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.

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