THE UNCHANGEABLE JEW

By John Neal

'Who views with equal eye as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall?
Atoms and systems into ruin hurled,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world?'

A great multitude were gathered together: on the right a huge fortress thundering to the sky—on the left a scaffold—a white fog—the open sea—and a mighty ship tumbling to the swell. The flat roofs and gorgeous balconies were covered with scarlet cloth, and thronged with women of all ages—their lips writhing and their eyes flashing. Underneath were a mute soldiery, with banners that moved not, and spears that glimmered not—a vast, rich and motionless pageant. Not a leaf stirred—not a finger was lifted—all eyes were fixed upon something afar off. The Grave alone had a voice, and the footstep of approaching Death grew audible, with the everlasting beat of the Ocean. The stagnant atmosphere burned with a lustreless, unchangeable and smouldering warmth. As the impatient and sluggish breathing of the Destroyer drew near, with a sound as of Earthquake and Pestilence laboring afar off, there appeared upon the outermost verge of the scaffold, near the fortress, a man of a simple and majestic presence, wearing no symbol of power, no badge of authority, before whom the multitude gave way with headlong precipitation, as though but to touch the hem of his garment were death itself, or something yet worse than death.

After communicating with those about him in a low whisper, too low to be understood by others almost within his reach, one of the soldiers lifted a spear, at the point of which fluttered a blood-red banner, tufted and fringed with snow-white feathers, and pointed in silence toward a large opening, which appeared to command a view of the whole interior. The stranger drew near, and grasping one of the bars with a powerful hand, lifted himself up, and after looking awhile, turned away with a sick impatient shudder, and wiped his eyes; and then lifting himself up again, he made a signal to somebody within, and straightway a large tent-like awning was quietly withdrawn, so as to reveal the interior of a court-yard, with cells opening into it—in the nearest of which sat a princely-looking middle-aged man, half-buried and apparently half asleep or lost in thought, in a large, heavy, old-fashioned chair, with a curiously carved table before him, on which there lay, side by side with writing materials, a lamp and a letter evidently unfinished, two or three illuminated manuscripts, a dagger and a map; a massive goblet richly chased, the rough gold tinged and sweltering with the hot blood of the southern grape, a variety of strange mathematical instruments—a copy of Zoroaster—and a Hebrew Bible, with clasps of the costliest workmanship, and a cover of black velvet frosted with seed pearls—a crushed and trampled coronet—and a lighted pipe, ornamented with precious stones, the shaft a twisted serpent and the bowl a burning carbuncle—a live coal—from the core of which, as out of the midst of a perpetual, unextinguishable fire, issued a delicate perfume, filling the whole neighborhood, as with the smoke of a censer; and leaving the eye to make out—by little and little—through the fragrant vapor, first a pair of embroidered Persian slippers, then a magnificent robe, flowered all over as with the sunshine of the sea, and weltering in the changeable light of the open window, then a prodigious quantity of lustrous black hair flowing down over the shoulders, from underneath a crimson velvet cap with a diamond buckle and clasp, and a tassel of spun gold, strung with sapphire, ruby, amethyst and pearl—and a pomp of black feathers overshadowing an ample forehead of surpassing power, and eyes of untroubled splendor; and then, after a long while, a heap of black shadow lying coiled up underneath the table, from the midst of which an occasional flash, as of a serpent's tongue, or an angry sparkle—as of a serpent's eye, would appear—and at last the whole proportions of a superb-looking personage, who had been trying, hour after hour, with a compressed lip and a thoughtful determined eye—to snap what appeared to be a handful of seed pearl, one by one, through the grated window before him, without touching the bars—hour after hour—and always in vain! The passage way was too narrow—the bars too near together.

Behold! murmured he at last, while the shadow of another—and yet another stranger, shot along the lighted floor, as he stole about the room a-tiptoe, and gathering up the pearls, if pearls they were, that lay in heaps underneath the window, and flinging aside the magnificent robe he wore, prepared himself anew and with more determination than ever, for the work he had evidently set his heart upon, if not his life, by measuring the elevation with a steadier eye, and poising every pearl with a more delicate touch, before he projected it toward the window. Behold! how the Ancient of Days delighteth in counteracting the purposes of Man?

The other started back and threw up his arms with a look of horror and amazement, and all who were about him began whispering together and shaking their heads.

At this moment the slow jarring vibration of a great bell was heard from the topmost tower—the cannon of the fortress thundered forth, and were answered, peal after peal, from the lighted mountains—a volume of white smoke rolled heavily toward the earth and covered the people—the sea-fog trembled—parted—and slowly drifted away in patches and fragments, through which the blue sky appeared, and the hot sunshine flashed with an arrowy brightness, while the mighty ship swung round with her broadside to the shore, and lighted matches were seen moving about hither and thither, like wandering meteors, through the damp hazy atmosphere; and instantly there went up a slow half-smothered wail from the multitude, with a weight and volume like the unutterable and growing earnestness of the Great Deep, when it begins to heave with a pre-appointed and irresistible change; and all eyes were upturned, and all arms outstretched with a troubled expression toward the stranger, who walked forward a few steps to the verge of the scaffold—and looking about him, on every side, called out with a loud voice,—Of such are the Gods of the Unconverted! and of such their followers!

The answering roar of the multitude reached the prisoner, who lifting his head and listening for a moment with a placid smile, asked what more they would have?—and whether they were not yet satisfied?—and then straightway began balancing another of the glittering seeds and eyeing the window—

Most pitiable! cried the other, covering his face with his hands, moving afar off, and appearing to be entirely overcome by what he saw.

And why pitiable, I pray thee! shouted the former, with a voice like a trumpet, lifting his calm forehead to the sky and gathering his magnificent robe about him as he spoke.

Art thou of a truth Adonijah the Jew—the unconverted Jew?

Of a truth am I—the unconverted, the unconvertable Jew; and thou! art thou not he that was my brother according to the flesh—even Zorobabel, the converted Jew and the preacher of a new faith?

Yea; of a new faith to such as thou; but a faith older than the Hebrew prophets to them that believe, Adonijah.

But why pitiable I pray thee?

How are the mighty fallen! For three whole months have I journied afoot and alone, by night and by day, through the deep of the wilderness, and along by the sea-shore—afoot and alone, my brother!—after hearing of thy great overthrow—the wreck of thy vast possessions about me whithersoever I went—thy magnificent household scattered, thy princes banished from their high places, and wandering over all the earth and hiding themselves in the holes of the rocks—with no city of refuge in their path—even thy youngest and fairest a bondwoman, toiling for that which sustaineth not; and thy own fast-approaching death, a theme with every people and kindred and tongue—and not a theme of sorrow! And all this, O my brother and my prince! only that I might be near thee in thy unutterable bereavement and humiliation, only that I might look upon thee once more alive, and see thee unchangeable as ever, though stripped of power and trampled under the hoofs of the multitude—only that I might reason with thee, face to face, before a great people, who, after watching and worshipping thee for many years, have come up together as with one heart, to see thee—thee! their idol and their benefactor—perish upon a scaffold, as only the fool or the scoffer perisheth!—to cry out upon thee as the unconquerable Jew, that having once abjured the faith of his fathers and gone back to it anew, cannot be reached but by the law, nor purified but with fire!

Say on.

Alas, my brother! Alas that it should fall upon me to afflict thy proud spirit with reproaches at a time like this! But there is no other hope. Awake, therefore! awake! and gird up thy loins like a man. I will demand of thee, saith the Lord of Hosts, and thou shalt answer me, even as my servant Job answered me of yore. Awake, therefore, and stand up, that I may reason with thee for the last time touching the faith of our mighty fathers, the consolations of philosophy, and the splendor and power of earthly Wisdom—of Death and Judgment—while thou art on thy way to the grave in the fulness of thy strength and majesty; and not with the clangor of trumpets, the neigh of steeds, the flow of drapery, and the uproar of battle!—No!—not as the High Priest, or the champion of a lofty and venerable faith, standing up like a pillar of fire in a cloudy sky, and pointing to Jerusalem as to the great gathering place of buried nations, about to reappear, with all eyes fixed upon thee and all hearts heaving with exultation! To thy grave, my brother! and not as a martyr! but as a wretch abandoned of all the earth—a twofold apostate!—a rebel and a traitor! Hark! hearest thou not a faint stirring afar off, along the shore of that multitude—a living wilderness of threatening eyes and parched lips—and ah! another moan from that huge, heavy, disheartening bell, which never stops till the sacrifice of a fiery death is over, and the object of its boding prophecy gone to the world of spirits.

But the prisoner heeded not his adjuration—he never lifted his eyes, and the same quiet smile rested forever upon his countenance; and he still gathered up the pearls and continued aiming them at the window.

Awake, Adonijah! awake, I say! Thy pearls are counted to thee. Thy pulses are about to stand still forever—thy proud heart to stop forever! A moment, and the headsman will be here—already do I see him afar off, stealing with a noiseless movement along the skirts of the affrighted people, like smouldering fire through the blackness of a thunder-cloud. Awake, thou man of sorrow and acquainted with grief, awake that I may pray with thee!

With me!

Yea, my brother—even with thee.

And wherefore shouldst thou pray with me? and wherefore should I pray?

Wherefore! Have I not heard thee, purified by that old peculiar faith, charge even thy Creator, the Ancient of Days, the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, Jehovah! with diverting thy pearls from their appointed path!

True, and therefore why should I pray? Of what avail these prayers with the unchangeable God? Can aught that we do, or fail to do, disturb the everlasting tranquillity of our Creator—change his purpose—or in any way move to pleasure or displeasure the Lord God of Heaven and Earth? With him before whom all things are alike, with whom there is neither great nor small—what he hath determined to do, that will he not do? whether we importune him or not with prayer? Go to, my poor brother! go to! will not the Judge of all the Earth do right? and if he will not—how are we to help ourselves?

Unhappy man! Though he were unchangeable; and though supplications were of no avail, why should the children of men, the creatures of his bounty withhold their thanksgiving?

That would I never withhold, for that I could offer up any where—at all times and under all circumstances, without dishonoring him, our Creator and our Father, or his image, and without contradicting our ancient faith. But why wrestle in prayer with him, for that which, if it be proper for us, we shall be sure to have, as we have the dew and the sunshine, the seed-time and the harvest.—The very hairs of our head, are they not numbered? Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God!

Yea my brother! But what saith the same scripture? Ye are of more value than many sparrows.

True—true—I had forgotten a part of my lesson.

Believest thou, O my brother, canst thou believe then, that in His eyes, all the cherubim and seraphim are equal and alike? that He is, of a truth, no respecter of persons among the Hierarchy of heaven?

But wherefore pray to Him that knoweth all our wants, before they are uttered or felt? to Him that feedeth the young raven—laying his hand reverentially upon the Great Book before him, and lifting his forehead to the sky, as if he could see through it.

Wherefore? Because we have been urged to pray—entreated to pray—commanded to pray. Because every thing desirable hath been promised to prayer.

Not in the Hebrew scriptures, however it may be with the Greek. To thanksgiving and submission, there may be vouchsafed a continual to favor; but to importunity, as urged upon you in your scripture, my poor brother, nothing.

Lo! the headsman touches the foot of the scaffold! Wilt thou not pray with me, oh Adonijah! my brother and my prince!

No! my brother that was—no! The Lion of Judah hath not yet learned to lick the uplifted hand of mortal man. Get thee behind me Zorobabel, my brother! Go thy way, and leave me to my trust in the God of our fathers. Why should I pray with thee—with thee! an apostate from the sepulchre of kings and prophets—I that never have prayed but with the princes, and the Judges and the High-Priest of our people? Get thee gone, my brother! It is not for such as I to tempt the Lord of Hosts, or to persuade the Ancient of Days. Do not thou tempt me.

Stay, brother—stay! Did not Jacob wrestle in prayer with the angel of the Lord, all the night long?

With the angel of the Lord?—yea—But never with the Lord himself, as thou wouldst have me. And saying this, he gathered up his robe and shook it, and turned away from his brother sorrowing.

Man! thou art beside thyself—much learning hath made thee mad—cried his brother, reaching forth his arms to Adonijah. The whole Hebrew scriptures are against thee—what are they all but a Book of prayer and supplication? Prophets and Bards and Kings and Judges, yea, even the High Priesthood, are against thee! Why shouldst thou pray, thou unconquerable Hebrew?—why!—that thy proud heart may be made human—that thy understanding may be enlightened—that thou mayst be made to know and believe that there is another and a better Scripture. Pray to thy Father, which is in Heaven, as thou wouldst that thy children should pray to thee, even for that which thou hast already determined to grant them—oh, pray to Him! that He may see the disposition of thy heart, as thou wouldst see theirs. What though thou art mindful of their wants, and well acquainted with their hearts and purposes, and always ready to gratify them, is it not a condition with thee—even with thee, Adonijah, that they should acknowledge their dependence upon thee, and their utter helplessness of themselves? And why should it not be so with our Heavenly Father? with Him whose angels are about thee and above thee, a perpetual atmosphere of warmth and light. Ha! the multitude are breaking up!—they are coming this way! I hear the tramp of horsemen—a moment more and we are apart forever. A flash!—The Philistines are upon thee, O my brother!

That brother looked up and smiled.

Wilt thou not pray with me?

No—once for all—no! Never with a converted Jew—never with a christian!—never with thee, thou but half a christian!

Farewell then!—farewell forever.

Another flash! attended with a loud burst of thunder among the hills.

Nay, let us part in peace, my brother, although I cannot pray with thee, I can for thee! The God of our Fathers! of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, have thee in his holy keeping!

The stranger threw up his arms in a transport of joy. The unconverted, the unconvertable Jew had prayed for him with the temper of a christian; and straightway he fell upon his knees and called upon the God of the Hebrews, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, to spare the Jew and change his heart.

The huge gate swung open. The drawbridge fell—a fierce angry light broke forth suddenly from underneath the scaffold—a black banner floated all at once from the battlements over the passage-way—a troop of horsemen, with flashing spears and iron helmets, wheeled slowly into the court-yard, and drew up in dead silence along the outer barrier. The headsman appeared. A signal was made from a far window, and lo! the coronet and the robe, with all the glittering insignia of departed power and extinguished glory, were torn away, and trampled under foot by the hoofs of the multitude. A white smoke rolled forth from below, and when it cleared away, the Jew appeared standing bareheaded between two gigantic mutes, one of whom bore a naked cimetar, while the other stood watching his countenance. It continued unaltered—unalterable—nor would he vouchsafe the slightest token of submission or terror, though the flames roared, and the white smoke rolled thitherward like the white sea-fog before a coming storm; but haughtily, steadfastly, and with a majestic mildness which awed the very soldiery more than all the pomp they were accustomed to, he pointed to the multitude, lowering about him with a tempestuous blackness—to the pyre with its covering of blood-red cloth dripping with recent moisture—to the flames roaring far below among the dry faggots, and signified a wish to proceed.

Once more shouted a voice from the barrier—My brother! oh my brother! wilt thou not be prevailed upon, if not for thine own sake, for the sake of thy beloved wife and thy youngest born—about to perish with thee—even with thee, my brother, in their marvellous beauty and most abundant strength.

Away!—and let me die in peace!

Another step thou unconquerable man! But another step—thou apostate Jew!—and thou art in the world of spirits! Wilt thou not say? canst thou not, with lowliness and fervor, Our Father which art in Heaven! thy will and not mine be done!

Yea, brother—if that will comfort thee in thy desolation. Yea! Yea! with all the hoarded and concentrated fervor of a long life accustomed to no other language, even while I took upon me the outer garb of a christian—Yea!—and saying this, he fell upon his knees, and cried out with a loud voice, while a triumphant brightness overspread his uplifted countenance with a visible exaltation, Our Father and our Judge! I do not pray to thee as the God of the christians did, that this cup may be spared to me; for I have put my whole hope and trust in thee, and am satisfied with whatsoever I may receive at thy hands! But I would bless thee, I would praise thee, I would magnify thy great name, oh God of my Fathers, for all that I have enjoyed or suffered, for all that I have had or wanted in this life; yea, for all the afflictions and sorrows and terrors that have beset my path, and that of my beloved wife and my dear children—children of the tribe of Judah and of the house of Jacob!—Yea, for the overthrow of all my proud hopes and prouder wishes, when I forsook thee and almost abjured the faith of my Fathers for dominion sake. Forgive my apostate brother, I beseech thee, O Lord! as thou hast forgiven me: and bless the heritage of thy people, and encourage them as the followers of the new faith are encouraged by their Jesus of Nazareth, to forgive their enemies, even though their enemies take the shape of a beloved friend or brother—to betray them—giving up their birth-right, like Esau for a mess of pottage.

A great commotion appeared on the house-tops, extending itself slowly far and wide.

Nevertheless, continued the Jew—nevertheless! oh Father and Judge, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! thy will and not mine be done!

The multitude began to surge this way and that, with exceeding violence. A cry of indignation arose from every side. A tumult followed—a general rush—the house-tops were suddenly deserted—the sea shore—and some began shouting, Away with him! away with him! and others, Let the blaspheming Jew perish without hope! and others, Crucify him! crucify him!

But in the midst of the uproar, one clear solitary cry was heard afar off, repeating a prayer to the God of the Hebrews—another cloud of white smoke rolled over the battlements—the flames appeared half way up the sky—a trumpet sounded underneath the very scaffold—the ancient war-cry of the Jews, To your tents, O Israel! rung far and wide along the outer barrier—up sprang a multitude of small white banners, like affrighted birds, from the midst of the people—and the next moment, before they had recovered from their unspeakable consternation, the heavy horsemen charged upon them in a body, the great ship swung round with all her voices thundering together, and swept their pathway as with a whirlwind of fire, while they hurried hither and thither, crying To arms! to arms! The Jews! the Jews! and pointing toward the bridge, only to find the bridge itself destroyed and the opposite shore in possession of that other converted Jew—the stranger!—all in glittering steel arrayed, and carrying a banner on which the Lion of Judah was ramping in a field of carnage!


And when the Jew Adonijah, now more a Jew than ever, and more fully satisfied than ever, with the sublime, and awful, and unchangeable faith of his old Hebrew Fathers, came fully to himself, and the tumult was all over, he found three out of his four children of the house of Jacob, standing near him in their robes of state—another, and a stranger, harnessed for the war, his black eyes yet gleaming with the half-extinguished fire of battle, standing at the door of the chamber.

And why wouldst thou not pray for us, father? said one of the two that were standing by the bed-side.

Because ye were sick unto death; and I held it sinful to ask for that which had been refused to King David himself—I, that had forsaken the Lord God of my fathers—How could I hope that he would not forsake me!

But the christian prayed for us, Father, and the prayers of the christian were heard!

With what face could they, being christians, pray for the children of men that put their Savior to death? How could they, being christians, forget their scripture, which saith—suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven!

And as he spoke, the great doors were thrown open, and the armed man flung down his helmet, and walked forward with a solemn and haughty step leading a beautiful woman captive, and a young child.

A shriek!—a tumult!—and straightway all were kneeling together! And not one of that family of Jacob—that remnant of the tribe of Judah—not one was missing. They were determined to live and die in their old august unchangeable faith, even as all their progenitors had lived and died—enduring all things—suffering all things—trials and sorrows and temptations—age after age—and never betraying their faith, never!

But the unconquerable Jew acknowledged to himself, and to his brother, even there, as they fell upon his neck and wept, the possibility of prayer being heard, the possibility that the unchangeable God might be reached by supplication—and the possibility that even a philosopher and a Jew might be mistaken.

But—