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).

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