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.

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