Asch, Sholem: The Nazarene
(researched by Will Kynes)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Sholem Asch. The Nazarene: A Novel Based on the Life of Christ. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1939. Copyright by Sholem Asch. Parallel First Edition: Sholem Asch. The Nazarene: A Novel Based on the Life of Christ. London, G. Routledge, 1939.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first edition is in cloth.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
352 leaves, pp. [4][1-2]3-698[2]
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
This novel is neither edited nor introduced, but it was translated by Maurice Samuel. There is a brief synopsis of the novel on the inside flaps of the dust jacket from the publisher and a list of other books by Sholem Asch facing the title page.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
Not illustrated
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Page size: 8.44"(21.4cm)x5.75"(14.5cm) Margin size: .875"(2.2cm)Top and bottom, .75"(2cm)side Text space:6.69"(17cm)x5"(12.5cm) Size of type: 93R serif Font: EF Goudy Catalougue The chapter headings, and title pages use the same font, but the chapter headings are a slightly larger point size. Chapters begin with a word in all caps. Some of the letters are incomplete, either from poor printing or wear. However, the margins and font are sufficiently large to make for easy reading. The novel is split into three parts, which are indicated by a page indicating the part in the center of the page in all caps(i.e. PART ONE). The parts are separated into chapters which are indicated by the chapter number in all caps (i.e. CHAPTER ONE) centered on the page with space above and below. A new chapter does not necessarily start on a new page. The chapters are occasionally split into sections indicated by centered Roman numerals.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper is white, smooth, with straight edges on top and bottom and deckled on the side. The paper is wove and the same stock throughout.
11 Description of binding(s)
Black cloth binding. Back and front covers are blank. Cream-colored endpapers are used. Corners are slightly bent from wear. The spine is stamped in gilt. There is a dustjacket (it is transcribed in 15-other) Transcription of spine: [Horizontal line]|THE|Nazarene|SHOLEM ASCH|[Horizontal line]|PUTNAM The title and author are in the top third of the spine and the publisher's name is near the bottom.
12 Transcription of title page
Recto: THE NAZARENE|by Sholem Asch|TRANSLATED BY MAURICE SAMUEL|[Publisher's logo]|G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS NEW YORK Verso: COPYRIGHT, 1939, BY SHOLEM ASCH|All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, must|not be reproduced in any form without permission.|Fifteenth Impression|Designed by Robert Josephy|MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
The original manuscript in Yiddish, Der Man fun Notseres, is found in the Yale University Library, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Dust jacket: Though the dust jacket was presumably a cream color, it has browned with age. Transcription: Front cover: [red lettering] THE|NAZARENE|[black lettering]A NOVEL BASED ON|THE LIFE OF [red]CHRIST|[black]By|[red]SHOLEM ASCH|[black]Author of|THE APOSTLE Back cover: [the back cover is printed in black ink surrounded by a border of two black lines] The Works of|SHOLEM ASCH|[ivy design with line underneath]|THREE CITIES|SALVATION|IN THE BEGINNING|(Old Testament Stories Retold for Children. Illustrated.)|MOTTKE THE THIEF|THE WAR GOES ON|THE MOTHER|THREE NOVELS|(Uncle Moses, Chaim Lederer's Return, and Judge Not)|SONG OF THE VALLEY|WHAT I BELIEVE|CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM|THE APOSTLE|A Novel Based on the Life of St. Paul|[ivy design with line above] Spine: [red]THE|NAZARENE|[a design composed of three leaves]|[black]A NOVEL|BASED ON|THE LIFE OF|CHRIST|[red][the same leaf design]|SHOLEM|ASCH|[black]PUTNAM Inside flaps contain the price of the novel ($3.50) and a synopsis, presumably from the publisher because no author is given. It begins with a short biography of Asch: "The author of Three Cities enjoys an international reputation and he is read and loved in many languages. For thirty years he has prepared himself for this novel which he knew one day he must write. And, probably, Sholem Asch is the only man alive who possesses both the talent and the scholarship requisite to such an accomplishment."
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
None
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
There were at least fifteen impressions of the first edition.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
London: G. Routledge 1939 (parallel first edition) (second edition) London : Routledge & K. Paul, 1956. 722 p. ; 20 cm. New York : Pocket Books, 1956. 684 p. ; 17 cm. New York : New York : Carroll & Graf, 1984. 698 p. ; 22 cm. (second edition) Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1996. ix, 698 ; 22 cm.
6 Last date in print?
The only edition still in print as of October 2002 is the second edition by Carroll & Graf Publishers published in 1996.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
Quote from Publishers' Weekly, 1939: "Putnam is so convinced that in Sholem Asch's 'The Nazarene' the firm has not only a great novel but a great seller as well that plans are being made for a long-range campaign. In fact, Melville Minton tells us that he expects to sell half a million copies by the end of 1941." Quote from Publishers' Weekly, 1940: "On publication [October 19, 1939] 25,018 copies had been ordered by the bookstores. By March 7th, 253,923 copies had been printed."
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
First appeared on the New York Times fiction best seller list at #3 on 12/10/39 and remained in that position for 8 weeks before dropping off the list. First appeared on the Publishers' Weekly fiction best seller list at #4 on 12/16/39. It peaked on that list at #1 on 1/13/40 where it remained for 4 weeks. It was on the list for 28 weeks altogether. It was on the two lists combined for a total of 36 weeks.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
From Publishers' Weekly 1939: G.P. Putnam's Sons has the honor to announce for publication September 25th a book that has been thirty years in the writing The Nazarene A Novel based on the Life of Christ By Sholem Asch author of "Three Cities" [within a laurel graphic] The Crowning Achievement of Sholem Asch Octavo Approximately 640 pages $3.00
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
To promote The Nazarene, Putnam took the center spread of the New York Herald Tribune Books section on March 17th. At the time, the Herald Tribune had never had a publisher take so much space for a single title. According to Publishers' Weekly this was "probably the only time an ad of this size has been run for a single book in the book review section as long as five months after publication." Putnam believed that "the novel is a natural for Easter promotion," because it depicts the life of Christ.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Sound recording: Dramatic highlights from The Nazarene by Sholem Asch Tucson, Ariz :; Living Literature, 1969 (An NBC theatrical adaptation) Metacom S172, 1983, c1948 and Cedar Rapids, Iowa : Nostalgia Broadcasting Corp. of Iowa ; North Hollywood, Calif. : Manufactured and distributed by DAK Industries, 1977.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
French: Le Nazareen. Paris, Les editions Nagel, 1947. Russian: Nazaretsky. Bratislava, Svojet, 1949. Yiddish: Der man fun Natseres. Nyu York : Kultur Farlag, 1943. (other publishers) Nyu-York : E. Laub farlag ko., 1950. Polish: Maz z Nazaretu. Wroclaw : Wydawnictwo Dolnoslaskie, 1990 Hebrew: ha-Ish mi-Natseret. Yerushalayim, Karni, 1953-1959 Italian: Il Nazareno. Milano : dall'Oglio, editore, 1947 Spanish: El Nazareno. Buenos Aires : Editorial Claridad, 1944 (Second edition) Buenos Aires : Claridad, 1962 German: Der Nazarener. Stockholm : Bermann-Fischer, 1940. Jesus : der Nazarener. M¬łnchen : Knaur, 1989. Portuguese: O Nazareno. Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro. Companhia editora nacional, 1944. Dutch: Nazaraeeren. Kobenhavn, P. Haase & Sons, 1941-42. [Selections in Dutch] De vrede der wereld. Den Haag : Servire, c1939
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
N/A
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Sequel: The Apostle. New York : G. P. Putnam's sons, 1943. Prequel: Mary. New York : G. P. Putnams's Sons, 1949.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Sholem Asch became a living irony. On the one hand, he was one of the greatest Yiddish writers the world has ever known, and he was known worldwide. His works, originally written in Yiddish have been translated into many languages. But on the other hand, by the end of his career, he suffered an estrangement from the Yiddish reading public that has never completely healed. The source of this estrangement was Asch's historical fiction trilogy which depicted the lives of three of the founders of Christianity: The Nazarene (1939) about Jesus of Nazareth, The Apostle (1943) about the Apostle Paul, and Mary (1949) about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Though the English-language press praised these works and the public made the first two bestsellers, much of the Jewish press refused to discuss the literary merits of his works, and some attacked him for preaching conversion to Christianity. Controversy continues to surround Asch, as to whether the Yiddish reading public disowned what should have been their favorite son, or whether Asch rejected his Yiddish roots to embrace a new faith. Asch was born on November 1, 1880 in Kutno, Poland to a Jewish cattle-dealer and innkeeper. He was one of ten children. He received a traditional Jewish education, attending Hebrew schools and rabbinical college. In order to expand his horizons, Asch moved to the town of Wloclawek, Poland to continue his education while earning his living by writing letters for illiterate Jews. Next, he moved to Warsaw, which was the central place in the Jewish literary world in Poland at that time. Asch began writing in Hebrew but I.L. Peretz, a renowned Yiddish writer, urged him to write in Yiddish. Asch's first successful novel, The Village, was published in 1904 when he was 24. It was followed closely by his first play, "With the Stream", also that same year. He continued as a playwright, and his dramas were performed on the Russian, Polish, and German stage. The most critically acclaimed of his early plays was "God of Vengeance" (1907). In 1909, not long after that success, Asch moved to the United States, where he remained until the end of the First World War. After the war, he returned to Poland, and later lived in France before returning to the states in 1938. During this period in Europe, Asch continued to write novels depicting the lives of Jews, both past and present. A few examples of Asch's Jewish subject matter include: Kiddush ha-Shem (1919 English translation 1926), a story of Jewish martyrdom during the Chmelnitsky uprising in mid-17th century Ukraine and Poland, which is one of the earliest historical novels in modern Yiddish literature, The Witch of Castile (1921), which is the story of a Jewish girl's choice of death in order to defend her faith, and Farn Mabul ("Before the Flood", 1929-1931, translated as Three Cities, 1933) which describes Jewish life during the first two decades of the twentieth century in St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and Moscow. After returning to the states in 1938, where he remained until 1953, Asch wrote the trilogy that caused his falling out with the Yiddish public. Because The Nazarene (1939), The Apostle (1943), and Mary (1949) depicted the lives of three individuals at the foundation of Christian faith, The Yiddish daily Forward, which had regularly accepted Asch's work previously, "not only refused to publish the work, but openly attacked the author for encouraging heresy and conversion by preaching Christianity,"(yale) and much of the Jewish press followed its example. The estrangement between Asch and the Yiddish public was not healed by the time of his death on July 10, 1957 in London, and Asch continues to be controversial. Though he died in London, Asch spent his last years in Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv, where his house is now a Sholem Asch Museum. Most of his library, which contains rare Yiddish books and manuscripts and manuscripts of some of his own works, including The Nazarene, is at Yale University. Sources: Yale University Library, Judaica Collection at http://www.library.yale.edu/judaica/asch/aschbio.html Who's Who in the Twentieth Century: Oxford University Press at http://www.xrefer.com/entry/170348
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Contemporary reviews of Sholem Asch's The Nazarene generally acknowledge that in "dealing?with the story of the life of Christ, the greatest story in the Christian world," Asch was undertaking a tremendous task. But as Peter Monro Jack of the New York Times continues to say, "he deals with it greatly and humbly, careful and exact to the last detail ? it is the great story that passes through his mind, and it is sufficient praise to say that Mr. Asch has not made it less"(1). Most critics agreed that Asch had performed his daunting task admirably. Asch's accurate and yet vivid detail is praised over and over again in one review after another. Asch is commended for taking "an infinite amount of trouble to build up an historical background against which the figure of Jesus may move authentically"(2). This authentic backdrop enables Asch to "bring back to life the Judea of Roman overlords, Jewish aristocrats, beggars, merchants, shepherds, slaves and the pale young Prophet from Galilee" (3). The authenticity of the work engenders its vividness. Even though The Nazarene was hailed as a "superb achievement"(4), and a "great novel" (5), it did not survive its early reviews unscathed. It was "denounced as a poorly disguised attempt to exonerate the Jews of the guilt for the crucifixion" and "scorned as too orthodox for the liberals and too liberal for the orthodox"(6). The accuracy of the novel was also disputed. One critic claimed that Asch wrote "in direct contradiction of all four of the Gospels"(7) to attribute the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus to the Romans instead of the Jews. This critic concludes that Asch "goes to extreme limits in claiming Jesus of Nazareth for the Jews". Lastly, the narrative technique Asch used to present his historic tale was criticized. Asch has the story of Christ told from the perspective of two men living in Poland in the 1930s who are reincarnations of characters living in Judea at the time of Christ. Clifton Fadiman on the New Yorker complains that the novel "is marred, though not fatally, by the narrative frame in which Asch, for some occult reason, thinks he must encase the story"(8). However, other critics were impressed by Asch's creative spin on historical story-telling. Jack of the New York Times said "it is doubtful if he has shown himself until now so naturally good a story-teller"(9). This type of positive reaction to Asch's novel was the norm. And for those who held reservations toward his presentation of Jesus, the Springfield Republican had this to say: "No orthodox Christian need fear offense to his personal faith if he reads The Nazarene with a calm and open mind. On the contrary, his knowledge will be enriched and his thought stimulated by the beauty and truths in the book. The Nazarene is a novel which will do much to further tolerance and understanding among men"(10). (1) Jack, Peter Monro. The New York Times Book Review. Oct. 29, 1939 VI 3:1 (2) Cournos, John. Atlantic Monthly, Atlantic Monthly Co., Boston, MA. November 1, 1939 (3) Thompson, Ralph. The New York Times. Oct. 19, 1939 21:2 (4) Cournos (5) Jack (6) Chworowsky, K.M. Christian Century, Paul Hutchinson, ed. Christian Century Foundation. 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago. Feb. 7, 1940 (7) Bates, E.S. Saturday Review of Literature. Norman Cousins, ed. Saturday Review Associates, Inc, New York. Oct. 21, 1939 (8) Fadiman, Clifton. New Yorker. The New Yorker Magazine, New York. Oct. 21, 1939 (9) Jack (10) Rick, L.C. Springfield Republican, Springfield, Mass: Republican Pub. Co., Nov. 5, 1939
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Contemporary reviews of Sholem Asch's The Nazarene generally acknowledge that in "dealing?with the story of the life of Christ, the greatest story in the Christian world," Asch was undertaking a tremendous task. But as Peter Monro Jack of the New York Times continues to say, "he deals with it greatly and humbly, careful and exact to the last detail ? it is the great story that passes through his mind, and it is sufficient praise to say that Mr. Asch has not made it less"(1). Most critics agreed that Asch had performed his daunting task admirably. Asch's accurate and yet vivid detail is praised over and over again in one review after another. Asch is commended for taking "an infinite amount of trouble to build up an historical background against which the figure of Jesus may move authentically"(2). This authentic backdrop enables Asch to "bring back to life the Judea of Roman overlords, Jewish aristocrats, beggars, merchants, shepherds, slaves and the pale young Prophet from Galilee" (3). The authenticity of the work engenders its vividness. Even though The Nazarene was hailed as a "superb achievement"(4), and a "great novel" (5), it did not survive its early reviews unscathed. It was "denounced as a poorly disguised attempt to exonerate the Jews of the guilt for the crucifixion" and "scorned as too orthodox for the liberals and too liberal for the orthodox"(6). The accuracy of the novel was also disputed. One critic claimed that Asch wrote "in direct contradiction of all four of the Gospels"(7) to attribute the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus to the Romans instead of the Jews. This critic concludes that Asch "goes to extreme limits in claiming Jesus of Nazareth for the Jews". Lastly, the narrative technique Asch used to present his historic tale was criticized. Asch has the story of Christ told from the perspective of two men living in Poland in the 1930s who are reincarnations of characters living in Judea at the time of Christ. Clifton Fadiman on the New Yorker complains that the novel "is marred, though not fatally, by the narrative frame in which Asch, for some occult reason, thinks he must encase the story"(8). However, other critics were impressed by Asch's creative spin on historical story-telling. Jack of the New York Times said "it is doubtful if he has shown himself until now so naturally good a story-teller"(9). This type of positive reaction to Asch's novel was the norm. And for those who held reservations toward his presentation of Jesus, the Springfield Republican had this to say: "No orthodox Christian need fear offense to his personal faith if he reads The Nazarene with a calm and open mind. On the contrary, his knowledge will be enriched and his thought stimulated by the beauty and truths in the book. The Nazarene is a novel which will do much to further tolerance and understanding among men"(10). (1) Jack, Peter Monro. The New York Times Book Review. Oct. 29, 1939 VI 3:1 (2) Cournos, John. Atlantic Monthly, Atlantic Monthly Co., Boston, MA. November 1, 1939 (3) Thompson, Ralph. The New York Times. Oct. 19, 1939 21:2 (4) Cournos (5) Jack (6) Chworowsky, K.M. Christian Century, Paul Hutchinson, ed. Christian Century Foundation. 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago. Feb. 7, 1940 (7) Bates, E.S. Saturday Review of Literature. Norman Cousins, ed. Saturday Review Associates, Inc, New York. Oct. 21, 1939 (8) Fadiman, Clifton. New Yorker. The New Yorker Magazine, New York. Oct. 21, 1939 (9) Jack (10) Rick, L.C. Springfield Republican, Springfield, Mass: Republican Pub. Co., Nov. 5, 1939
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
There were three main factors that made The Nazarene by Sholem Asch a bestseller. These same three factors are the determining factors for the financial success of every novel. These factors are: who the author is, what he wrote, and when he wrote it. If an author is well known, and writes a compelling work that resonates with his times then he is all but guaranteed a success. In Asch's case, his popularity as an author in 1939, when The Nazarene was published, was built on three decades of work in Yiddish literature, which established him as the preeminent Jewish author in the world. The novel depicted the life of Jesus, which is compelling subject matter in itself, but takes on a whole new interest when written by a Jew. This interplay between Jewish and Christian religions presented in the novel, and in Asch himself, was especially controversial considering the time when the book was published. In 1939, stories of Hitler's atrocities against Jews in Europe, often understood to be in the name of Christianity, were starting to filter into the West. In light of these factors, The Nazarene's success is not surprising, and neither is the controversy that surrounded it. It was this controversy, in fact, that solidified The Nazarene as a bestseller. At the time The Nazarene was published, in 1939, Sholem Asch had "enjoyed for decades?the role of a spokesman for his people"(1). Asch was born on November 1, 1880, in Kutno, Poland, but moved to Warsaw, which was the central place in the Jewish literary world in Poland at that time.(2) There he wrote both plays and novels in Yiddish, the vernacular of European Jews. His choice to write in Yiddish was influenced by the urging of I.L. Peretz, a renowned Yiddish writer. After a short stay in America during World War I, Asch returned to Poland and then later moved to France. During this period in Europe, Asch continued to write novels depicting the lives of Jews, both past and present. A few examples of Asch's Jewish subject matter include: Kiddush ha-Shem (1919 English translation 1926), a story of Jewish martyrdom during the Chmelnitsky uprising in mid-17th century Ukraine and Poland, which is one of the earliest historical novels in modern Yiddish literature, The Witch of Castile (1921), which is the story of a Jewish girl's choice of death in order to defend her faith, and Farn Mabul ("Before the Flood," 1929-1931, translated as Three Cities, 1933) which describes Jewish life during the first two decades of the twentieth century in St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and Moscow.(3) Asch's historical, yet emotional presentation of the struggles and triumphs of European Jews both in the past and present established him as "their greatest writer"(4). However, as Hitler began his destruction, the Jewish Europe that had been the subject matter of so much of Asch's work was disappearing. Even with all the prestige his now vast body of work had earned him, "American readers knew him primarily as the novelist-historian of a Europe now gone."(5) His career was at an impasse. Not only his beloved people, but also the heart of his readership were being killed and scattered. So Asch wrote The Nazarene for a larger audience. "He was relying heavily on The Nazarene to win him a new and wider readership"(6) for two reasons. He wanted to draw in both Christian and Jewish readers for both ecumenical and financial purposes. Ecumenically, Asch hoped that his novel would foster unity between Jews and Christians. Asch was "torn emotionally by the Nazi persecutions of Jews,"(7) and he was convinced "that only one force can save our world?that of a union of the Jewish and Christian religions and cultures"(8). According to Oscar Cargill, Asch's purpose in writing The Nazarene "was to pay reverence to the goodness in Christianity, not to subscribe to it or to settle the theological question. And, because this was his purpose, he may be suspected of another subordinate but equally valid purpose, that is, to show how much of the Christian faith is derived from the Hebrew."(9)Asch hoped that "reminded of this historic kinship, Christians of goodwill ? would be moved to protest past and present cruelties to Jews"(10). He hoped that his work would bring peace to a violent world. Asch's hope is summed up in the final pages of the novel. Viadomsky, a virulent anti-Semite through most of the book, dies clasping the hand of his Jewish assistant. In this moment of union between men of the two faiths, "There came in through the window the first rays of the morning sun, which had pierced the barriers of darkness and cobwebs to find their way to the bedside. They were tired, these rays, with their long journey, and with the obstacles which they had overcome, but they were still warm with the benediction of the sun."(11)The imagery of hope and redemption in unity between the faiths is almost overwhelming. Unfortunately, his ecumenical aim was largely overlooked and generally misunderstood. Though Asch realized that his subject matter would rub some Jews the wrong way, "He failed to foresee the shock, the distaste, the virulence his Biblical novels would evoke. Certainly he did not realize how completely he would lose his near-legendary reputation as a Jewish leader. For he proved totally unprepared for the avalanche of hostility, even hatred, that engulfed him for writing a ?Christianizing' or ?missionary' book, one designed, his critics cried, to lure Jews from their traditional faith."(12) In its ecumenical aims, The Nazarene must be considered a failure. Asch put himself between Jews and Christians, and tried to pull the two together, but in the end he was rejected by Jews, and accepted by a Christian faith he respected, but did not want to join. He was left in the middle. Asch's second purpose in writing The Nazarene was financial. With the European Jewish community in tumult, he had to look elsewhere for an audience, and America was the only viable option. He wrote The Nazarene about the life of Jesus because, "he badly needed a literary success in America ? [he] needed a financially successful novel" and "he also wanted the Nobel Prize, and the story of Jesus seemed of enough substance and import to win the requisite critical attention and approval"(13). So, he wrote a novel about the man who formed the cornerstone of American religion and culture at the time and even sent it to ministers, priests and rabbis so that they "might make the book a subject of their sermons, and thus spread the gospel of its quality"(14). In this aspect, the novel was a success, but not exactly as Asch had expected. It sold about 250,000 copies the first year according to Siegel who estimates that "two million Americans may have read The Nazarene in the two years following publication"(15). It was number nine on the annual bestseller list in 1939 and number five in 1940. He had hoped to write a book that would appeal to both Jews and Christians alike, but the work was basically reviled by Jews, making his now vast readership dominantly Christian. The Christian subject matter and themes of The Nazarene "appealed to those readers and reviewers who had made bestsellers of Quo Vaddis and Ben-Hur and who now were doing the same for The Robe, The Big Fisherman, and The Silver Chalice"(16). Though Asch had failed in his ecumenical objective, that failure might have in fact aided the success of the novel financially. The controversy that swirled around the novel, and its author who was accused of betraying his faith, provided interest and publicity for a story that had been told before. And one reason the novel created such a stir was the position its author held in the Jewish community. According to Siegel, "Earlier Jewish scholars and writers had made similar efforts, and many American and German rabbis had expressed comparable views. But generally the Jewish public had ignored them"(17). But when the "spokesman for his people" wrote a Jewish Jesus story, the Jewish community, and the literary community in general paid attention, and bought the book. The controversy among Christians in response to the novel was minor. The novel was generally well accepted. Even though Asch was "dealing?with the story of the life of Christ, the greatest story in the Christian world," as Peter Monro Jack of the New York Times said, "he deals with it greatly and humbly, careful and exact to the last detail ? it is the great story that passes through his mind, and it is sufficient praise to say that Mr. Asch has not made it less"(18). However, some Christians found fault in the gospel according to Sholem Asch. Though Asch "convinced himself that he could restore Jesus to the Jewish tradition, without dispossessing Christians"(19), one critic claimed that Asch "goes to extreme limits in claiming Jesus of Nazareth for the Jews"(20). But, even though there were some complaints that Asch was stealing Jesus for the Jews, and Asch himself said "Jesus was not a Christian; he was a Jew"(21), Christians were less offended by the book than Jews. This ambivalence is surprising considering "complaints against him more logically should have come from Christians disturbed by his ?Judaizing' than from Jews"(22). Christians were probably less offended by the novel because they did not have to deal with the feeling of betrayal the Jews felt. It was easier for them to read the book without being emotionally involved. In fact, one contemporary Christian reviewer espoused that detached approach to the novel, and even predicts success for the novel ecumenically. "No orthodox Christian need fear offense to his personal faith if he reads The Nazarene with a calm and open mind. On the contrary, his knowledge will be enriched and his thought stimulated by the beauty and truths in the book. The Nazarene is a novel which will do much to further tolerance and understanding among men."(23) Based on the vast success of the novel, the minor controversy that surrounded it from the Christian perspective could not have had a serious negative effect on its sales, and might have even increased them. In contrast to the Christian reaction, the Jewish reaction to The Nazarene was overwhelmingly negative. There was a small handful of predominantly younger and American-Jewish critics who defended Asch's creative freedoms as an artist. This group included Yiddish critic Samuel Niger, who considered the novel "Asch's highest achievement"(24). However, this group was swallowed up in the turbulent sea of negative criticism that made up the rest of the Jewish literary community. The most damaging attack made on Asch was made by The Yiddish Daily Forward. The newspaper had regularly accepted Asch's work previously, but after The Nazarene was published it "not only refused to publish the work, but openly attacked the author for encouraging heresy and conversion by preaching Christianity,"(25) and much of the Jewish press followed its example. In the years immediately following, "every Yiddish newspaper but one closed its pages to Asch"(26). Beyond the accusations of heresy and conversion, many Jews were infuriated by Asch's apparent bad taste in publishing a book presenting Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah when Hitler was at the height of his power, massacring Jews in the name of "Christianity". Many Jews "derided Asch as a shoddy opportunist and turncoat taking mercenary advantage of his people's tragic plight"(27). These accusations were unfounded for two reasons. First, Asch had been planning on writing a novel about Jesus for thirty years, ever since he first visited the Holy Land. Second, as mentioned above, he hoped, as he said, "to help the Jews in their present dire circumstances. Never before have the Jews been so isolated in the world. They have no defenders, and are surrounded by enemies. My only aim was to create friends for them"(28). Even considering Asch's intentions of good will, the "untimely" publication of The Nazarene, did have a positive effect on the novel's financial success. Siegel admits that "were The Nazarene now to make its initial appearance, it would stir little more than a slight grumble from even the most parochial Jewish critics"(29). The vast publicity Asch received over the "bad timing" of the novel could only have had positive effects on its sales. Vilification is much better than apathy when it comes to selling books. What was bad timing for the Jewish community was good timing for Asch. The more Jewish critics attacked the book, the more they publicized it as controversial, cutting edge, and intensely relevant to the contemporary world. Abraham Cahan, "with the enormous influence and prestige of the [Yiddish Daily] Forward at his disposal, launched a campaign of vilification against author and novel, devoting two years of his life to the task; he even wrote a book, Sholem Asch's New Way, expressing his angry disapproval"(30). In a way, Asch got the influential Cahan to devote two years and a book to advertising for The Nazarene! The controversy that surrounded The Nazarene ensured the success of a novel that had all the other major components necessary to be a bestseller. Asch's reputation as a voice for the Jewish people, his compelling subject matter in the life of Jesus, and the way it resonated with the violent times in which it was released may have been enough on their own to make the novel popular. Adding the label "controversial" was simply the icing on the cake. 1. Siegel, Ben. The Controversial Sholem Asch: An Introduction to his Fiction. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976. p.145 2. http://www.library.yale.edu/judaica/asch/aschbio.html 3. http://www.library.yale.edu/judaica/asch/aschbio.html 4. Golden, Harry. "Sholem Asch and Anne Frank," Carolina Institute, May 1957, p. 9 5. Siegel, 130 6. Siegel, 130 7. Siegel, 131 8. George, Ralph W., "Sholem Asch?Man of Letters and Prophet." Religion in Life. Abingdon Press. Vol. XX, No. 1, Winter, 1950-1951, pp.106-13. 9. Cargill, Oscar, "Sholem Asch: Still Immigrant and Alien," in College English. National Council of Teachers of English, vol. 12, no. 2, Nov 1950, pp. 67-74. 10. Siegel, 137 11. Asch, Sholem. The Nazarene. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1939. p. 697. 12. Siegel, 130 13. Siegel, 141,144 14. Letter from Earle Balch to Ben Siegel, 14 July, 1965 found in Siegel, 145 15.Siegel, 142 16. Siegel, 145 17. Siegel, 143 18. Jack, Peter Monro, The New York Times. Oct. 29, 1939 VI 3:1 19. Siegel, 131 20. Bates, E.S. Saturday Review of Literature. Norman Cousins, ed. Saturday Review Associates, Inc, New York. Oct. 21, 1939 21. Asch, Sholem. Quoted in Madison, Charles A. "Sholem Asch: Novelist of Lyric Intensity," Yiddish Literature: Its Scope and Major Writers. New York: Frederick Unger, 1968. p.252. 22. Siegel, 137 23. Rick, L.C. Springfield Republican, Springfield, Mass: Republican Pub. Co., Nov. 5, 1939 24. Niger quoted in Siegel, 150 25. http://www.library.yale.edu/judaica/asch/aschbio.html 26. Siegel, 150 27. Siegel, 130 28. Asch. Quoted in Madison, 252. 29. Siegel, 140-141 30. Siegel, 127
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