Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In the Twinkling of an Eye

The early 20th century had a precursor to the Left Behind phenomenon. Sydney Watson wrote two conversionist apocalyptic novels, the first published in 1918 as In the Twinkling of an Eye. The title comes from a New Testament passage that promises that Christ will come again "in the twinkling of an eye" (to use the King James version of this particular verse). The theology comes from dispensationalism, a 19th century movement that has gained a strong foothold in thousands of conservative churches throughout the world (but especially in the United States).

Abraham Cohen is a Jewish character in this last days novel. He is very religious and pious: "How long, O Lord, shall Thy people be cast off and trodden down, and their land, Thy land, be held by the accursed races?" (p. 39). The fictional Cohen is a craftsman living in England who is busy making ritual objects for the new Temple. His sister in law is Zillah, and his wife is Leah.

Abraham says excitedly to Zillah: "I do think Messiah is coming soon .... Who knows? Perhaps when the Passover comes again, and we set His chair, and open the door for Him to enter, that He will suddenly come." (p. 42). Abraham goes on to recount for his sister in law the reasons why he thinks the Messiah will soon come. One of his reasons is based on the numeric equivalent of a biblical passage (which of course is a Jewish custom called "Gematria").

Tom Hammond, the Gentile protagonist of the book, states that Jews "have obtained and maintained the highest positions, the greatest influence..... It is not simply that they practically hold the wealth of the world in their hands, that they are the world's bankers, but they are dominating our press, our politics.... Then you cannot kill the Jew, you cannot wipe him out. Persecution has had the effect of stunting his growth, so that the average Britisher is several inches taller than the average Jew. But the life of the Hebrew is indestructible." (pp. 52-53). [Wandering Jude notes that these words are of course meant to be compliments, not insults].

Abraham Cohen has a conversation with Tom Hammond, who says to him: "But do you not know ... that ... all Christendom has believed, for all the ages since, that the Messiah came nearly two thousand years ago?" "The Nazarene?" There was as much or more of pity than scorn in the voice of the Jew as he uttered the word. "How could He be the Messiah, sir? ... "Could any good thing come out of Nazareth? Besides, our Messiah is to redeem Israel, to deliver them from the hand of the oppressor, and to gather again into one nation all our scattered race. No, no! a thousand times No! The Nazarene could not be our Messiah!" (p. 104).

On pages 147-150 the custom of "Chalitza" is described (when a man is released from the responsibility of levirate marrriage -- where a man must marry his sister in law if his brother dies).

Tom Hammond says to his Jewish friend, Zillah Robart: "Are you, Miss Robart, ... wholly wedded to the Jewish faith? Do you believe, for instance, that Jesus, the Nazarene, was an imposter?" ... "I can trust you, Mr. Hammond, I know. You will keep my confidence, if I give it to you?" ... "I have not dared to breathe a word of it to anyone, not even to my good brother in law Abraham, but I am learning to love the Christ.... I see how the prophecies of our forefathers -- Isaiah especially -- were all literally fulfilled in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. I see, too, that when next He comes, it will not be as our race supposes, as the Messiah to the Jews, but He will come in the air ...." (pp. 151-152).

When Zillah tells Abraham that she wants to marry Tom Hammond, he replies, with fervor: "He is of the Gentile race, Zillah!" (p. 177).

Later, she tells him: "Abraham! I have found the Messiah! He whom the Gentiles call the Christ; The man-God, Jesus, is the Messiah!" ... "May I tell you why I think, why I know He is the Messiah, Abraham?" she asked.

[She] "began to pour out her soul in the words of the Old Testament scriptures, connecting them with their fulfillment in the New Testament."

"Now I know, dear Abraham," she presently cried, "How it is that Jehovah is allowing our Rabbis ... to be led to dates that prove that Messiah is coming soon? Now I know why God has allowed our nation to be stirred up, -- the Zionist movement, the colonization of Jerusalem and its neighborhood, and all else of this like -- yes, it is because the Christ is coming. Only, dear brother, it is not as the Messiah of the Jews that He comes soon -- He came thus more than 1900 years ago -- this time, when He comes, He will come for his church, His redeemed ones -- Jew and Gentile alike who are washed in His blood that was shed on Calvary for all the human race. For He was surely God's Lamb, and was slain at the Great, the last real Passover, dear Abraham if only we all -- our race -- could see this. What the blood of that first Passover lamb, in Egypt, was in type, to our people in their bondage and Blood-deliverance, so Jesus was in reality." (pp. 178-179)

Zillah continues with her theological lesson: [After the rapture] "our own race will return to Jerusalem ... still believing in the coming of the Messiah." (p. 180)

[At the second coming, at the end of the tribulation period] "Our poor deluded, suffering people will see Him, as our own prophets have said: -- "I will pour out upon the House of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son...." ... "Abraham, why are you thus quiet? Why have you not cursed me for a Meshumed, dear? Can it be that you, too, know aught of these glorious truths?" There was sadness and kindness in his eyes as he returned her pleading glance. But there was no trace of anger. "I wonder why, little sister," he began, "I am not angry, as the men of Israel usually are with a Meshumed, even though the defaulter should be as beautiful as Zillah Robart?" (p. 181)

Abraham tells Zillah about how he recently went to hear a speaker at the Jewish mission, but that he is not fully convinced yet of the truth of the Messiahship of Jesus. Then he blessed Zillah with the Aaronic benediction (which the narrator calls the Nazarite blessing). "She had feared anger, indignation from her brother in law, she received blessing instead." (p. 183). Abraham Cohen took "a New Testament from his pocket, began to study anew the Passion of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels." (p. 184).

It is now Passover. Abraham asks Zillah: "With your newly-espoused faith in the Nazarene, shall you partake of the lamb with us?" "Certainly, I will," she replied, "only I shall take the meal more in the spirit of the Lord's supper, of the Christian Church.... All the time I shall be praying that you may meet the Christ of God, Jesus of Nazareth; and while you seek to remember our people's deliverance from the land of Bondage, I shall be praying that you, dear Abram, may be delivered from the bondage of the legalism of our race." (p. 200).

The Passover seder is described in detail (pp. 201-208).

After the seder, Zillah suddenly breaks into song, singing a Christian hymn about the Lamb of God. Abraham's children join her, for it turns out that they are secretly believers in Jesus, having attended the missionary meetings for children. Finally, near the end of the hymn, Abraham joins them. Lifting his hands up, he cries out: "Thou loving Christ! Thou Precious Jesus! I am Thine -- Thine -- Thine!"

Then he remembers his wife. "Rachael, dear heart," he cried, as he moved to her side. "Rachael, wife of my heart. Jesus is the Messiah!"

"Bah!" she cried. With a thrust of her hand and foot, she kept him from her. Then in tones of withering scorn and disgust, she cried: "Meshumed!" (p. 206).

It is only then that she realizes that her husband, sister, and children have all been raptured!

And thus the book ends. Rachael has been left behind!

Some points to ponder:

(1) Wandering Jude wonders if Sydney Watson's two-part series made him as rich as Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Probably not. But these novels did become popular, and Watson was undoubtedly a sought after speaker in the premillenial circuit.

(2) If you've been reading Wandering Jude for a while, you might remember a similar scene to the one just described (that ends the book). Christian hymns are sung at Passover in The Jewish Twins.

(3) Perhaps this novel should be categorized in the horror genre. Wandering Jude can think of nothing more shocking for a Jewish mother than to have her children, her husband, and her sister suddenly announce their conversion to Christianity during the Passover seder. Yes, sometimes fiction is stranger than truth.

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