Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday's Child

Linda Chaikin, a Christian romance novelist, has a surname that would suggest Jewish ancestry or a Jewish husband. Her website gives no indication of this, however. But Monday's Child, published by Harvest House Publishers in 1999, clearly has both romance and Jewish conversion on its mind.

One of several Jewish characters in this book is Jorden Keller, an Israeli Mossad agent (who grew up in Texas). Another is Stella Cohen (who goes by the pseudonym of Ava St. John, supposedly an actress), who is an American Jew and a former Mossad agent. Other Israelis in this book (all Mossad agents) include Ziv, Meir, and Avi Hirschel. The Israeli agents are looking for a Nazi war criminal. Stella Cohen is looking for a family heirloom and a secret Swiss bank account lost in the Holocaust. The main character of the book, Krista von Buren, is a devout Christian who discovers that her mother was born a Jew and then was adopted by Christians when her parents (Krista's grandparents) were sent to Auschwitz.

Krista "considered the Jews beloved for the Father's sake. Why should one loathe the family from which Jesus had been born? But many did, accusing them of the crucifixion of Christ. In blindness, the Jewish religious rulers had rejected Him, but it was the Romans who had executed Him." (p. 42).

Paul states [regarding Jewish inquiries into money deposited into Swiss banks during World War II], "The Jews come here demanding! Demanding! They're offensive!" [Krista] smiled stiffly. "It is your manner that is offensive." (p. 67).

Paul is Krista's boyfriend? Wandering Jude thinks he knows where this is heading....

"The stars [in a ring] could also pass for the Christian cross. [Jorden] knew why a Christian cross might be arranged in the center of the star of King David. There were friends who were trying to prove to him that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. He had to admit that the Old Testament prophecies pointed to Jesus' fulfillment. Since he hadn't been raised Orthodox, considering Jesus as the Messiah didn't disturb him as it apparently did many religious Jews. Also, his mother was a Gentile and about as Texan as one could get." (p. 111).

Sounds like Jorden is almost a Christian already. Wandering Jude predicts that it won't take much for him to convert.

Krista's boyfriend Paul says to her: "I wish you wouldn't go off on a crusade for the Jews every time he mentions them." "I didn't. I just don't feel comfortable when the family makes anti-Semitic remarks..." "That's absurd. No one is against the Jews. You look for such remarks. One would think that you were one." (p. 151).

Oh, Paul. What are you going to do when you discover the truth about your girlfriend, whose secret (and as yet unknown even by her) ancestry will reveal her to be a Jewess? Wandering Jude hopes to high heaven that Krista will drop Paul before this anti-Semite finds out the truth. (But will Krista change her very non-Jewish name?).

Jorden thinks to himself of the "Throne of Judgment": "What of me?... The words of the Christian Jewish group who had been witnessing to him in Dallas came to mind suddenly: Yeshua is our Passover Lamb." (p. 183).

Wandering Jude must interject here to point out various non sequitors here. For instance, the whole concept of Passover Lamb is kind of strange. Anyone who reads the story of Passover in the book of Exodus or in any Passover Haggadah will notice that the Passover lamb plays a very tiny role in the story. And another thing. The Passover lamb as a symbol for forgiveness seems to be a mixed metaphor. In the original Passover story, the lamb's blood protected the Hebrews in Egypt from the Angel of Death that passed through the land. But the metaphor of Jesus as the Passover Lamb is focused on the concept of forgiveness, which seems to be more of a "Day of Atonement" idea than a Passover concept. Think about it.

Jorden's "soul found a new path of thought, one he had not asked for, nor explored to its inevitable end. The Old Testament scriptures the Jewish Christian group in Dallas had patiently pointed out to him came to mind as they often did in the silence of the night, when he least expected to be thinking about them: Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. He had memorized them as a boy in Synagogue school. The rabbi said that it spoke of Israel as the suffering servant of Yahweh, but Jorden knew this did not fit. Israel was not the righteous suffering servant. Israel had rebelled and was in need of a great Day of Atonement for its national sins. The servant Isaiah wrote about was a person. A person rejected by his own and horribly abused, yet cherished by the God of Abraham.... The Jewish group insisted the prophecies spoke of Yeshua -- Jesus. ... Who else could Isaiah and David have been writing about except Jesus? ... Why don't you ask Yahweh? Why don't you read the New Testament the Jewish Christians gave to you? Why do you keep it close in your bag, but never open it? What are you afraid of?" (p. 201-202).

Wandering Jude thinks this paragraph is so....fertile. First of all, what Jewish kid memorizes Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22? Nope, not going to happen. Second of all, the question of "who else could Isaiah and David have been writing about?" is ludicrous. Both passages are poetry, for one thing, written several hundred years before Jesus was born. And a simple reading of the text clearly leaves a lot of room for ambiguity in terms of the subject of these poems. One would hope that Jorden, a reasonably intelligent and educated person, would consult some scholarly sources like Jewish commentaries (or liberal Christian commentaries, for that matter) before basing his conversion to a different religion on the word of some religious fanatics back in Dallas.

Jorden says to Krista (about a friend of his): "The lady is a Gentile friend of Israel. Throughout her life she's worked for Jewish causes at personal risk. She was married to a Jewish doctor who survived Birkenau. She led him into Christianity and later he went to theology school and became a missionary to Jews in Switzerland." (p. 286).

And this proves...exactly what?

Krista asks Jorden, "The CIA isn't accusing me of selling jewelry from Holocaust victims, are they?" "No. They're not into Jewish justice," he stated flatly. That's left to Israel and her unrelenting secret police." (p. 302).

Krista and Jorden begin to fall in love, but Krista is hesitant. She says to him: "You don't share my faith." "I believe in God and the Old Testament Scriptures. Doesn't that count?" "Yes. Oh, Jorden, don't you see?" "No," he stated quietly.... "What if we fell in love?" He smiled. [Krista says] "No matter how honorable and courageous you are, or how much I care ... how would we resolve the issue of marriage, of children, of everything? Would you let me send our children to a Christian Sunday School?" (p. 344). Later Krista prays: "Please Lord, help Jorden come to know you as Messiah, Israel's Redeemer whom the Old Testament Scriptures foretold." (p. 345).

Ah, the dilemma of the Gentile Christian woman who falls in love with the brave, handsome Israeli Jew. Interfaith marriage was never so romanticized!

Discussing Wilhelm's suicide, Krista says: "Horrible, isn't it? I hate to think where he is now -- having rejected God's provision for forgiveness." Stella [Cohen] looked offended. "Do you think it even matters after what he did? Are you trying to tell me that a just God could forgive a man like Wilhelm? A Gestapo agent? A murderer of thousands?" Krista knew she must be careful in her answer. "I like to remember what Isaiah wrote before predicting the sufferings of Christ: 'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the Lord, 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow...'" "But the prophet wrote that to Israel. And since then many Jews have suffered. What do the sufferings of Christ have to do with forgiving wicked men like Wilhelm?" "Because ultimately, all sin is against God. He is the only one who can forgive it. And you are right, because God is just, He can't just dismiss it. That is where the suffering Messiah comes in. Only the Creator of all men was great enough to make possible the forgiveness of all men's sins." Stella toyed with her glass. "It sounds like you're saying Jesus is like the Passover Lamb. I'll need to think about that. I've heard Jorden say much the same thing." (p. 355).

Again with this Passover Lamb business. Wandering Jude is getting annoyed with Stella the Israeli Mossad agent. The only way she could come up with the ferkakta idea of the Passover Lamb is through the puppetmaster writer of this dreck. When John the Baptist in the New Testament says "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," methinks he was not alluding to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But maybe that's just me.

Krista discovers that her mother was Jewish, that she and Stella are second cousins, and that her grandparents had died at Auschwitz. "All these years she had been hotly against anything hinting of anti-Semitism, but she had done so as a Gentile. Now she was suddenly Jewish." (p. 357).

OK, that explains a lot! Wandering Jude is suddenly relieved. But won't you change your name, Krista?

"It's not the genocide alone that grieves me, but the grizzly, diabolical ways in which the Nazis went about killing us. Satan hates the Jews because God used them as a depository for His truth. He used them to write the Scriptures and to fulfill His promise to send the Messiah through the tribe of Judah." (p. 360).

Not grieved by genocide?? Um.....OK. If that's the way you want it. But Wandering Jude thinks genocide by itself is a pretty nasty business.

Franz says to Krista (about Jorden): "We had a long discussion in the car tonight on the way back from the safehouse. I feel he's very close to believing in Christ as the promised Messiah. You must be patient. Don't push him, but pray. Let the Spirit of God do the convicting. Jorden already knows the Scriptures. I was amazed at how much." Krista also lowered her voice: "There's been a Christian lady who has been praying for him for five years." "He's close to a decision. Rest the matter with the Lord." (p. 370).

He's close.... he's close. Don't push him. (Wandering Jude might even suggest reverse psychology. Why not play the devil's advocate and suddenly begin to argue against Christianity? That might really bring Jorden's conversion about much more quickly!)

Jorden says to Krista: "Isn't there a verse in Hebrews that says, "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts?"" "Yes. So you've been reading the New Testament?" I've worked my way through it once and am now reading Matthew for the second time." (p. 371-372).

Oh, Jorden. Wandering Jude had such high hopes for you. After all, it's not many Texas Jewboys who end up in the Mossad.

Jorden is thinking to himself about how bad Eichmann was, but then he hears a silent voice say to him: "What about your sins?" Mine!? "In the sight of a holy God you too are guilty of breaking the Mosaic Law. Have you kept all Ten Commandments perfectly, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, year in and year out?" No. "Then you let me take care of men like Eichmann. You make certain of your own soul, otherwise you too will stand before the throne and be judged by what is written in the books. But if you turn to Me, and accept My substitutionary death for you on the cross, I will wash away your sins. Like Jacob, your name will be changed to a prince with God. You will be a true son of Israel, and I, your true Father." ... My conscience, he thought. He knew it was more than that. What had Saul of Tarsus said on the Damacus Road on his route to persecute Christians? "Who are you, Lord?" Jorden already knew his name; it was Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew. He had just called Jesus "Lord." He knew enough about the Scriptures to realize that to own Jesus as Lord meant that he also acknowledged Jesus as the true Passover Lamb, the one true offering to atone for sin. Why else would Jesus have died on the cross at Passover time?" ... Savior and Lord, Lamb of God, King of Israel, Head of the true Church made up of both Jews and Gentiles. What else had Saul said on the Damascus road? "Lord, what will You have me to do?" (p. 380-381).

People obsess about Eichmann a lot in this book. Wandering Jude thinks it might be better to obsess about Mengele or another Nazi who escaped justice. After all, Eichmann was hanged in Jerusalem. He got his just reward.

And the Passover Lamb again rears his ugly head.

"Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ that should come into the world. ... If Jesus Christ was alive at the right hand of God, if Jesus had conquered sin, the grave, and hell, if He had a future for Israel and a plan for the world, then all was not lost. Jorden felt no tidal wave of emotion, only conviction. He must act on the truth. "Lord Jesus, I believe You are the promised Messiah, and I accept you as my Savior and King." Peace filled his mind and spirit, along with a joy he had not previously known. Peace with the holy God -- through His beloved Son! Peace with God -- at last!" (p. 382).

Peace at last. Wandering Jude is happy that Jorden is finally at peace with himself. Just don't try to justify it with a theological mishmash.

When Krista learns of Jorden's new beliefs, she gives me the choice of a celebratory meal of sandwiches made with either "sausage and egg or cheese and bacon." (p. 386).

And what's wrong with a good pastrami on rye with mustard?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wings of Refuge

Romance is in the air. Wandering Jude sees the writing on the wall, and it's mostly love stories. That's right. Conversion narratives masquerading as romance novels. Over the next few weeks we'll discuss a variety of evangelical Christian novels that have at their core both romance and conversion to Christianity. Wandering Jude warns the reader not to get too excited. These are not "bodice-rippers." There is no sex to speak of; these love stories are definitely PG or in some cases even G. Nothing remotely close to PG-13 or R territory.

Lynn Austin, a master of the Christian romance genre, wrote Wings of Refuge in 2000. In this book, Benjamin Rosen is an Israeli secret service agent, an Orthodox Jew, and a horticulturalist. He befriends the protagonist of the novel, Abby MacLeod, but is murdered by terrorists. His cousin is Hannah Rahov, who is an archaeologist that Abby works with on her trip to Israel. Hannah is a "Jewish believer in Yeshua." Ari Bazak is another archaeologist that Abby meets. Many other Israelis are featured in this novel of romance and (some) suspense. The novel also uses a common device and portrays a number of early Jews and Jewish Christians from the 1st century.

Wandering Jude usually avoids pointing out inaccuracies in these books, given that they are so common, but this time he couldn't resist. E.g., it's unlikely that Rosen would touch Abby in the way he does on the plane since he is an Orthodox Jew. (p. 24). Rosen also writes in a Bible. No-no. Also, Wandering Jude doesn't think that Ari is short for Aaron. (p. 34).

Here are some excerpts from the book:

"Abby stared. "Excuse me if this sounds rude, but aren't you Jewish?" "Yes." "but ... you just quoted Jesus." "I'm a Jewish believer in Yeshua -- Jesus, the Messiah promised in the Jewish Scriptures," Hannah said. ... "I hope there will be an opportunity to share my own spiritual journey with you before this summer is over." (p. 51). Later, speaking to a group of Christians, Hannah says, ""And the, on a star-filled night during King Herod's reign, Jesus the Messiah was born."... "He offered a solution to the crisis in their lives. But in spite of all the words that the prophets had spoken, the answer Jesus offered was not what any of them wanted -- or expected."" (p. 61).

""How long have you been a Christian, Hannah?" Abby asked. ... "I've been a Messianic believer for about five years now.... My daughter, Rachel, became a believer first. And I have to tell you that I was quite upset when she told me about her faith. When a Jew hears the word Christian, we immediately think of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition and all the other horrors committed in the name of Christ. We've quite forgotten the fact that Jesus was Jewish, as were all of his disciples, the apostle Paul, and most of the earliest Christians."" (pp. 61-62).

Hannah states: "The central belief of the Jewish faith is that God is working to redeem mankind. Once I saw that Jesus already brought about that promised redemption -- my redemption -- my faith was completed, not altered." Abby glimpsed Ari's face in the rearview mirror and saw by his frown that Hannah's words made him uncomfortable." (p. 62).

Some of the Christians in the group make negative comments about the Pharisees. Hannah disagrees with them, saying: ""the Pharisees were men of great courage -- heroes who were willing to face death rather than deny their faith..... But by Jesus' day, the outward form of their religion had become more important than the state of a man's heart or his relationship with God. They were carefully straining their food to avoid swallowing a gnat -- the smallest of the unclean creatures -- while at the same time, by neglecting mercy and grace, they were swallowing camels, so to speak -- the largest unclean animal." (pp. 72-73). ""Besides keeping the faith alive during times of persecution," Hannah continued, "the Pharisees made another very important contribution. They helped develop an educational system, teaching the Torah in local synagogues. It was because of the Pharisees' devotion to teaching God's Law that the average person in Jesus' time knew what the Bible prophecies said, even if he was a humble fisherman or a carpenter. And so the Pharisees prepared the people for Christ's coming."" (p. 73).

Wandering Jude notes that this description of the Pharisees seems much more fair and even-handed than most others found in Christian novels. In other words, kudos to the author.

"Her life is a gift from God," Jake told her. "Whatever happens, we can trust Him with it because His love reaches to the heavens, His faithfulness to the skies. And that's a very long way." Hannah had learned the morning prayers from Jake. They recited them together before they began each day." (p. 130). Hannah asks why people want to destroy the Jews. Jake answers, "Because we bear witness to the Holy One's plan to redeem mankind. In fact, His redemption will come from our race, from Abraham's seed. If Satan can destroy us, he thinks he can destroy all memory of God and keep mankind under the curse. But Satan's plans won't succeed." .... "But I also believe that what our enemies intend for evil, God is going to turn to our good."" (p. 131).

"She gave a nervous laugh. "You know me, Hannah. I wouldn't know what to do inside a synagogue even if they did let me through the door." "I wasn't raised in a religious home, either, but I've been attending Sabbath services with Jake ever since we were married..... You won't be surprised to learn that his faith has started to rub off on me after six years of marriage. I didn't know how to pray either, so I started by praying the psalms. Try it. With this crisis, it helps keep my fear down to manageable proportions."" (p. 138). ""Jake was reading the prophecies of Ezekiel to me the week before he left.... a huge army coming against Israel after the Jewish people are gathered here from many nations....And it says that God will allow them to come so that He can show His greatness and His holiness before the eyes of the whole world."" (p. 138). "Two day later, Hannah attended Sabbath services with Devorah. It comforted her to imagine Jake and Ben and a minyan of ten men reading the same Torah passages and reciting prayers...." (p. 139).

""I hate the Arabs for putting us through that." Jake [said]: "Don't hate them, Hannah. They win if you hate. The Holy One is a God of redemption, and it's our job to show His redemption to the whole world. We can't do that if we hate."" (p. 144).

""Do you call it coincidence, Ari, that millions of followers of the three great world religions all come to worship God within these ancient walls?" "I call it unfortunate," he said, frowning again." (pp. 149-150). ""They are also united by a common ancestor," Hannah said. "All three religions trace the roots of their faith to Abraham -- the Jews and the Christians through his son Isaac, the Arabs through his son Ishmael."" (p. 150). "God expects us to live our our faith in a real world of pain and strife until His redemption is complete," [Hannah said]. (p. 151).

""Christians often forget that Yeshua -- Jesus -- was Jewish," Hannah continued. "He didn't come to start a radical new religion but to fulfill the revelation of redemption that the Jewish people had already been given. All His life, Jesus carefully followed Jewish Law."" (p. 153).

Abby notices a difference between the Jew Ari and the Jewish Christian Hannah: "But what she couldn't understand as she walked home that night with him and Hannah was why Ari's heart had been hardened by his enemies, while Hannah's remained untouched by hatred." (p. 218).

The Israelis celebrate Shabbat with the Christian group: "The Richmans accorded Hannah the honor of lighting the Sabbath candles. Abby listened appreciatively as the family recited the prayers and blessings in Hebrew.... After a ritual hand washing, Judith uncovered two fragrant loaves of challah." (p. 215).

On Yom Kippur, Jake talks to his daughter: "Every Yom Kippur we rehearse for the day when we will face God's judgment. We think about death by fasting and denying ourselves all of the usual pleasures of life for twenty-four hours. Then we confess our sins and repent -- which means we turn away from them -- and we promise to live better by God's strength." (p. 261). Rachel, Jake's daughter, says: "I'll pray for you every day, Abba, and ask God to keep you safe.".... "If it's His will, Rachel . . . we must always yield to His will. Otherwise, we're putting ourselves in God's place, telling Him how to run the universe. No one must sit in God's place." "But why would it be God's will for you . . . to die?" she asked. "Who can know the mind of the Almighty One? Many good men died in the last war, Rachel, and we don't know why. We can't see His design because we stand too close to it."" (p. 265).

Hannah grieves her dead husband, killed in the Yom Kippur War: "Rachel wanted to continue attending the synagogue, so Hannah fulfilled all of the rituals with her, performing her lines by rote. When Yom Kippur rolled around each year and the rabbi promised that "Those who trust in the Lord shall exchange strength for weariness," she wanted to shout aloud that it was a lie, that God was a cruel tyrant. She and Rachel said prayers every morning... but they were words -- empty, meaningless words." (pp. 279-280). Later, Hannah prays: ""How could you take him from me? How could you let Jake die? What kind of a God are you?" Jake was dead. God had cruelly snatched him from her.... God alone was strong enough to heal her wound, but she had turned from Him in anger, instead of turning to him for refuge.... "I can't go on, God.... Please help me!"" (p. 284).

Rachel, Hannah's daughter, becomes a Christian: ""You know what surprises me the most, Mama? How Jewish this Yeshua was. The Christian Bible has him celebrating Passover and all the other feasts, quoting Jewish prophets, attending synagogue.... He really wasn't starting a new religion at all. He was simply a Jewish rabbi with a breathtaking interpretation of Judaism. He was trying to move a very corrupt religious system back to what God originally intended. And the God he describes is the same one I believe in -- a God of redemption." Hannah was alarmed. "You've studied history, Rachel. You know all the atrocities that Christians have committed against our people in that name." "His followers did those things, Mama, not Him."" (p. 343).

""But I am still a Jew! I haven't given up any part of our faith or our heritage. I don't have to. Yeshua the Messiah is the fulfillment of the Jewish faith."" (p. 346). As they celebrate the Passover seder, Rachel explains each ritual in light of her newfound faith in Jesus.

Hannah comes to faith in Jesus in part through the death of her daughter, who dies in a terrorist bombing, and in part through the witness of an Arab Christian pastor who visits her in the hospital.

Hannah says: ""All my life I've dug through ruins to prove that this land belonged to our Jewish ancestors. Now these Christian symbols on the floor of a Jewish home prove that some of those ancestors believed in Yeshua the Messiah! .... to prove to him that Rachel was right, that Yeshua was Jewish. And that He was the Jewish Messiah our ancestors had been waiting for."" (p. 363). In the end, Ari also becomes a Christian.

The last word:

Wandering Jude concedes that this is not a bad book. The plot, the characters, the story, the writing, everything is OK. But it's still propaganda.

Why does the Jewish character Jake always sound so much like a Christian when he pontificates and theologizes? Could it be ... that this is the author's way of telegraphing her intention to make him a Christian right before he dies? (A common ploy among evangelical conversionist authors).

Most of the arguments that are made on behalf of Christianity in this book are fairly reductionistic. The most common one is that since Jesus was Jewish (he was very very Jewish, yes he was), then it's only logical and natural that Jews 2000 years later should convert to the religion that follows his teachings. Um, there are, of course, a few problems with this argument. One is that IT MAKES NO SENSE. Another small problem with this line of reasoning is that IT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. OK, Wandering Jude now formally ends his rant.