Monday, November 01, 2010

Dickens’s Day and the Jew: This is an email exchange I had with someone from a Dickens’s reading group to which I belonged. Someone brought up the Old Testament etiology of some of the Dickensian names such as Uriah Heep from “David Copperfield.” Another talked about the name of Ebenezer Scrooge from the very well known Dickens’s favorite “A Christmas Carol” I tied them both together and added the name Fagin from Dickens “Oliver Twist.” I discussed these names and associated it to the sometimes debated anti-Semitism of Dickens and even of Shakespeare.

Dickens's view that there is a difference between the Old and New Testament by giving his more scurrilous characters Old Testament names makes me wonder about accusations of anti Semitism that I have heard hurled at Dickens from time to time. Of course Fagin the Jew in Oliver Twist comes to mind as well.

He would not be the first British author to harbor the prevailing hatred of the Jew and manifest the characteristics which anti Semites have used for centuries in character development. Shakespeare's Shylock is remembered as well. The antiSemitism of Shakespeare has long been argued. Some say the character Shylock the Jew proves it and some say Shylock's own words exonerate Shakespeare from the accusation as he writes in the "Merchant of Venice" Act 3 Scene 1.

"I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands,organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same
food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter
and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If
you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that."

While antiSemitism in England was, perhaps, not as virulent as in other countries of the Jewish Diaspora it did nonetheless exist. Wiki states: "The Edict of Expulsion, given by Edward 1 in 1290, that expelled all Jews for 350 years" is proof of that. Curiously enough by the time Shakespeare wrote his character Shylock there were NO Jews in England. It proves one does not need Jews to have antiSemitism. Of course, Dickens would have probably consciously or unconsciously been subjected to the same stereotypical characteristics of scorn levied against the Jew.

Another interesting site I found with Google regarding the name Ebenezer: It stated:

"Ebenezer in Hebrew means "stone of help." Samuel took a great stone, named it Ebenezer or "Stone of Help," as a memorial of when the Lord helped Samuel and the rest of the Israelites against the Philistines. 1 Samuel 7:12 Or in other words symbolic of Christ, who is literally our Stone of help."

Yet again, Ebenezer, in Dickens's "A Christmas Carrol" must change if he is to realize life's true meaning. That is in and of itself characteristic of the prevailing ideological competition between the Old Testament showing a furious, punishing even greedy god and the New which offered a more advanced, true, benevolent, kind god through Christ who offers another way even to Ebenezer.

Clearly, from a Christian perspective one systematic belief system is more advanced and kindly than the other. Dickens' "A Christmas Carrol" indeed, I would submit, reflects just that. Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and the entire Cratchit clan are made nearly angelic while we know pre-conversion evil Ebenezer has to earn his forgiveness by rejecting cold cruel miserly greed, attributes accorded to Jews by Christians for over two thousand years. Moreover, the true malevolence of Ebenezer can be seen when he says:

"If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas!” on his lips would be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart."

Those are pretty strong words coming from the anti-conversion Ebenezer. It is only when he finds the true spirit of Christmas does he, in essence, defeat death and become human. I have NO doubt that Dickens would have absorbed the prevailing religious doctrine of his time which invariably made clear the true superiority of the New Testament over the Old. In the competition Christians win and Jews lose. Uriah, Ebenezer and Fagin are all names either relating to the Old Testament or names used by Dickens ascribing contemptible characteristics often attributed to Jews.

It is ironic, indeed, that the prevailing belief and threat that Judaism posed to Christianity could have been ultimately responsible for the horrendous mistreatment of Jews for over two thousand years existing to this day when synagogues even in this country must lock their doors and install security systems lest some anti Semite come and destroy its peaceful sanctuary. Anti-Semitism lived in Dickens's era as it lives today. It is the longest and most universal world-wide hatred whether in Dickens's time or our own.

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