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awning was quietly withdrawn, so as to reveal the interior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
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
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
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,
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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.