Page 83 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

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The story is, of course, the life of Saint Paul as told in the Book of Acts and, by
implication, in his own Epistles. As in “The Nazarene,” Mr. Asch follows the
Biblical outline, telescoping, rearranging, suggesting new motives, elaborating
where the record is silent, above all, filling in background. Mr. Asch has no dis-
cussions of critical problems of Biblical scholarship, but it is clear that he was
obliged to make up his mind concerning many disputed questions.
In general, the emphasis is on the darker side of Roman life, a method which
illuminates Jewish and Christian virtues more brightly. All in all, there can be
little doubt that “The Apostle” will take its place in the great tradition of the
heroic novel. I t will appeal to many classes of readers, including the thousands
who are weary of the implicational methods of much modern fiction.
— E d w a r d W a g e n k n e c h t
in
The New York Times Book Review
This is the sad story of a great writer who has fallen victim of the subtle trick
of some impish Satan, a Satan who has obscured for his victim the line of demar-
cation between Art and Religion and has led him on to a new kind of paganism.
The victim of this subtle trickery is Sholem Asch.
With the publication of “The Nazarene” Asch achieved the greatest success
of his life. Not in a literary sense alone, for the controversy which the book created
in the Jewish press was also the greatest in which Asch had ever appeared as cen-
tral figure. He was attacked in columns upon columns of scientific and quasi-
scientific writing, and he was defended as the creator of a literary masterpiece.
The subsequent publication of “The Apostle” had almost no reverberations in
the Jewish press, but what that book failed to accomplish has now been achieved
by an interview published in the January issue of the Christian Herald in which
Asch declares himself as having “accepted” Christ and Christianity. The uproar
is on again. Has Asch really accepted Christianity? Had he done so he would have
abandoned the religion into which he was born and joined one of the Christian
churches.
In one of the passages of that interview he makes the following remark: “ I have
always been impressed by the fact that neither Dante nor Milton attempted a
life of Jesus. Why did they avoid it? I think it was because they both felt their
lack of knowledge of both Hebrew and Judaism.” No one but the Jewish author
of “The Nazarene” could have arrived at such an exaplanation. Had Dante and
Milton all the knowledge of Hebrew and Judaism possessed by Asch they still
could not have undertaken a life of Jesus. And for the most simple reason. To
them Jesus was divinity. A master of the written word, if he were a true believer,
could devote his pen only to the glorification of his Savior. The writing of a com-
plete life of Jesus, if it were not to be a mere repetition of the gospels, would entail
critical analysis and reconstruction of the material. This no Christian of tha t
period could do.
Asch approached the Nazarene not as a believer but as an artist. To him the
Son of Man was a subject for an historical novel. In the very process of writing,
the “subject” fascinated him more and more. Asch fell in love with the material
he handled and the image he created. He came to adore and deify that image.
This infatuation of the artist with his own creation not only led part of the
Christian world to see in Sholem Asch a new messenger of the true gospel, but be-
guiled the author himself into believing that he was charged with the mission of
bringing Christians and Jews to pray under one roof.
Asch attempted to give form to Divinity. His own God who is pure spirit could
not surrender Himself to such experiments. The divinity of the Christians was
the Son of Man as well as the Son of God; He could lend Himself to the creation
of the perfect Godlike image of man. What Asch overlooked was that the gods
of others are jealous and revengeful. One could struggle with his own God and
overcome Him as did Jacob, as did the Jewish mystics of later days, but one can-
not overcome the gods of others merely by paying them homage. They demand
the whole of one’s soul. Thus the creation got hold of the creator’s tremendous
vanity and used it to destroy whatever power of clear thinking there was in the
creator.
Adore the image as he may,
it is his creation.
Of this awareness he cannot fully
rid himself; it still holds him to the faith of his fathers. But adore he must, and
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