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Jesus and Menachem, A Historical Novel in the Time of the Second Temple.

JESUS AND MENACHEM, A HISTORICAL NOVEL IN THE TIME OF THE SECOND TEMPLE, Siegfried E. Van Praag, Lewis Kaplan, trans., Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013, Pp. 183 + xii, pb, $22.00. Reviewed by J. Harold Ellens.

Professor D. Kalman J. Kaplan presents in this significant publication the previously unpublished work of his father, Lewis Kaplan. Lewis was the translator of Siegfried E. van Praag's skillfully crafted story of Jesus, narrated from the point of view of a thoughtfully pious Jew in the first century CE. This is an engaging psychospiritual story of the life of Yeshua (Jesus), set in a realistic and sensitive narrative of everyday life in Palestine during late Second Temple Judaism.

The dramatic quality of this work depicts the heightened spiritual awareness of a thoroughly Jewish Jesus, in keeping with the witness of the New Testament. At the same time this novel underplays the hysteria and delusion of rampant Apocalypticism in many forms of Judaism at that time. Such hysteria and delusional ideation is evident, for example, in the Dead Sea Scrolls situated in that same era.

The story line of this neat little book unfolds believably and draws the reader into page-turning identification with the main characters. Van Praag's plot and his characterization of leading figures in the narrative, are vivid and one quickly gets the impression of being exposed to new and illumining truth and reality, rather than just a staged drama.

In van Praag's story, Yeshua presents as a thoughtful young man who develops an increasing insight into and intuition about the meaningful dimension of his reality beyond the mere material and mundane. It is not exactly clear in his mind whether he is dealing with a mystical side of the human experience of knowing about himself and his world or whether the sense of being connected in some degree with a transcendent world is just a natural part of the psycho-spiritual facet of "life in the world".

In a skillfully subtle way van Praag leads Yeshua through the social consequences of dealing with his illegitimate birth, his encounter with his intensely pious cousin, and his spiritual illumination derived from his own mystical sense of vocation to a life shaped by the will of his divine Father. The story carries on though Yeshua's struggle to understand what his apparent calling by God really means for him, and how he should act it out in his exceedingly troubled world.

Menachem is Yeshua's wealthy and militant boyhood friend, adolescent compatriot, and adult counter-force, who functions as the foil to Yeshua's unfolding sense of calling to a life of service and passion for those for whom others seemed to have no care or concern. Yeshua became increasingly defined by the fact that he cared much for those for whom others cared little or not at all.

The context of Yeshua's life is the periodically violent animosity between the rebel force of the Jewish underground and the dominant occupying force of foreigners. Menachem is sympathetic with the rebellion while Yeshua is shaped by compassion for the persons on both sides who are caught in this irresolvable contest. By this point in the narrative the reader is quite certain of the fatal outcome, but cannot turn the page fast enough in the desire to see just how van Praag will craft the demise of Yeshua and succeed in reporting the denouement of his life's unfolding, as seen through first century Second Temple Jewish eyes.

This intriguing narrative is set in four books: The Cross-Conversation of Youth, The Trials, The Unbidden Follower, and Parallel Roads Go Out from Golgotha. Yeshua and Menachem was written by Siegfried J. van Praag, a Dutch Jewish scholar and professor. He left the Netherlands for Belgium in 1936 and for England in 1940 to distance himself and his family from the widening Nazi oppression. He became a prolific writer with special interest in Dutch-Jewish culture and in the rise of the nation of Israel from 1948 forward.

Lewis Kaplan was a translator of Portuguese and Dutch novels, published in the United States and in Europe, and was struck by the lovely prose, engaging story, and implications for Jewish-Christian relations that he discovered in van Praag's work. He began the translation of Yeshua and Menachem in the early 1950's but did not complete it before his untimely death in 1958. His son, Kalman Kaplan, carefully preserved his father's work and in the early 2000's finally found time and occasion to undertake its completion.

With the help of his South African student, Peter Uys, and of a friend, Larry ten Harmsel, Kalman was able to complete the translation. He observes that "--this book is important in placing Yeshua of Nazareth in the context of the Judaism and Israel of his time. Wholly fictional, this book introduces the character of Menachem in an attempt to deepen the understanding between the Jewish people and the Christian world to foster an intelligent understanding of a Biblical approach toward life" (p. x). Buy it. You'll like it!!

Rodney L. Bassett, Editor
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Author:Bassett, Rodney L.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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