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.

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