Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Convert

We return again to the American South. Wandering Jude has so far written about two other conversionist novels set in the Southern United States (Judith Bensaddi and In League with Israel, but this one has a real twist.

Charles Buckner Hudgins was an Episcopalian rector in Rome, Georgia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His only novel, The Convert, was published in 1908.

This novel's protagonists are Judge Reuben Reinhardt, a Jew, and Miss Ruth Rex, a Christian. They fall in love and marry, after Ruth has converted to Judaism (but not out of conviction, only to marry Reuben). In the end, Reuben is convinced by her arguments and he converts to Christianity.

Midway through the book, after meeting the handsome judge and developing a relationship with him, Ruth finally gets around to preaching. She tells Reuben that Jesus died for "you and for me, and to save and to receive us all into the blessed place He has gone to prepare for all who love Him and believe Him to be the Redeemer, the Saviour of their souls " (p. 164).

Reuben responds:

"Ah! Miss Ruth, you are an earnest and forceful preacher, but, alas! I cannot accept your doctrine, because it is of very doubtful origin. Some day, perhaps, you may become convinced that I and my people are justified in not accepting Jesus of Nazareth as the true Messiah. .... I trust and believe that our God accepts all worshipful service rendered unto Him, even that of the Christians" (p. 164).

Sounds reasonable to Wandering Jude.

Later, Ruth makes another attempt at evangelism, this time with a little less tact. She says to Reuben:

"True, Judge, we Christians know that your nation has been blessed far above all others.... but because of their insincerity, corruption in many sins, and, at last, their unbelief in not accepting Jesus as the Messiah, God has, at least for a while, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, when all Israel shall be saved, withheld His promises to the once so highly favored people, because they have proven to be 'a faithless and stubborn generation.' " (p. 215).

In love with the judge, and desperate to both marry him and convert him to the Christian religion, Ruth decides to convert to Judaism "while secretly she would keep her heart loyal to Christ her Saviour.. She felt sure that she never could deny her Lord Jesus; nor could she abandon the hope and faith in the final conversion of her lover to Christianity.... She... felt willing, if necessary, to make any sacrifice, even to the loss of her soul, to save his" (p. 296).

Ruth is a bit devious in her proselytizing efforts. But her conniving pays off:

"Every night ... they read [from the] Hebrew Bible; and she so often selected the Messianic prophecies to read to him.... Then too he had discovered a copy of the New Testament in her room.... [which] "resulted in his conviction that she had not really, in her heart, become a convert to his religion, but had merely outwardly conformed to all the requirements of Judaism, out of her deep love for him. All unknown to her, he also read Dr. Geikie's great work [The Life and Words of Christ], and read and reread the New Testament, becoming more and more convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Christ -- the long-expected Messiah. It gave him a peaceful, happy feeling he had never before experienced. He studied and earnestly prayed over it, and read also both Paley's and McIlvain's "Evidences of Christianity." Then he began to study the doctrines and history of the leading Christian sects; for after his secret conversion to Christianity he felt that he must confess Christ before men in some church" (pp. 324-325).

After reading together some of the bizarre [to our modern ears] Talmudic arguments (is an egg fit to eat if it is laid on the Sabbath?) and Midrashic stories, Ruth says, in a somewhat snarky manner:

"Such, my dear Professor, are some of the Talmudic teachings, which these learned Jewish rabbis valued more highly than they did the inspired writings of the Prophets" ... "Take the Gospels of the New Testament, my dear Professor, and read for yourself, and you will see how different were the sayings of Jesus -- how practical and simple, yet how wisely profound His teachings; and you are bound to be convinced that He was more than mere man -- that it is not idolatry to workshp Him as the Divine Son of God the Father!" (pp. 328-329).

After Ruth reads Isaiah 53 to Reuben, he responds by reading aloud a selection from the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, and then he says: "In Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah's words were literally fulfilled --henceforth, Jesus of Nazareth is my Christ and Saviour. He only is the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God!" (pp. 330-331).

Reuben arranges to be baptized in the Episcopal church on Christmas day. "The long struggle was over and their hearts were at peace" (p. 333).

Final thoughts:

This novel raises the question of whether or not it is ethical for a Christian to convert to Judaism in order that s/he might evangelize his/her spouse. Wandering Jude would concur with the majority of readers that it is indeed unethical to engage in such a practice. Perhaps unethical is too weak a word in this kind of situation. Abhorent would be more like it.

Wandering Jude wonders why such a high percentage of pre-1920 evangelical conversionary novels take place in the American South. Perhaps it was easier for a Jew in the South to convert to Christianity given the dearth of Jews and the strong influence of the Bible Belt?

If this story was being pitched as a Hollywood movie, it might be blurbed as "Driving Miss Daisy meets Jerry Falwell."

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Rivals: A Tragedy of the New York Ghetto

A second Amos Dushaw Jewish Christian novel, The Rivals: A Tragedy of the New York Ghetto, was published in 1910.

When Daniel Mendes (a Jewish journalist who appears to be a believer in Jesus) meets Debora Herz, "Dan was indeed surprised to see before him a Jewess whose complexion and features was so foreign to the commonly accepted Hebrew type. She was a perfect blonde, and would easily have passed for a pure Anglo-Saxon" (p. 17).

Dan joins a discussion in a tavern about politics and religion. He says some nice words about Jesus and is almost attacked for it. But then he states that he has no intention of ever joining a Christian church, and that seems to calm people down.

Similarly, another Jewish character, Juda Gold, says that he is a believer in Jesus but not a member of any Christian church.

It turns out that Juda Gold is a former Christian minister. He explains that Jesus of Nazareth "has influenced my life for good in the past and He is still doing so. And let me add this: Jesus has quite a few followers who are not in the Christian Church, and there are quite a number of them among the Jews. I know many of them" (p. 39). It seems that Juda Gold left his affiliation with the church because he found there to be prejudice towards Jews. But he goes on to say: "My present position does not hinder me from believing that the Nazarene is the true Messiah" (p. 44).

Not every Jew in this novel is pro-Jesus. Mr. Herz (Debora's father) says: "You dare tell me in my house that that rascal was the Messiah" (p. 45).

Dan replies, "If you will show me in the writings of the New Tesament any hatred towards the Jew, I, too, will tear it up. The religion of the Nazarene is the religion of love, love for Jew and Gentile alike."

And the not wholly unexpected rejoinder comes from Mr. Herz: "Enough, enough, Mr. Mendes, you must be a secret missionary, stealing into people's homes for the express purpose of promulgating that vile faith. Are you a renegade?" (p. 46). When Dan admits that he is follower of Christ, Mr. Herz kicks both him and Juda Gold out of his house. Debora tells her father that she will continue to see Daniel Mendes, and in response to this, Mr. Herz passionately states, "She is no longer our daughter. We will mourn her as one dead" (p. 49).

Juda and Dan read together from the New Testament one of Jesus' prophecies to his followers: "They shall put you out of the synagogues." ... And then Juda says, "If there is anything [Mr. Herz] hates worse than a Christian, it is a converted Jew" (p. 50). [Nothing like stating the obvious, Juda].

Aunt Esther says in response to Mr. Herz' accusation that Dan is an apostate: "I saw no cross-marks on his arms. I never heard him speak unkindly of our race or of our religion. Would you like it better if he were like these anarchists who are always ridiculing our religion, and yet call themselves Jews?" "Yes" [Mr. Herz replies] (p. 61). [Ok, good point, Aunt Esther. But cross-marks? Is that what you were really expecting from a Jewish convert to Christianity?]

Dan says to Debora: "I love you most dearly, but I could not give up the Nazarene. He has been a light to my soul. I never knew the full meaning of life, God, Man, Brother, and Neighbour until I fell under the beneficient spell of his sublime influence. To know him is to love him. He, and He only, holds the key to the riddle of society" (p. 63). ... "He will put new life into them, -- life into the dry bones of Israel. ... Love, had Israel fallen in line with Christ's purpose nineteen hundred years ago, the world to-day would have been a different world and Isaiah's vision of universal peace would have been realized long ago. Oh, the bigotry of the modern Jew, orthodox and reformer alike! It is this bigotry that drives so many great souls of Israel into the Church, there to be lost among a people who do not appreciate the sacrifice" (p. 64).

Later Dan continues his argument: "The religion of the Nazarene, my dear, is not to be identified with a church or a creed. The religion of the Nazarene finds its fullest expression in the lives of individuals..... The members of this invisible church are to be found in few numbers, at least as compared with the millions of professing Christians" (p. 70).

Mr. Herz is not the only one in the family who is upset about Dan and Debora's relationship. At one point Debora's mother threatens to kill herself if Debora marries Dan the apostate.

Gordin says to Dan, "And yet you believe in the Christian religion?" "I did not say the Christian religion. I said the Gospel," continued Dan. "There is, strictly speaking, no religion of Jesus except as it is practised by individuals. The ecclesiastical machines are in too many instances the chief foes of the Gospel" (p. 111).

In the end, Dan and Debora do not get married. Debora and Gordin "made a special study of Christianity... And while we learned to love Jesus and value his teaching, we failed to find a religion of his in existence. [And we could never become a member of the church]" (p. 116). So Debora does not come to believe his Jesus, and the ill-fated lovebirds go their separate ways.

Amos Dushaw was a tragic figure of the early 20th century, and his fictional creations are equally tragic. Neither he nor his characters could find acceptance in any religious community, whether Jewish or Christian. Ultimately they opted to live their lives as "lonely men of faith."

One striking feature of Dushaw's novels is his depiction of the converted Jew as a Christian missionary. While some of these men were authentic and sincere, the general picture we get from Dushaw is one of corruption and cynical pragmatism. Wandering Jude hopes that the Jewish Christian missionaries of today are mostly of the sincere stripe, but perhaps not, if we are to believe such websites as

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Proselytes of the Ghetto

Amos I. Dushaw was an American pastor, novelist, and Jewish convert to Christianity in the early 20th century. Dushaw wrote two novels about Jews converting to Christianity, but both books were unpredictable in plot and thoughtful in tone (and at times even cynical). In fact, I hesitate to call these works "conversionist" because they seem to be more art than religious rhetoric. Dushaw certainly had an agenda (what novelist doesn't?), but I'm not so sure that his agenda was to preach Jesus as the only way.

The first of his novels that Wandering Jude will look at, Proselytes of the Ghetto, was published in 1909. (The title seems to be an allusion to Israel Zangwill's Children of the Ghetto). The narrator of the story writes that those "Russian Jews" who read the New Testament discover that "God's love is wider than petty creeds have represented, and that the life and teachings of the Nazarene have been caricatured by many of his followers. Here he discovers that the New Testament is not anti-Semitic and that Jesus was a loyal son of Israel, who came to break down the barriers which separated man from man" (p. 11).

The protagonist is "Felix," a Russian Jew who has accepted Christianity. He becomes a minister, but resigns his post because some of the congregants have a problem with his theology. (Later he is described as "denying the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures," which is -- as anyone at all familiar with evangelicalism will know -- a big No No, especially for a pastor). At one point Felix cries out to God, "What am I, Christian, Jew, or neither?" (p. 14). He decides to become a missionary, apparently due in part to this existential crisis (or perhaps his crisis was more vocational than anything else).

The narrator describes a missionary (to the Jews) convention, mostly made up of Jewish converts to Christianity. "The two Polish Jews could never work together. They had tried it and made a wretched failure of it, because one was trying to cheat the other. They then separated, and one tried to outdo the other in the fleecing of the Christian public. They both posed as wonderful scholars" (p. 16).

Felix is asked to address the convention, and he gives a speech that disturbs some of the attendees: "A proper appreciation of the Jewish Hope would doubtless reveal to many that ... the Israelites are not all Shylocks, and that the most civilized races have their quota of Shylocks as well. It follows from this that it is the mission of the proselytes to stand as mediators between the church and the synagogue" (p. 21) Felix goes on to criticize the church because "it therefore created an unchristian theology and an unchristian institution in the place of the personality of Jesus Christ, and concealed him behind a lot of ecclesiastical rubbish. The church ... needs as much to be converted as the synagogue" (p. 22).

Felix says to Dora and Grace (two Gentile Christians): "When I accepted Christianity I repudiated many of my former views. When I united with the church I thought I joined the society of those who possessed the truth, and who lived up to it. What did I find? I found that envy, fear of death, and love of mammon filled the souls of many who prided themselves on their wonderful and saving theologies. I failed to find the bond of brotherhood amongst them. We had more of it in our revolutionary circles in Russia. I found in the American church a decidedly undemocratic spirit and an unkind feelng towards the Jew" (p. 35).

Felix and his friend Marx get together. (Marx is a former missionary but now is a doctor and a publisher, who stills holds to faith in Christ, albeit in a more tentative way). Marx informs Felix that his recent article (which criticized missionary fraud) has aroused the ire of other missionaries, who say he is a heretic and a meddler. Marx tells Felix his story:

"Accidentally a New Testament was placed in my hands, and after a careful study of it I accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah. All my Jewish friends deserted me, and I lost my position and became an outcast. Imagine my feelings when I discovered that I was received everywhere with suspicion. I was known everywhere as the 'converted Jew'" (p. 50). ... "A Hebrew Christian, especially one who becomes a missionary to his own people, is the leper of modern society.... The humanity of the Church is not superior to the synagogue, and the conduct of the average Christian is not superior to that of the average Jew. But, alas! the Jew who accepts Christianity and unites with the church discovers this fact too late..... In the course of time Christians took me up and sent me to a missionary training school. What mental agony I experienced there! How little the teachers and pupils appreciated liberty and democracy! They all knew more about heaven and hell than about the wretched poor who lived a few blocks away" (p. 51).

Marx struggles throughout the book with his mother in law, who is hates Christianity and fears that her grandchildren will be raised as Christians (which is indeed what happens). He continues his story:

"When I was graduated from the training school I was appointed to carry on mission work among the people of the lower East Side. My church gave me forty dollars a month. This was not sufficient.... By and by many complained that I was not doing effective work, and that I was not succeeding in increasing the membership of the church. I was too honest to bribe Jews to join the church. I was alone.... I toiled on until I became a physical wreck. I then resigned and accepted a position in business, saved some money and studied medicine" (p. 52).

Felix learns that he has been excommunicated from the Hebrew Christian association because of theological reasons. One of the leaders of the group who kicked him out is Levi, who turns out to be a fraud.

Rabbi Cohen, a liberal rabbi who is at first completely aghast at the notion of Jews believing in Jesus, ends up converting to Christianity (based on conversations that he has with Felix; his attempts at winning back Felix to Judaism backfire and the Rabbi hinmself becomes a Christian). One Sabbath he announces this to his congregation. The congregation reacts in a positive (albeit unlikely) manner: "Rabbi, we will stand by you, and follow the Nazarene, too" (p. 91). The news of this mass conversion spreads quickly. Many churches are interested in affiliating with this new convert (because of the wealth of his congregation), even those who wanted nothing to do with an impoverished former rabbi (and now Christian) named Mendel.

Rabbi Cohen tells his story: "I had looked upon all converts as perverts. But the enthusiasm and self-sacrificing spirit of Brother Felix convinced me that here was a genuine convert. I listened to his argument and took him for a dreamer; but his emphasis upon the Personality of the Nazarene gave me no peace until I had reinvestigated the subject. I reread the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament.... I was up until the early hours of the morning crying, 'O Jehovah, if Jesus is the Messiah, reveal it to me. Thou knowest I want to know the truth.' I was in agony; -- when, lo! before me stood the Nazarene, saying, 'Follow Me!' I then fell into a swoon... I felt a peace in my soul which I knew nothing of before" (p. 125).

In the end, the sincere Hebrew Christian missionaries (including the former rabbis Cohen and Mendel) and some like minded Gentile Christians join together to form a new society of believers who will be less theologically focused and more focused on following Christ. Wandering Jude imagines that this was Amos Dushaw's vision, if not his reality. In the final analysis, we all have feet of clay, Jew and Christian alike. While it might seem to be unrealistic to propose a version of the Christian religion less focused on theology and more focused on Jesus, one can always dream. (And if Dushaw had pushed the envelope just a little further, he might have become a Unitarian, a "Christian" religion mostly devoid of theology where more than a few Jews have found a home).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The New Israelite; or, Rabbi Shalom on the Shores of the Black Sea

I recently came across a book by Jaakoff Prelooker called The New Israelite; or, Rabbi Shalom on the Shores of the Black Sea. Published in London in 1903, this book tells the fictional story of a Russian Jewish rabbi who becomes a member of the "Christian Dissenter" sect (probably a Baptist or some other "non-conformist" group), or in the parlance of this book, a "new Israelite."

While this novel received some positive reviews, one contemporary called it "propaganda." Like most other conversionist stories, that's exactly what it is.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Violet Guttenberg

Violet Guttenberg, a gifted (though certainly not prolific) novelist of the early 20th century, is referred to as a "Protestant writer" by Nadia Valman. I'm not sure if Valman means that she was born a Protestant or was a Jew who converted to Protestant Christianity. (Another possibility is that she was married to a Jew and took on his German Jewish surname). It doesn't appear to me that she is an evangelical, but it's quite possible that she was one, notwithstanding the absence of explicit conversionist rhetoric in her books.

In any event, her book, A Modern Exodus: A Novel, published in 1904, tells the contemporary story of Jews being banished from England. Many go to Palestine and try to make a life for themselves there. Some have referred to this book as fantasy or science fiction, although that might be stretching the boundaries of the genre somewhat. Jews do not convert to Christianity in this book, although one character marries a Jew and converts to Judaism, but then later converts back to Christianity.

Wandering Jude is much more interested in her earlier book, Neither Jew Nor Greek: A Story of Jewish Social Life, published in London in 1902. Yes, a conversion to Christianity does take place in this novel, but it's certainly not typical of of the genre that we've been discussing in these postings thus far.

The novel begins with a Jewish "marriage of convenience." Young Adeline Friedberg is getting married to Michael Rosen, a wealthy Polish Jew. The ceremony is presided by "the minister of the synagogue," Rev. Isaac Abrahams, who (the narrator points out) is "pocket[ing] an ample commission" for his efforts.

The story soon moves on to other characters, and we realize that Adeline and Michael are simply a prelude to another, more important narrative. We meet Herbert Karne, a liberal-minded English Jew and an artist by profession. The heroine of the novel is Herbert's half sister, Celia Franks, who has the singing voice of an angel. Celia has a flirtation with a young Christian doctor, Geoffrey Milnes, but this is quashed by Herbert who sends Celia off to live with a somewhat more observant Jewish family, the Friedbergs.

Celia soon meets a young Jewish man by the name of David Salmon. David, dashing and handsome, is taken with Celia's beauty and musical abilities. He soon proposes marriage to her, and although she does not hold the same feelings for him, she accepts the proposal. Celia makes one condition for the engagement, and that is that it will be a long one.

So Celia spends her engagement (three years!) studying music and spending as little time with David Salmon as possible. She feels stuck in the relationship, but she doesn't know how to get out of it. And on some level she believes that her feelings for David will some day come into bloom. Or at least, this is her hope.

Celia and David finally decide to set the date for their wedding in December. Celia is invited to spend the month of August with some Christian friends of hers, the Wiltons. She enjoys her time with them but is somewhat anxious about attending church services on the first Sunday of her visit. However, the beauty of the music and the liturgy dispels her fears. Throughout the book Celia has contemplated the spiritual emptiness of Judaism, and during this church service, the first Christian service that Celia has ever attended, she gradually realizes that the Christian religion is the one for her. She resonates with its principles of love, peace, and self-sacrifice, and she is doubly impressed by the practical outworking of the Wilton's faith. (This is contrasted throughout the book with Jewish characters who are social-climbers, hypocrites, spiritual dimwits, criminals, or simply ethically challenged).

But Celia isn't quite ready yet to take the plunge. She says to her friend Enid Wilton, "I wish I possessed your faith.... If I could be convinced of Christ's divinity, I think I should become a Christian. I feel the need of a pure spiritual faith; and Judaism does not satisfy me" (p. 177-178).

After spending the rest of the month studying the Scriptures and discussing theology with the Wiltons, Celia finally is ready to convert. But she is not quite prepared for the reaction of the Jewish community, including her father (who disowns her posthumously), her fiance (who breaks off their engagement), and the bulk of the community who reject her and label her a "m'shumad" (apostate).

In the end, things turn out well for Celia. She falls in love with Geoffrey Milnes, and through a series of circumstances she is halfway forgiven by the Jewish community that had earlier condemned her. The only other Jewish character in the book who turns out to be a decent human being is Celia's half brother, Herbert Karne. Herbert marries a Christian woman but retains his Jewish identity. Celia, however, for all her love of her Jewish heritage, is decidedly Christian in her faith and in her religious practice. At the close of the novel, by her own admission she is (alluding to a quote from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians) "neither Jew nor Greek."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Jewish Converts

Elizabeth Wheeler ("E.W.") wrote another fin de siecle conversionist novel called The Jewish Converts. The main character in this book is Mark Barnard, the only son of a "rich Jewish merchant, Isaac Barnard" and his wife, Sarah. Reginald Stevenson, a Christian, is hired as the boy's tutor. Reginald tells Mark about his faith in Jesus, and tells him about the Old Testament prophecies that allegedly point toward Christ. Mark, after much thought and prayer, decides to become a Christian. [Rather quick conversion, I'd say, but we must move the plot along!]

The next day Mark says to his parents: "I cannot join in the coming feast [Passover], for I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is our true Messiah" (p. 21). Isaac (Mark's father) is outraged and fires Reginald, and soon after hires another tutor, Benjamin Alexander, a Jew. They travel to France to study, but unbeknownst to everyone else, Benjamin has providentially picked up a New Testament out of curiosity and carried it with him. In France they stay with a friend of Isaac's, whose name is David D'Israeli.

One day Mark notices Benjamin's New Testament and asks him about it. Benjamin has been reading it but is not yet a believer. Mark takes this opportunity to witness to Benjamin about the joys of believing in Jesus and about various messianic prophecies in the Bible. Benjamin thus becomes a convert to Christianity. Benjamin gets scarlet fever and soon dies, but not before preaching to the wife of David D'Israeli, who soon becomes a secret believer. Mark gets kicked out of D'Israeli's home and goes back to his parents' house in England, but he is disowned by his father and told to leave at once.

Throughout the book there are occasional sidebars where the narrator moralizes about this or that. For example: "Let us go and tell Jesus, not spend our breath in complaints to creatures who cannot help. Go to Jesus for His sympathy, and then you can go and comfort others and tell them, who have been hitherto strangers to it, of Jesus and his love" (p. 50). There are also many quotes from hymns interspersed throughout the text, as is the custom in Wheeler's other books. (I might add that this rather annoying custom is also found in a number of other conversionist authors).

Reginald (the original tutor, remember him?) and Mark meet up again in London and find a place to live with Hyam Isaacs and his wife, Rebekah, older Jewish Christians. After a few weeks living there, Mark finds employment in France and leaves to go there with the Isaacs' eldest daughter, Hannah, also a believer in Jesus. Hannah and Mark get married and have a daughter, Rachel, but Mark dies after a few years.

And then we learn of the fate of Mark's parents:

"Bitterly had Isaac felt the separation from his son, and soon after he had cast him off Sarah passed away, and she cursed her son on her dying bed. Such, my reader, is the mistaken zeal of some of the Jewish race. But ere she died, a peaceful expression stole over her face.... Perhaps truths she possibly might have read in her son's Testament spoke peace to her soul, when making her exit into the eternal world" (p. 63).

Isaac, bereaved by the loss of both his son and wife, finds solace in the New Testament that he finds in his house. He becomes a Christian and finds out that his son has died and that his daughter in law is about to die. Isaac travels to France to see her but Hannah dies just before he arrives. He is very sad about Hannah's passing (though he had never met her) but is delighted to learn that he has an 8 year old granddaughter. Isaac and Rachel leave soon after the funeral to return to England.

Isaac hires a governess (named Caroline Barton) to take care of Rachel. Along with Rachel's nanny, Martha, they all travel to Jerusalem (with many stops throughout Europe along with way). The author treats this trip as sort of a travelogue with comments about the various places they visit (she uses a similar plot device in her other books). They finally arrive in Palestine, and Rachel is now about 12 years old.

In Jerusalem, "they all went to the Jews' wailing place -- a spot where Jews from every clime are allowed by the Turkish government to go once a week. It is a place where part of the ancient wall now stands. Many names are engraven there of those who are not in the land of silence. Hebrews flock there from every clime to mourn over the sins of their father, forgetful, or rather not cognisant, of the fact that it is their own sin in rejecting their Messiah that scatters them among the nations of the earth. But the throne of David will be built again there, and the rightful heir will take His place" (p. 114-115).

The group returns to England, but after several years Isaac's business goes bankrupt (due to stock market fluctuations), and they must leave their home and move to much more modest lodgings. It is here that Isaac has a stroke and dies. Rachel places her faith in Christ and becomes a governess to a gentile family. The mother of this family "allowed her children to read low-class novels, instead of training them morally and mentally...." (p. 139).

The family is also anti-semitic: "Do you not pity the poor Jew? You see they have not the scriptures as we have them." [the mother says to no one in particular]. Rachel answered, "If it were not for the poor Jew you would not have the scriptures as you have them." "Mrs. W. said, "Oh! I was not aware that we are indebted to the Jew for the scriptures" (p. 162). ... "Mrs. W said they must have been a very wicked people to have crucified our Lord. Like many another, she thought that the Jews' hearts were different from her own" (p. 165). ... "Rachel, with great feeling surprising all, said: "The Jews have been (though not now) and will be the aristocracy of the earth. The land of their fathers will be restored to them..." (p. 166).
Rachel moves on to other jobs and at one of them meets another Jewish Christian, a Frenchman, Henri Le Bret. " ... her quick eye detected the traces of her race in the manly countenance. True it is, that the Hebrew race bear the marks of their ancestry; they are known everywhere -- in every clime." (p. 206).

Rachel and Henri fall in love and get married, and eventually have a son, and live happily ever after.

Some Final Remarks:

(1) The Jewish Converts contains yet another example of a Christian tutor evangelizing a Jewish youth. One would think that Jewish families of the 19th century would have hired Jewish tutors instead of evangelical Christians, or if they did hire Christian tutors that they would forbid proselytizing, but I suppose that this is an example of fiction being stranger than truth. In any case, the novel provides a nice touch of irony when Rachel, the daughter of the young man who was proselytized by his tutor, later becomes a governess and gets to lecture her gentile family about true Christianity and the sin of anti-semitism.

(2) Finally we get to experience a Jewish convert to Christianity whose business fails after he converts.

(3) In this novel, France seems to be a dangerous place to live. I would have thought that Rachel would have avoided France after losing both of her parents there, but this is not the case. Love conquers all, I suppose.

(4) Like many other newly converted Jewish Christians in the conversionist genre, our protagonist in this novel refuses to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover. As we shall see in the months to come, this practice (or more accurately, this lack of practice) will change as we progress through the conversionary fiction of the 20th century.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Great Beyond: A Jewish Story

Another turn of the century conversionist novel by "E.W." (Elizabeth Wheeler) is The Great Beyond: A Jewish Story, published sometime in the late 1890s or the early 1900s in London.

In this story, Naomi Isaacs is the wife of Evan Isaacs, a formerly wealthy merchant who has recently lost most of his money in a stock market crash. Evan is the son of Abraham Isaacs, who has recently passed away and for whom money and wealth was the only goal in life. The narrator states that through the pursuit of money, Abraham "lost his health and his strength, and empty his soul embarked on the sea of eternity" (p. 7). Thus, Evan naturally is thinking about the "great beyond" as the story begins.

"At last his health broke down... He spent his hours in vain regrets, and, with nothing better to occupy his mind, he became weaker and weaker. He knew nothing of the Heavenly Comforter. ... Many [Jews] have oft found comfort in the reading of the Psalms, and they know their great Jehovah as the beneficent Creator, full of compassion, long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy, and thus they pour out their heart before Him. But Evan Isaacs knew not this, and thus despair took possession of him. He dreaded entering the confines of an eternal world. All was darkness, and he was afraid of the plunge; but once or twice came the words, "Have mercy upon me, O God," words which had often been read, but carelessly heard, in the synagogue. Then again and again would he repeat them, but no comfort he got" (p. 12-13).

Another important character in the books is Michael Isaacs, who is Evan's uncle. Angry and bitter, Michael had left the family for Australia some twenty years earlier. Michael was learned in the Jewish Bible and "all the endless rites of the Mosaic ritual he well knew" (p. 15).

"He was an intelligent young Jew. He had been taught to look for the Great Deliverer, the Great Prophet of his people" (p. 16). Michael arrived in Melbourne penniless, but he was befriended by a Christian businessman who took him in and offered him a job because "My Saviour was a Jew.... Your Jehovah became a man, a Jew, to atone to the mighty God for my guilt. From one of your nation I heard the glad tidings, and I hope to spend an eternity with Jesus, the sinners' Friend. So, for His sake, I offer you a situation and a home with me. I have no son, and you may fill the place" (p. 19).

Eventually Michael becomes a Christian and a wealthy businessman. At age 50, Michael reconnects with his family, mainly Evan, and decides to go back to England to try to convert Evan and his wife to the Christianity that he has come to know and love.

Michael does not at first explicitly tell Evan and Naomi about his new faith, but he reveals it by singing Christian hymns to Evan and then later speaking to him about it. Michael says to Evan: "My poor boy, I have crossed the ocean wave to tell you of Jesus, the sinners' Friend" (p. 28).

"The evenings were spent in conversing of eternal things, and to Evan's inquiring mind his uncle unfolded much that caused the former to wonder at. He was as a child, for he was ignorant of the Scriptures -- they were as a sealed book to him -- but his interest increased more and more" (p. 29).

After a few days of discussions, Evan is persuaded to believe in Jesus. He also slowly gets better from his physical ailments. [Coincidence? I think not!]

"No fear now of the Great Beyond, for now he knew that the dark, deep torrents of death another had braved for him and bridged them by Himself, and in the arms of His Saviour he would be safely carried across to Canaan's shore" (p. 32).

Because of Evan's poor health, Michael takes him to Australia, where his health improves with Michael's nurturing. Evan writes his wife a letter, and her reaction is consternation:

"The traitor!" she cried, "to come to our house and to rob me of my husband, to get him among the Gentile dogs to forsake the religion of our fathers. My husband an idolator! Oh, if he dies, Abraham's bosom, he will never enter. I shall never see him more. Oh! to me he is dead for ever" (p. 43-44).

When Naomi's father (a certain Mr. Maurice Davis) hears of what Evan has done, he says "The scoundrel! The sneak!" (p. 49).

Evan begs his wife to consider Christianity in letters he writes from Australia:

"I have found the One who has bridged the dark waters for me, and lighted up the valley which leads to that other land. Our fathers for many centuries, through the veil of types, were shown Him, but they will not, cannot see Him but by the Spirit of our God. Oh! Naomi, God had His own way of showing me Himself. He stripped me of all things here... Naomi, if you will not believe the gospel that the Christians preach, after it has been put before you, God alone knows the sorrows He will bring you through to have you for Himself... The beauty of our Scriptures surpasses all comprehension. As their meaning unfolds I am lost in wonder, and in wonder, too, in not having seen the heaven-sent Lamb through the veil of types ere this. It is so plain" (p. 53).

But these letters to Naomi, basing the Gospel message on stories and passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, are intercepted by her father so she does not see them. Naomi finds out about this subterfuge and confronts her father, who feels guilty about it already, and there results a conflict between the two that leads to Naomi leaving the house (with the letters and a New Testament that Evan had sent her). She and her son Ben go to Australia and meet Evan and Michael, and soon thereafter Naomi becomes a Christian. (She had been primed for this by reading the New Testament on the voyage and through evangelistic efforts by kindly Gentile Christians who had befriended her and told her of their love for the "Jewish race") (p. 77).

Maurice Davis, Naomi's father, gets addicted to gambling and loses his fortune, becoming bankrupt. He is helped out by a kindly Christian businessman, the same person who had offered to help Evan Isaacs earlier and who had given Naomi the money to travel to Australia. Maurice becomes a poor peddler, barely able to make ends meet.

Michael Isaacs decides to travel to Palestine, where he meets a Jewish man in a cafe. Michael says to him: "[Jesus] was our Messiah." "Oh! said the Jew. "Our Messiah is to be king." "Yes, said Michael, "and so He will." "but our God is One God." "Yes; but our Hebrew word for God signifies plurality...." (p. 104). Michael stays in Palestine for several years.

Meanwhile, Evan and Naomi have become very rich in the ten years that they have lived in Australia, and they decide to move back to England and retire. They end up buying the same large house that they had lived in earlier, and one day Maurice comes by peddling his wares. There is a great reunion, and then by chance (!) the same day (!), guess who shows up for dinner? Yes, it's Michael Isaacs, returned from his visit to Palestine! He and Maurice have many conversations, and then, after Michael's peaceful death, Maurice finally converts to Christianity. He dies a year later, a happy man, finally at peace with himself and others.


The Great Beyond is one of the few 19th century conversionist novels that places the focal point of its conversion story on the fear of death and the afterlife. This theme is not entirely absent from other works of evangelical fiction. (See, for example, the short account of Rabbi Ben Uzziel in Adeline). But The Great Beyond makes fear of death the raison d'etre of believing in Jesus. It's an easy logical argument to follow (once you've accepted the premises of the argument): Believers in Jesus go to heaven after they die. Unbelievers go to hell after they die. Therefore, it's better to believe in Jesus. The well-known minister and political activist D. James Kennedy, founder of Evangelism Explosion, started his ministry back in the early 1960s with tracts that would ask, If you were to die tonight, are you certain that you would go to heaven? These kinds of scare tactics (for that is what they are, frankly) have been used before and since by countless agents of proselytizing. They feed on on a natural fear of the unknown, and they encourage conversion to Christianity during vulnerable periods of life, such as illness or peril. Think of foxhole repentance, death-bed conversions, and the like. One is much less likely to make a calm, rational, considered decision about religion when in the throes of a fatal illness; and under the same circumstance, imagine what happens to rational thinking when confronted by an evangelist who has just informed you that only born again Christians go to heaven, and all others spend eternity in the Lake of Fire?

In one of her other conversionary novels, From Petticoat Lane to Rotten Row, Wheeler writes about a fictional Jewish character with the last name of Davis who has a gambling problem. She repeats this plot device (another Jew named Davis who is addicted to gambling) in this book as well. I suppose that she's not the first author to do something like this, but still, I thought I should point it out.

In Wheeler's novels (and in many other conversionist stories), Jews who are mainstream in their beliefs (that is, they don't believe in Jesus as the Messiah) are often poor businessmen, whereas Jews who convert to Christianity are almost always wildly successful in business. Perhaps this is the forerunner of "prosperity theology," which teaches that the better Christian you are, the more God will bless you in financial ways. (And of course, what better way to succeed in business (without really trying) than to combine the financial shrewdness of the Jew with the guaranteed blessings of the Christian). Sadly (or happily, as the case may be), religion of any stripe has never ensured success on Wall Street.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

From Petticoat Lane to Rotten Row, or, The Child of the Ghetto

From Petticoat Lane to Rotten Row, or, The Child of the Ghetto was written sometime near the turn of the century by the author "E.W." (who is most probably the British writer Elizabeth Wheeler). Was the author influenced (at least in her choice of the subtitle) by the novelist Israel Zangwill and his 1892 work Children of the Ghetto? Probably. But in any case, Zangwill's work differs greatly from the novel we will discuss today, in many respects, not least of which is that E.W. was a conversionist writer and Zangwill was a mainstream Jewish author.

The protagonist of our book is a ten year old boy named Shemuel Krecovitch, an orphan, whose parents have died back in Poland. He is taken in by a Jewish family in London during Passover, Levi and Sarah Josephs, who live on "Petticoat Lane." Levi is a kindly man, a pawnbroker who makes a comfortable living, and he sets Shemuel up with a tailor, Moses Myers, to learn a trade.

One day Levi's nephew comes to visit. Levi's brother, Hyam, had converted to Christianity, and so Levi now considers him to be dead. When Levi discovers that his nephew's name is "Christian," he says to him: "Go home to thy father with my curse. You cannot help your father's sin; may a blessing attend you" (p. 11). Levi considered a "believer in the Nazarene" to be "an idolater."

[Levi's nephew's name is Christian? How funny is that?]

Shemuel meets a Jewish sea captain named Alexander Barnard and gets a job with him. Meanwhile, Esther Josephs, the daughter of Levi and Sarah (who has recently died), meets Christian Josephs on the street. They go together to the Church of the Nazarene, and lo and behold the preacher is preaching on Isaiah 53. As they leave the church, who should they meet but Shemuel Krecovitch, who himself is leaving (another) Christian church! An evening of coincidences!

Next we meet the young daughter of Hyam Josephs, Rachael, who is disturbed by her parents' conversion to Christianity and still goes to synagogue and still recites her Hebrew prayers and still expects the Messiah to come. But one day Rachael decides to attend church with her parents and she hears the gospel. Rachael is convicted of her sin but does not yet believe in Jesus.

It turns out that Shemuel (as we suspected) is secretly considering becoming a Christian. Meanwhile Christian Josephs is hired by Captain Barnard. Shemuel is "brought to the knowledge of the Messiah by this simple Cornish maiden [Mary Williams] -- not by eloquent sermons in a fasionable London church" (p. 38).

Rachael Josephs continues in her unbelief, and in fact has become less devout in Judaism as well. One day she meets a Jew named Benjamin Davis, who has a gambling problem. She and Ben Davis get secretly married, which breaks her father's heart. After a few months Ben starts gambling again and then lapses into addiction. Later he joins the British army and is sent to India, all behind Rachael's back. Rachael becomes ill and dies, but not before she becomes a Christian and utters her final words: "Jesus my Saviour!" (p. 46).

Levi Josephs finds out that his daughter, Esther, has been attending a Christian church and is furious (even though he himself is secretly reading the New Testament). He forbids Esther to ever attend church again. Then she tells him that she believes in the Nazarene, and he gets even more upset and hits her and tells her "Begone, apostate! never let me see your face again!" (p. 56).

Meanwhile, Captain Barnard finds out that Christian and Shemuel have been attending church, and accuses them of being apostates. [One would think that the Captain would have had a clue earlier simply from Christian's name....] They reply that they consider themselves to be good Jews. Captain Barnard fires Christian ("I can have no Christian Jews in my establishment"), so Christian departs and sails for parts unknown. Captain Barnard regrets his decision but it is too late, since Christian has already sailed away. Various incidents occur in the captain's life: he sees a converted Jew preaching in the public square; he talks to Hyam Josephs about the messiah, his housekeeper tries to convert him. Our fine sea captain is definitely thinking about the big questions of life, as he never had before. Then he discovers that his late sister was Shemuel's mother, Hannah. [Another coincidence!] Thus, Alexander Barnard is Shemuel's uncle! The two reunited relatives then travel to Europe on business and meet an old rabbi, who they discuss theological matters with (Captain Barnard is still not a Christian but we know where this is heading, don't we?).

Back to the story of Levi and Esther. Esther has gone, and now Levi regrets it. Apparently Shemuel has now returned from Hamburg and visits Levi. Since Esther has left (for good, apparently), there is no one to cook dinner for them or clean for them. [Men are so helpless, aren't they?] Levi asks his niece, Hannah Davis, but she refuses. Levi realizes how lonely he is without Esther. He attends a church service with Shemuel (who is also still not a Christian, but very open to conversion to Christianity, but alas, his openness is undoubtedly due to his attraction to Mary Williams), and Levi's heart is softened.

There is a shipwreck, and it appears that Christian has died in this accident. But no, he survives and comes back to England. His former boss, Captain Barnard, offers him his job back (actually a share of the business), but Christian responds: "Sir, your offer has placed me under lasting obligation to you; but I am a Christian which means a follower of that Christ who was put to death by a Jewish mob, urged on by your Rabbis. ... To be unequally yoked with an unbeliever would be to disobey a Divine command, and I could expect no blessing" (p. 85). This impresses Captain Barnard greatly. [Why do I think that most Jews would be insulted?]

Meanwhile, Shemuel is conflicted about Jesus. He wants to marry Mary Williams but isn't sure about Christ yet. He goes back and forth and finally comes to a decision and professes his belief in Jesus: "Shemuel Krecovitch bowed in adoration before the Christ of God" (p. 94). Then he gets married to Mary Williams, and anounces his new faith to Levi Josephs, who is disappointed but not furious.

Alexander Barnard visits with the Williams' family during the wedding of Shemuel and Mary, and the good captain stays on for several days. He has many theological discussions with Mr. Williams and thinks more about faith in Christ.

Meanwhile, Ben Davis returns from India a broken man. He meets Christian who preaches to him, and eventually (before he dies) Ben accepts Jesus into his heart. The irony is that Ben Davis is the brother in law of Christian Josephs, and Ben's abandonment of his wife had caused (indirectly) the death of Christian's sister. (But Christian did not know any of this, and if he had, it would not have made any difference, righteous man that he was).

Christian marries a nice Christian girl named Lucy Tregale, and they set off for Palestine on their honeymoon. (We are given a short travelogue of the holy land, similar to what happens on a much larger scale in Judah's Lion). Christian meets a rabbi (Rabbi Israel) and has a long discussion with him about messianic prophecies as they stroll through Jerusalem. They continue their discussion the next day, having become friends. But incredibly, Christian still has not revealed to the rabbi his belief in Jesus (although one would think that his name would be a dead giveaway!). Another man joins their long discussion, a Christian named Norman Lloyd, who witnesses to the rabbi of his faith in "the God of Israel." The end result is that the rabbi buys a New Testament.

Christian returns to England and discovers that his cousin, Esther Josephs (who is living with the Hyam Josephs family), has become a Christian. Alexander Barnard comes to visit and, after many discussions with Hyam and a stirring sermon at the local church, is convinced to become a believer in Jesus. He and Esther fall in love and get married. Soon it is Passover (and Easter), and Alexander brings Esther to Levi's shop to try to get him to bless their union. It is then that they find out that Levi has also become a Christian, and they rejoice over Easter dinner (since none of them think it appropriate to celebrate Passover).

Years have passed and now Christian's daughter, Amy, has grown up and has decided to become a missionary to the Jews. She learns Yiddish and Hebrew for the purpose of preaching the gospel to her people. She travels to Jerusalem where she meets another young woman, Abigail Abrahams, who is an orphan and was raised by her uncle, Benoni Abrahams. Amy evangelizes Abigail, who soon becomes a Christian, but then she discovers that her uncle has died. Abigail travels back to her home in Damascus, and there meets her cousin Nehemiah Silverton, who is now her guardian, and they move to London where Silverton lives. Nehemiah and his wife, Sarah, are greedy and although they take care of Abigail's needs, they don't give her any independence. Abigail discovers that that she is an heiress to a fortune, but the Silvertons have control of the money.

Abigail decides to tell the Silvertons that she is a Christian: ""I think it requisite to inform you," said she, "that I have adopted the Christian faith, or, rather, that I believe Jesus Christ is our Messiah, the Saviour of the world." They all looked at Abigail as if she were demented. Her words seemed strange to their ears; but their words of blasphemy had best be left out here" (p. 169). The Silvertons plot to steal Abigail's money, but with the help of Christian Josephs and a good lawyer, she gets all the money for herself. The Silverton's son, Bernard, is a cad, and makes a move on Abigail, but she rebuffs him. He ends up secretly marrying a Gentile girl and sailing to America, where he becomes a gambler and dies destitiute, but not before confessing his faith in Christ, having been influenced by the witness of Abigail. Before he dies he sires a son, who eventually became a Christian along with his mother, the Gentile girl Annie.

So Abigail becomes good friends with the Josephs family, and she eventually marries the eldest son, Morley. One day 15 years later Abigail meets Nehemiah Silverton, who has become a poor old peddler. She invites him to dinner and there he meets the entire extended family of Christian Josephs, as well as Annie Silverton, his daughter in law, and Bernard Silverton, his grandson. (Bernard has the same name as his father had). Nehemiah, by now almost ready to die, is subjected to conversion tactics by many including his grandson, but all for naught. He rejects Christianity (though he is grateful for the new friendships of these Jewish Christians), and he continues to recite the Sh'ma even to his last breath, which he takes on Yom Kippur. Nehemiah insists on fasting on the Day of Atonement because " he had been taught to believe that the sins of the past year would be forgiven on that day, and that he would go out of this world free" (p. 207). He dies a Jew, repentant but unconverted.

Points to ponder:

(1) The word "blindness" is used throughout the book to describe the unbelieving Jew's condition. Not an uncommon metaphor in conversionist fiction.

(2) Most Jews who convert to Christianity in these types of novels end up naming their children Jewish (or at least, biblical) names. Christian Josephs is an exception to this rule. I still can't get over this one.

(3) We've seen other sea captains figure prominently in 19th century conversionist fiction, but Captain Barnard is the first Jewish sea captain in our travels.

(4) The author continually disparages Judaism and the Jewish attempt at religiosity and spirituality. "There are thousands who observe the precepts of the Great Law Giver, in outward form at least; but how far they come short! He who fails in one point is guilty of all" (p. 168).

Saturday, September 8, 2007

In League With Israel; A Tale of the Chattanooga Conference

Annie Fellows Johnston, born in 1863, was a teacher and the daughter of a Methodist minister. She was born, grew up, and spent much of her life in rural Indiana. Johnston died in 1931. Published in 1896, In League With Israel; A Tale of the Chattanooga Conference was not Johnston's only literary endeavor. She was also the author of "The Little Colonel," which was later made into a film with Shirley Temple.

This novel with the strange title introduces us to the following cast of characters: Ezra Barthold, an old rabbi; David Herschel, his protege, who is a young (23 years old) lawyer; and Marta, David's sister, 16 years old, (who has been spending time with Major Frances Herrick and his family, including Albert Herrick, his son). David and Marta are orphans with no living relatives; David calls Ezra "Uncle," apparently not implying a blood relationship.

The rabbi is concerned about Marta's spiritual moorings, which is often a harbinger of a coming apostasy in conversionist novels. He says to David: "I tell you there is great danger of the child's being led away from the faith... You must heed my warning, and discourage such intimacy with a Gentile family." (p.11). ... "... never for a moment let her forget that she is a Jewess. Kindle her pride in her race. Teach her loyalty to her people, and love for all that is Hebrew" (p. 13).

Rabbi Barthold "had been trained according to the most strictly orthodox system of Judaism... In the new world he had cast aside the shackles of tradition for the larger liberty of the Reformed Jew" (p. 17). He loves music and literature, and he seeks a balance between tradition and liberalism. [I can't decide who fares worse in conversionary literature: Orthodox rabbis, who are portrayed as rigid fundamentalists, or Reform rabbis, who are characterized as so open minded that their brains are falling out of their heads. Rabbi Barthold is one of the few rabbis in Christian fiction who seeks a balance between orthodox practice and the broader culture].

Frank Marion is a Methodist layman (actually a shoe salesman) who has a very good reputation in the community. We learn that there will be a conference ("the Epworth League") in Chattanooga, Tennessee that Frank is going to attend, along with several others from the local Methodist church. Using his charm, persistence, and warmth, he persuades young David to go to the conference with him. On the train to the conference we meet Bethany Hallam, a cousin of Frank Marion. Like David, she is an orphan and has a younger sibling to care for. She is somewhat embittered and depressed by her father's recent death and by her brother's illness.

Frank admits that until about 10 years earlier, he had been anti-semitic. "I took Fagin and Shylock as fair specimens of the whole race. It was, really, a most unaccountable hatred I had for them.... I know it to be a fact that there are hundreds and hundreds of Church members today that have the same inexplicable antipathy" (p. 32). Bethany responds, with embarrassing candor, that she has "a great admiration and respect for Jews in the abstract.... but in the concrete, I must say I like to have as little intercourse with them as possible. And as to modern Israelites, all I know of them personally is the almost cringing obsequiousness of a few wealthy merchants with whom I have dealt, and the dirty swarm of repulsive creatures that infest the tenement districts" (p. 33). Frank gently explains to Bethany how he came to love the Jews, and how many Jews are not bad people. "We forget, sometimes, that the Savior himself belonged to that race we so reproach" (p. 35).

A young Methodist minister, George Cragmore, is also on the train. He engages in a "preachable moment" with David and this bit of earnest proselytizing results in some awkwardness. But then they arrive in Chattanooga, where David meets Marta who is also coming to the conference. David also meets a Jewish Christian by the name of Isaac Lessing, who gives in great detail his testimony of coming to faith in Christ (pp. 64-71), including the desertion of his wife after his conversion and the rejection of his family (and indeed, of the entire Jewish community). Isaac encourages Bethany to evangelize any Jews that she might meet. The conference ends and David goes back home, but Marta stays nearby with the Herrick family (they live in Chattanooga).

There is a fair amount of discussion in this book about subtle anti-semitism and how Christians are often guilty of it. The more enlightened characters in the novel try to get the more prejudiced ones to see that Jews are like everyone else, some good, some bad, most in the middle. But mostly we are told that the stereotypes of Jews are just that: stereotypes, and not necessarily true, and certainly not cause to keep away from Jews. And how much more should one share the Gospel with the Jews! Bethany and Jack (her wheelchair bound younger brother) start to study about Jews and read books like Children of the Ghetto by Israel Zangwill and History of the Jews by Graetz. This improves their views of the Jewish people (they had nowhere to go but up!), and also provides them impetus to share the Gospel with Jews.

Bethany gets a job as a stenographer in a law office, and soon after David gets a job there in the same office as a lawyer. Jack comes to the office sometimes and David, in an interesting turn of events, agrees to teach him Hebrew. Frank Marion sees this one day and asks David to teach Hebrew to his church's Sunday school teachers. David declines because of the distance but volunteers Rabbi Barthold. (I should mention that throughout the book, various characters laud the merits of the Methodist Church, including their service to the poor, their organizational skills, etc. Hmm. I wonder if Shirley Temple was a Methodist?)

David Herschel, upon learning (and seeing) the Methodist's work among the poor, remarks: "What was there in this man of Nazareth to inspire such devotion after such a lapse of time? I understand how one might admire his ethical teaching... but how he can inspire such sublime annihilation of self, surpasses my comprehension. He was no greater lawgiver than Moses, yet who makes such sacrifices for the love of Moses?" (p. 170).

[Uh, I can think of a few Jews that would fit this bill, but let's not turn this into a spitting contest!]

Frank and David admire the character of Rabbi Barthold: "He is trying to rekindle the pride and zeal and hope of an ancient day. Excuse me for saying it, Herschel, but there are few in his congregation who understand him. Their vision is so obscured by this dense fog of modern indifference that they fail to appreciate his aims. They are still in the outer courts, among the tables of the money-changers, and those who sell doves. They have never entered the inner sanctuary of a spiritual life" (p. 187).

Both Frank Marion and George Cragmore are invited to attend Yom Kippur services at Rabbi Barthold's synagogue, and they both come. [I've never thought it a good idea for Christians to attend high holiday services, especially Yom Kippur. For one thing, seats are often scarce; why fill up the seats with non-adherents? But more importantly, everyone else is trying to have a spiritual experience, and most attendees are fasting. Do you really want a Christian who wants you converted to Christianity to be sitting next to you, with a full stomach no doubt, while you are trying to make it through the day without fainting? Ah, maybe it's just me and my own prejudices, but there must be a better day to invite non-Jewish guests to synagogue than Yom Kippur].

Back to the story. Our young protagonist David Herschel admires the sermons during the Days of Awe but he senses a difference between these services and the Christian services he had attended on Lookout Mountain at the Chattanooga conference. Cragmore is absorbed by the beautiful liturgy and the music makes him hearken back to the Temple of old (what he thinks it must have been like). "His whole soul seemed to go out in reverent adoration to this great Jehovah, worshiped by both Hebrew and Christian" (p. 192).

After services Frank and George discuss matters. They both admire the "mission of Israel" to be a light to the nations. Cragmore says, "And yet do you know, Frank, I am becoming more and more sure that Israel has some great part ot play in the conversion of humanity? Any one must see that nothing short of Divine power could have kept them intact as a race" (p. 197). He continues: "The old thorny stem of Judaism shall yet bud and blossom into the perfect flower of Christianity!" (p. 198).

While I don't really have time to go into details, I should mention that there is lots of drama in this book unrelated to David or Rabbi Barthold, or to Judaism for that matter. People get sick, die, etc.

Bethany tries to think of ways to convert David. She invites him to church one Sunday evening, and he is impressed by two things: the testimony of a respected lawyer, and the joyful expression on the minister's face.

Cragmore mentions that a person will be speaking at the local Hebrew mission named "Sigmund Ragolsky," who was a "rabbi in Glasgow for a long time, and is now a Baptist preacher, converted after a fourteen years' struggle against a growing belief in the truth of Christianity" (p. 272). [I don't think this is a real historical character, although it's possible that it is based on a real person and the name has been changed]. Cragmore continues:

"I should like to hear the two men debate. He [Ragolsky] says the Reform Jews are no Jews at all -- that they are the hardest people in the world to convert, because they look for no Messiah, accept only the Scripture that suits them, and are so well satisfied with themselves that they feel no need of any mediator between them and eternal holiness. They feel fully equal to the task of making their own atonement. Rabbi Barthold says that the Orthodox are narrow fanatics, and that the majority of them live two lives -- one toward God, of slavish religious observances; the other towards man, of sharp practices and double-dealing" (p. 273).

Finally Bethany gets a chance to clearly present the gospel to David: "And I want to tell you, Mr. Herschel, that I have not only been wishing, but praying earnestly, that in this new year you may find the greatest happiness earth holds -- the peace that comes in accepting Christ as a Savior" (p. 276). David responds: "I seem to be pursued. Every way I turn, the same thing is thrust at me. For weeks I have been fighting against it -- O, longer than that -- since I first talked to Lessing.... I can answer arguments, but I can't answer such lives and faith as theirs" (p. 277). Later Bethany says to David: "You have no personal knowledge of Christ because you have never sought for it" (p. 279). But David is not yet ready to profess Christ, so Bethany gives him a New Testament to read, and she promises to pray for him.

George Cragmore devotes a special prayer service just to pray for David and his salvation. Later that night, David reads the New Testament, and ponders his situation:

"He loved the faith of his fathers. He was proud of every drop of Israelitish blood that coursed through his veins. He felt that nothing could induce him to renounce Judaism -- nothing! Yet his heart went out lovingly toward the Christ that had been so wonderfully revealed to him as he read. The conviction was slowly forcing itself on his mind that in accepting him he would not be giving up Judaism, that he would only be accepting the Messiah long promised to his own people -- only believing fulfilled prophecy. He wanted him so -- this Christ who seemed able to satisfy every longing of his heart, which just now was 'hungering and thirsting after righteousness;' this Christ who had so loved the world that he had given himself a willing sacrifice to make propitiation for its sins -- for his -- David Herschel's sins" (p. 289).

"The old questions of the Trinity and the Incarnation came back to perplex him, and he put them resolutely away, remembering the words that Bethany had quoted, that when Israel should turn to the Lord, the veil should be taken from its heart. Suddenly he started to his feet, and with his hands clasped above his head, cried out: "O Thou Eternal, take away the veil! Show me Christ! I will give up anything -- everything that stands in the way of my accepting him, if thou wilt but make him manifest!" (p. 290).

"I do believe it," he said aloud. "And I will confess it the first opportunity I have. Yes, I will go right now and tell Uncle Ezra -- no matter what it may cause him to say to me" (p. 291). And realizing that the rabbi would be asleep, he goes instead to the church where they are praying for him. "I have come to confess before you the belief that your Jesus is the Christ, and that through him I shall be saved" (p. 292). That night he decides to give up the practice of law and to become a missionary to his people, the Jews.

And thus the story ends. As anticipated, our main character has converted from Judaism to Christianity. Like many other fictional converts, he also becomes a missionary to the Jews.

As you will remember from the beginning of this little summary, the author of our story also wrote The Little Colonel, from which was born the movie version starring Shirley Temple, Lionel Barrymore, Hattie McDaniel, and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Imagine, if you will (humor me, please), that In League with Israel has been made into a Hollywood production with the same cast of characters. Shirley Temple can play a younger version of Bethany. Lionel Barrymore will play Rabbi Barthold. Perhaps we can get Leslie Howard to take on the role of David Herschel. Hattie McDaniel will play.... OK, never mind. I don't like where this is going. Let's just forget the whole thing, shall we?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Hesba Stretton, a pseudonym for the 19th century British writer Sarah Smith, wrote the novel Carola most probably sometime in the 1870s or 1880s. Is it a conversionary novel? I'll let you be the judge of that. (But see my comments at the end of this posting).

Carola is a young Gentile girl who is being raised by her drunken grandmother. They live in misery and poverty, but at least they have a roof over their heads renting a room (actually a "garrett" or attic) from Matthias Levi, an old Jewish merchant in London. Eventually her grandmother dies, and old Matthias begins to take care of Carola. Kind of Silas Marner-ish, sort of. Matthias isn't too educated, though. Listen in on one of his religious instruction sessions with Carola:

"He [God] loves the Jews, and has chosen them out of all people; but I think He'd love a little girl like you if you keep them ten laws I've taught you.... But you take care, Carol, and keep all these laws, and p'raps you'll be reckoned as a Jew when the great judgment comes. I don"t know much about it, my dear, for I was not one of the wise men, and they never asked me to read in the Synagogue; but there's no harm done by keeping His laws" (p. 10).

But Matthias, perhaps recognizing his ignorance and lack of training, decides to send her to school:

"Matthias took her to a small Jewish day-school in the neighbourhood, where she quickly learned to read, and read with intelligence and ease. But, as soon as she could shake off these shackles, she returned to the free and dangerous life of the streets, with its constant changes and its exciting events. Many an hour the old cobbler, sitting at his stall, brooded painfully over the perils to which Carola was exposed" (p. 12).

"Why, I'm keepin' all those laws you've taught me!" she exclaimed, turning round and gazing at him with a startled look. "I never swear, nor steal, nor nothin', like all the rest of 'em; and I stay indoors all the time you keep Sabbath, though it makes me mis'rable. If I'm goin' bad, it isn't much use to keep those laws" (p. 13-14).

Carola is given a New Testament to read, and it is through this that she becomes a Christian. The narrator takes this opportunity to disparage praying in Hebrew, a repeated theme among the 19th century authors of this genre:

"Carola lifted up her bended head as she came to the word Amen. Oh! how far better this prayer was than the few Hebrew words without meaning which she had picked up from Matthias.... The other prayers were good for the Jews, but Matthias himself had been doubtful if they would do her any good. But this prayer was in English, and must be meant for English people" (p. 33-34).

"He was her Lord. He had not lived and died for the Jews alone, but for everybody who believed in Him. Though He was a Jew, He had come into the world to save the world. "You ought to go to your parish priest," the chaplain at the cemetery had said to her; he who had given her the book. This she would do at once; and in eager haste she dressed herself in the handsome mourning she had not worn since the day of the funeral. She descended the ladder into the room, where Matthias was ceremoniously washing his hands up to the elbow, before sitting down to the frugal supper. Her face was pale, but her dark eyes shone with suppressed excitement. "I'm goin' out to find my parish priest," she said earnestly; "do you know where he lives, Matthias?" "Priest! priest!" repeated the old man, in a bewildered tone; "there are no priests now there are no sacrifices; We call them Rabbis now."

Even uneducated old Matthias knows a little something about Judaism, it seems. But Carola will outdo him in her newfound knowledge of Christianity and especially the Jewish roots of the New Testament.

"Yes, I know," she said, nodding her head emphatically "Rabbi! Rabboni! Mary called Him Rabboni when she met Him in the garden, and thought it was the gardener. Oh! if I'd only been there with Mary Magdalene!".... Mary Magdalene was a totally new name to him, and a parish priest he had never heard of. If she had asked him where she could find a clergyman, his fears would have been aroused; and if she had pronounced the name of Christ, it would have been a sword piercing through his very soul. But Carola, in her new-born love and reverence, could not call her Saviour by name in the hearing of Matthias as yet. He knew there had once lived an accursed impostor, who called himself the Son of David, and claimed to be the Messiah, and who was said to be their god by the wretched thieves and drunkards and blasphemers among whom he had his dwelling. These people, who made night and day hideous with their crime and misery; were the only Christians he was acquainted with. He was kindly in his feelings towards them, and patient in his manner, pitying them, as some gentle and passive English Christian might pity and tolerate the degraded masses of some heathen population among whom he was compelled to dwell and gain his livelihood."

"The one object of his life had been to keep Carola free from the false religion of these vile and miserable Christians. The idea had very early suggested itself to him, whilst she was a mere infant, that if he could get her to keep the Ten Commandments, and never join in Christian worship, the God of his fathers might accept the service, as being all that could be expected from the child of Christian parents, and would grant to her such favour in the world to come as the Jewish women might be reckoned worthy to receive. What that was he did not know, but he would do what he could to secure it for Carola. He could not make her a true Jewess --- that was impossible; but he would guard her from becoming a Christian; and he might find a Jewish husband for her. Carola's children should be Sons of Abraham. The unbroken seclusion and isolation in which the old grandmother lived had aided him. No Christian teacher or minister had come into contact with the girl until the day she had gone alone to lay her only relative in a Christian grave" (pp. 41-44).

Matthias, we discover, was given 1500 pounds by Carola's grandfather before he died, to take care of Carola. The rector who Carola meets wants to send her away to the country, so that she can grow up in a better atmosphere than the mean city streets. Carola will need 40 pounds per year to do this (or otherwise she would be but a servant). But Matthias is afraid that she will become a Christian without his influence (he doesn't know about her conversion that has already occurred). What will the old Jew Matthias do?

"All day long and through the night Matthias turned the question over and over in his bewildered and sorrowful mind. If the old grandmother had but lived a few years longer, till he had found a Jew to marry Carola! But now, should he let her go, she would certainly become one of the despised and doomed Christians, losing thereby her dubious chance of being regarded worthy of the future fate of a Jewish woman. Might she not have gone whither Sarah, and Rebecca, and Rachel had gone? For Carola had never been baptized; but if she went among Christians they would baptize her, and she would be lost to him for ever. That was the sting of it. To be lost for ever! In this world and the next ! All the bonds of morality taught in the Ten Commandments would be loosened in her, for were not the besetting sins of the Christians drunkenness, and blasphemy, and theft, and vice such as made him shudder as he fancied Carola being plunged into it? No, he could not let her go among the Christians."

Matthias seems resolute. But then....

"But then there came the conviction that he could not keep Carola if she chose to go. She had already outgrown her childhood; nay, many of her street companions had lost their girlhood, and had entered upon a hard and wretched womanhood. The strong, free spirit of the girl would not submit to his control. She would leave him if her mind was bent upon it, and go away into this terrible world of Christians penniless and friendless if he did not remain her friend. That would be too dreadful."

"And if he took advantage of his secret, and withheld from her the money that was rightly her own, how could he himself lift up his head before the Judge by whom actions are weighed? There was a passage in the Hebrew Bible, heard many long years ago, but as keenly in his memory as if he had listened to them only a few hours ago---"What does God require of thee, O man, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" He had loved mercy, and walked humbly with his God; and, now the temptation had come to do unjustly, was he to yield to it? Would it be doing justly to keep this money from Carol, even for a time?" (pp. 57-59).

"Carol", he said, in a tremulous voice, "do you want to go away and leave me?"

"Oh, it's not that!" she answered gently, with tears in her eyes, "but I want to learn all I can about my Lord. You know all about your Lord God, and you say your prayers to Him, and keep His Sabbath and His laws; and I want to do the same, and learn what my Lord would have me do."

"Who is your Lord?" he asked in a voice more tremulous than before.

"The Lord Jesus Christ", she answered in a low yet joyous tone.

"The blow fell heavily. Already, then, she had been drawn away and enticed into the fatal worship of the impostor! All his hopes withered, as if a hot east wind from the desert had suddenly beaten upon them, and scorched them. He closed his eyes, and saw his beloved one whirled away from him in a raging torrent of sin and misery. He had done his utmost to save her, and all had been in vain. An unutterable anguish took possession of the old man's soul, and he hid his face in his hands and groaned aloud; then he felt Carol's hand laid tenderly on his shoulder, and heard Carol's voice speaking softly in his ear."

"Oh, and He was a Jew like you!" she said, "only He was the Son of God --- your God! and He came to save us all, not the Jews only. And the priests had Him crucified; and He was buried and came to life again, and went up to heaven. I have read it all in a book. You never knew it, or you'd have told me, I know. For you thought your God didn't care for folks that were only English, and not Jews. But my book says God loved the world, and sent His Son to save all the world. I'll run and fetch the book, and read it to you; for it's all in English, only I can't understand it all."

"If any one had been pronouncing his sentence of death, Matthias could not have shuddered more to hear it than he shuddered at hearing these words from Carola's lips. The blasphemy of them pierced through to his inmost soul. He lifted himself up from the seat into which he had fallen, and there was the terrible calm of despair in his face and voice as he looked steadily at her."

"He is the accursed one!" he cried loudly and sternly.

[Tell us how you really feel, old Matthias].

"For a minute Carola gazed at the old Jew with an expression of amazement, which gradually changed into terror. It flashed across her mind that this was how many of the Jews had spoken of the Lord whilst He was among them. 'He hath a devil, and is mad,' they said. And Matthias was on their side. Matthias would have been among those who cried out, 'Crucify Him! crucify Him!' There was an extreme bitterness in the thought. A torrent of tears came to her eyes, and she turned swiftly away to hide herself from this enemy of her Lord, lest he should curse Him again."

"Oh, I love Him who died for us!" she cried as she left Matthias standing motionless, as if he had been turned into stone. "I love Him so as I could die for Him!" (pp. 61-63).

"As time went on, Carola scarcely cast a glance backward. She was of a nature that lived intently in the present, and this was so full of new interests and occupations that she seemed to have no time to recall the past. Moreover, there was nothing to link her with it. Matthias reckoned her as dead to him, and held no communication with her. He punctually paid the interest of her money to the Rector of St. Chad's, exacting a receipt from the ladies who kept the school where Carola was; for he had no faith in a Christian, and especially in a Christian clergyman. But no message from him reached the girl; and though now and then, as she read in the Testament how the Jews denied their Lord, and persecuted Him, and at last crucified Him, a sad memory of Matthias, who would have done the same, crossed her mind, she willingly banished it, lest any feeling of personal hatred should mingle with her indignant borrow at their crimes."

"As for Matthias, his heart seemed to be dead within him; though he still sat at his cobbler's stall, and many a barefoot Christian child went away shod from his shop-door, with no more money dropped into his till. It was almost mechanically that he continued to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with his God; there was no more a happy consciousness in him that he was doing so. Day after day he saw the never-ending flood of wretchedness and crime from which he had done his best to save Carola, as though he stood upon the brink of a darksome pit, and knew that she was lost there, though out of sight. Her garret was empty, for he would never let it to a stranger; and the Christian woman whom he was compelled to have to wait on him on the Sabbath kept it clean and habitable, but he could not bring his mind to enter it. Sometimes during the long and dreary Sabbath hours he fancied he could hear the old grandmother and Carola talking overhead. But it was only a dream; and when he roused himself, how silent and empty was all his life!"

"A stealthy feeling of triumph moved his cold heart when he heard of the death of the Rector who had stolen Carola away from him. Not that he expected to find her again; he did not even hope for it. She had become a Christian in spite of his precautions, and was lost to him. But his foe was dead, and could exult over him no longer. When Carola was twenty-one, he transferred the money in the Consols to her name, and felt as if the last interest that tied him to earth was gone" (pp. 67-69).

Carola becomes a village schoolmistress. Later she gets engaged to a seemingly good man, Phillip Arnold. But then a criminal (her old boyfriend, George Bassett) comes back into her life, and she must reveal her sordid past (drunkenness, poverty, criminal boyfriend) to her fiance and other village friends. The Arnold family is shocked and angry, and tells her she must leave. It would shame and disgrace them if she married their son. "I thought," she said, speaking half-aloud to herself, "that Christian people would never turn against me" (p. 148). She goes back to Matthias.

"But there was an instinctive return of her heart to her first, and now her only friend. Christian people were casting her out, and turning their backs upon her; and to whom could she go but to the old Jew, who had so faithfully taught her God's commandments, and had done his utmost to keep her in the path of them? How wrong she had been to forget him all these years! how ungrateful!" (p. 150)

Carola writes a letter to Phillip saying that she had only kissed George Bassett once, and nothing more. "George Bassett was not my lover. I always dreaded him, and hid myself away from him, but he kissed me once against my will. I was only seventeen then."

George Bassett commits an awful crime and is condemned to death, and Carola's friends get very upset with her and with Matthias. A mob attacks their house, and the police tell them that they should move away. So they do. But Matthias is getting older and more feeble.

"Matthias," she said to the dreaming old man on the second Friday evening after they had entered their cottage, "have you forgotten that it is the Sabbath?"

"The sun had set behind the rounded outline of the half-cleared land before them; yet he had not left his seat at the cobbler's bench. He had forgotten; there was nothing to remind him that his day of rest had come round again. Carola brought to him his old well-worn prayer-robe and the Polish cap he had been used to wear, and set his face eastward that he might pray towards Jerusalem. But though he began his prayers in his quavering voice, he soon broke off again, and a few heavy tears stole down his furrowed cheeks."

"I've forgotten the words, Carol," he cried, lifting his shaking hand to his forehead: "it is the Sabbath, but I have forgotten how I can pray to the Lord my God."

"For a minute or two she stood beside him with her brows knit and her dark eyes looking pityingly into his saddened face. With all her might she was striving to recall the few Hebrew words she had uttered as prayers when she was a child."

"Listen!" she said; "was it this?"

Matthias smiled his gentle, pleasant smile, and repeated after her what she could remember. But she could recollect little, and again his face grew troubled.

"I am cut off from His holy temple!" he cried.

"Let me say a prayer for you," she said softly; "it was made by one who was a Jew, but I only know it in English. The Lord God will hear it in English as well as Hebrew."

"Standing beside him, her hand in his, and with her face towards Jerusalem, Carola repeated the Lord's Prayer in her sweet, clear, tender voice. The simple sentences were such as the old man's clouded mind could partly comprehend; and when she said reverently "Amen!" he joined in the familiar word."

"It is a good prayer," he said, as he laid aside his robe; "but I shall recollect my own before next Sabbath comes" (p. 191-192).

"If she might only have talked to him of Christ, and read His wonderful life aloud, the consolation of it would have been greater than anything else to her. But that name, which was literally dearer to her than any other name, could not pass her lips. To him Jesus of Nazareth was the God of the Christians, those persecutors of his people in all ages, robbers and murderers in the name of their God. He had known no Christians but the drinking, blasphemous, and vicious crew who bad driven him from his home, and whose jeers and mockings had followed him through thirty years of a just and honest and industrious life spent in their midst. Carola knew that it was worse than useless to speak to him of Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (p. 194-195).

"Every Friday evening it was necessary for Carola to remind him that the Sabbath had begun, and his feeble memory failed him when he tried to repeat his Hebrew prayer. But Carola stood always at his side, and when the slow tears of old age came into his eyes she was ready with her clear, quiet utterance of the Lord's Prayer. He learned the simple petitions easily, and as she said them his quavering tones joined in with hers. Even during the week she would often hear him murmuring one or two of the short sentences. His solemn, gentle voice would cry, "Thy kingdom come!" Or when her whole heart was sick and her head bewildered, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!" came to her as a message direct from heaven. Matthias would himself brighten up and smile as he caught the sound of his own voice, and then he would turn fondly towards Carola. "That's a good prayer, my dear," he would say; "but I shall recollect my own by-and-by, before the Sabbath comes again" (p. 196-197).

"By-and-by the old man's ebbing strength did not allow him to quit his bed. This feebleness came on so gradually that there was no shock in it, either to Carola or himself. He was very old, and the complete change in his mode of life had hastened the end. But Carola did not think that the end was near; the only other old person she had known was her grandmother, who had been bed-ridden many years, and she looked without dismay on the prospect of tending Matthias for years to come. He was very peaceful and happy, lying tranquilly on his bed, and listening to her with a placid smile as she read aloud the Psalms of David the King, or the writings of the prophets of his own race. He had never possessed an English Bible, and the fragments he had learned of them in Hebrew during his schooldays and his middle life when he frequented the synagogue, had passed away from his memory. Now he heard them in his own tongue, and his heart grew full of them. It was too late for him to learn them, or to read them to himself, but Carola was always near at hand and willing to read his favourite passages over and over again, filling the old Jew's feeble mind with the music of verses, which he hardly understood, but which he would know better by-and-by."

"Oh! if you'd only let me read what I love better still!" said Carola, one day, as she turned over the leaves of her Bible, after reading the words, 'He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.'"

"Ay! read what you love best, Carola, my dear," he answered, looking fondly at her from under his shaggy grey eyebrows; "if it's good for you it'll be good for me. There's something that has made you better than any daughter of my own people that I ever knew. But you mustn't ask me to forsake the Lord God of my fathers."

"No, oh, no!" she replied fervently; "is He not the Father of us all? Only let me read to you about my Lord!"

"With eager and tremulous tones she read to him the story of the Lord's death. She had always shrunk from reading it aloud, so powerfully did it touch her; and as she went on from verse to verse the sorrow and the mystery of it grew upon her, until, when she came to the words, 'And when they had [made] a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they bowed the knee before Him, and mocked Him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews,' she could control her faltering voice no longer, and falling down on her knees beside the old Jew's bed, she burst into a passion of tears."

"Why, my Carol! my dear!" he cried, stroking her head with his bent fingers, "do you love Him so? It's a hard thing to read that of one you love. You mustn't read any more of that to me."
"Oh, but I must!" she said, looking up at him through her tears. "You'll never know what my Lord is like till you've heard all about Him. But wasn't He 'despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief'? And listen how they crucified Him."

"Matthias listened to the end, gazing at Carola's pale and sorrow-stricken face, as she strove to make her tremulous voice clear and steady. When it was finished she closed the book with a deep-drawn sigh, and he shut his eyes, and lay for a few minutes in silent thought."

"I'm too old to remember," he said at last, "but our wise men and rabbis used to say something about all that; and I've known many Christians, too many Christians, but you are different to them, Carol, and you shall read it over again if you love it best; and the Lord my God will pardon me if I sin in this matter."

"Now Carola was free to read in the New Testament, she did so gladly, choosing such passages as she thought least likely to arouse his old prejudices, and putting for the hated name of Jesus Christ the title of 'my Lord.' It was more grateful to the old Jew's ear, for he seemed to be listening to the history of Carol's Lord, not of the Jewish impostor, whose name for many centuries had been accursed. It sounded to him like a very new and very personal narrative, as if Carola was telling him what she had herself seen and heard her Lord do and say. It was more easy to remember and ponder over in the long sleepless hours of the night than the Psalms or Prophecies; and many a time when Carola was lost to him in sleep he thought of her Lord going about healing the sick and giving sight to the blind, even raising the dead to life again and forgiving sin. And this benevolent Lord had always spoken of the Lord God Almighty as the Father in heaven. Could not he, Matthias Levi, call God Father?"

"These thoughts did not trouble him; they seemed to enfold him as a sort of sweet and tranquil atmosphere, or as a strain of melody not understood, but soothing away distress. There was another and a better Christianity than that which he had known; but he no longer thought of the past with its evil memories. The days and weeks passed peacefully and happily away; and he felt it was very good for him to lie still and be waited on by Carola."

"You'll be very lonely when I'm gone, my dear," he said one evening after she had made his bed and lifted him back into it, almost as if he was a child again.

"Yes, I shall be lonely." she answered; "only my Lord said just before He died, 'I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.' When we lose all we find Him."

"Is that in your book?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied; "and just before that He said, 'In My Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.' He is preparing a place for us, Matthias."

"If there are many mansions," he said feebly, "perhaps He'll let you and me have a little one together, Carol. I used to be afraid you were lost to me for ever."

"Oh, He couldn't let us lose one another!" she answered, smiling.

"He fell asleep smiling as she had done, and she watched beside him whilst he slept. For at last she knew that the end was very near, and the messenger of death might come at any moment. There was sadness, but no distress in her heart; she was sorrowing as those who sorrow not. His death would leave her altogether alone, but she did not dread that. There must be some place for her in the world; some footpath, however narrow and thorny, along which she could follow Christ. She sat with her eyes fastened on the furrowed face of the dying man, recalling the days when she was a child, when he had guarded her from the evil that encircled her. At last he woke again, and met her wistful gaze."

"My Carol," he murmured feebly, "I'd like to make you happy before I go away, but I'm afraid to grieve the Lord my God. If your Lord is the Messiah, He will pardon me."

"Oh, yes!" she answered eagerly, "He will pardon you."

"He closed his eyes again, and lay still for a time talking to himself in faint under-tones. Carola caught a word now and then, and knew he was murmuring in broken sentences, "And now, O man! what doth He require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

Once, after a long pause, she heard him whisper: "'Our Father which art in heaven.' That's a good prayer, Carol." Then he lay silent, dreaming perhaps, for a smile rested on his face; but he woke up with a look of trouble and bewilderment, and spoke in a loud and urgent voice. "There's something I've forgotten," he said; "help me to remember, Carol."

"He was struggling to lift himself up, and she raised him in her arms, and laid his white head on her shoulder, speaking to him soothingly, as she would pacify a troubled child."

"Turn my face towards Jerusalem," he whispered; "then I shall remember."

"She moved him a little on the bed. The sun was setting, and through the window she could see all the long shadows stretching eastward. Then, with her cheek bent down on his wrinkled forehead, she told him he was facing the city of his forefathers, the Holy City."

"I remember," he cried, in a tone of solemn triumph; "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord!"

"Carola laid him down again on his bed, but he spoke no more. Only as she knelt by him, with his hand in hers, she felt now and then a little pressure of his fingers, growing feebler each time, until it ceased altogether; and she knew that he was gone."

"She buried him in the parish churchyard, and the same service was read over him as over her drunken grandmother. It did not occur to Carola that any other mode of burial should be found; and the clergyman of the district church knew nothing of the dead man's religion and nationality. Again she stood by the open grave as the only mourner, and looked down upon the coffin lying in its narrow bed, and listened to the solemn words, "We commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.""

"Matthias has seen his Messiah now," she thought, as the tears ran down her pale cheeks. "God is no respecter of persons," she said to herself as she returned alone to her empty cottage, "but in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him" (pp. 209-218).

Questions to ponder:

Should we be alarmed at the similarities between Matthias' attempts to raise Carola as a Jew and the oft told Gentile fable of Jews who steal a Christian baby for their own purposes? Or is this simply a literary device that provides a parallel beginning and ending to the book? In the beginning, Matthias tries to "convert" Carola to Judaism, but she resists his efforts. In the end, Carola tries to convert Matthias to Christianity, with (apparently) equally unsuccessful results.

Does Matthias actually become a Christian in the end? I don't think so, but there is a great deal of ambiguity here.

So is Carola a conversionist novel? Or is it more accurate to say that Hesba Stretton was both an evangelical and an ecumenical pluralist? In many ways this book is quite different from most other evangelical novels involving Jews. It's well-written, for one thing. And while some themes are similar (the deathbed conversion, the child leading the old man to Christ, etc.), others are glaringly different. The spiritual ambiguity in Matthias' last hours with Carola, the recitation of the Jewish sounding Lord's Prayer, the remembrance of the Sh'ma (which of course is the "watchword" of the Jewish faith), Carola's hesitation at offending Matthias, the Christian burial, all of these combine to give us a somewhat confused picture of Matthias and his spiritual condition and his final religious affiliation. With nothing else to go on, I have to conclude that the author was communicating to her readers her own inner conflict with evangelical Christianity. Yes, she seems to be saying, Christianity is the "superior" religion. But no, sincere and faithful adherents to other religions will not go to hell. She almost seems to be echoing a tenet of Judaism: all righteous men (and women) have a place in the world to come. And if that is what Hesba Stretton is saying, then I say, Amen!