Monday, September 3, 2007

Joseph Massena; or, the Jewish Convert

Sometime in the 1880s, an anonymous author published the short story Joseph Massena; or, the Jewish Convert as part of a collection of stories in a volume entitled Gerald Kopt, the Foundling.

Joseph is a young man whose "countenance was prepossessing, and the unmistakable stamp of his nation and lineage, which marked him as a Jew, was united with an expression of thoughtful intelligence" (p. 132). The story opens with Joseph on a ship reading the New Testament when a stranger strikes up a conversation with him. The stranger finds it odd that Joseph, being a Jew, is reading the New Testament, but Joseph tells him that he is a believer in the Messiah, Jesus. He says: "I am [a Christian]. I believe in Jesus Christ; I love him. May not a Jew be a Christian?" (p. 134).

Joseph tells the stranger (Mr. Reed) that he had recently been reading the Bible and had become convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. But he had not yet told anyone about this, least of all his family. He was traveling back to England with that in mind. "You intend, then, to confess Christ before men?" said Mr. Reed. "Undoubtedly... I am not ashamed of Jesus the Messiah" (p. 137). Joseph goes on to say that he hopes that his testimony will bring about the conversion of his parents, but he knows how hurt and upset they will be when they find out. Indeed, he believes that they would rather that he had died than that he had became a Christian (p. 138).

Joseph's father is described as someone who "in his heart burned fierce and bitter hatred to the name of Christ" (p. 139). And after Joseph writes his father a letter telling him about his new beliefs, he ends up being "expelled from his father's house, disinherited, disowned, and cursed with a bitter curse" (p. 141).

Joseph finds employment in the city of London, but he lives in near poverty for a while and faces many temptations. As a new Christian he discovers that some "Christians" were not really true Christians, at least if judged by their acts, and "he found refuge and relief only in secret prayer and tears" (p. 145).

It turns out that Joseph's father is so heartbroken by his son's "apostasy" that he sells his business and moves out of the country. Twenty years later Joseph meets an old man on a ship who (coincidentally!) turns out to be his father. Over the past twenty years, his father's business dealings had failed, his wife Rachel had died (but had "sought and found peace in the Gospel of the once despised and hated Jesus of Nazareth, and dying, placed in his hands, as her legacy of love, the New Testament which had been her secret hidden companion and guide" (p. 159-160). And thus Joseph's father had also become a Christian. A few days later he dies.

That night, after the funeral at sea, Joseph thinks to himself the words of Paul: "I say then, hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite. God hath not cast away his people. And they also, if they abide not in unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again" (p. 161).

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