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.

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