Thursday, August 30, 2007

Oliver of the Mill: A Tale

Maria Louisa Charlesworth wrote Oliver of the Mill: A Tale in 1876. The title character is Oliver Crisp, a somewhat nominal Christian who is married to Naomi, the daughter of a Jewish woman who had converted to Christianity (Naomi's father is described as a "Jewish missionary" but it is not clear if he is a Jewish-Christian or a Gentile Christian). Naomi dies in childbirth, and Oliver names his infant son "Oliver" (though he had considered other, more Jewish sounding names).

An old Jewish peddlar named Benoni appears in the story, at the infant Oliver's baptism. But then the story flashes back in time to when Naomi was alive and indeed before she and Oliver were married. They had grown up together and had gradually fallen in love with each other.

"When Benoni first travelled his rounds, Naomi was a child; her Jewish features caught his eye as he called at her mother's door. The widow welcomed him; asked him to her frugal meal; pressed him to come whenever he returned; and as his visits became regular, the Christian Jewess spoke to him of hopes fulfilled; which to Benoni lay in the far distance. Benoni listened, but never received the earnest teaching of the widow's faith. But Benoni grew close to Naomi and her mother, even though he did not share their beliefs. He mourned greatly at Naomi's death, for she brought light to his lonely life."

Benoni ends up having a few adventures with young Oliver. Benoni thinks to himself at one point,

"It was true that Naomi and her husband believed in a Messiah rejected by the Jews; and rejected, as the Jews believed, by God; yet Benoni could never resist the feeling that of such as Naomi and Oliver Crisp, Jehovah was the Father! And now, when, after nine years, he heard those petitions again from the lips of Naomi's child -- heard them mingled with the child's natural feelings and words, ... he fell on his knees, and longed, like him, to say, "Our Father!" But he could not! His tears fell like rain, and he could only groan to the God of Israel in his darkness, and help in his utter sense of need" (p. 217).

"All the love he had ever met, glowed in hearts that enshrined the Name of Jesus as Messiah -- the Name he had been taught as a Jew to despise and dishonor" (p. 219).

Clearly, Benoni is conflicted. He is miserable, and his friends are happy, but he cannot join them in their joy, for they worship a foreign god. But then it hits him squarely between the eyes. The answer to the question of why he and apparently all other Jews on earth are unhappy is easy: It's their own fault! Read his amazing revelation:

"Then Benoni thought again, "Why have I no home? Why does the Jew wander homeless on the face of the earth? Why have these Gentiles who follow Jesus of Nazareth, a man forsaken of God! whey have they such homes as might have been in Paradise; while we, the favoured People of Jehovah, wander helpless and homeless -- our very name a curse and a by-word? As he thought on these things, the solemn words that Naomi had read rose to his remembrance -- "His Blood be on us and on our children!" Is it possible that that Blood can be a curse on our heads, which these Gentiles claim as their deepest blessing? (p. 222).

It's obvious that Benoni isn't the brightest bulb in the room, since he appears unable to think of any reasons for his "tsuris" other than "Blame the Victim." And really, it's not quite "blame the victim" but rather "blame the victim's ancestors." It's the "blood curse" again ("his blood be on us and on our children").

With the young Oliver by his side, old Benoni thinks of all the Scriptures that Naomi used to read to him, and thinks of all the love that she showed him, and with young Oliver's help (reciting the Lord's Prayer) he prays for forgiveness and believes in Jesus as his Savior. From then on he lives a life of Christian faithfulness, and he becomes quite close with the Crisp family throughout the rest of the novel.


The "blood curse" is found is several other evangelical conversionary novels of the 19th century. For example, see Adonijah, Thirza, and even Charlotte Elizabeth's The Glory of Israel.

We see in the story the repeated motif of the child missionary leading the old, lonely, bitter Jew to Christ. It is not unreasonable to think that a lonely old man, befriended by a young child, might change his religious outlook (which apparently wasn't that strong to begin with) in the face of love and affection. But it is offensive to see this kind of emotionally weak, psychologically vulnerable character (old Benoni) portrayed with theological acumen that his former religious and ethnic compatriots obviously never had, all for the sake of the author pushing a religious agenda (that Judaism is inferior to Christianity, and not only that, but that Jews are going to hell if they don't confess Christ as Savior). That's not only bad literature, it's also bad theology.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Jewish Twins

Sarah Schoonmaker Baker, who wrote under the name "Aunt Friendly," was an American writer who specialized in moralistic books for children. Baker, whose maiden name was Tuthill, was born in 1824 and died in 1906. In 1861 she wrote The Jewish Twins, giving us yet another example of the twin motif in conversionist literature. While Baker was American, the story is set in England.

Jacob and Naomi Myers are the parents of twin boys named Muppim and Huppim (supposedly the names of the sons of Benjamin in the Bible). [Those names don't appear to be headed for the most popular baby names list any time soon]. The narrator helpfully provides us with some information about our Jewish protagonists:

"Jacob was a Jew, one of the same nation who once occupied the land of Canaan, who were there in the time of our Saviour, and are now scattered over the wide earth" .... "Jacob read the Scriptures as a duty, though we cannot say that it was with devoutness or prayer".... "Naomi had spoken, slowly, solemnly, and distinctly, words of thanksgiving to the God of Israel for the great blessing he had bestowed upon her [the birth of twin boys]" (p. 8-9).

"[Jacob] said this was a free country, and even a poor Jew need not be afraid of harm coming to his humble home. What a blessing it is to live in a country that is a safe refuge for the ancient people of God! So Naomi thought, and a kindly spirit rose in her towards her adopted home, and from that day it was dearer to her than the forsaken Poland of her childhood.".... [ So the twins grew up] "without once suspecting that anybody could despise a Jew" (p. 11).

"The Old Testament, in Hebrew, was Naomi's delight; she loved to hear Jacob read it on Sabbath evenings, and many of its beautiful passages she had treasured in her memory. She might be heard repeating the Psalms of David to herself, as she sat at her work, or saying aloud some of the sublime passages in Isaiah. Naomi was a Scripture-loving, conscientious Jew. Though she lived among Christians, she knew almost as little of the Christian religion as if she had been an inhabitant of a heathen land. She had many Christian customers, but .... they had never thought of winning the Jewess to a knowledge of the true Messiah. Naomi had been taught that it was a sin even to look into the New Testament, and she had no idea of its contents" (p. 14).

All the Jews in the Myers family are described as having "black eyes." Of course, this may be simply descriptive, but I don't think so. How often do Ashkenazi Jews have black eyes? Brown eyes, maybe. Seems to me that this has a slightly sinister connotation. It also reveals the author's perspective of Jews as "the Other."

Naomi has great affection for a neighbor boy, Charlie Fay, although she "had never allowed her children to enter Mrs. Fay's house, or that of any other Christian, excepting upon necessary business; this, she thought, merely keeping them out of temptation" (p. 18). But she made an exception when Charlie, in an accident, is blinded. "I can trust you, Muppim, for five minutes; but pray, as you cross the threshold, that the God of Israel will keep his own truth bright in your heart" (p. 18-19).

So Naomi Myers biggest fear is that Charles will influence Muppim away from the beloved Hebraic faith and toward Christianity. And her fears are realized when Charlie and Muppim form a sort of religious bond together.

"Muppim found in Charlie a something which he had missed in his own brother. Together the twins studied their Scripture lessons and prayed, and with one it was a mere outward thing, while the other had felt that there was a solemn pleasure to anything that brought him near to God..... Ah, the Jews who train their children in the Scriptures of the Old Testament are preparing them for good things. It is the Jew who is lost in the love of gain, who insures for his children the curse pronounced on his doomed nation" (p. 20-21). Muppim "had been taught that the Christians had a false Bible, and that their religion was a poor idolatry, to be dreaded and avoided by the Jews, the true people of God" (p. 22).

Huppim tells Charlie the famous story of Hillel, the ancient rabbi who told a potential convert the core tenets of Judaism while standing on one foot. Charlie responds "I think that rabbi was a remarkable man" (p. 24). Muppim reads Psalms to Charles in Hebrew, and the following conversation ensues:

"Do you like the Jews, Charlie!" asked Muppim abruptly. "Indeed I do -- I would rather be a Jew than belong to any other nation," said Charlie warmly." "I love the Jews, and Mother loves them too," said Charlie." [They discuss the ten commandments, and Muppim says that he is afraid to go to sleep if he has broken one of them, because something dreadful might happen to him.] "I am not afraid to go to sleep, because I ask pardon for the sake of the Lord Jesus," said Charlie. [Muppim rushes out of the house after he hears this.] "He had made up his mind never to hear the name of Jesus mentioned, so he should be sure to keep out of temptation.....[Charlie] was praying -- oh, how earnestly! -- for his Jewish friends, and asking wisdom to guide them into the knowledge of Jesus, the true Messiah" (p. 27-28).

The twins' little brother, Ard, is described by the narrator as "the fattest, brownest, most dark-eyed little fellow Mrs. Fay had ever seen" (p. 29). Surely Mrs. Fay needs to get out more!

Charlie prays "that his neighbors might some day know the true joy that is only found in Christ Jesus" (p. 34).

Meanwhile, we are informed that Jacob Myers considers Muppim's study of the Hebrew Scriptures to be a waste of time. The narrator tells us that "Few of the Jews of our day care as much even for the revered Old Testament as for their own sacred writers of the Talmud. There are a dozen who know the fables of that composition of men, for one who is well versed in the Old Testament history, the soul searching Psalms, or the sublime prophecies of Isaiah. Muppim had caught his mother's reverence for the inspired word of God, and now he was spurred on to its study by a new motive" (p. 35).

When Muppim receives a Bible as a gift for Purim, he prays the prayers from the Amidah for repentance, "Bring us back to Thy law;" and knowledge ("Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who graciously givest knowledge unto men") .... "The eighteen peculiarly precious prayers of the Jews, of which these are two, Muppim had heard at the synagogue worship, and three times a day he had said them in private, yet he had never prayed in those time-honored words before. He had never so longed to understand God's truth" (p. 35-36).

Charlie says to his friend Mr. Thayer that "Mother says he [Muppim] could not do better than read the Old Testament faithfully, and then he will be more sure to see that our Savior is the real Messiah." .... "We will not give up our little Jews," affirms Mr. Thayer (p. 41).

"Muppim had ceased to talk with Charlie of religion, but he could not fail to notice the sweet joyousness of this dear follower of Jesus, and in the young Jew there was an increasing questioning interest as to the possible truth of the Christian's faith. This had spurred him on to a faithful study of the Old Testament; for this he now longed to read the New.... But there was One more loving than a mother, more faithful than a brother, who was watching with tender interest the workings of Muppim's heart, and yearning for this child of Israel to turn unto him" (p. 44).

Charlie and Mrs. Fay teach the twins the Lord's Prayer, although they don't tell the little Jewish boys that it is from the New Testament. The ruse seems to be working:

"Muppim was taking home the words to his heart. We cannot say that he prayed in them; but when he stood at his prayers they came into his mind, and he began, as a habit, to try himself upon them when he had finished his own petitions. Jesus, who "saw Jerusalem, and wept over it," does not forget his own nation now. Gladly does he welcome each sign that a Jew is turning his face towards the true Canaan, and is preparing to acknowledge Zion's King. When we pray for the Jews, when we labor to lead them to Christ, we are sharing His spirit who would have saved them from destruction, "but they would not," and who, even now, "waiteth to be gracious" to his "own brethren according to the flesh," as well as to the multitude of the Gentiles" (p. 46-47).

Passover comes to our little town. "Charlie thought of the Saviour's command to put away all the leaven of evil out of the heart, and wondered when his dear Jewish friends would understand the spiritual meaning of the ceremonies they observed so carefully" (p. 48). Towards the end of the Passover Seder, as some messianic prayers are said, the family hears Charlie next door singing a hymn about Jesus. "To Muppim this seemed like a message from heaven. Was not this Jesus, whom Charlie Fay so loved, the Messiah? The question sank deep into the heart of the young Jew" (p. 51).

Charlie prays for "all the Jews, who were then keeping the Passover in darkness and unbelief" ... [Muppim repeats in his heart the words of the song he had heard Charlie singing]: "Come, let us sing of Jesus," and longing to know more of that Jesus, of whom Charlie Fay was a follower. Charlie Fay had not argued with his Jewish friends, but he had been doing more for his religion; Charlie had been showing forth cheerfulness in affliction, and an unselfish, lovely spirit, which they could not but admire. The thoughtful Muppim was beginning to question what could be the power that so sustained Charlie in his time of trial, and made him so gentle and kindly in daily life.... If all Christians were such as they should be, then would the Jews be forced to say, "The Messiah must have come: for behold, here is a people who walk in God's laws and keep his commandments better than we; they must have been taught by the Son of David; their Lord must be the King of the Jews!" (p. 52-53).

The twins are now thirteen and celebrate their bar mitzvah. Huppim is very proud of himself, but Muppim "had a secret cause of anxiety that made him more thoughtful than ever. One question had taken deep hold of his mind, "What if the religion of the Christian should be true, and Messiah be already come?" (p. 53). Muppim finally discovers that the prayer he had learned at Charlie's house was the Lord's Prayer, the prayer of Jesus. "Muppim had been taught that the King of the Jews was yet to come, and that Jesus had only pretended to that honor. Now he felt afraid he had been doing wrong in even speaking words that Jesus had given to his disciples" (p. 55).

Muppim gets very sick. "Mother, am I going to die?" .... "I hope not!" ... "Can't you comfort me, mother? I am terribly afraid," said Muppim piteously. Naomi was silent. What did she know of the world beyond the grave? God, she was sure, was holy and just; her son had sinned, had broken the fifth commandment on the very eve of his sickness. "God is just, my son" was the mother's tardy answer. Muppim groaned and turned away. He saw himself as he had never seen himself before. "God is just!" those were words of terror to a selfish, willful boy, who had openly transgressed, times without number" (p. 61). "With the remembrance of the sins of his youth there mingled a new feature of terror. The vision of a crucified one hanging in agony on a cross, was before his eyes. This Jesus, this sufferer might be the true Messiah, -- then what would be the punishment of the Jew who had only spoken his name in scorn?" (p. 62).

Charlie comes to visit Muppim. "Yes, we all deserve punishment, but because Jesus suffered for us, God will forgive us and make us happy for ever, if we are sorry for our sins and trust in Christ Jesus." "But I have not trusted in him; I have hated to hear his name," said Muppim despairingly. "He will forgive you gladly. He prayed for the very men who nailed him to the cross, 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!' You are not worse than they were.... Jesus will forgive you; now, will you let me ask him?" (p. 62). [But then Muppim falls asleep, so the inevitable is put off for a little while longer].

Muppim gets better. One day he is lying on his bed, and he prays, "O Jesus ... if thou art the King of the Jews, forgive me all that is past; and if thou art not, O God, forgive me and guide me into the knowledge of the truth" (p. 65).

So Charlie uses this opportunity to evangelize Muppim some more, quoting comforting verses from the New Testament and telling him about the messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus has fulfilled.

Muppim discovers that "After Christ's death the Jews were scattered abroad, their temple was destroyed, and even at the Passover the lamb was no longer slain. There was no need of the death of animals as a sign that blood must be shed for sin, now that Jesus had come to suffer for the sins of the whole world. Day after day the young Jew read, prayed, and pondered. Ah! would that many of his dear nation would do likewise. Jesus, in his loveliness and his wonderful mercy, was slowly revealed to Muppim's eager search. Adoring, he at length cast himself on his knees, exclaiming like Thomas, "My Lord and my God!" Muppim had become in his heart a Christian Jew. A Jew he must ever be, by nation; he would not have renounced that privilege. He was of the same people as Moses and the prophets.... Muppim was more heartily a Jew than ever before, yet most sincerely a Christian. His head owned that the prophecies were fulfilled in Christ, the Messiah; his heart trusted and loved Jesus, the Saviour, the merciful, all-sufficient Redeemer. The peace which Jesus has promised to his true followers settled upon Muppim's soul, peace and joy made glad his countenance" (p. 71).

"Charlie," said Muppim, dear Charlie, I am quite happy now. I have found Him of whom Moses and the prophets did write. I believe he is my Saviour. Oh, how I thank you! It was your patience in your trial that made me first think there must be truth in the religion of Jesus! "Muppim, I am glad I am blind, if so you have learned to see your Saviour!" (p. 73-74).

Muppim tells Charlie that he is afraid that his family will persecute him for his faith. Which is the case. Here we see Muppim's announcement of his conversion and how his mother responds:

"Jesus is my Saviour! He, mother, is the Christ! To him I trust my soul! I am a Christian!" [Naomi responds:] "I despise you! I cast you off!" [but] "In another instant his mother's arms were thrown round him, and she wept bitter tears as she exclaimed, "O my son, my poor son!" It was vain for Muppim to strive to tell of the new joy and peace he had found in Christ Jesus." "Muppim, you cannot be allowed to be with the other children, lest you should lead them into your terrible error.... this will go far to break your father entirely -- he had hoped so much from you." [and Naomi then begins to cry tears of sadness]. "Perhaps you may one day see the truth as I do, and then we might be happy together!" [Muppim replies, in his usual winsome way]: "Dear mother, do search the Scriptures, and know more of Jesus." (p. 77-78).

Muppim is kept for two days in solitary confinement in the house, with only bread and water to eat and drink. We've seen this before in other 19th century novels. Perhaps this kind of thing really happened 150 years ago? It seems unlikely, but then again, take a look at Ken Levitt's autobiographical account (Kidnapped for My Faith) of the attempt by his parents to "de-program" him after he converted to Christianity. (For a slightly different account of the same events, see reporting in Time Magazine on the incident). In any event, the way that Muppim is treated by his father seems more like child abuse than anything else. And I think that is the way that "Aunt Friendly" intended it. Jews (who don't believe in Jesus) are clearly the villains in this book.

"I am just as much a Jew as ever," said Muppim, "and glad to be of the same race as Messiah. But, Huppim, I do believe in the Lord Jesus as the Christ, and love him with all my heart, and I wish you did too." "I am more like father; I don't take hold of these things, somehow, as you do," replied Huppim, thoughtfully. "But dear brother, you have got to die all alone, just as I have; and then when Jesus sits on the throne to judge the world, you will have to answer for it, if you have never tried to know him. Won't you think of that, Huppim? The Jews are looking for the Messiah, and will not see that he has already come" (p. 81-82).

Earlier Muppim had feared that his father would "kill him" (although this might have been meant metaphorically). Now Huppim says to him, "When Father comes home, he will whip the skin off from you" (p. 82). Huppim encourages Muppim to run away. Good advice, I'd say. But not heeded. Muppim will take his punishment like a man!

Jacob Myers thinks that his son's conversion is a "disgrace too bitter to be borne, and he resolved to keep the whole matter a secret, and try and bring back his boy to his own way of thinking" (p. 84). He scolds Muppim harshly and whips him with a leather whip, and finally kicks him out of the house and sends him to live in a distant city, with only five pounds of money, to "earn his own bread." It will be difficult for Muppim to live in the Gentile world, since he is described as having a "Jewish face" (p. 88). Muppim gives up observing Saturday as the Sabbath, and begins to observe Sunday instead. He goes to church and eventually gets baptized. At his baptism, the minister "called on all Christians to labor for the conversion of the Jews, and to do it in faith, knowing that the time will surely come when Israel shall again be exalted, and Christ be the King of the Jews" (p. 102).

As often occurs in conversionist novels, catastrophe strikes the unbelievers. In this book, fire burns down Jacob Myers' business soon after Muppim is banished from the family home. The Myers family is disheartened, and Jacob's anger toward his son Muppim melts away. Muppim is quite successful in his job and the family moves to live with him. Because of Muppim's constant witness in his daily life of unselfish patience, love and forgiveness, Naomi comes to faith in Jesus. "The happy time came at last when the Jewish Passover was no more kept at Jacob Myers'; as a Christian family the mother and her sons knelt at the Christian communion; Ard was being trained up in the Christian faith. ... Poor Jacob was yet in the house, a memento of their Jewish days; but even as he was catching the Christian hymns from Ard, and, as it were, groping in his darkness after Jesus, the crucified" (p. 106).

Eventually Muppim becomes a missionary to the Jews, while supported by Huppim who, like his brother (perhaps even more so), is very successful in his business ventures.

"So the twin brothers joined their hands to make known the religion of Jesus to the children of Israel. So should all Christians join their prayers, their means, and their efforts for this great object. The veil is more over the hearts than the heads of the Jews. They do not, they will not, "search the Scriptures." They need to be urged to read the Old Testament, which they acknowledge, and so they will be ready to embrace the New.... The Jews must learn to study the Old Testament, praying that they may be guided to the true Messiah. When Israel will seek to know the Lord, then shall the God of Jacob pour his blessing upon them, and turn them unto him, as with one mind and one heart" (p. 108).

Some final thoughts on The Jewish Twins:

(1) The author treats Jewishness as a race, as was common in the 19th century (and well into the 20th century). Jewish biological lineage is fine, but Jewish religiosity is not.

(2) In an ironic twist, the Christian boy is blind, but he is the only child who can see (spiritually speaking).

(3) As often happens in 19th century conversionary fiction, we are treated to extensive descriptions of Jewish religious celebrations. In this book it's Purim, Passover, and a (double) bar mitzvah.

(4) Thankfully, the evil rabbi stereotype is missing from this novel. Instead we are presented with the unspiritual, unkind, and abusive father figure Jacob Myers. His reward is to lose his business, see his Christian convert sons become successful businessmen and missionaries, and end his days as a broken down old man, forced to hear his youngest son sing Christian hymns.

(5) It's remarkable that conversionist fiction often emphasizes the de-Judaizing of converts. In this book I was struck by the statement (by the narrator) that Passover would never again be celebrated at Jacob Myers' home. Of course, in real life a similar transformation often takes place among Gentile converts to Judaism, in that Jews do not celebrate Christmas, Easter, etc. Converts to Judaism go to the mikvah just as Christians are baptized. Jews take on Hebrew names, sing Hebrew songs, etc. But in the 21st century, these norms of conversion (for Christian converts from Jewish backgrounds) are not necessarily followed. Messianic Judaism encourages the continued observance of Jewish holidays, albeit with Christian interpretation of Jewish symbolism. Baptism is referred to by Messianic Jews as mikvah. Messianic Jewish songs have a Jewish flavor and Middle Eastern (or Eastern European) melodies. These practices are quite controversial, for a variety of reasons. In the end result, the mainstream Jewish community (and especially its leaders) may view conversion to Christianity the same way whether the convert is a Messianic Jew or a "de-Judaized" Christian. But the litmus test for continued Jewish identity will be seen in 2 or 3 generations, when the children and grandchildren of Jewish converts to Christianity must decide whether their primary loyalty lies with Christianity or Judaism, or neither.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rebecca the Jewess

Aunt Hattie is at it again. Apparently unaware that the title was already taken (Sir Walter Scott wrote a children's version of Ivanhoe with this title), Madeline Leslie published another conversionist novel in 1879 entitled Rebecca the Jewess.

In the preface, Aunt Hattie writes:

"The author sends forth this small volume, with the earnest hope that its incidents, many of which are strictly true, they meet the eye of some beloved child of Israel who is groping in the dark among types and symbols, in vain expectation that Shiloh will come."

Rebecca Stickney is a young Jewish woman who begins the book in a bad mood. She calls Christianity "the worship of the blasphemer" (p. 12). Her Jewish servant, Abigail, talks about Rebecca's cousin (Esther) in negative terms: "Esther has forsaken the God of her fathers, Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. The curse our holy prophets pronounced against idolaters will crush her some day" (p. 14). Rebecca in the next scene is very distraught, crying out to God that he never answers her prayers. "Will Messiah never come? Alas, our altar fires are extinguished!" (p. 15) she cries.

"The least reference to Jesus as the long-expected Messiah agitated her; now the conflict in her heart was terrible" (p. 17). This is the narrator's perspective, but now we get to see inside the mind and heart of our heroine, Rebecca. She thinks:

"Esther believes Him to be the One promised. She worships Him as the Song of God. Is this idolatry? Oh, that I knew! Oh, that my eyes could be opened to the truth!" Esther trusts Him, and is at peace. She says the prophecies are all fulfilled in Him. Dare I believe on One whom our learned Rabbies condemn? on Him, if not the 'Lamb of God,' is the vilest blasphemer that ever walked the earth, calling Jehovah his father, and making himself equal with God" (p. 18).

Note the archaic spelling of "Rabbies" (Rabbis).

Rebecca has a Jewish friend, a young man named Joseph Prince, who does not claim to be a Christian but who often goes to church, who considers Jesus to be a "most lovely and loveable character," and complains of being "weary of our long, heartless prayers," and who asks Rebecca if she "never felt a void in our synagogue services?" (p. 23).

Esther has "embraced the Christian faith" but she also strongly asserts "her rights and privileges as a Jewess" (p. 23). Whatever that means.

Rebecca's father, Aaron Stickney, was a distinguished rabbi. He is described as self-righteous, wealthy, and stingy in terms of giving to the poor. [So, I ask you, what makes him so distinguished?] Rebecca was his only child, and she was orphaned at fourteen. She was taught from an early age to "hate the doctrines of the Christians.... [and to] exhibit contempt when the name of Jesus, the blasphemer, was mentioned" (p. 26).

Rebecca was placed under the guardianship of her uncle, Asael Stickney, a wealthy businessman with several children. Rebecca's cousin Esther Steinforth was from the other side of the family. Esther's mother was Rebecca's mother's twin sister, and the two girls were very close. (It turns out that Esther's mother has also become a Christian).

Esther preaches to Rebecca from the Scriptures. Rebecca wants to defend her religion, so she studies the liturgy in the prayer book but becomes "disgusted with their coldness and want of vitality" (p. 31), so she seeks the advice of rabbis. One rabbi, Ben Ezra, laughs at her questions and again calls Jesus a "vile blasphemer" (p. 32).

Rebecca's Gentile servant, Sarah, encourages her to read the New Testament. Rebecca does so, and she is more confused, saying at one point: "Jesus, if thou art indeed He who shall redeem Israel, hear my prayer, loose me from my bondage" (p. 51).

Rebecca meets her Uncle Isaac (really a cousin whose name is Isaac Sterritz), who has become a Christian. [There's a lot of apostasy going down in this family, wouldn't you say?] He says that all his doubts vanished "the very minute that I opened my heart to receive Jesus Christ as the Messiah promised us, a flood of peace filled my soul" (p. 63).

Rebecca reads a book called The Converted Jew about a man named Levi Cohen who falls in love with a Presbyterian, marries her, and then, after many trials and tribulations in his life, becomes a Christian. The Converted Jew is a "book within a book" in that it takes up several chapters. It ends with the protagonist on his deathbed, "spending all his strength in urging his old friends among the Jews, to renounce a religion which was dead, which could give them no comfort in life, or peace in the thought of meeting God in judgment. He died without a struggle or a groan; his last words being, "Jesus, Messiah, save me" (p. 97).

Much of the book is spent with various Christians (Esther, Pastor Livermore, etc.) recounting "messianic prophecies" from the Hebrew Bible and demonstrating how they are supposedly fulfilled in Christ. Or arguments back and forth about how "dead" Judaism allegedly is and why Jesus is or isn't the Messiah.

Rebecca finally comes to believe in Jesus (big surprise there!) and to "love Him as the Saviour of my soul" (p. 159). Later she mourns the death of her parents and their lack of faith in Jesus by saying: "Oh, my father, my mother, my blind, deluded parents! What sin-offering atoned for you?" (p. 169).

[It must be difficult for any evangelical Christian to think about the fate of their unbelieving parents' souls. This conflict is not presented very often in conversionist fiction. Deathbed conversions often help protagonists to avoid this problem].

The rabbi, Ben Ezra, turns out to have quite a bad temper. He is described as verbally attacking a Gentile in an argument over whether or not Jesus was the Messiah, becoming enraged and cursing in "an outrageous manner" (p. 188).

Rebecca tells her Aunt (on the Stickney side) that "I am more thoroughly a Jew than ever. Not for the world would I give up the right to be called one of God's chosen Israel. Jesus Christ the Saviour I have chosen, was a Jew in the direct line of Abraham and David. If you will let me read you the prophecies, I could show you their exact fulfillment in him" (p. 188).

Now that she is a Christian, Rebecca decides to become a missionary. Mr. Livermore suggests that she "can extend your labors among the Jewish children in our own city" (p. 197). So she aspires to be the 19th century equivalent of a "Jews for Jesus" missionary.

Throughout the book, various characters pray earnestly for the salvation of others. Rebecca even prays for the salvation of Rabbi Ben Ezra. Given Ben Ezra's negative attitude and grumpy disposition, this is quite a feat.

Rebecca has a serious illness, an infection in her lungs, and comes close to death. Meanwhile, she and Mr. Livermore (the clergyman) grow very close, and fall in love with each other. They get married in a small private ceremony, although one of Mr. Livermore's Jewish Hebrew teachers comes and gives them a traditional Hebrew blessing. They go to live in Jamaica for about 6 months so that Rebecca can recover in a better climate. There are meet "several families of Jews highly cultivated and refined, liberal toward Chritians but without any saving knowledge of Christ" (p. 281). Rebecca of course wants to convert them, and actually does spend many hours with them in studying messianic prophecies.

Rebecca and Mr. Livermore return to England, because Rebecca is dying and wants to share the gospel with her aunt and uncle one last time. The Stickneys are open to this and agree to study the Scriptures more carefully. In fact, it appears that Rebecca's aunt has lately been studying the New Testament, and she indeed does become a Christian. Rebecca dies at their house in a dramatic scene, and her last words are: "Jesus -- all glorious Messiah! I come! I come!" (p. 239). [I'll avoid commenting on the unintentional double entrendre].

Some interesting factoids:

(1) Note how the "book within a book" (The Converted Jew) closely resembles the plot of Rebecca the Jewess. Not very imaginative there, Aunt Hattie.

(2) Again with the grumpy and violently angry rabbi. And why are so many rabbis in conversionist fiction named "Ben Something." And is it "Ben" as in "short for Benjamin," or is it "Ben" as in "son of"? I sure don't know. I'm not sure if the authors know either.

(3) Funny how the Jewish governess is always named "Abigail" in Aunt Hattie's stories.

(4) Twins again!

(5) Notice how the heroine of this book is so proud to be a Jew, and doesn't want to give up her identity. That doesn't always happen in evangelical conversionist fiction, but it happens more often as we get closer to the end of the 19th century. There must have been a reawakening among Jewish Christians in terms of rediscovering their Jewish identities, and this is reflected in Christian novels of the day. Rebecca even has a Hebrew blessing said at her wedding. Still, there is an antipathy to the Jewish prayerbook throughout this and most other novels of this genre in the 19th century. We haven't yet reached the point of the blossoming of "Messianic Judaism" where the traditional prayers and forms of Judaism are used with Christian undertones. That will have to wait until the late 20th century. I'll get there eventually.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rules for Conversions?

The New York Times
August 16, 2007
Evangelicals Join Interfaith Effort to Write Rules for Conversions


GENEVA, Aug. 15 - "Evangelical Protestant churches have joined an effort by Roman Catholic, Orthodox and other Protestant churches to create a common code of conduct for religious conversions to preserve the right of Christians to spread their religion while avoiding conflict among faiths....."

In any pluralistic society there will always be a tension between the rights of adherents of one religion to seek converts and the rights of the adherents of another religion (or of no religion) to be free of such proselytizing efforts. There has to be a balance. I don't want to take away the rights of evangelical Christians to "preach the gospel." That would be counter to "freedom of speech" laws that are part of any good democracy. But on the other hand, conversionary groups must respect the rights of others to ignore, criticize, or argue with their conversionist message. The consequences of overwrought evangelism by any group will be subtle at first, but eventually these insensitive missionaries will reap what they sow: negative public relations and marginalization in society.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lost but Found: or, The Jewish Home

The American writer Harriet Newell Woods Baker, aka "Aunt Hattie," aka "Madeline Leslie," wrote Lost but Found; or, The Jewish Home, in 1867. Just as "light and darkness" was the New Testament metaphor used by A.L.O.E. in her conversionist novels, so "lost but found" is an analogous Christian metaphor used by "Aunt Hattie" in this novel. While the lost/found metaphor may be found throughout the Bible, it is best known from the parable of Jesus of the one (out of 100) lost sheep that the shepherd searches for and finds.

A Christian boy named Isaac meets a Jewish family with the last name of Seixas: the father, Jesse; the mother, Sophia; two girls (twins) named Myrtilla and Esther. (The story takes place in New York state). And their Jewish nurse/governess named Abigail, who says, after hurting her ankle running away from an angry bull, "I never thought to demean myself to accept a favor from a Christian. I despise the whole race of 'em" (p. 28). [Race of Christians? Well, at any rate, it seem like Abigail is biting off her nose to spite her face].

One person in the village says, "Mr. Seixas is a Jew, and regards Christians with contempt" (p. 36). But as if to show the contrast between Christians and Jews, little Isaac says, "I love Jews.... Christ was a Jew." [His mother replies:] "Yes, and they are God's chosen people. I love them, too, and pray earnestly for them that their eyes may be opened to behold the true Messiah" (pp. 40-41). Lotsa love going around here!

Isaac asks his mother why Mr. Seixas and other Jews hate Christians so much. His mother goes into a long explanation based on Jewish history (temple and priests, coming of Jesus, destruction of temple; ... "His blood be on us, and on our children;" ... "This was the awful curse they brought down on their own heads, which has clung to them ever since.... they [are] scattered over the world; they are a down trodden people. Their glory is departed forever" (p. 43).

So we have the "historical" reasons for the Jews' tsuris. But soon the conversation turns to their current problems. Isaac's mother says to him, "I have often noticed, my dear, that they [the Jews] are extremely lax in their religious duties because there is no vitality in them" (p. 45). We pray in Jesus' name, she says, "But they disown, reject, despise him. When they hear his blessed name, they spit in token of their contempt. We have the promise that if we ask in Christ's name we shall receive. They do not ask in his name. It is a mere formal repetition of words, without any vitality or heart; and such prayers cannot be accepted or answered" (p. 46).

Well, I guess that's that!

Isaac begins to pray for his new Jewish friends (mostly the twins) and desires that they become Christians. He begins to discuss Christianity with the girls, and to bring them into situations where they might hear the gospel and stories from the New Testament. At first their governess Abigail is upset, but "after listening awhile concluded that it could do those innocent children no harm to listen to a story of a man of whom they would never be likely to hear again" (p. 56). But later she begins to be even more open to the gospel: ""What if the Jews are at fault?" she had asked herself again and again. "What if Jesus is the promised Messiah? What if their rejection of him has been the cause of their downfall? Look how they used to be greater than all the nations of the earth; their priests walking in splendid robes and a shining breastplate. Now how changed!"" (pp. 62-63).

I don't know about this "greater than all the nations of the earth"[when was that supposed to be?], but at any rate, Abigail has certainly changed her tune, hasn't she?

Mrs. Duncan, Isaac's mother, prays to God "to enlighten the dark minds of those, who living in the full blaze of religious light and liberty, still groped in darkness, waiting in vain for a deliverer yet to come, -- that their eyes might be opened to see in Jesus the Prince of Peace promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, -- the Lion of the tribe of Judah, -- that they might accept him as their Saviour and thus be delivered from the terrible curse their father had entailed" (p. 69).
It turns out that Isaac resembles the son of the Sexias', who disappeared years earlier (stolen by Jesse's evil and thieving twin brother Justin), and for that reason Mr. Seixas is sometimes rude to Isaac and Mrs. Seixas gets very depressed when she sees him. Not surprisingly, given her evolution thus far in the book, the Jewish governess Abigail becomes a Christian. But an even stranger turn of events occurs. It turns out that Isaac is the Seixas' son! ("a Jew by birth but not a Jew in rejecting the Saviour" (p. 100). When Isaac discovers this, he says, "Then the curse is on me... I who love the Saviour so, must bear it alway" (p. 101).

Isaac goes to live with the Seixas family and begins to preach to them. After arguing a bit with Mrs. Seixas, he says, "I can't convince you myself that Jesus is really God; but I can pray to the Holy Spirit to help you to see it" (p. 109).

"Don't be discouraged, my dear [says Mrs. Duncan to her son Isaac]. ... You have tried to convince her that Jesus was the promised Messiah; now I advise you to let her see by our life what his love can do. Pray for her and all your new relatives" (p. 114). .... "I hope he [Mr. Seixas] will embrace Jesus, as the Messiah promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. Then he will be a Jew, or an Israelite, in the truest sense of the word" (p. 115).

Isaac says to his newfound (biological) parents: "Though I am a Jew, I am not like them in one thing. I believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah promised to Abraham, and I love him as my Saviour." "You speak blasphemy, boy!" (p. 129).

Clearly the Jewish family Seixas is concerned about the current state of affairs. Mr. Seixas says to his wife: ""I shall take him to the synagogue. Rabbi Ben David will speedily set him right. If he likes, he himself shall be educated for a Rabbi." [Wishful thinking, this]. Again she shook her head. "You will see," she responded, "that it will be no easy task to change his views. These seven years have been fatal to him as well as to us." "Then I throw all our obligation to Mrs. Duncan to the winds. If knowing him to be a Jew she has taught him the doctrines most abhorent to our race, she deserves the severest punishment we can inflict, and that will be to forbid Isaac from speaking to her"" (p. 132).

Chapter Seven is entitled "The Jewish Christian Boy." Isaac visits the synagogue with his family. He observes some men doing business deals, but most are reverent and respectful. The rabbi is at first excited to meet him, and blesses him, but then when the rabbi finds out that Isaac believes in Jesus, he gets very upset and curses him and calls him a "little serpent," and screams and yells at him and says that he hopes that Isaac dies. Isaac returns these harsh words with words of kindness and pity, and begins to try to evangelize the entire congregation (after the services are over). He tells them about messianic prophecies from the Hebrew Bible (ostensibly fulfilled in the New Testament) and out-argues even the rabbi, who becomes even more enraged.

Isaac's father, though disappointed with his son's beliefs, does not take the same strategy as the rabbi. He tries to argue calmly and rationally that Jesus is not the Messiah. But in the end he is convinced by Isaac and by his mother, Mrs. Duncan, and their appeals to the messianic prophecies in the Jewish Bible. So Mr. Seixas becomes a Christian. "A Jew by birth and one by faith in the Deliverer of the Jews from the bondage of sin. I never shall renounce my privileges as one of God's chosen people. I glory in them more than ever; but I thank him that I have learned to glory most of all in Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write -- in Him who was pierced for my sins, and by whose stripes I am healed" (p. 209). [An allusion, of course, to Isaiah chapter 53].

Eventually Mrs. Seixas becomes a Christian also, seeing how much her husband's life has changed for the better (and also seeing how God has answered the prayers of the family, especially a prayer of healing for their daughter). And Mr. Seixas' life does change dramatically. He begins to be kind to his neighbors and employees. He joins the church and the whole family goes to Sunday School (on the "true Sabbath"). He is cursed by other Jews, but he does not hold it against them. But then comes a strange turn of events: it turns out that Isaac is not actually Jesse's son, but the son of his evil twin brother Justin, who is now dead. Another Isaac shows up, who looks just like Isaac Duncan, and this is Jesse's real son. So Isaac Duncan goes back to live with his mother, and they all live happily ever after.

Some final comments on this book:

(1) Note that the rabbi in this story fits the "grumpy rabbi" motif found so often in conversionist literature. Why are these rabbis not smiling? Well, for one thing, they always get out-smarted and out-argued by little children. And for another thing, they probably realize that they are about to lose some Jews to Christianity. Wouldn't you be grouchy under those circumstances?

(2) There are at least two (perhaps three) sets of twins in this novel. We've seen the "twins" plot device before (in Rosette and Miriam), and we'll see it again as well. For some strange reason, 19th century evangelical conversionist writers were a bit obsessed with twins. But the most interesting story (The Jewish Twins) remains to be discussed; I'll get to this book in a few days.

(3) This novel also includes a bizarre case of Jewish children and mistaken identity. This is another recurring theme in conversionary fiction. See Shanty the Blacksmith and Zadoc, the Outcast of Israel for other, similar plot devices.

Into the Light; or, the Jewess

In 1868, C.A. Ogden (aka Mrs. C.A.O.) wrote Into the Light; or, the Jewess, an evangelical conversionist novel set in New York. The primary Jewish characters include Reuben Hammet; his wife, Rachel; and their daughter Naomi. We also meet Horace Vincent, a Gentile Christian minister, as well as Dr. Heber, a Jewish Christian. Joseph Fleming, Naomi's cousin, is attracted to Naomi but the narrator tells us that he is a "villain." Naomi sees through his charade and dislikes him intensely. In fact, she finds him creepy. Reuben Hammet wants his nephew to marry his daughter, and that creates conflict in the family (not to mention the potential conflict in the family gene pool). Naomi spends much of the book evading the advances of Fleming.

Early in the novel, Naomi remarks to her father: "Our race, father, do not put on and take off their faith like a garment, as do some Christians. I have heard of their changing what they call denominations more than once in the course of a lifetime" (p. 4). Ah, could this be a harbinger of things to come? Naomi may yet regret her flippant comment....

Horace develops an attraction toward Naomi. But his sister Grace tries to dissuade him, telling him that Jews rarely marry outside their faith. "There are, as you know, occasional converts to Christianity, showing that the Lord manifests himself at times to his chosen people. Still such hopes are not for you, my brother; you belong to the Lord" (p. 24).

Reuben loses almost all of his money playing the stock market (or something similar on "Wall Street"). We know, instinctively, that this can't be good for his future as a Jew. When anyone (fictional or otherwise) loses all of his money, desperation sets in, and that's a common theme of the Jewish convert to Christianity, who often comes to his newfound faith in a moment of hopelessness.

We are introduced to Dr. Heber, a physician (and Jewish convert to Christianity), who is described as follows: "His high, broad forehead, lofty, arched eyebrows, and flowing black beard, with a certain erect carriage of the head, peculiar to the educated Jew, were unmistakable signs of his Hebrew origin" (p. 43).

Dr. Heber comes in his role as a doctor to visit Reuben, who has taken sick. Heber shows a knowledge of the Jewish prayerbook, and Mrs. Hammet says to him:

"Why doctor... I thought, when you renounced Judaism, that all respect for our honored litany had departed." "You mistake me, dear madam. I honor the same God whom you worship, -- the God of our fathers; ... I see clearly, by the eyes of my soul, the God of Jacob manifested to man in Jesus of Nazareth, the Desire of nations! the King of Israel! I have not ceased to be a Jew, but am doubly one now that I see in the Messiah every prophecy fulfilled...." ... "Oh, that the veil might indeed be taken asway from God's chosen people....!" (p. 46).

Dr. Heber engages in debate with the Rabbi, Ben Zara, in the presence of Mr. Hammet (pp. 52-54). Reuben and Naomi both resolve to study the New Testament after hearing this debate, in which Heber clearly gets the upper hand over the rabbi. Later, Reuben is described as becoming a Christian: "Redeemed through Christ! O wife! O daughter! there is salvation in none other. He is our own Messiah. Oh, believe!" (p. 67).

But alas, these are Reuben's final words. After his deathbed conversion, he (naturally) dies. And this leaves the rest of his family in a rather sticky situation. Naomi and Rachel are not yet Christians, but due to Reuben's conversion they are treated as such by their Jewish friends. Abandoned by the Jewish community, Naomi states:

"How singular that our own people should be so very vindictive! ... because my father was converted to the Christian faith, nearly all deserted him in his last moments. The Rabbis say that he was an apostate, and I feel almost persuaded to become one myself, when I remember the wondrous change which took place in all the sentiments and feelings of my dear father. I shall not rest until I have more fully studied the new oracles, and compared them with the law and the prophets" (p. 73).

Shortly thereafter, Naomi gives us a foretaste of where she is headed, religiously speaking: "I can no longer trust blindly [in] the Talmud" (p. 74), she asserts. Almost destitute, Naomi and Rachel go to live in a boarding house with the family of Isaac Nathans. Later, Naomi becomes a governess to a Gentile family.

After hearing a sermon at church given by Horace Vincent, Naomi is so moved that she accepts Jesus as her savior. The narrator gives us a glimpse into Naomi's heart:

"Never had the Saviour seemed to Naomi so real, so near to her soul. She received him as her own with unspeakable tenderness, and could truly say that she had "found Him, of whom Moses and the prophets did write"" (p. 164).

Naomi becomes a pious Christian but continues to abstain from eating pork. There also develops a love story between Naomi and Horace. But Joseph Fleming becomes jealous, and begins "disseminating a prejudice against the new minister," (p. 209), accusing him of plagiarism and of being pretentious. (One wonders about Mr. Fleming's imagination. Couldn't he have come up with anything worse? Some kind of sordid immorality, perhaps? Did he really think that these rumors and innuendos were going to bring Rev. Horace down into the mud?)

Fleming also comes into Naomi's room at night and kisses her against her will. (Perhaps hoping to deflower her and thus horrify Horace who undoubtedly wants a virgin bride). But despite all of Fleming's evil machinations, Naomi and Horace soon announce their engagement. Still, Fleming continues to try to break them up and succeeds at getting Mrs. Armstrong to fire Naomi by spreading vicious rumors about her. He wishes to "rule his Jewish princess with a rod of iron" (p. 231).

When Dr. Heber learns of Naomi's conversion, he exclaims: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! who is daily revealing himself to his chosen people, through his beloved Son" (p. 234).

But Naomi's mother, Rachel Hammet, still does not believe in Jesus. She gives us a rather dispassionate and rather reasonable view of the situation:

"The fact that my husband died a Christian is quite sufficient to close their homes and hearts against those they pretend to call the apostate daughters of Israel. There are times when my heart yearns over our nation, when I admit the thought, for one moment, of the possibility that they are altogether mistaken, that they are walking in darkness aliens from the land of their heritage, through unbelief. There was a time when I , too, felt a peculiar bitterness towards those who renounced the Hebrew faith; but now, although I cannot see and believe as my daughter does, yet I respect the doctrine which imparts so much peace in the hour of death" (p. 236).

The two women, Naomi and Rachel, move into Dr. Heber's house until the wedding so that Fleming, the "sly fox," cannot "molest" Naomi anymore. But Rachel still cannot "receive the wondrous doctrine of the triune Jehovah" (p. 238). (The tension mounts!)

Naomi says to Dr. Heber: "I confidently look forward to the restoration of our Hebrew brethren to a place among the nations of the earth, and believe, too, that the time is not very far distant." [Horace responds]: "How rich are the promises to that once honored but now fallen race!... I rejoice greatly that I am to be so nearly allied to one who came of so lofty a lineage; for was not the King of Zion a Jew? And from converted Jews alone came the words of holy writ that make wise unto salvation." "And I am glad, too, Naomi," said the doctor, "that your love for the Hebrew race has not decreased since the eyes of your soul were opened to behold the wondrous things of the true Jewish law." "I do dearly love the children of Israel; let them be ever so poor and degraded...." (p. 250).

Some of Naomi's acquaintances hope that she will teach a Bible class to show them how Jewish symbols apply to Christianity. Later, Naomi and Horace are married in a Christian ceremony that follows many Jewish customs. And poor Fleming ends up marrying a Gentile named Victoria.

Fleming becomes ill and is visited by Rabbi Ben Zara, who brings with him "a huge volume of the Jewish law, in order to read those passages that he thought were appropriate and comforting to the sick man, who strove in vain to derive strength from that which contained for him no spiritual nutriment" (p.287). Fleming ends up being ruined because his house and other buildings he owns are burned down and he (or rather, his wife) had neglected to renew the insurance. Fleming opens a pawnbroker's shop which "proved a suitable field for the exercise of his peculiar talents" (p. 291). (Oh, the joys of dramatic justice!)

Naomi feels "a tenderness, mingled with compassion, for those of my own nation (sons and daughters of Israel) who are shut out from the light and blessing of that faith which I now consider the crowning glory of my life." ... [Horace responds]: "when we bow before Messiah's throne , let us remember his chosen people, and plead for their speedy restoration to the land of their heritage, through faith in the Holy One of Jacob. One prophecy after another is rapidly being fulfilled, and the time is doubtless very near when their blindness shall be taken away, and thy people shall once more take a high position among the nations of the earth" (p. 300).

Some final thoughts on this novel:

(1) One unintended irony of the novel is that Women of Israel by Grace Aguilar is mentioned approvingly as provoking an interest about Jews among some Christians, but as I've mentioned before, Aguilar criticized this genre of conversionary novels.

(2) It's interesting that Rachel's conversion remains unresolved, although it's clear that she's open to the prospect. (And surely Naomi and Horace will put constant pressure on her to consider their arguments in favor of conversion).

(3) Money plays a major role in the lives of our Jewish protagonists and antagonists in this book. Whether intended or not, this feeds the stereotype of the Jew as money-grubbing and the Christian as "above the fray" when it comes to finance.

(4) Ben Zara is the typical rabbi found in conversionist stories: sly, deceptive, rigid, uncaring, spiritually dry and barren. Occasionally one finds exceptions to this rule in the conversionary fiction, but not very often.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Son of Israel; or, The Sword of the Spirit

When I wrote a few days ago that "A Lady of England" (Charlotte Maria Tucker) only wrote one contemporary conversionist novel about Jews, I was technically correct. However, I have to confess that my statement might be construed as inaccurate by some, since she also wrote a short novella (about 60 pages) called A Son of Israel; or, The sword of the Spirit. It was also published as part of a book entitled Ned Franks; or, The Christian's Panoply. A Tale in Six Parts.

The first chapter in the story is "The little Jew." So we know we're off to a good start, ecumenically speaking.

We discover some Gentile urchins who are teasing a little Jewish boychik named Benoni Isaacs. Ned Franks, a young Christian man and obviously the hero, rescues him and rebukes the boys, who were just having a good time (no harm intended). After talking with Ned for a while, Benoni says, "I want to be a Christian, that when I die I may be in the same place as Persis (his female friend, who is about the same age as Ned). I'm so afraid that Jews and Christians won't be together; if I could only go where Persis will go, I'm sure, quite sure, I'd be happy."

Now, we can deduce a number of items from this section of the story. First, it's clear that Ned Franks has great powers of persuasion. Second, it's equally clear that Persis is quite the female specimen, to convince Benoni to change religions. (Perhaps she's the proto-shiksa goddess). Third, Benoni seems to be under the delusion that companionship with Persis equals eternal happiness. Obviously he's never been married or had a long term committed relationship.

Persis shares her concern with Ned Franks. She wants to proselytize Benoni,but she almost feels that it would be "not quite honourable to take advantage of [Benoni's father's] trust" (as Ned puts it). Ned advises Persis to begin her evangelistic efforts with the father, so as to be an ethical conversionist. But she is afraid of talking to Mr. Isaacs about Jesus, even though she doesn't consider him to be a "bigoted Jew."

Ned continues to give advice to Persis about methods of evangelism, encouraging her to use the "sword of the Spirit," the very Hebrew Bible that Mr. Isaacs is familiar with already, to "witness" to him. "It might be well ... to draw the Jew's attention to those parts of it that might convince him that his own Scriptures bear witness to the truth of the Gospel."

[The "sword of the spirit" is a biblical metaphor that originally was meant to be taken in a non-violent way. The early Christians were pacifists, I think. But fast forward a few hundred years to the Crusades, and the sword of the spirit takes on an entirely different meaning. So you'll forgive me if I cringe when I hear this particular expression used in the context of conversion of Jews to Christianity].

Eventually Ned takes his own advice and goes to talk to Benoni's dad, Mr. Isaacs, a jeweller who is repairing a small scimitar (sword). [Yes, we see the symbolism]. Ned starts to talk to him about messianic prophecies, and thus ensues a lively discussion.

Back and forth they go, until finally Mr. Isaacs acknowledges that Ned (such a clever boy!) makes a good solid argument for the Messiahship of Jesus. But, though his mind might be somewhat convinced, his heart is not, and Mr. Isaacs gives practical reasons for why he would never convert to Christianity. But there's also an emotional piece to his resistance to the Christian faith. Mr. Isaacs gets angry when he thinks about (after reading a verse concerning forgiveness from the New Testament) how many Christians that he knows who are not living Christ-like lives.

"You profess yourselves lambs when you're ravening wolves; you call yourselves followers of the Prince of Peace, and you delight in bloodshed and strife; you read the command [to] love your enemies and so you pursue them to the death! Hypocrites!"

Well..... Mr. Isaacs does have a point.

Mr. Isaacs holds many grievances against quite a number of individuals, but he is unable to forgive any of them; he knows that if he becomes a Christian he will have to forgive. He just can't let go of his grudges. But a series of events takes place [I'll spare you the details] that causes our Mr. Isaacs to change his mind. He learns to forgive, and he finally takes the plunge and converts to Christianity.

Benoni is clearly excited about the turn of events. He tells Persis and Ned (who have just been married, which is something of a surprise unless you have been reading between the lines), "yes, yes, father will be a Christian and I'll be a Christian, and we'll all go to church, and we'll all go to Heaven together!"

Benoni, my young friend, you have a lot to learn.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mahala, the Jewish Slave

In my last post I mentioned that The Mine; or Darkness and Light was Charlotte Maria Tucker's only Jewish conversionist novel. That's not entirely true. "A Lady of England" also wrote an historical novel called Mahala, the Jewish Slave which features a Jewish Christian living in ancient Rome.

In this novella (less than 100 pages), ALOE describes her main character as kind, intelligent, patient, and wise. Mahala's entire family had become believers in Jesus during and after his short sojourn as a itinerant preacher in Palestine. Even her husband, who was something of a doubting Thomas, finally came to believe in the miracle-producing rabbi. But turmoil in Palestine and Roman oppression left an older, widowed Mahala as a slave to a rich Roman family.

Early in the story Mahala is speaking to her fellow slave Seyd (an Arab) of her faith in the Christ:

"Are not all mankind slaves under the bondage of sin? is not death the inevitable portion of all -- that death which is the wages of sin? Nay, doth not all creation groan, as partaking of the curse laid on man?"

Mahala continues:

"A ransom has been paid for us..., a ransom whose price outweighed the world.... The Son of the Most High, looking down from His glory, saw the slaves of sin bound in the chains of misery; He saw, He pitied, and He came to save."

Mahala doesn't speak much of her Jewish background, except to say that "my parents were pious Jews, who waited for the consolation of Israel. My father, of the tribe of Levi, had transcribed with his own hand and constantly studied the sacred books of the prophets."

In the end, the Roman family who owns Mahala is converted to Christianity, along with Seyd the Arab. All of them are persecuted for their faith by other Romans, but their lives now have meaning and purpose.

The Mine; or, Darkness and Light

Charlotte Maria Tucker was a prolific British writer and missionary of the 19th century known to her readers (mostly children) as "A. L. O. E." ("a Lady of England"). In 1858 she wrote The Mine; or, Darkness and Light, apparently her only conversionist novel dealing with the Jews.

Early in the book we are introduced to a Jewish boy named Asahel Da Costa. His parents are dead, and his grandfather, with whom he lives, is Mr. Salomons, a kindly but not very warm gentleman. Asahel is friends with Arthur, a Christian boy, but a nominal Christian, and not a very devout one (though apparently he would defend the Christian creed to the death, even though he doesn't really know much about Christianity). However, despite his allegiance to (though ignorance of) Christian doctrine, we are told that "Arthur was not one to attempt, in the slightest degree, to influence the religious belief of another" (p. 63).

Thus, in the evangelical mind, Arthur is not only a nominal Christian, he is a bad Christian as well since he espouses the "live and let live" philosophy of religious adherence.

Asahel has been reading bits of the New Testament, and he asks many questions about life and death, and about theology and spiritual beliefs. Arthur doesn't really know how to answer these questions, and feels ashamed about that. In actuality, Asahel is struggling with the idea that Jesus might be the Jewish Messiah. He wrestles with questions of why Jesus had to suffer, etc. until finally one day he hears a voice beside him, perhaps that of an angel, who says "Free Forgiveness."

"Some being stood beside Asahel whose face he could not see; a mantle of light appeared to hide it. All that Asahel beheld in his dream was a hand, which held out to him a parchment signed and sealed. "Free forgiveness" was written on that scroll. A thrill ran through the veins of Asahel. The parchment was signed in blood! A light fell on the hand which held it forth, -- that hand was pierced and bleeding! Asahel fell at the feet of his Deliverer, clasped his knees, bathed his feet with his tears, and with the cry, "My Lord, and my Saviour!" he awoke to find himself alone and in darkness" (p. 78).

Note the subtle use of symbolism in the final sentence of the paragraph just quoted.

Soon we meet Phemie, a girl who is a friend of Arthur's. When she hears about Asahel and his conversation with Arthur concerning matters religious, she says:

""No wonder, poor boy, for he is a Jew! It must be very painful to hear him, he must be so sadly, so very sadly in error!" "I'll tell you what, Phemie," said Arthur, "Asahel has ten times more religion in him than I have, or you either!" .... "But Asahel does not know the truth, he has not learned to believe in our Lord." "He has learned to love Him!" said Arthur.... "Oh, Arthur! Do you think that he is a Christian?" "I do not know, I don't believe that he knows himself. He is like some one groping about in the dark, feeling on all sides for something to guide him"" (p.94).

So at this point it's a bit confusing, since at first we think that Asahel had experienced a spiritual conversion with the dream about the angel and the appearance of Jesus. I mean, what more does it take to become a Christian, right? But after hearing the conversation between Phemie and Arthur, we realize that Asahel is still fumbling in the darkness, spiritually speaking. For my part, I have to think that Arthur, with his religious pluralism and his defense of Asahel, is the better Christian. But from the fundamentalist point of view, Phemie is the noble one, since she's very clear about Asahel's eternal damnation (without Christ) and her need to start proselytizing the young Jew who is "so very sadly in error."

Phemie gets the idea that she should start preaching the gospel to Asahel and his grandfather, although she is very frightened at the prospect. But she knows it must be done. She likens Asahel's situation to someone drowning: "If I saw any one drowning, should I look on and not care? or shut up in a burning house, should I not long to open the door to them?" (p. 95).

And of course, this makes a great deal of sense from the evangelical perspective. Until you start to think about the metaphor. It completely falls apart if you analyze it at all. [Begin rant.] For one thing, there's the timing of the matter. If someone is drowning, they will die in a matter of a few minutes, or less. The same with someone in a burning house. So you have to take drastic action. Drowning victims sometimes have to be subdued by violent means, since often they will resist the efforts of their rescuers. They must be dragged into shore, and fire victims must be carried from the burning house. But the "unsaved" are not in an analogous position. Unless they are on their deathbeds, they may have fifty or sixty years to be rescued from their state of unbelief. And the rescue isn't done by human means, but by God. Humans are just messengers. So I say, whatever your religious persuasion, even if you are the most evangelical of Christians, cut out the drowning man or burning woman metaphor. It just doesn't fit. End of rant.

So Phemie, still deluded by her drowning man / burning woman metaphor, starts to pray incessantly for Asahel, and tries to think of ways to use the Bible to show him the error of his ways.

"Asahel was full of ignorance and error; this was indeed the inevitable consequence of his position. He had been like one shut up in a dark tower, the thick walls of prejudice built up around him. .... The Old Testament Scriptures, like a golden lamp, had shed sufficient light to show him some of his nearest and most obvious duties, while they directed his hopes towards a Messiah. [He tried to obey the commandments], though from no principle of love towards the awful Being whom he had learned only to regard with fear. The few leaves which he had read from the Gospel had suddenly poured upon Asahel a beam of bright, transcendent lustre" (p. 102).

As an aside, Asahel is continually referred to as "the young Jew." His grandfather is referred to as "the Jew" or "the old Jew." Undoubtedly this form of third person address was common back in the day. While most of us in the tribe today would take offense at this type of writing, I don't think that was the case in the 1850s. So however much I am offended by A.L.O.E.'s conversionist tendencies, I'll give her some slack for "the old Jew" bit.

The plot gets a bit more interesting as clarity is shed on the title of the novel. (And for those of you blessed with denseness of brain, be on the lookout for some heavy spiritual symbolism).

Asahel, Arthur, and Phemie get adventuresome and end up lost in an underground mine. Asahel is afraid of what comes after death, Phemie is secure in her knowledge that she will go to heaven if she dies, and Arthur just thinks of his present misery. (Again, maybe it's just me, but I think Arthur is the practical one in the bunch).

""Do you believe," said Asahel very solemnly, "that He, He who suffered at Calvary, lives yet, and can hear you when you pray?" Phemie clasped her hands and replied, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." "And do you believe that your prayer can reach Him?" "He is beside us now," whispered Phemie; "darkness cannot hide us from His eye, and death can only bring us nearer to him." .... "Oh! Phemie, if I could but share your hope!" "You would, you would if you could but read my Bible!" exclaimed Phemie."

Asahel relates his dream to the other children, and Phemie responds:

""Oh, Asahel, why not do that now which you did in your dream, fall down at the feet of your Deliverer, and cry, "My Lord and my Saviour?" "Would He not reject me?" said Asahel. "Oh, no! never, never!" cried Phemie. "He never rejects any who turn unto Him." "We may come in our darkness, we may come in our sin, the blessed Lord has mercy for all!" "But I am so ignorant -- so dark!" exclaimed Asahel; "my heart believes, but my mind lacks knowledge. I have been brought up amongst those who do not accept your gospel. Where could I find proofs that your Lord is the Messiah?" "In the Old Testament -- in your own Scriptures!" cried Phemie, eagerly; "from the beginning to the end they bear witness to Him.""

Then Phemie begins to preach to Asahel from the Old Testament concerning messianic prophecies, etc. And apparently it hits the mark, because Asahel finally concedes:

""Oh, Phemie, I must -- I do believe! Like the poor wretch on the cross, I turn to the Saviour at my dying hour. He is my last, my only hope: may He be merciful to me, a sinner!"" (p. 134).

And later the conversation continues....

""Yes, yours -- ours is a beautiful religion!" said Asahel, "and oh! so different from what I had deemed it. Religion seemed to me to belong only to the conscience, and now I feel that it is the life of the heart! God is so terrible when we look at him only as a Judge, so unspeakably glorious when we behold him as a Saviour!" "But you always had part of the Scriptures," said Phemie, "and there is so much about God's love in the Old Testament as well as in the New." "I am afraid," replied Asahel, "that I would rather read the Scriptures for the beauty of the poetry and the interest of the stories, than really to gain knowledge on religious subjects. But what I have heard since I entered this gloomy place [the mine] has thrown a new light upon all which I have read. In every part of the Old Testament I find something to remind me of the Lord"" (p. 174-175).

The children are rescued from the underground mine (as would be assumed if the spiritual metaphor was to be continued).

"Asahel found courage to tell Mr. Salomons the next morning, with downcast eyes and a glowing cheek, that he had learned to love the faith of the Christians, and to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.... Mr. Salomons looked certainly surprised, but neither angry nor distressed at the communication. He treated Arthur's new belief as a childish fancy, a light spark that would soon die out of itself, if not fanned by opposition. But Asahel was not to escape altogether from the burden of the cross, --the painful trials which await a convert. When the tidings of his change was bruited abroad amongst the members of the Jewish community, a fierce spirit of persecution was aroused, and though Mr. Salomons took little part in them, many and strong efforts were made to shake the young Christian's constancy" (p. 185-186).

Over time, and because Asahel becomes a more obedient and loving grandson, Mr. Salomons begins to think that "as long as the youth continued to give him satisfaction by his conduct, he was free to believe what he chose, and to be called by what name he liked best" (p. 187).

Mr. Salomons seems to be a rather liberal and tolerant soul, don't you agree? But I wonder, does Asahel get to change his name now? Perhaps to something like, oh, I don't know, George? Because if he thinks that he is experiencing persecution now due to his faith in Christ, well, that's nothing compared to what he'll get from the neighborhood bullies when they discover his strange and unusual name. Yes, Asahel, when you get baptized, be sure to get a proper Christian name. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Adonijah, a tale of the Jewish dispersion

In 1856, Jane Margaret Strickland wrote Adonijah, a tale of the Jewish dispersion, a work of historical fiction that describes various Jewish characters who convert to (early) Christianity. Now normally I don't write much about historical fiction, because it seems to me that there is a difference between evangelical Christians writing about 1st century Jews converting to Christianity and evangelical Christians writing about 19th century (or 20th or 21st century) Jews converting to Christianity. There is a consensus today among scholars that sees early Christianity as one of many sects of ancient Judaism. The same cannot be said about modern day Christianity and modern day Judaism. While still related, today they are more like distant cousins.

So as I was saying, I normally avoid the historical fiction stuff because, well, what's the point of me commenting on it? If early Christianity was just one of many Jewish sects, why should I worry about novelists from whatever time period writing about a 1st century Jew slightly changing course? What's interesting about some novels, however, is that they treat a 1st century Jew believing in Jesus in the same way that they would treat a modern day Jew converting to Christianity. So that's one reason that I occasionally look at historical fiction and muse about it out loud.

Strickland's book is not nearly as bad as a novel that I wrote about last month, Thomas Vowler Short's Sadoc and Miriam. But Strickland does have the distinction of drawing the ire of George Eliot in a rather famous tirade. Eliot, in an article for the Westminister Review ("Silly Novels by Lady Novelists"), calls this novel "heavy imbecility" and states that it "is simply the feeblest kind of love story, supposed to be instructive, we presume, because the hero is a Jewish captive, and the heroine a Roman vestal; because they and their friends are converted to Christianity after the shortest and easiest method approved by the "Society for Promoting the Conversion of the Jews;" and because, instead of being written in plain language, it is adorned with that peculiar style of grandiloquence which is held by some lady novelists to give an antique colouring."

Interestingly enough, George Eliot later wrote Daniel Deronda (1876), which presents the Victorian English Jew in a positive light and has no agenda of conversion. Indeed, there is sort of a reverse conversion in that the title character (who believes he is simply an Englishman and who is raised, apparently, as a Protestant), eventually learns that he is Jewish and embraces the religion and nationality of the Jewish people. Daniel Deronda also marries a Jewish woman, Mirah Lapidoth, and he becomes a Zionist. Eliot may have had an agenda but she was clearly no evangelical conversionist.

But back to Adonijah. Here are a few key excerpts of editorial commentary:

"The destruction of Jerusalem was stupendous, not only an act of divine wrath, but as being the proximate cause of the dispersion of a whole nation, upon which a long series of sorrow, spoliation, and oppression lighted, in consequence of the curse the Jews had invoked, when in reply to the remonstrances of Pilate they had cried out, "His blood be upon us and our children" (p. iii).

"But happier times seem dawning on the dispersed of Judea. Our own days have seen the foundations of a Jewish Christian church laid in Jerusalem." (p. iv).

"The final restoration of the Jews to their own land after their conversion to Christianity is foretold in many parts of Scripture, particularly in the ... prophet Isaiah." (p. 287).

Other evangelical historical fiction written in the 19th century where Jews convert to Christianity include the following:

Naomi; or the Last Days of Jerusalem, by Mrs. J.B. Webb-Peploe (1860). In this book, our old conversionary novelist friend Mrs. Webb-Peploe gives us a Christian view of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Obviously there are going to be many Jews that populate this novel, and more than a few (including the title character) become adherents of nascent Christianity, with a Victorian flavor.

Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by General Lew Wallace (1880). We all know the story, and I hate to put it in the same company as Adonijah, but I must. All I can say is, at least no one died in the writing of the chariot race.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Julamerk; or, the Converted Jewess

Mrs. J.B. Webb-Peploe, also known as Annie Molyneux Webb, wrote Julamerk; or, the Converted Jewess in 1850. It was first published under a different title, The Jewess of Julamerk, and later editions used other titles such as Julamerk : a tale of the Nestorian Christians, descriptive of their habits and manners, their severe trials and patient faith.

In the preface, the author writes: "In presenting this work to the public, the author is desirous of exciting a warmer interest in the welfare of the stedfast and persecuted people of whom it treats, than is already felt by her countrymen" (p. iii).

The characters in this novel, set in the 19th century in Assyria and "Koordistan", are Ephraim, a Jewish merchant, and Isaac, a Nestorian (Assyrian) Christian who is of Jewish descent. Hagar is Ephraim's wife, and Zoraide is his daughter. Adonijah is the man that Zoraide is engaged to be married to, but she is not interested in him. Helena is Isaac's sister, and Zuleika is a Nestorian female acquaintance. (Isaac likes Zuleika and vice versa, but unbeknownst to Isaac, Zuleika's parents made a vow when she was born that she would be devoted to the Lord's service and never marry. This makes her very sad since she has romantic feelings for Isaac).

Isaac stands by the Ephraim's tent (they are caravaning together), listening to Ephraim singing, and Ephraim says to him, bitterly: "Had you understood the words of that hymn, ... you would have perceived that it was not suited to Christian ears. Its lofty aspirations belong not to those who have forsaken the faith, and rejected the glorious hopes of Israel" (p. 14).

There is a whole section devoted to how the Nestorians are descended from the lost 10 tribes of Israel, and that while they are Assyrian Christians they should not be confused with the Chaldean Church, which is connected with the Roman Catholic Church. The Patriarch of the Nestorian Protestants lives in the mountains near Julamerk. "Both these distinct bodies of nominal Christians receive the name of Beni-Israel (or sons of Israel), in common with the Jews; but they are also called by the distinguishing appellation of Nazareans, which is supposed to signify Jews or Israelites converted to Christianity, (or the religion of the Nazarene). The name of Nestorian, which is generally applied to these people, and more especially to the Protestant portion, is one which they object to, and seldom apply to themselves.... Their objection to this name arises from a fear lest it shold be thought to imply that they hold the heretical opinions of Nestorius...." (p. 15). At different times the author calls the Nestorians "uncorrupted Christians" and the "primitive Church."

Roman Catholicism is dissed throughout the novel. But as we have seen thus far, this is common for Protestant conversionist novels. While Judaism is the primary whipping boy in these stories, the Roman Catholic Church is a convenient scapegoat for all the ills of Christendom.

Isaac talks to Zoraide about Christianity and then wonders if he has offended her since "she had been taught to regard [Christianity] as a fatal and degrading apostacy" (p. 57). Zoraide tells him that she has heard about Christianity before, that it appeals to her, but she must never talk about it again because it is forbidden.

The author many times decries the "bigotry" and "prejudice of the Jews of this country against those of their own people, who have, as they deem it, apostatized from the faith of their common ancestors" (p. 68).

Ephraim expresses concern at several points in the book about Jews leaving Judaism for Christianity. For example, "You do not know all the attempts that are made by too zealous, though perhaps well-meaning, Nazareans, to draw away the youthful sons and daughters of Israel from our ancient faith" (p. 81).

And his fears are well-founded. Isaac "hoped that the time would yet come when Zoraide would be taught to conquer all her Jewish prejudieces and Jewish pride, and to confess Jesus of Nazareth to be indeed her Messiah and her Saviour. He even ventured to express to her this pious hope, and to urge her not to stifle the confictions of her heart but to pray earnestly" that God would guide her into truth (p. 108).

Later in the book Ephraim has a confrontation with a Kurdish Muslim: "The youth who so bravely defended my child is far from hence; and though he is a Christian, and therefore unworthy of the friendship of a Jew, I yet rejoice in his safety" (p. 222).

The Muslim believes that Isaac (who earlier saved Zoraide's life) has killed his brother (which was true, but it was in self-defense and in defense of Zoraide), and so he aims to avenge his brother's death. The Muslim (Achmet) believes that Zoraide and Isaac are engaged to be married, and so he holds Zoraide hostage until Ephraim can produce Isaac. During her captivity Zoraide begins to soften toward the gospel. Achmet sends Isaac a letter tellling him that he is holding his fiancee hostage and that he will kill her if Isaac doesn't come. Isaac writes back that Achmet is mistaken and that Zoraide is not his fiancee. Achmet is furious, but meanwhile another Kurd ( or "Koord" as it is spelled in this book), Tahr Aga, falls in love with Zoraide even though she does not return his affections.

Muslims are called Mahometans throughout the book. Islam is referred to as "the cruel religion of the false Prophet" (p. 274).

Zoraide escapes from the clutches of Achmet, with the help of sympathetic Kurds. But although safe from physical harm, she is now in danger of being forcibly married to another Muslim, Nooroolah-Bey. But happily, Isaac rescues her from this dilemma.

Zoraide begins to feel doubts about her faith in Judaism. "She was utterly dissatisfied with the doctrines on which she had been taught to rest...." (p.292). She envied the "full assurance of faith" that the Nestorians had and which she lacked, and she was suffering from a "spiritual depression."

Zoraide one day (while she is living with a Nestorian family, after she has escaped from Achmet) picks up a New Testmanet (a gospel of John) and begins to read it. She is profoundly struck by the prophetic nature of Jesus. The Nestorian Patriarch (Mar Shimon) observes her reading and strikes up a conversation with her about Jesus. His kindness makes a deep impression on her, but she is still not ready to believe in Jesus. The next few days are spent debating with her Nestorian friends (Helena, Mar Shimon) about the divinity and Messiahship of Jesus, but because of her pride and self-righteousness (p. 298) she is unable to believe. Meanwhile her physical health declines and she remains in a state of depression.

Meanwhile Zulaika agress to marry Isaac (her parents having released her from their vow to have her work for the church in celibacy).

Helena expresses to Zoraide her confidence that she will soon be a Christian. Zoraide responds, "If I remain a Jew, a detested marriage must be my lot; and if I become a Christian, I should be an outcast from home, and kindred, and friends.... The grave, Helena, is the only peaceful home that I can ever hope to find. Death is the only refuge from sorrows which, like mine, can never be removed on earth. And yet.... am I ready for death? Am I fit to appear before my heart-searching Judge? ... Oh, Helena, tell me where to turn for the assurance of heavenly joy...." (p. 313-314)

But Zoraide "was not yet delivered from Jewish pride...." (p. 320). So her friends continue to encourage her to read the Scriptures and they still have occasional talks with her about the Bible and religion.

Meanwhile Achmet is stalking Isaac, intending to avenge his brother's death. Isaac is also at this time officially betrothed to Zulaika, a happy event. Achmet shoots at Isaac but hits his horse instead, and Isaac escapes.

Ephraim writes to his daughter Zoraide to express his love for her and to encourage her not to convert (since he is sure that she must be being influenced by the Christians she is staying with). The narrator says that Zoraide would be saved from "much suffering" if she would only give up all ties to "the beggarly elements of Judaism" and its "wearing bondage" (p. 359)

Ephraim says to Paul, a Nestorian Christian and Isaac's cousin: "You and your cousins have shown me that Nazareans can be men of honour and of kindness; and though I cannot be reconciled to your religion, I can esteem your characters" (p. 369)

But later Ephraim expresses his sadness that "her soul -- her soul! -- that is tainted with heresy, and will be cut off from the hope of Israel" (p. 370)

The narrator calls Ephraim a "bigoted Jew" (p. 371) and Ephraim states (to Paul): "The soul of Ephraim is not made to change, though weak girls may be influenced by specious arguments, and appeals to their feelings. Let this subject never be named between us again, or I may regret the confidence I have learnt to place in a Nazarean, who I hope was at least free from the proselyting spirit of his sect.... Do not ... intrude your religion upon me" (p. 371).

Father Geronimo, a "wily monk" (p. 380) is really a Chaldean priest but disguises himself to fit in with the Nestorians. He is somewhat shady and definitely not a "real Christian." Geronimo is "a very fitting agent for the deceitful church of which he was a devoted servant. Truth was entirely set aside where expediency was concerned; and any sophistry was adopted when the object was to gain adherents to that church" (p. 381).

Zoraide finally comes to faith in Jesus. "I am convinced that there is salvation even for me; and that the Saviour will not cast me off" (p. 421). (One of her biggest earlier barriers to becoming a Christian was that she didn't think she was worthy).

She later says to the Patriarch that she wants to get baptized "into the fellowship of Christ's church on earth.... I will avow that all my hopes are centred in the cross of Christ, and all my desire is to be his, in body, soul, and spirit; now, and for ever" (p. 426).

Rachel, Zoraide's Jewish nurse, becomes more open to the gospel after seeing the changes in Zoraide.

Achmet kills Isaac's brother, Zadok, thinking it was Isaac. He is captured and later executed by the locals.

Zoraide's parents are saddened to learn of her apostasy but are glad that she is still alive. They give their consent for her to be baptized although they excuse themselves from the actual ceremony (because they clearly regret her actions).

Zoraide finally dies of some unknown illness (her health has steadily decreased throughout the book), and several years later her parents become Christians as well.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Adeline, or, The Mysteries, Romance, and Realities of Jewish Life

Miriam Burstein describes much of 19th century Anglo Christian literature as "paraliterature" or "subliterature." If these terms are pejorative, and I assume that on some level they are, then Osborn Heighway fits squarely into this genre. His novels, and those of many other evangelical Christians of the 19th century, are sort of like Thomas Kinkade paintings. It's not really art, though at first glance it looks like it.

Not content with the success of Leila Ada, Heighway wrote another conversionary novel about Jews and Christians, this one entitled Adeline, or, The Mysteries, Romance, and Realities of Jewish Life, published in London in 1854.

We are introduced to Isaac Cohen in the first chapter. He is described as a "young man whose personal appearance proclaimed him beyond doubt to be a member of the house of Israel" (p. 9). Yes, we know what that means. It's 19th century code for "he looks like a Jew."

We also meet Solomon Steinberg, a man of about fifty who is a wealthy German Jewish financier who has emigrated to England. Steinberg's daughter Adeline, a young woman of nineteen, also figures prominently in the story (as might be expected by the title of the book). Isaac and Adeline love each other, which makes this a love story of sorts (as are many of the 19th century conversionary novels). Solomon Steinberg is described as talking in a heavy German Jewish accent, so much so that he becomes a caricature of himself and a bit of a cartoon. As with Leila Ada, various Jewish customs, ceremonies, and holidays are described in this book. We even get a female confirmation ceremony depicted in detail.

Adeline is a student of prophecy and waits in expectation for the Messiah, but she considers the "Talmud and all its foolish fripperies... with intense disgust.... But since she had engaged her affections to Isaac Cohen, she invariably accompanied him to his father's house to keep all the feasts and fasts appointed by the Judaic ritual... The only thing that gave her any cause for sorrow was, that all of them [Isaac's family], except Isaac, gave more or less credit to the inanities of the Talmud" (p. 19).

In several other places she denounces the Talmud, e.g.,: "Its impurities always disgusted me; its puerilities , its worse than childish follies, always offended me" (p. 22). Isaac as well has nasty things to say about the Talmud and the ancient rabbis, saying that rabbinical Judaism is branded with "infamy and everlasting contempt" (p. 25). Throughout the book many other criticisms are made of rabbinic Judaism, such as Mr. Cohen (Isaac's father) proclaiming that he never recites the prayer thanking God that he was not born a woman. ("She-lo asani isha" for those in the know).

Isaac's father ("Mr. Cohen") is a widower with several children, including Isaac, David (who is engaged to marry Hermon Baruch); Mary, Jacob, Joseph, and Eulalie. Mr. Cohen, though an observant Jew, is a liberal and generous man, and he does not hate Christians despite the persecutions that are reported against Jews throughout the world (the culprits are usually Catholics). He says: "The character of Jesus is a very lovely one, and his doctrine is very fascinating" (p. 38).

So.... the scene is set. We know who the good guys are. We are soon to meet the bad guys. My prediction: Adeline and Isaac will become Christians, and perhaps also Mr. Cohen. But let's see what happens. I've been known to be wrong before.

Diana, a servant in the Cohen household, is described as superstitious and "a bit of a Cabbalist" (p. 55). "And truly awful were the mysterious things they did, and the experiements they performed" (p. 55-56). She holds a seance which others in the household attend. Scary stories are told that are taken from the Talmud and Midrash. Spooky! I mean, this Diana cat is spoookeeee!

Adeline's father, Solomon Steinberg, is a fairly superstitious man and fascinated by Kabbalah. (All right, I guess this is his "dark side"). He has a friend named Levi Abraham, who makes a strange vow that if God delivers him from an illness, he will write his name down 100 times a day for a thousand days. (Obviously, Mr. Abraham is also interested in Kabbalah).

A rabbi in the community (Ben Uzziel) dies, and he does not go quietly into that dark night (he anguishes over his impending death, which is what every fictional non-Christian apparently does). When Solomon hears of it, it makes him feel quite bad because he knows he does not have peace either in facing death. Nothing he does, not his prayers or his Kabbalah or his "strewing dust upon his head, and beating his forehead upon the ground" could bring him comfort (p. 109). Here Judaism is contrasted with Christiantiy, which of course (but of course!) brings peace and comfort and assurance of "life eternal" in the face of death.

A new Jewish character is introduced, Eva St. Maur, along with her brother, Adolphus St. Maur. Eva's father has died and she is placed in the care of a guardian, Rabbi Eliel Sibbecai (which, as a footnote informs us, is sort of a 19th century version of Shabbetai Zvi, the well known "false Messiah" of the 17th century). Rabbi Sibbecai is a Kabbalist ("he said he had intercourse with spiritual beings; and I have heard him talking to them," p. 150), and thinks he is the Messiah. He tries to get Eva under his spell and he attempts to make her a prophetess.

Adolphus can't stand hearing this, for it makes him even more scornful of religion than he already was. He opines:

"This Rabbinism -- isn't it all just this? -- an ejection of God from his throne -- and making man the sole arbiter of life and death.... All this praying about mercy, and so on, is merely an opiate to keep conscience quiet. If they haven't merit enough to balance demerit, God can't save them, and to perdition they go -- there's the end of Rabbinism" (p. 152).

Adolphus is not a believer -- he espouses no religion, but he can't stand the religion of his youth, Judaism. "I hate Judaism, because it offends, insults, crucifies that most sacred of all sacred things -- that most beautiful of all beauties -- a woman's heart!" (p. 154). Isaac answers him: "I condemn Rabbinism as earnestly as you can. But it grieves me when I hear you speak doubtingly of religion. The religion of the rabbis is as opposed to God, the Bible, and to reason, as anything that can be imagined" (p. 154).

So at this point, we know where most of the characters stand. And the rabbis and their religion aren't looking very good. But we knew from the start that rabbinic Judaism wasn't going to come out spotless. It's just that, well, Heighway doesn't pull his punches, does he? Subtlety is not his strong suit. But couldn't he be a little more, um, respectful of other religions?

The two sisters Mary and Eulalie Cohen secretly read the New Testament and become closet Christians. Mary (such a fine Jewish name!) finally confesses her newfound beliefs to Mr. Eder, a Jewish man who had asked for her hand in marriage. When he asks her if she realizes the consequences of her new adherence to Christ, she says: "I know it. And I shall be excluded from the synagogue -- perhaps also from my father's house. My name will be blotted from among my people. I shall have to pass through afflictions, to me strange and terrible. Yet, weak as I am, I feel unmoved" (p. 223).

Mr. Eder replies: "No Jew will speak to you -- sent among strangers -- separated from your family -- not even allowed to be buried with them." [And Mary responds]: "I know all this. But God will save my body by the resurrection of Jesus, as he has my immortal spirit" (p. 223).

Adeline and Isaac want to be married, but it is not to be, at least for now. Adeline is sent to work as a servant in a rich man's house, Lord Vernon, who she marries (ostensibly for financial reasons). Isaac, heartbroken, decides to leave the country. Adeline witnesses the death of Vernon, whose final words are "Lord Jesus Christ!" (p. 232). This affects Adeline deeply. This, combined with her reading the New Testament that Eulalie had sent her, causes her to come to faith in Jesus.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cohen finds out about his daughters' new faith and is rather upset about it, especially about Mary because she had recently been confirmed and is now considered an "apostate" (if and when she confesses to the rabbis). At the same time, Adeline confesses to him about her also becoming a Christian (in her defense of Mary and Eulalie). Mr. Cohen loves his daughter Mary, but he feels that he must follow the laws and ban her from any family meals.

[Can you imagine how this Mr. Cohen must feel? Two daughters both announce to him that they've converted to a different religion, a religion that is the antithesis of what he believes, a religion whose adherents have persecuted his people for 1500 years. Imagine his pain! Anyway, I digress....]

Mr. Cohen feels compelled to tell the rabbis, and so Mary is subjected to ongoing discussions with the elders of the synagogue. Finally, when they realize that they cannot convince her to return to Judaism, they inform the chief rabbi. He (along with his associates) comes to dinner to examine her. The narrator informs us that they treat her with kindness at dinner (p. 241), although what follows (pp. 242ff) is essentially an excommunication of Mary.

Dr. Aben Baruch presides. It starts out with everyone fairly amiable but it ends with Aben Baruch crying out: "Blasphemy! blasphemy! I have not more to say with thee, dog!.... Oh! women and wickedness, always together. Then he invoked upon her, and upon the infidel and idolatrous Goim all the curses of the law, with such loudness of voice and extravagance of gesture...." (p. 247). Later he hits Eulalie when she defends her sister and says to her: ""Little serpent of hell!" hissed the Jew, between his clenched teeth. I could fling thee into the sea and send thee to Gehenna before thou dost more mischief.... Incarnation of the devil!... On God's behalf I smite thee!"" (p. 247).

Later all the rabbis pronounce curses upon Mary, and expel her from her father's house, and forbid her to have any contact at all with any of the Jewish community. But Mr. Cohen, when he hears about the disgusting treatment that his daughters have experienced at the hands of the rabbis, tells them that they (his excommunicated daughters) can stay with him and decides never again to "enter a synagogue, nor have a Jew, excepting his own family, in his house again" (p. 249).

All righty now. A couple of questions for you, Mr. Cohen. First, why did you squeal on your daughters to the rabbis? You must have known that they would be excommunicated and subjected to all sorts of pressure and unpleasant experiences. Come on, you must have known! And second, it's a bit of an overreaction, isn't it, to vow never to have contact with another Jew just because you had a bad experience with a few rabbis? And third, why did you name your Jewish daughter Mary? Did it ever occur to you that naming her Mary might be a precursor to her conversion to Christianity? Was it because all of your other Jewish friends were naming their daughters Mary? Or did you just like the name Mary and you had no clue that it is generally thought of as a Catholic name? And you were out of the room when the edict came down that "Jews don't name their daughters Mary"? What's wrong with Miriam, huh?

Back to the story. Eulalie gets sick and dies. Mr. Cohen, heartbroken, decides to travel on the continent with Mary. There they meet Isaac, who has been having quite an adventure in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire. They all return to England, and Isaac (also lately having become a Christian) marries Adeline. Mary, sadly, dies three months after Eulalie, but the narrator assures the reader that for Christians, death is not the end.

But happily, we now have come to the end of this anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-rabbinic novel. No, it's not Der Sturmer. But though I try to avoid labeling these conversionist novels as anti-semitic, a term that is probably overused anyway, this one certainly fits the bill.