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.

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