Sunday, October 7, 2007

David: A Jewish Lad's Conversion to Christianity

Agnes Scott Kent wrote a series of novels in the 1920s and 1930s dealing with Jews becoming Christians. The first, David: A Jewish Lad's Conversion to Christianity, was published in Toronto in 1926. (And it was one of the first conversionist novels to be set in Canada).

Kent explains her literary motives: "It is with the purpose of presenting to Christians all that is involved when a Jew becomes a Christian; and of giving them a more intelligent appreciation of the vast difficulties in Jewish missionary enterprise, that this little story is published."

Early in the novel we learn that the titular character, 12 year old David Rabinovitz, is bullied at school because he is Jewish, and thus "hated all Christians!" (p. 8)

"It was Sabbath evening -- Friday. The shades were drawn and the candles were burning, shedding their soft light upon the fine Jewish faces gathered around the table. At the head stood the father, a Jewish Rabbi, a man of grave and distinguished bearing. Seated before him were the sweet-faced mother and her two beautiful daughters, all dark-eyed and very lovely, and David, the twelve-year-old only son, the joy and idol of the family and the handsomest of them all, with his tall, lithe grace, his finely chiseled Jewish features and his soulful black eyes" (p. 8).

"Father, did the Jews kill Jesus?" The Rabbi's handsome face became instantly stern. "What means this, my son? You well know that is a name that is unwelcome in this house." ... "It is well that we are in Canada [and no longer in Russia]. Here at least they cannot kill us nor confiscate our property. Insult, yes, my son, that we must receive wherever we go. It is the lot of the Jew always to suffer" (p. 9).

"As for this man Jesus," again the father's voice grew stern, "no, my son, the Jews did not crucify him. It was the Romans. And quite rightfully so, David, because he was guilty of the fearful blasphemy of declaring himself the Son of God. I will grant that his was an outstanding life, distinguished for holiness and wise teaching and great and noble deed. I believe even that he was a prophet, for that he performed wonderful miracles, even to the raising of the dead, few deny. But for the sin of claiming that he was sent from God, that he was the Messiah of Israel, it was necessary and right that he should die. The proof of his great iniquity is found in the deeds of his followers who, in his name, have perpetrated every outrage upon our people. Now dismiss this man from your thoughts, my son, and never let me hear again his name upon your lips" (p. 10).

David meets a woman in the park who is a proselytizer. She tells him that Jesus is the risen Messiah, prophesied by the prophets in the Tanach:

"He lives! He lives! I know it, David, for every day I talk with Him and He with me in wondrous fellowship. I cannot see Him, no; but soon I shall, David, face to face; for the prophets have given other pictures, just as wonderful, just as surely true, of His second advent and His reign in glory. And we who love Him believe His footsteps are drawing very, very near" (p. 13).

Young David responds,

"He is not the Messiah! My father says he was a blasphemer and that he deserved to die. All the sufferings of our race are because of him. I have lived in Russia and I know! Even here in Canada the Christians treat me like a dog just because I am a Jew!"

But the missionary has a ready answer for this objection:

"Ah, David, they are not Christians then, either in Russia or in Canada if they do not love the Jews, for He is the Lord of love, and they are His own brethren" (p. 15).

Later the woman persuades David to read a new Testament. David is now well on his way to life as a Christian:

"I wonder if Jesus possibly could be the Messiah? If he is -- oh, it would be glorious!"

The woman missionary prays for David after he has left. A typical evangelical prayer but [notes Wandering Jude] foreign to the ears of Jews everywhere no matter what language they speak:

"Oh, Lord God, give me this beautiful Jewish lad! I claim him, Father, for Thy Son! Defeat all opposition from the Enemy. Oh, give entrance, Father, to this Testament, Thy Word of Life! Grant that through it, David and every loved one in his home may find their true Messiah, Jesus Christ" (p. 16).

Wandering Jude suspects, as well may the perceptive reader, that the missionary's prayer, despite its patronizing and insulting nature, will be answered before the tale is finished.

David is now 18 years old. David's father informs him of his plan to move the family to Palestine, where David will attend Hebrew University. "By that time, who knows, David? Our temple may be rebuilt, our sacrifice restored. Yes! Even He, our Messiah -- may be come! and you, David, son of Isidor, of the house of Rabinovitz, of the tribe of Levi, may minister before Him in the Temple courts!" (p. 20).

But David has a secret that he must now share with his abba.

"Dearest Father, hear me; I cannot go to Palestine to study for a Jewish rabbinate -- because, my Father, I believe in Jesus Christ! I confess Him now before you as my Saviour and my Lord, the Son of God, and Israel's Messiah!" (p. 22).

"The proud spirit of the Hebrew Rabbi was stricken to the dust. In a paroxysm of rage and horror he choked out the words: "David Rabinovitz, are you mad? How dare you utter that accursed name with in this house! -- the name of that blasphemer and imposter, the one who has inspired the murder of thousands of your people. You, my son! How dare you? ... David, my son, my dearest boy, would you break your father's heart? Would you thus dishonour our exalted name by acknowledging this hated Jesus? ... As you love me, David, say you will give up this madness." He threw his arms about his son and kissed him passionately. David returned his father's caresses, and both wept bitterly" (p. 23).

David's father expresses his anger toward the missionary who proselytized David and visited the family in their home:

"I never dreamed she was trying to indoctrinate my son! Yes, it is true, I did permit you to accept the New Testament from her, for all learned Jews are now studying it freely. But I had too much confidence in your faith, as a righteous Jew, in one God, to dream that you would ever accept its perverted teaching seriously, or that you could possibly be harmed by it. But the deadly poison has worked. And Nathalie Raymond has been the viper who insinuated it! As servant of Jehovah, I pronounce His curse upon her! ... David, I ask you just one question: Will you here and now renounce your faith in Jesus Christ?"


"Weigh carefully, David, all that is involved if you become a Christian. It will mean: for all of us who love you, broken hearts; for our exalted house and name, disgrace and disinheritance -- the loss of family, home and friends, of wealth, of social rank, of opportunity; for me, the loss of the position and respect I hold in this community; for your sisters, all hopes of marriage shattered, for no worthy Jew would ever marry the sister of a Meshumed. But that is not all. ... If you profess this Jesus -- I solemnly warn you -- it will kill your mother... And when she dies, you -- David Rabinovitz -- her only son -- will be her murderer! -- Now make your choice" (p. 28-29).

When David (clearly immune from the effects of his dad's major guilt manipulation efforts) tells his father that his final choice is to follow Jesus, the rabbi's response is over the top:

"Then go! go from my heart, and from my home, which you have laid in ruins. No longer are you David, the beloved -- no longer are you Rabinovitz. Your name is now Meshumed -- Accursed of God and man! Go -- forever -- into outer darkness! Go!" with a force born of Satanic fury, David was hurled through the doorway, headlong down the stone steps to the pavement" (p. 32).

Sometime later David was summoned to his family's home. What follows in the narrative is an unbelievable scene of melodrama and fantasy:

"At the door, in utter silence, he had been rudely seized by two well-known neighboring Jewish Rabbis, and violently shoved into the drawing room, which was heavily draped in black crepe. In the centre of the room had stood a long, black coffin, with candles burning at the head and foot. A silver name plate bore the inscription: David Rabinovitz, Beloved and only son of Isidor and Leah, Died November 17, 19--, Aged 18 years. To his horror, David had realized that the figure laid out in the coffin was himself in effigy, and that he was attending his own funeral! He had been held as in a vise by his two captors through the whole fearful service, compelled to hear the wailing of the mourners for the dead son of the household, and the heartbroken sobs of his father, who had sat directly in front of him" (p. 37).

Summoned to his family's home ten years later, David hears his mother say "I believe in Jesus Christ" (p. 40). A strange and mostly unexplained twist of fate, but by this time the reader is accustomed to such plot devices. Later we will be told of the chicanery that led to this event.

Three weeks later, at Christmas, David and his new wife join Miss Raymond (our old friend the missionary) at the Jewish mission for a Christmas service for little Jewish children in front of a Christmas tree. David tells them the Christmas story, then prays with them and sings a song. Meanwhile, his father had been listening to the service unobserved. The narrator describes the scene of a once proud man now humbled by circumstances and by the convicting power of the Christian Holy Spirit:

"[F]alling upon his knees among the kneeling children, he buried his head in his arms and wept as if his heart would break. The proud spirit was abased, the rebellion of long years was ended. With the soft light of a Christmas tree making a halo about his silvered head, the Jewish rabbi bowed in penitence and adoration before the Son of God! ... prostrate at last at the feet of his Messiah! ... With majestic dignity, and in tones that thrilled everyone listening intently in the room, he cried aloud: "O God, forgive my sin of unbelief! I come, at last, at last, I come! My Lord and my Messiah, I yield my heart to Thee." Then, silently weeping, he sat down upon a bench among the children" (p. 44-45).

(We should note that David's two sisters also become Christians at this point in the book).

After reading the New Testament, the old Rabbi

"was compelled to yield his intellectual assent that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews and the Saviour of the world. But still his proud heart refused to yield to the One despised and rejected by his people Israel. And more, he could not pay the price. Well did he know what confession of the hated Jesus would cost him: his prestige and his authority among the Jews, his established social leadership, his hosts of friends. [But finally] his proud spirit broke" (p. 47-48).

It turns out that a "devoted Hebrew-Christian [nurse], who, purposely unrecognized as such, had through much prevailing prayer, and through the influence of her loving ministry in the sick room, been enabled to talk to Mrs. Rabinovitz and Miriam about her Lord, and gradually to give them secret instruction in the Bible, carefully comparing the New Testament with the Old" (p. 48).

The old (former) rabbi, now a devout Christian, expresses his gratefulness to the spinster missionary:

"Miss Raymond, we have been thanking our God, in Jesus' name, for you. And now tomorrow, dear friend, you must spend with us: our first real Christmas day.... we shall all leave for Palestine. yes, Palestine! The Land of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! There I would end my days, near my beloved son, sharing in his labours to make the Messiah known among our people Israel" (p. 51).


What can Wandering Jude say except that they don't write 'em like this anymore, do they? (And thank God for that!)

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