Study Guide

The Apostle

by Sholem Asch

The Apostle Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

It is seven weeks after the crucifixion of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth by Pontius Pilate. All the poor of Jerusalem, who found in Yeshua their Messiah, go into hiding, but the word is spreading. Little by little the story is told: of Yeshua who came back after his death and of the Messiah who appeared to his disciples. The matter is hotly argued on all sides. The pious Jews cannot believe in a Messiah who was killed; the Messianists devoutly affirm their faith.

Saul of Tarshish and Joseph bar Naba come upon a street preacher, a rustic Galilean, who tells with great conviction of Yeshua’s return after he was entombed. Cries of belief and of repugnance interrupt his talk. Saul himself speaks with great bitterness against this Messiah, for he has no patience with the gentle Yeshua who was crucified.

The agitation rapidly spreads. One of the most vigorous upholders of Yeshua is Reb Istephan. He has a gift for moving people’s souls, and more and more Jews become persuaded. Joseph bar Naba knew Yeshua in his lifetime, and when Joseph hears Reb Istephan, he is convinced. Joseph becomes a Messianist. This conversion disgusts Saul, and in sorrow and bitterness, he turns away from his friend Joseph.

Then a dramatic incident takes place. Simon, the first of Yeshua’s disciples, heals Nehemiah the cripple in the name of the Nazarene. Many are impressed by the cure, but others resent Simon’s use of the Messiah’s name. As a result, his enemies have their way, and Simon is imprisoned by the High Priest to await trial. Then another miracle happens. Simon and his follower Jochanan, who were securely locked in a dungeon, are the next morning again walking the streets. It is said that they passed directly through the stone walls—with the help of Yeshua.

The resentment against the wild Galileans grows among the rulers, while the humble folk follow Simon with trust. The High Priest again brings Simon to trial, but Simon speaks so well in defense of his doctrine that he is freed. Now the tumult increases. The ignorant folk, seeing Simon released, conclude that there is official sanction for the new cult; hence, more join the followers of Yeshua.

Saul is greatly incensed. He believes that the Messiah is yet to come and that the disciples are corrupting Jerusalem. He goes to the High Priest and secures an appointment as official spy. In his new job, Saul tracks down the humble Messianists and sentences them to the lash. Growing in power, Saul the Zealot finally takes Reb Istephan prisoner for preaching the new faith. With grim pleasure, Saul leads the way to the stoning pit and watches Istephan sink beneath the flung rocks. As he dies, the preacher murmurs a prayer forgiving his tormentors. Saul is vaguely troubled.

Then the Messianists are much heartened. Yeshua’s younger brother, Reb Jacob ben Joseph, comes to Jerusalem to head the humble...

(The entire section is 1185 words.)