Wednesday, July 18, 2007

German conversion novels

Brigitte Kallmann, in her 1999 University of Michigan doctoral dissertation Narratives of Jewish Conversion in Germany around 1800, describes several German novels of conversion written in the 18th and 19th centuries, including the following:

Die Begebenheiten der Jungfer Meyern, eines judischen Frauenzimmers von ihr selbst beschrieben, by Johann Balthasar Kolbele (1765). The protagonist who converts in this novel is Ester Meyer.

Charlotte Sampson oder Geschichte eines Judischen Hausvaters, der mit Seiner Familie dem Glauben Seiner Vater Entsagte, written anonymously in 1800. The protagonist who converts in this novel is the eponymous Charlotte Sampson.

In both novels, the parents of the protagonists end up converting to Christianity along with their daughters.

Around 1858 the London Religious Tract Society published a translation (from the German) of The Jewess and Her Daughter; or, Light Shining Out of Darkness. A Tale of Former Times (contained in Fireside Tales for Youthful Thinkers). It tells the 14th century story of a German Jewish mother, Leah, and her daughter, Rachel.

Leah and Rachel come upon a picture of Jesus and comment on it. "There is the cause of all our woe," exclaimed Leah, reproachfully. "Mother," repeated Rachel, "if the Christians are wicked, their Jesus had not injured our people . You may blame me for being so much moved by these images, but gladly would I fall down beneath his feet, or throw myself into his mother's arms, and say, "Forgive our sin." "What! are you a Christian?" said Leah in a tone of alarm. "Mother, what should I do with the Christians? are they not a wicked set? I tremble and weep at the sight of a Christian, but this I feel, Jesus never did our nation any harm. Why should I hate him? Was he not one of our people? and so was his mother too" (p. 11).

"Perhaps the conduct of our nation to him is one of the sins for which the Most High has visited us with his anger" ( p. 13). The mother and daughter continue their conversation. Leah tells her daughter how she was persecuted as a child and forced to live in a convent and become (outwardly) a Catholic. The nuns at the convent are portrayed in a negative light. The two are persecuted during a gentile riot and rescued by some kindly Waldensians. "Do the Christians hate and persecute you also?" inquired Leah.... [One of the Waldesians replies] "Those who are our enemies may call themselves Christians, but they are not such in reality. We however are Christians" (p. 27).

The Waldensians teach Leah and Rachel to love their enemies and forgive them in the manner of Christ. "Gotthard was quite willing to [instruct Leah and Rachel in the ways of true Christians], and by degrees the hatred and unbelief which still remained in the heart of Leah gave way. Gotthard especially pointed out how the prophecies of Isaiah (chap. liii) were fulfilled in Jesus.... Leah and Rachel became sincere Christians, and members of the little flock to which Joanna and her parents were united; and, having been baptized in the nameo of Jesus Christ, they sat down togther at his table, and looked forward to be united in a happy eternity" (p. 36).

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