Sunday, July 29, 2007

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).

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