I am reading, after some years, for a second time “The Nazarene” by Sholom Asch, a Polish Jewish writer. No book has ever been written like it, nor could ever be except by a Jew from the house of Judaism. Asch, intimately familiar with the ways of the Jewish people and their written sources, as well as with the Land of Israel and its history, opens a rich panorama in which the first Century CE comes alive in all its detailed colors, sounds, smells and peoples. With a master’s touch and honed skill of observation and description, he weaves an accurate tapestry of the events around the Nazarene, from the Romans to the high priests to the Galilean fishermen, the poor and the lepers, the wealthy Sadducees and the Pharisees, the tax collectors and the women of high and low society, and the pagans living around the Land of Israel. Not only does he this, but through a brilliant literary device where the past and the present intersect also gives us a powerful link between 20th century anti-Semitism and the events that crucified the King of the Jews. It is a compelling and unique novel, written originally in Yiddish in 1939 as the Holocaust was unfolding. For a Jewish reader, this is a living excursion into our own rich and tragic past history, meeting intimately with those characters who shaped it, and perhaps a vision into our present and our future.
‘THE APOSTLE’ (1943)
The Polish Jewish author Sholem Asch, like a master magician of words, casts his spell into the bare-bones account of the Jewish apostle Paul in the New Testament and expands it and brings it to living, breathing reality. Asch’s profound knowledge of the Jewish world, of history and geography, and of human character takes us magically and intimately into the life of Paul and all those living at the time, from Jerusalem to Damascus to Alexandria to Antioch, through the cities and towns of Greece and finally to Rome. Asch introduces us to the vile practices of the pagan world of idolatry of the ancient world, into which he carried the holiness of the gospel of Yeshua the Messiah. ‘The Apostle’ deals in brilliant detail with the challenges and struggles of the epoch, including the issue of Gentiles coming into the kingdom of the Jewish Messiah. In reading ‘The Apostle’ I have learned much of which I had only peripheral knowledge, such as the anti-Semite Apion in the violent pogram against the Jews in Alexandria, and the Jewish philosopher Philo’s influence in defending the Jews before Caligula in Rome. It is an amazing piece of writing, written as the Jewish community of Europe was being destroyed, is worthy of the annals of great literature, and well worth the read.
As I continue reading through this amazing work of Sholem Asch, “The Apostle,” I am taken by the fact of that one Jewish Pharisee and Rabbi who stood alone personally before the great scholars and philosophers and sages of Athens and the great and overpowering powers of Rome, before the glory of Greece and Rome and the temples of all their mighty gods from Zeus to Athena, and without IPhone or megaphone, without printing press or institutional support and backing, bravely spoke a word from Jerusalem to the nations which would eventually replace all that with the Gospel of the Jewish Messiah. That man, who worked violently against that Messiah and his followers, was transformed overnight by a heavenly vision, and he and a few ragtag Jews transformed much of the world unto this day.
Allow me add that no writer that is not a believer could have written these powerful novels with such passion, insight, and dedication. I highly recommend these works by one who is a forefather of the modern Messianic Jewish movement to all.