expect to find in the following pages, feigned stories, nor tales from the visions of fancy. What is related is mostly founded on facts.... The Authoress was born a Jewess, and brought up to revere and observe the rites and ceremonies of the Jews...." (p. v). Brendlah goes on to say that she became a believer in Jesus and married a Christian, and thus incurred the wrath of the Jewish community.

The author claims that she hopes to spread goodwill among both Jews and Christians through this book, and to educate Christians about the customs of Jews. Although Brendlah doesn't explicitly say it, the book appears to be semi-autobiographical. There are many pages of notes at the end of the book that explain Jewish terms and customs. These notes often appear as footnotes at the bottom of each page as well. The transliterated Hebrew and Yiddish system seems strange to the modern eye. For example, kosher is rendered "chocher." Shul is "Shuel." Gelt is "Gald," etc.

The main character of the book is Judith, a 17 year old Jewish girl who at the beginning of the book complains to her mother (Caroline) about an arranged marriage that she does not wish to be a part of. She has been at a Christian boarding school (what the....?) for seven years and does not wish "to be married to a Jew, and a stranger!" (p. 5). The story is set in England, though Judith's parents are emigrants from France.

Judith's friend Ellen Cohen asks her early on in the novel, "Tell me, dear Judith, do you intend to forsake the faith of your fathers; and does not our holy religion weigh truly in your bosom? What are these rumours that you have a Christian lover? Is it so? ... Tell me, I beg, why is it that lately you have neither been to Shuel, nor been so attentive to Rabbi Isaac as you ought? He complains bitterly, that, although you pretend, or strive, to learn Hebrew, your heart is far from the book of Moses" (p. 12).

[Actually Judith's attitude toward studying Hebrew and/or religion is somewhat reminiscent of most Jewish kids in Hebrew school today or in generations past.... and probably many Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu kids, etc. Kids just want to have fun.]

Judith has two brothers, Adolphus and Emanuel. Adolphus wants to marry Bertha Hamilton, a gentile, so she converts to Judaism and is henceforth known as Sarah. Emanuel, quite the prankster, likes to play all sorts of jokes on the rabbis, such as making one rabbi think that he has just eaten pork. Real mature guy. Ha ha ha ha. Very funny, Emmanuel. Sheesh, what a pill!

Judith's parents (Caroline and Louis) and the rabbi speak in a strong Yiddish accent "Och no, mine goot lady, it vas de shicksa -- a mecha me shena on her!" (p. 26).

Judith is in love (sort of) with William Hartford, who loves her as well. Judith's parents are dismayed at this. Judith's father consults with Rabbi Isaac. "The Rabbi was always a secret foe to Judith, for he well knew in what contempt she held him, and indeed all of his persuasion; and he contrived to place a letter in her way, written by a female of light character, and directed to her lover, in which her name was held up to scorn because she was a Jewess" (p. 43). Later the rabbi is described by William as "sly" and "deceitful" (p. 51).

Ellen is envious of Judith's romance with William, so she plots to undermine them. The plot thickens.

Judith receives a New Testament in the mail from her "beloved Hartford," (along with some love letters) and is ambivalent about reading it. Listen in on her thoughts:

"Dare I open it? Dare I read it? Oh, no! It cannot be a good book; otherwise my mother would not so strictly forbid my reading it. You have done wrong, Hartford," thoughtfully sighed Judith, "to tempt me thus to disobey the laws of my religion" (p. 80).

Judith seems like she has a good head on her shoulders. Maybe Hartford isn't such a good goy after all. Maybe Ellen Cohen's jealousy is misplaced. Maybe....

But she reads the New Testament despite her qualms, and feels somewhat guilty but also interested when she comes across some stimulating passages (such as "Believe on Me, and Live."). Her mother catches her reading it and naturally is quite upset. Then the rabbi fortuitously enters the room and joins the fray. He recommends that they burn the book.

The servants are told not to give any letter from Hartford to Judith, and not to let him in the house, but Joseph, a black servant, is a Christian and "would have gone through fire to see her a disciple of his creed.... His wishes were pure and sincere" (p. 86). [Though the alert reader will note that Joseph does deceive his employer and disobey his wishes]. He gives her another Testament and she continues to read, and eventually she is converted. Judith wonders:

"How could so many of my nation have indeed become converts? Yes, bless Saviour! Thou, indeed, art the Son of God, and in Thee will I put my trust. Let me never be forsaken!" (p. 86).

Then we are given this little theological tidbit: "The nurse who was to attend her was a Calvinist." OK. Too much information? Um, why did we need to know that?

But back to the conversion narrative. The narrator informs us that "Judith, after three months of suffering, became indeed "a new creature"" (p. 87).

Judith's family tries to get her to marry another Jew ("Mr. Davis"), even though she is in love with Hartford and is completely against marrying a Jew. They bring him to the house and he and Judith (under duress) sign the engagement papers. Judith is heartbroken.

After about 90 pages of Napoleonic stories (blah blah blah), we return to the main plot. (I don't really understand why these anecdotes are placed here at this juncture, but oh, maybe that's just me).

So Judith hears her mother calling her to prayers, and she thinks "Jews pray, but do not think. ... Christians pray, and feel that they call on their Maker -- and that is the language of prayer" (p. 176). Ah, that Judith! She's so spiritually sensitive, that gal!

Her father has asked Hartford to return all the letters that Judith had written to him, and Judith is nervous that they will discover her secret thoughts about Christianity. She then goes back to her room (after breakfast) and prays on her knees (even though she knows that Jews don't do this). Later she meets Hartford and he encourages her in her newfound faith and assures her of his friendship. They realize that they are in love with each other and embrace.

The rabbi sees Judith going to church and tells her mother. Around the same time, Judith expresses her misgivings about circumcision, since Adolphus and his wife have just had a baby boy. Then Judith tells her father (while they are riding horses) that she believes that "Jesus is the Christ" (p. 189) and that she wants to marry Hartford, not Davis. Her father curses her so harshly (and who could blame him?) that she faints and falls off the horse. Later, Judith becomes extremely upset about her father's curse on her, but she is comforted by her own prayers and by the words and prayers of Joseph, the Negro servant.

Judith's family tries to convince her of the error of her ways, but to no avail. Eventually she faints again and is laid up in bed for 2 weeks. She recovers but then is horrified to think that her wedding is only about a week away. A few days before the wedding she sneaks out in the middle of the night and elopes with Hartford. Poor Davis, the poor schlub, he had no idea.

"Judith silently left the parental roof; and, with it, abandoned all Judaism" (p. 205). The author promises to tell more of the life of Judith in a future book, but apparently this never happened. (The best laid plans and all that jazz ....)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Zadoc, the Outcast of Israel: a Tale

Originally published in the 1820s, Zadoc, the Outcast of Israel: a Tale was Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna's first conversionary novel. As far as I can tell, the only extant versions today consist of copies of the third edition published posthumously in 1847. Like Tonna's other work it is "philosemitic" in tone but anti-Judaism in content.

The first chapter introduces an old Jewish peddler and a young boy who doesn't speak much English. They are mocked by other young boys, but defended by an older woman, Margery Hall, who says to the persecutors, "Cursed is he that curseth thee."

Then we get a brief history of the Jewish people, from a mother (Mrs. Elton) to her children (Rose and Alfred). Mrs. Elton ends her history with the following: "We might even convince the understanding of a Jew, that all the types and prophecies which they apply to the Messiah are fulfilled in our blessed Redeemer; and though such belief does not make a Christian, we are yet bound to do all we can, and leave the event to the Lord" (p. 13).

The children and Mrs. Elton pay a visit to the Jewish family. The old man turns out to be a German Jew, Isaac ben David, who had recently resided in Persia. The boy, whose name is Zadoc, is his nephew (or so we think). After speaking to the two about the messiah, Alfred laments that "the Jew shall never turn" (p. 16). Mrs. Elton replies, "Indeed he seems lamentably dark and cold; but is anything too hard for the Lord?" (p. 17).

It soon appears that Isaac Ben David has abandoned little Zadoc, so Margery takes him in. The children begin to discuss with their mother how they should convert Zadoc to Christianity. Zadoc wants to live with Alfred and Rose, but Mrs. Elton will not allow it, and Zadoc throws a fit. Mrs. Elton says about him: "An evil and rebellious spirit, like his fathers, Alfred; the spirit from which none of us are totally freed" (p. 23). Zadoc continues to act this way until the end of the week, when he calms down a bit and says his Sabbath prayers. But then on Sunday his rebellious nature reappears and it seems that he is trying to "profane the Christian Sabbath as he had respectfully observed his own" (p. 25).

A Mr. Blake is an acquaintance of the family, and he turns out that he is an anti-semite. Mrs. Elton comments on this to the children:

"He is prejudiced against them," replied Mrs. Elton, "and does not reflect that, whether Jew or Gentile, we are bound to do good to all; and particularly to seek the salvation of their souls...." (p. 26). ... "remember that the Lord is but now dispersing the dark cloud, beginning to withdraw the heavy curse, beneath which His guilty Israel are a scorn and a hissing to all people. There is yet a veil upon the hearts even of many true Christians, in what regards the Jew; oh, that Israel may soon turn to the Lord, and every veil be taken away!" (p. 26-27).

Eventually Zadoc comes to live with the Elton family, being too much for Margery, but Mrs. Elton eventually decides that he needs to be sent to a workhouse (where Margery had originally sent him). But by this time Zadoc's behavior has improved, and he begins to show more respect towards Christians. A tutor arrives on the scene, by name of Mr. Talbot, who confirms that Zadoc was indeed speaking Persian (which sounded like gibberish to everyone else). Now Zadoc can no longer utter blasphemous curses in Perisan, since Mr. Talbot is around and understands him. Mr. Talbot has several conversations with the young Jewish boy and discovers that Zadoc is from a noble Perisan rabbinic family and was being groomed to be a rabbi.

"While Zadoc turned over the Hebrew Bible, the children asked Mr. Talbot whether young Jews in England were as proud and as learned as the little Persian."

"No," he replied; "their state is too frequently one of most wretched degradation, both mental and bodily. They have in general no religion at all. They are as indifferent to Moses as to Christ. Gain is their god, the idol to which all is sacrificed....."

"But they retain their religious worship?"

"The shell, without the kernel. In the synagogues you may find an old man reading the Thora, or law, to a congregation, who pursue their traffic the while with as sordid an eagerness as if the Sabbath was the only day allotted to their worldly service, and the place of worship their appointed house of trade; or rather, as the Lord designated it, a den of thieves" (p. 40-41).

So the children set out, along with their mother and Mr. Talbot, Alfred's tutor, to convert Zadoc.

"Zadoc believes the Old Testament," said Alfred, "therefore we have a sure ground to go upon in introducing him to the New."

"But he also believes, most devoutly, every fable in the Talmud; even exalting its authority over that of the Scriptures themselves, and receiving no other interpretation than that absurd and blasphemous book affixes to the oracles of God."

"How like the tradition in which the church of Rome confides," observed Mrs. Elton."

"It is indeed, my dear madam; and the Jew of our day likewise believes in purgatory, prays for the dead, attends public worship in a tongue that he probably understands not, trusts to his own works for salvation, and bears throughout the lamentable badge of those who have 'forsaken the fountain of living waters...." (p. 42).

As she does in her other writings, Tonna here presents the twin religious evils of Roman Catholicism and Rabbinic Judaism.

Zadoc and Alfred have an interesting relationship. They play together and study together. Alfred teaches Zadoc English, and Zadoc tries to teach Alfred Hebrew. But Zadoc is very proud of his heritage, so proud that he sometimes insults Alfred for being a Gentile, and Alfred begins to resent this. He and Rose start to call Zadoc "the favourite," "mamma's Jew," "the tutor's pet," and "other jeering things" (p. 47). Mr. Talbot and Mrs. Elton chastise the children for maltreating Zadoc in this way, and accuse them of having an "envious unchristian spirit" (p. 48).

Isaac ben David returns eventually to claim his nephew, but Zadoc does not want to go with him. Isaac becomes angry and calls Zadoc's father, Mattaniah Ben-Raphael, an "infidel." [By this we gather that he had become a Christian, although this is not made explicit until later in the book]. Zadoc does eventually go with Isaac, and Alfred is later repentant for his earlier actions.

Two years pass and nothing is heard from Zadoc. But Alfred and Rose continue to have an interest in converting Jews to Christianity, and at this point the author (Tonna) comments in a footnote about the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Among the Jews, as well as the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews.

An adult character (unnamed) talks to the children about supporting the London Society (also unnamed in the text) with small financial gifts that will help in defraying the costs of "the expenses of missionaries, printing and distributing tracts and Hebrew Bibles, and putting a Christian education within the reach of poor Jewish children...." (p.58). (The adult also mentions that they might begin reading "The Jewish Expositor, a book published monthly, containing the most valuable extracts from Wolff's journal [Wolff was a converted Jewish missionary] and other missionaries, and intelligence respecting the Jews from every quarter of the world" (p. 59). [A footnote mentions that the Jewish Expositor is now known as the Jewish Intelligencer."]

Mr. Talbot travels to London on business and attempts to find Zadoc. After much searching he finally discovers "Uncle" Isaac. Isaac says that Zadoc is now a rabbi and is back in Persia. But Talbot soon learns that he was deceived, and he eventually locates Zadoc hidden in a ship. Zadoc is now very interested in Christianity, although it seems he is not yet a professing Christian. Isaac had indentured Zadoc to the ship's captain. Talbot is able to get the captain to release Zadoc to him, and on their way home they chance upon a newly converted Jew being baptized. Zadoc convinces Mr. Talbot to go to synagogue with him that evening, and Talbot notes that it is "a scene of irreverent chattering, discussing of worldly business, and shameless disregard of the words of Moses, which the old man was hastily reading in Hebrew" (p. 79). Both Zadoc and Talbot are disgusted. Later Zadoc tells Talbot that the Jew who was baptized was Zadoc's father! Zadoc is still afraid of the curse that his grandfather had placed on his father, so he is careful when talking about the situation; he clearly has mixed feelings.

Zadoc returns to the Elton household and is welcomed back. Alfred spends a great deal of time with Zadoc, tenderly trying to convert him, to convince him "that all the personal righteousness he supposed himself arrayed in was but a garment of filthy rags" (p. 85). Finally, Zadoc comes to faith in Christ, realizing that he cannot be saved by the laws of Moses, or the "false and foolish" Talmud, nor prayers, nor ablutions. "If Jesus is the Messiah, he still belongs to the Jews," he says (p. 88). Two months later Zadoc is baptized, and takes on the Christian name "Phillip." That day there is a joyful reunion between Zadoc and his father. Mr. Blake, the former anti-semite, has had a change of heart due to hearing Zadoc's testimony and is now a lover of the Jews.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Judah's Lion

Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna published Judah's Lion in 1843. It had been earlier serialized in The Christian Lady's Magazine. For Tonna, this work was the culmination of many years of interest in Zionism and the conversion of the Jews. The title is of course a dual reference to the lion of Judah: first and foremost it is a messianic reference from the Hebrew Bible, but secondarily it also refers to the strength and courage of the protagonist of the book.

Although I claim ignorance to any esoteric knowledge of literary criticism, I must confess that despite my qualms about the entire genre of conversionary fiction (a genre to which this blog is apparently being devoted to), I did enjoy reading this book. Tonna is just a better writer than Amelia Bristow. The plot moves along fairly quickly (except for those occasional diversions to theological disputations), and the characters are well-written and three dimensional. The protagonist goes on a long and eventful journey where his physical and spiritual fate is determined. The outcome is a foregone conclusion, but that's the nature of the beast with this type of fiction.

The novel opens with one of the characters (a minor one as it turns out), Esther Cohen, being described as a "most rigid and bigoted Jewess" (p. 6). Her cousin, however, Nathan Alexander Cohen, whom she calls "Alick," is a much more liberal and freethinking Jew. Alick turns out to be the protagonist of the book and quite a sympathetic character. His "chief glory," Tonna writes, was "to be an Englishman" (p. 7). "But in one respect he was found inveterately Israelitish, for the contour of his face, its olive tint, brightened into richness by the glow of health and animation, the jet black of his sparkling eyes and hair, all proclaimed what his manners, his education, his habits declined to confirm, that Alick Cohen was decidedly a Jew" (p. 8).

So it seems that what Tonna is saying is that Alick Cohen "looks" Jewish but doesn't "act" Jewish. I suppose that's a compliment.... Sort of.

Before he leaves home to attend a German university, Alick decides to visit the Middle East on a trip with his father. An "old Christian servant" named Susan, meanwhile, is praying for Alick. "A sermon had been preached for the Jew's Society, and Susan, with awe-struck wonder, heard for the first time of the privileges, the sins, the chastisements, the hopes of Israel. Her whole soul became wrapt up in the one anxious desire to see her master's household converted to Christ" (p. 10).

I think I see where this is going....

Esther says (by analogy) that Jerusalem and the land of Palestine has "belonged to [our] ancestors from time immemorial..." (p. 11). [Cf. the title of Joan Peters' controversial book. One wonders if Peters has read Judah's Lion....]. Esther goes on to say that "Our sins have forfeited the possession, and we shall never, never regain it while remaining thus careless, impenitent, hardened under the Divine rebuke" (p. 12).

Was it common for Jews of the 1840s to have Esther's attitude that the Jews would not regain Palestine untill they repented of their sins? Not sure. Perhaps among the very traditional, but probably not among the educated and somewhat assimilated Jews. (Which sins to be repented of are not specified, regretably, by Esther or the author).

Esther tells Alick that despite his assimilation, people will despise him because he is a Jew. "Jew or Gentile, no living man shall dare to despise me" he responds. "Ah, so you think, but time will undeceive you. Apostasy alone can save you from your share of the national curse -- the scorn of the Gentile; and I don't think, Alick, I don't think ... that you are yet prepared to stamp that open brow with the foul brand of a cowardly apostate" (p. 13).

And thus Tonna prepares us for one of the barriers of conversion to Christianity: being branded a coward and an apostate by one's own people.

Alick observes anti-semitism on the ship bound for the Middle East, although his shipmates apparently do not initially know that he is Jewish. One person (Mr. Cowper) tries to prove the truth of the Bible by demonstrating how ancient prophcies have been fulfilled (one of which is that the Jews shall be dispersed throughout the earth). But he overstates his case and comes very close to anti-semitic utterings: "You find no country under heaven without a Jew, bearing the brand of his crime, the curse of God, and the universal contempt of his fellow-creatures" (p. 18).

Another man on the ship, "the Gunner," also called "Mr. Gordon," stands up for the Jews. He defends a Jewish man who is accused of theft, and he defends Jews in general to his shipmates. Mr. Gordon tells his co-workers that he believes that the Jews will be restored to Palestine. "I know that he [Jews in general] is a standing miracle of judgment, and I know, too, that he will, at least nationally, be a standing miracle of mercy. He is a branch of the olive-tree, broken off through unbelief.... [but he is also] "a race whom God chose, and blessed, and distinguished among all people -- a race that, say what you will, are the aristocracy of the earth" (p. 23).

Alick reveals himself to all to be a Jew, and shares a pleasant conversation with Mr. Gordon, who thinks to himself, "What a blessing that fine boy would become among his people if the Lord were pleased to make him indeed a Jew!" Tonna continues Gordon's thoughts:

"Gordon was not one of those who imagine that a Jew when Christianized must needs be Gentilized also. He had very high, because very scriptural, views of the peculiar privileges secured to the children of Abraham, and which he knew were not annulled but confirmed by their becoming subjects of Messiah's kingdom. He longed to open the matter to Alick in such a way as to engage his attention, with the purpose of leading him to the feet of Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write..." (p. 26).

A discussion ensues among the shipmates about history and heraldry, specifically about the origin of the third lion on the flag of England, which one of them calls "the Lion of Judah," supposedly added to the flag when Richard the Lionhearted conquered Palestine."You are very fond of our people, Mr. Gordon," said Alick, smiling." "Sir, I owe to your people more than my life: I owe to them this book, the writings of Moses and the prophets, who were all Jews; the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles, who were all likewise Jews: and through them the knowledge of my Lord and Savior, the King of the Jews, God over all, blessed for ever!" (p. 34-35).

Mr. Gordon shares some messianic prophecies with Alick, specifically "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes" [from the book of Genesis] (p. 36). But these conversations cause a bit of a stir on the ship. Mr. Gordon is told by the Captain not to have any more contact with Alick, and similarly, Alick is forbidden by his father to have contact with Gordon. But Gordon (abiding neither by the spirit not by the letter of the law) lends his Bible to Alick, who begins to read it. Alick starts to think that "Christianity -- such as it appeared in Gordon -- was a refined and elevated species of Judaism, and under this impression he was prepared to read the New Testament with an unprejudiced, inquiring mind" (p. 52).

A missionary (a convert from Judaism) appears in the narrative to talk with Mr. Cohen, his son Alick, and another Jewish man whom they have just met. The missionary speaks to their learned old Jewish companion, who has just quoted from the Talmud: "My worthy Josef Ben-Melchor, you with your Talmud are as far astray from the law of Moses as the poor Papist with his wafer-god is from the gospel of Christ" (p. 54). [Tonna's anti-Catholicism along with her anti-rabbinic bent appear here hand in hand, although it might be argued that the missionary's rant is not exactly Tonna's position. But in many other places in the book Catholicism is criticized for various faults. Protestant evangelical Christianity is seen by the narrator as the highest form of belief].

The missionary then proceeds to quote from the Bible, and then he says: "Ay, Josef Ben-Melchor, it was your Talmud, your oral laws, your vain superstitions received from your fathers, that brought on our people blindness of heart, till they sinned that great sin which caused our city to be destroyed, and the sword to be drawn out after us. And His anger is not turned away, but His hand is streteched forth still!" (p. 55).

Things are getting heated on the ship!

Josef responds: "The curse of the wicked be upon thee, Dog! Thou hast sold thyself to the evil one; thou hast committed the idolatry that this young boy's spirit could not suffer.... Away, Dog!" (p. 55). Mr. Cohen (Alick's dad) is disgusted by the behavior of both of his countrymen, the missionary and the Talmudist.

But then a new character enters the fray. A little six year old boy (Charley) meets Alick, and after learning that Alick is Jewish, tells him that he will "never go to heaven" if he does not believe in Jesus (p. 60). Perhaps the boy's age and innocence allow him to be so blunt. They engage in debate, and the Charley shows Alick from the New Testament various passages to prove his point. Alick is positively affected by the little boy's gentle witness.

Charley tells Alick that he wants to be a missionary to the Jews, and that his father sometimes engages in witnessing to Jews. Charley also continues to "witness" (sort of a casual preaching) to Alick and to tell him about messianic prophecies and quote the Bible to him.

Mrs. Ryan, Charley's mother, also shares the gospel with Alick: "My dear husband ... asserts that a Jew who embraces Christiantiy is three times a Jew. An Israelite according to the flesh, an Israelite according to the faith, and an Israelite according to the territorial promise."

But Alick is determined to keep his Judaism intact. "I am not going to embrace Christianity," he says (p. 80). Mrs. Ryan goes on to tell Alick how she thinks the Jews are so very blessed, and have been given the land of Palestine as their eternal homeland. She continues on for several pages [!] quoting from the Bible and telling him how the Jews are God's chosen people. And she ends thusly:

"and when their Messiah,-- him to whom gave all the prophets witness,-- came exactly at the appointed time, and exactly in the appointed way, as foreshown by Isaiah, David, and other prophets, they knew him not -- they rejected, they crucified him. For this deadly sin they were driven forth from their goodly heritage, scattered among all nations, and exposed to the wrath of God, until they shall turn to him who smites them, and casting from them the vain traditions of men, believe the word of God, as declared by their own inspired prophets, and acknowledge the Savior who once suffered for them, who shall again come to reign over them -- their own Messiah, their King, their God!" (p. 85).

Mrs. Ryan's speech doesn't seem that different from the missionary's rant, but somehow the author gives the Ryan family a little more legitimacy than the Jewish-Christian missionary. At any rate, perhaps Mrs. Ryan is really the voice of Charlotte Elizabeth (or how she would like to sound).

Mrs. Ryan gives Alick a Hebrew Bible, in which are underlined various messianic prophecies. Josef Ben-Melchior (remember him? he's the learned rabbinic scholar) forbids Alick from reading it, but Alick refuses this advice. He begins to study it and compare the messianic prophecies with their "fulfillment" in the New Testament. In conversations with Charley and Mrs. Ryan, Alick learns that Charley knows Hebrew, and concludes that the boy is a genius.

Charley and Josef Ben-Melchior get into an argument, and when Charley tells him he needs to believe in his Messiah, the older Jewish man starts to curse Charley and all Christians, in various languages and with great fervor and invective. Again, Alick's father wishes that his countryman and his fellow Englishmen (including Charley) would be more civil to each other when discussing religion. (Mr. Cohen seems to be the Rodney King of the 19th century). Josef calms down later, and they continue their discussion. Mrs. Ryan asks Mr. Cohen to get a prayer book, and she shows him from the liturgy a messianic prophecy (again ostensibly fulfilled in the New Testament).

Mrs. Ryan and Charley continue to preach the gospel (in a quiet and gentle manner) to Alick, showing him from the Old Testament and the New how Christ is the fulfillment of Judaism. Mrs. Ryan describes Judaism as "empty forms of erring devotion" (p. 112). Alick begins to talk to Captain Ryan, who tries to convince him that salvation comes by faith, not by the works of the law. Here is Alick's response:

"I partly understand that," said Alick, thoughtfully, "for I cannot bring myself to believe that the works which Ben-Melchor thinks so needful and beneficial -- long fasts, exposure to cold, prayers recited by the dozen, and various positions of body to be gone through, will do anything towards obtaining God's favor hereafter" (p. 122).

Captain Ryan presses him: "Now, Cohen, how will you escape hell -- how will you enter into heaven?" ... He had no answer ready.... "Tell me, Cohen, to what cause do you attribute the prolonged dispersion, depression, destruction of your people?" Alick, with some little asperity, answered, "I know you think it is because our fathers crucified Jesus of Nazareth." "I think no such thing. I believe and am sure that the calamities which overtook Jerusalem and her people were the consequences of that fearful deed; but far be it from me to say that "the father have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." "No: the cause of your continued afflication is your still stumbling, from generation to generation, at that "stone of stumbling." Israel is still outcast, because "they, going about to establish their own righteousness, would not submit to the righteousness of God" [again quoting Paul in the book of Romans] (p. 123).

Alick decides that time alone will demonstrate if the Ryans are correct. "Meanwhile, I will go with my people. When they confess him, I'll confess him" (p. 127). But then a tragic death of a sailor occurs on board the ship, and Alick begins to think more seriously about life and death. He reads in the gospel of John about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. "What sins have I committed, to need such a removal? Here was the turning point: Alick closed the book and began to examine his past life." (p. 130). He goes through the ten commandments and realizes that he has broken many of them.

As Alick continues to ponder the gospel, he becomes fearful that Ben-Melchor is "infecting [Mr. Cohen, Alick's father] with his Talmudism" (p. 134). Somehow the Talmud has become for Alick the bugaboo of the debate, preventing honest dialogue from occuring.

Captain Ryan, Mr. Cohen, Alick, and Ben-Melchor engage in further discussion. "You shall not contaminate my garment by the unclean doctrine of the Nazarenes" [says Ben-Melchor to Captain Ryan] (p. 134). "You have spoken words of blasphemy against our holy religion" [says Ben-Melchor to Captain Ryan again] (p. 135). Captain Ryan denies that he speaks against Judaism, the true Judaism found in the Hebrew Bible, but he does "denounce your Rabbinical absurdities" (p. 135). Ryan and his wife (and their son, don't forget little Charley, the boy genius) often compare the Talmudists with the Papists in this book, neither faring very well in their opinion.

The ship finally reaches Palestine. Alick meets a Jew named "Da Costa" who lives in Israel but once knew Alick back in England when Alick was a child. Da Costa likes Captain Ryan and other Irishmen, and says to him: "I like your countrymen, Captain Ryan... they are far more accessible than the English; and besides, there seems to be among you a strong tinge of Jewish blood. Have you heard of that before?" Ryan responds: "Undoubtedly: the opinion is prevalent that we, the native race of Ireland, owe our origin, at least in part, to a tribe of Israelites who, ... found a welcome and a home in the green Isle ... and imparted, in process of time, the privileges of Hebrew descent to a large portion of the Islanders" (p. 164).

After Da Costa hears Charley and Captain Ryan preaching to him and the others, Da Costa says: "I confess I don't like the proselytizing mania: we never seek to convert you, and why you should be so bent on our apostasy I cannot tell" (p. 165). Da Costa and Ryan talk amiably for a bit. While Da Costa is a proud Jew, he is much less "rigid" than Ben-Melchor and willing to hear the other side. Indeed, he confesses to in the past having read the entire New Testament.

Captain Ryan claims to have not been influenced by Christian commentators on the Bible, but to have been solely influenced and convinced by the Bible itself, through the work of the Holy Spirit. This, he claims, differentiates Protestant faith with both Catholic faith and Jewish tradition, which both rely on commentaries and interpretations to prove their points. Both Da Costa and Alick are disturbed that they cannot answer the claims and proofs of Ryan, so they decide to study the prophecies together, to try to prove to themselves and to Ryan that the Jewish view is correct. Meanwhile, Mr. Cohen gets sick, and each day he becomes more and more ill and weak. Little Charley gets sick, too. (Poor little guy!).

As the group travels around Palestine, they each point out various places that are mentioned in the Bible. They meet some Turks and remark how good the Turks have been (relatively speaking) to the Jews, how bad the Crusaders were, influenced as they were by the Roman Catholic Church, and they all continually talk (especially the Ryans) about how the Jews will return some day to Palestine, perhaps at first in unbelief, but eventually they will all turn to their Messiah, Jesus. The group visits a convent where they bring the sick Charley, and Da Costa brings up the fact that many Catholics continue to believe the blood libel, "that we, the seed of Abraham, knead our passover bread with Christian blood; to procure which we inveigle and murder them." Captain Ryan responds: "And never since Satan began his career as the father of lies, did he produce a lie more diabolical than that" (p. 208).

Well, OK, at least Tonna doesn't believe the blood libel. And that settles that!

Throughout the book, Da Costa and Alick and other Jews recite the Shema. Even little Charley recites it in Hebrew at one point. When Alick is struggling with whether or not to believe in Jesus as his Savior, he recites the Shema to himself, and afterward "he seemed to hear Jesus of Nazareth responding, "I and my Father are One" (p. 228). No one can give Alick the answers he desires to the questions that have been brought up by the Ryans. Da Costa cannot satisfactorily answer these questions, and neither can other Jews that they meet in Palestine, even more well versed than Da Costa in Judaism. Da Costa realizes that Alick is slowly being convinced by the Ryans' arguments, and so he decides to take Alick under his care. (Earlier Alick's father had placed Alick under the care of the Ryans, because at Smyrna Mr. Cohen had to stay due to his illness).

Alick reveals his current state of mind to Captain Ryan and Da Costa (who little Charley calls "Mr. Dockster"):

"I wish to be, in the sight of all men, wholly and openly a Jew; and as such I shall carefully compare the law and the prophets with what Christians assert is their fulfillment. I shall ask wisdom from the God of Israel, who alone can give it: then, if I find Christianity to be, as you say it is, the end of our law and the fulfilling of our prophets; if He, whom you assert to be King of the Jews, is really so, and not an imposter, I shall be found in the right path for the acceptation of that which as yet I cannot receive; and as I know Judaism to be of God, so if Christianity be of God also, they cannot clash -- they must combine and form but one" (p. 264-265).

Ryan warns Alick to "beware of the Talmud!" But Da Costa responds: "The Talmud ... is our oral law, and as binding on us as the New Testament is on you." "I never understood," said Alick, "that the Talmud was an inspired book" (p. 265). This leads to a discussion about which parts of the Talmud are binding today. Ryan points out a section of the Talmud that admonishes Jews to kill those of the children of Noah (gentiles) who do not obey the commands of God, and says that this proves that the Talmud is not inspired, because no Jew today would obey this commandment. [Of course, Ryan conveniently forgets about the similar commandments in the "wholly inspired" Hebrew Bible....]

The three men continue the discussion, and talk about the sacrifices of Leviticus, and how sin is "taken away" by God. By the end Da Costa is somewhat discouraged because he has to acknowledge the powerful arguments that Ryan makes.

Ryan says to Alick: "Da Costa is blindly attached to what he believes to be the religion of Moses, but which he has not fairly brought to the test either of your own scriptures or of common sense; and while he receives for doctrines the commandments of men, without examining them, he cannot be a competent guide to others" (p. 284).

The big question remains for Alick of whether or not the Talmud is the revealed word of God. Ryan asserts that it contains bits and pieces of the truth, but it is not inspired or binding. "He who rejects [Talmudism] is on the high road to become a Christian," Ryan states (p. 285). So Alick continues to discuss and study with Ryan and (separately) with Da Costa.

Alick and Da Costa go searching for a Jewish friend who has been kidnapped by Maronites, but on the way they are accosted by Arabs who capture them and wound Da Costa. In their captivity Alick and Da Costa discuss the possibility of their dying in the land of Palestine. Da Costa is not worried, because he believes that as a Jew he will receive his inheritance in the world to come. But Alick is concerned that he has not fulfilled the law of God perfectly.

"There is no man but must plead guilty to some of these things," remarked Da Costa.

"No: therefore all men need to bring with them something wherewith to propitiate the Lord; and what have I to bring?"

"A repentant heart, dear Alick."

"But if penitence alone would suffice, wherefore were the sacrifices instituted? Why was such an immense burden of ceremonial usages laid on our fathers?" (p. 305).

The moment of truth finally arrives, and Alick reaches the tipping point of his faith crisis. He tells Da Costa:

"The Lion of the tribe of Judah is to those who resist him a lion indeed, terrible in his strength, able to destroy, and no man shall stand before him: but to others he is a lamb, a slain lamb, merciful and meek, able to save. I see the twofold character in him united, and I can, yes I can believe!"

"Believe what? asked Da Costa." (p. 310).

"I believe with all my heart, with all my soul, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God."

"This is sheer madness; you had no such belief a day or two since; and not a word have you heard, or read, not a single thing has come in your way, to cause this sudden change."

".... Oh, Da Costa! what I feel now is a foretaste of heaven itself -- such a peace, such a calm, such a joy!"

"To Gehenna!" exclaimed Da Costa, vehemently. "Wretched boy, do you dare to apostatize? do you fling from you the priceless privileges of the holy seed? Recreant, do you cease to be a Jew?"

"No, God forbid! I do but add to the law that Moses gave, the faith that Moses held.... I would not cut myself off from Israel."

"Nevertheless, sir, you do, if there be any meaning in what you now rave. The mere act of which you are now guilty, the going after other gods, whom your fathers have not known, cuts you off; and were we not dispersed, desolate, and unable to fulfill the requirements of our most holy law, you would be put to death as a warning to others" (p. 311). "Dear Cohen, think again: oh, forsake not the faith of your fathers, nor separate from your scorned, oppressed, persecuted, brethren, still the chosen people of the Most High!"

"Da Costa, I never loved them as now I do: my heart cleaves to them" (p. 313) .... "Whatever sin I commit, ... and truly I sin every hour, let it be washed away in the blood shed to redeem my soul! I plead the atoning sacrifice, ever present, ever available to faith; ever well pleasing to God" (p. 314).

Alick talks to the Egyptian soldier Mustapha: "But I am a Jew; no drop of Gentile blood is intermingled with that of my race; and would you have me deny or conceal that fact?" "Well, grant that you felt bound to declare it, surely the other and contradictory assertion of being a Christian, was, at least, ill-judged." "Do you then doubt the reality of my belief in the Messiah of Israel, who here suffered for our sins, and shall here return in great glory for our deliverance and ultimate triumph?" [says Alick] (p. 322).

Alick is rescued from his captors, and he tells his rescuers that he now believes in Jesus. "Then you have renounced Judaism?" said the younger officer, with an aspect of surprise and some pleasure. "Renounced Judaism? Never! Jesus never disowned it, his Apostles never renounced it; why then should I? To be a Hebrew is my privilege, my glory, my joy" (p. 338).

It turns out that Da Costa's German Jewish friend, Wilhelm's son, who Da Costa and Alick had originally gone to rescue, has become a Christian and gone back to England, where he has almost convinced Esther (his true love) to also become a Christian. Wilhelm and his Jewish friends in Jerusalem curse his son with all the curses they know. Wilhelm says, "The subtilty of the Nazarene doctrine is great, and the hold which it takes on the youthful mind is marvelous. It is a whirlpool -- come but within the outermost circle, and thou art presently sucked down" (p. 341).

Later it turns out that Wilhelm himself becomes a Christian, and so does Esther. Da Costa is finally rescued also. He is brought back to the Ryans half starved and in bad shape. As he recuperates, they all decide to visit the Western Wall, and it is there that Charley preaches again to Da Costa: "Our God is the God of salvation. Dear, darling Jew, don't die without believing in the God of salvation. He loves you, oh, he does; He loves dear Israel.... Believe, believe, oh do believe in Jesus!" (p. 354).

Da Costa then (apparently) assents to belief (although this might be argued -- the text is somewhat ambivalent), and then he dies. The book ends with Alick giving his testimony a year later to a group of English naval officers.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Glory of Israel; or, Letters to Jewish Children on the Early History of Their Nation

In 1843, the American Sunday School Union published The Glory of Israel; or, Letters to Jewish Children on the Early History of Their Nation, written by Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna. There may have been an earlier British publication of this work, but if so I'm not aware of it. But clearly the stories existed in an earlier form.

This book contains Bible stories about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc., along with Charlotte Elizabeth's commentary (which almost always includes Christological typologies, such as that Joseph was a type of Christ, or that Passover was fulfilled by Christ). Apparently these stories were originally written for poor Jewish children (orphans, perhaps?) who were being taught about Christianity. From the author's comments throughout the book, it appears that at least some of the children were calling themselves Christians. It is unclear whether they had formally converted to Christianity or were simply trying to assimilate into the broader culture.

From the preface (unsigned but possibly not written by the author):

"[The stories] were written many years ago for the benefit of Jewish children in some English charity-schools.... We trust our Sunday-schools may be made the instrument of diffusing the religion of Christianity far and wide over the face of the earth; and thus of bringing to the knowledge of the true Messiah, the scattered remnant of the ancient chosen people of God" (p. 4).

Early in the book the author writes:

"The seed of Israel! Oh, my dear children! is it possible that you do not love to be called Jews? I bless God that you see the beauty of the Christian name ; but never forget, never deny, that you are likewise Jews" (p. 7).

Tonna goes on to write:

"You are sorely afflicted and smitten, poor children of Israel! Your sins and the sins of your fathers have provoked the Lord God to anger. You have crucified your Messiah, and his blood is upon your heads, to condemn and destroy you. But be comforted. Turn to him, believe in him, and his blood shall be upon your souls, to wash them and purify them, and fit them for heaven. I could not help weeping over you, dear children, when I saw you -- I wept for grief at what you are in your afflicted state, and for joy at what you shall be when you shall believe on your own Messiah, Jesus Christ. ... I should like to ... tell you ... the great blessings you may expect, if you become the true subjects of your heavenly King, Messiah, Jesus Christ" (p. 9-10).


"The children of Abraham shall possess the land. But they must first return unto Him from whom they have so deeply revolted; they must humble themselves before their crucified Messiah, and take his yoke upon them..." (p. 18).

plus this bonus:

"... how vain and false is the hope of the Jews of this day; who say, that by keeping certain commandments and performing certain ceremonies, they will be jusitified before God" (p. 21).

and finally, we get this extra treat:

"Your people, the Jews, are now as numerous as the stars of heaven; they shall yet unite under their own Messiah, Jesus Christ, and posses the gate of their enemies.... When they turn to the Lord Jesus they shall shine as the stars..." (p. 25).

This doesn't sound like Charlotte Elizabeth to me, at least not the Charlotte Elizabeth we know from 1843. It's likely that she wrote these stories in an earlier time, before she had become more sensitized to how a Christian should approach the Jewish community. This is not to say that Tonna did not believe in the conversion of the Jews in the 1840s. She clearly did. But the words that she used and the approach that she took in her writings from the 1840s was quite different from what we find in this book, which surely was written much earlier.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Christian Lady's Magazine

Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna edited The Christian Lady's Magazine (TCLM) from 1834 until her death in 1846. This periodical contained a variety of theological and contemporary topics, as is described in Monica Fryckstedt's article in the Victorian Periodicals Review (Summer 1981). One recurring theme was the Jews, conversion, and Palestine, especially beginning around 1840.

"The destinies of the earth are wrapped up in that of Israel, and the Gentile who doubts it had better re-peruse his Bible," wrote Charlotte Elizabeth in the March 1843 issue of TCLM.

Charlotte Elizabeth included many poems and articles about Jews and Israel (usually called the Holy Land or Palestine) in this periodical, such as "Jewish Prospects of 1843." She also included an obituary of the (Jewish Christian) Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Michael Alexander, as well as a review of a Hebrew grammar, etc. In addition, she serialized her book Judah's Lion in the magazine.

In Sept. 1843, in an article entitled "Jewish Literature," Tonna writes:

"Few things would afford us more gratification thatn to remove a little of the gross darkness that prevails among Christians in reference to the actual state, feeling, and attainments of the Jewish community located among ourselves. ... "on this we really are, generally speaking, absurdly and disgracefully ignorant" (p. 221).

In this article she denies that she is Jewish or married to a Jew (which apparently was a widespread rumor). She also debunks various theories ("falsehoods") among Christians, such as that Jews are not permitted to read the Scriptures (whether Jewish or Christian scriptures); that Jews cannot mingle with Gentiles; and that they frequently "deny their race." She lauds Grace Aguilar (a contemporary Jewish author) and her writings, specifically the book published in Philadelphia (probably referring to Aguilar's Women of Israel) under the "direction of the Rev. Isaac Lesser," a Jewish rabbi. While Tonna notes that she and Miss Aguilar disagree on many things, she still praises Aguilar on several points and tries to be gracious toward Aguilar's writings. "We are all, both Jew and Gentile, sadly entangled among human authorities we have each our Talmud, our Mishna, our Rabbis, coming between us and the pure Scripture. Our Rabbi Matthew Henry, and Rabbi Thomas Scott, and Rabbi Adam Clarke, and others, have led us into many an error" (p. 226). She goes on to print a short poem by Grace Aguilar (and I have to say that I'm surprised that Aguilar gave permission for this poem to be published in TCLM).

In July 1844 Tonna wrote a short review of two pamphlets written by prominent Jews in England, which gave her the chance to again praise the British Jewish community and to extol Zionism. She writes "... the body of English Jews appears among us as a real , united , tangible, moving body.... These dry bones of Israel... are dry and bare no longer" (p. 83).

From the Oct. 1845 issue, in a column entitled "A Jewish Sermon," Tonna writes:

"To those, and we hope they are very many, who regard with watchful interest the multiplying signs of a general turning of the Jewish mind to the land which God has given to Abraham and his seed for ever, it must be a matter of thankfulness to observe, how strong is the disposition of the newly-elected Chief Rabbi to foster that feeling. It is true that in all the synagogue-services this hope forms the burden of their general supplications, but the Jews themselves are ready to acknowledge that with the greater number of them it had become rather a mechanical repetition than the expression of a deep and lively expectation" (p. 401).

She goes on to laud "Dr. Adler" (apparently the new Chief Rabbi of England) and to remark that it is exciting that he is a Levite and an Aaronite [Cohen], and that he recently preached a sermon from Isaiah 40 that Tonna decided to reprint in its entirety in the TCLM. She also lauds "Mr. Franklin," who apparently is the retiring editor of the Voice of Jacob, a Jewish periodical (even though "he has occasionally taken a harsh and an erroneous view of the motives and actions of some among us who heartily desire the salvation of Israel, and has spoken hard things under that impression, but this is not much to be wondered at under all the circumstances of a very difficult case" (p. 403).

In May 1845, Tonna wrote a column entitled "The Jews":

"Jesus wept, prayed, and grieved for these his chosen race. Sleep not, then, ye that are the Lord's seeing ye have been in the same condemnation.... May the Spirit kindle a flame in your bosoms, that you may love these people, and be led to be zealous towards them. That ye may approach God often through his beloved Son, that he may smile again on these people also whom Jesus died to save" (p. 461).

In March 1845, in an article by the editor entitled "Mogador and the Jews," she writes that she has cancer and will soon die of this disease (p. 257). She also answers her critics who say that she and the magazine are too cozy with the Jewish community. Tonna's answer is that she would never "compromise the faithfulness of the Gospel" (p. 257). But she does defend her attachment to "The Voice of Jacob" [a popular Jewish magazine] and lauds it. It is true, Charlotte Elizabeth says, that the Voice of Jacob decried "conversion tactics" from Christians, but never did this magazine say anything against Christianity itself. She goes on:

"We pray those who regard with resentment the harsh remarks that occasionally issue from the Jewish Editor's pen on the subject of conversions, to place themselves for a moment in his position, and then to decide whether great allowances ought not to be made for him." (p. 261). ... "Again, we solemnly ask, is there no warrant for the offensive term "apostacy" so often used by the Jewish editor in reference to the converted Jews among us? there is very high authority for it, we think. Any one who turns to the Greek Testament will find the word ... in [Acts 21:21] ... apostatize." (p. 263). ... Whatever Christians may think on thse points, we demand that they enter for a moment into the feelings of a strict Jew, before they condemn their elder brother;... and every day deepens our conviction that if the gospel now presented to the Jews is the same, still the manner of presenting it is deplorably unlike what we meet with in the inspired record of the Acts of the Apostles.... Oh, that we would permit the Lord God to speak to our souls, through the medium of His own dear word without thrusting the mystifying notions of other men, between us and our Teacher! Until this is done, we shall but stumble in dark places, and the Jew will reject our testimony, because it militates against that with which God has made it to harmonize. Till then, we shall never, except in a few solitary instances, scripturally convince the Jews that Jesus is the Christ" (p. 264).

Also in the March 1845 issue, in a column entitled "Jewish Prospects" (which is mostly quoting a letter from Colonel George Gawler, a Christian Zionist, to the "Voice of Jacob" magazine, in which he sets forth a plan for Jews to colonize Palestine), Tonna writes the following:

"Anxious, deeply and prayerfully anxious as we are that every child of Abraham should see and acknowledge in the crucified, the buried and the risen Jesus of Nazareth, their promised Messiah, their Redeemer, their Deliverer, and their King, we yet lament and wonder that amid all their laudable zeal for individual conversions, the great bulk of Gentile Christians should so far overlook the immensely-important fact, that throughout the whole Scriptures, national restoration is so linked with national conversion, and to our apprehension so clearly shown as preceding it, that it becomes most bindingly obligatory on us as believers in the sure word of Prophecy, to watch every sign of the times, and seize every possible opportunity for commencing that stupendous work...." (p. 241).

In July 1846 Tonna excerpts a letter from Sir Moses Montefiore which earlier appeared in the Voice of Jacob on the condition of Russian Jewry. Also in this issue was a discussion of the Haftarah portions and the reasons why Isaiah 53 was left out of these readings. Some Christians [says the editor] use this absence as an argument for the "desperate state of blindness, hardness of heart, and active hostility against the truth, which are supposed to form the leading features in the character of a Jew" (p. 79). But Tonna defends the rabbis choices for the Haftarah readings and proclaims that Jews are not being dishonest when they leave out Isaiah 53 from the Haftarah readings because the structure and content was set 180 years before Christ.

In October 1846, after her death, an article was written by the new editor (I'm not sure who this was) called "The Christian Lady's Magazine, and the People of Israel." This person writes:

"We believe that, restored to their own land, they shall become the first among the nations.... We look on them also with sympathy, for we believe that great trials are before them, even the day of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be delivered out of it. The deliverer, we believe, shall be no other than Jesus of Nazareth, in whom their eyes shall then be opened to behold their own Messiah. Believing truths like these, we can only look upon the Jew with real and affectionate interest; if it be ever in the power of our Magazine to serve their cause, it will afford us real pleasure; but we dare not conceal our conviction, that whilst they are still denying their Messiah , imminent peril hangs over them. A great gulf divides us, to meet half-way is impossible; we dare not, unless they can prove to us that truth is on their side, go over to them. What then remains but to entreat them to come over to us, and exchange that hope deferred which has made their hearts sick, for a joyful confidence in the salvation which God has wrought, and a humble anticipation of the eventful times opening for their nation" (p. 461).

What is interesting about this is that one can notice a subtle change in tone with this editorial from those written by Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna. Tonna seems to be more diplomatic and subtle, while this editorial is more direct and confrontational.

The Net of Lemons

Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna wrote The Net of Lemons, a short story (about 30 pages in length), in 1828. The story does not contain a conversion narrative, but does contain some Jewish characters and the author does convey her belief that Jews badly need Jesus and that Christians should witness of their faith in Christ to the Jewish people.

The story is about two Christian boys and their aunt (Mrs. Dillon), who encounter a Jewish fruit merchant (Levi) and his son (Reuben). Initially one of the boys (Charles) insults the Jewish boy on the street, but later apologizes for it after his aunt and brother chastize him. The two adults engage in some interfaith theological discussion (the Christian woman claims that the Old Testament saints were Christians). The Jewish boy Reuben ends up wanting to read the New Testament.

Mrs. Dillon says to her nephews "The [Jewish] race are sadly degraded, and given over to a covetous, infidel, spirit, but ... (p. 25) ... God "will subdue their iniquities, remove the stony heart, and put a new spirit within them...." (p. 26)

The Jews are said to be in a "wretched state of blindness" (p. 27). It is the duty of the Christian, says Mrs. Dillon, to give the Bible to Jews, to witness to them, for God may again bless them as he did in days of old.

In later years Tonna moderated her tone when writing about Jews and used somewhat more subtle language to express her thoughts about conversion to Christianity. There is a debate about whether or not Tonna changed her mind before her death in terms of the necessity of Jews converting to Christianity. For example, Mary Lenard in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography writes that "There is some evidence to suggest, however, that she eventually abandoned this conversionist attitude towards Judaism and devoted her efforts towards fighting antisemitism." I agree with Lenard that Tonna was concerned about antisemitism, but I don't think that there is any evidence that she ever lessened her efforts to convert Jews to Christianity.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna

Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna (who often used the pen name "Charlotte Elizabeth") was a prolific writer of both children's books and works for more mature audiences. Born in 1790 and dead by 1846, she was a tireless advocate of better working conditions for women as well as (on a different note) a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. She was also extremely anti-Catholic (a common trope among evangelical writers of her day). Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna appears here because her Zionism and her conversionary spirit seem to have gone hand in hand.

The first hint of her zealousness for the souls of Jews appears in 1826 in an untitled poem (the first line of which is "Returning from a stranger land)," which appeared in the poetry collection Osric: A Missionary Tale. Here are some selected lines from the poem:

Retrace the gloomy wilderness of time,
Raise the dim veil, and contemplate your crime.
Lo! in the centre of yon scoffing crew,
Say what Majestic Victim meets the view?
O fools and blind! ye raise the murd'rous knife
Against the Son of God, the Lord of Life;
The promis'd Prince, the Saviour of your line,
The Branch of Jesse's root, Messiah, King Divine!
A Man of woes, rejected and unknown,
Press'd by a weight of sins, but not his own;
Guiltless and uncondemn'd the Suff'rer stands,
Mute as the sheep beneath her spoiler's hands.
Turn to the record of your ancient Seer,
The shadow there behold--the substance here.
In vain--the heart is harden'd, clos'd the eye,
And He--the very Paschal Lamb--must die!
Hark to the import of that fearful strain,--
"On us and on our race His blood remain!
"The word is past--the awful doom is given!
And Israel stands accurs'd before the God of Heav'n!
O thou afflicted, worn, and tempest-toss'd,

How hath my thund'ring scourge thy path-way cross'd!
Hungry and weary, desolate and sad,
Fed with my fury, by my vengeance clad.


Oh turn to me, my people, turn and live!
My Israel, turn! thy murder'd Lord survey,
I rend the veil, and wash thy guilt away.
My own, my ransom'd Judah, doomed to prove
A moment's wrath, and everlasting love!
I, even I, will wipe thy streaming tears,
And raise thy drooping head, and dissipate thy fears.
I am thy God--thy Husband--thou art mine;
Thy glory shall return--arise, and shine!
From burning flames thy life do I redeem,
My hand upholds thee through the swelling stream.

Some further reading....

For further reading on conversionary novels in the 19th century, see the following:

Naman, Anne Aresty. The Jew in the Victorian Novel: Some Relationships Between Prejudice and Art. New York: AMS Press, 1980.

Zatlin, Linda Gertner. The Nineteenth-Century Anglo-Jewish Novel. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981.

Mayo, Louise A. The Ambivalent Image: Nineteenth-Century America's Perception of the Jew. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988.

Felsenstein, Frank. Anti-Semitic Stereotypes: A Paradigm of Otherness in English Popular Culture, 1660-1830. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Ragussis, Michael. Figures of Conversion : "the Jewish Question" & English National Identity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.

Rhodes, Royal W. The Lion and the Cross: Early Christianity in Victorian Novels. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1995.

Valman, Nadia. "Speculating Upon Human Feeling: Evangelical Writing and Anglo-Jewish Women's Autobiography." In The Uses of Autobiography. Editor Julia Swindells. Bristol, PA: Taylor and Francis, 1995. 98-109.

Shapiro, Rebecca. The Other Anti-Semitism: Philo-Semitism in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century English Literature and Culture. Ph.D. dissertation, Purdue University, 1997.

Levenson, Alan T. Between Philosemitism and Antisemitism : Defenses of Jews and Judaism in Germany, 1871-1932. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

Valman, Nadia. The Jewess in Nineteenth-Century British Literary Culture. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2007.