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.

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