Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Annie and Miriam; or, The Christian and the Jewess

Annie and Miriam; or, The Christian and the Jewess is a short tract, published by the London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in 1852, that describes the friendship between Annie Rivers, a young Christian girl, and Miriam, a sickly young Jewish girl. Miriam, who is about two years older than Annie, goes to live with Annie because her poor father cannot afford to give her decent medical care, good food, good water, etc.

The pamphlet gently chastises Christians for their lack of kindness in regard to the Jews. Annie asks her mother, "Is that a Jew, mamma?" "Yes, Annie; and as a Jew he is entitled to a degree of tenderness which Christians do not always show" (p. 7).

Annie's mother, Mrs. Rivers, is a serious Christian, and she believes that all men, even those of other religions, need to believe in Jesus. Yet she feels like she should not take advantage of the situation to bring about Miriam's conversion to Christ. Miriam's father's parting words were "We are Hebrews" (p. 16) so she knows that he does not want her to try to convert the child. Yet as a Christian she felt like she should say something. She decides to talk to the father about it. That day, Annie asks her what was worrying her, and she replies thusly:

"I have been thinking, my dear, whether it can be right to let this sweet Jewess girl dwell among us so long without speaking to her of the Saviour whom her fathers slew, whom her people still reject." "And why do you not do so, mamma?" "Because I fear her father would be displeased, or might think I took an unfair advantage of the charity I offered this child. Oh! Annie, it is sad to think that if our interesting Miriam learned to love Christ, her father and her father's people would probably cease to love her."

But it turns out that our child heroine Annie, sweet naive, innocent Annie, all along has been quietly proselytizing Miriam. Annie contrasts Miriam's (Jewish) picture of God as a "hard God" who is "a great, mighty, terrible Being" (p. 18) with her own Christian view of God as love and as redeemer.

Annie reads to Miriam from the New Testament, and then Miriam starts reading it herself.
Mrs. Rivers decides not to intervene with Miriam and Annie, and also not to talk to Miriam directly about Christ, but to bring up the subject with Miriam's father. She discovers that Miriam's father is "unhappy, seeking rest, and finding none; unwilling to renounce the faith of his forefathers, yet finding no satisfaction in it" (p. 22).

"She tried to show him that she was far from wishing him to renounce that faith, but only wanted him to perceive and believe in its accomplishment" (p. 22). That the Old Testament was incomplete without the New Testament, and "that she did not want him to renounce his faith as a Jew, but to experience its fulfilment in the faith of a Christian" (p. 22).... "Mrs. Rivers offered the old Jew a New Testament, and begged him candidly to read it, and ask the God of faithful Abraham to enable him to understand it" (p 23).

Miriam believes in Jesus and is baptized. She witnesses to her father of her newfound faith. Then Dad gets sick and the Grim Reaper comes calling. Mrs. Rivers urges Mr. Jewish Dad on his deathbed to believe in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And he responds:

"I ought not, perhaps, to have been silent so long, for my child's sake, at least; I am a Christian! I believe that the Messiah has once come; that Jesus of Nazareth was he; I believe that he is the promised Saviour of the world, for whom our fathers looked, for whom our tribes still vainly look; I believe he will be my Saviour and my God." "The old Jew raised up his clasped hands, and cried with fervour, in the words of Nathaniel, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God! thou art the king of Israel!"

And then he died.

Perhaps this short story should have been titled, And A Little Child Shall Lead Them. Like many other conversionist tales of the 1800s, the strongest Christian (and the one who leads the Jews to Christ) is but a child.

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