The Nazarene Essay - Critical Evaluation

Sholem Asch

Critical Evaluation

Sholem Asch wrote THE NAZARENE, THE APOSTLE (1943), and MARY (1949) as a trilogy chronicling the growth of Christianity and tracing its antecedents in the heritage of Judaism. From 1939 to 1949, he dedicated himself to the task of brilliantly portraying his conviction that Western culture grew from the twin roots of the Jewish and Christian faiths. All three novels, written originally in Yiddish and later translated into English, demonstrate Asch’s erudition and scholarship, and his profound grasp of the spiritual unity between Christian and Jewish beliefs is extraordinary.

Asch is masterful in his realistic portrayal of character. The characterization of Pan Viadomsky, for example, is powerfully drawn. Independent, arrogant, and cruel, he hates the Jews and tries to discredit them. The portrait of Judah Ish-Kiriot is a sympathetic one; Asch gives the story of the man who betrays Christ for thirty pieces of silver a new twist. He presents Judah as a complex and disturbed person, who loves his Messiah but cannot say so, who believes in him fiercely yet objects to his tactics, who has waited all his life for the Savior and then betrays him when he comes. He is both learned and objective, unreasonable and jealous.

The most memorable characterization, however, is that of the Nazarene himself, Yeshua ben Joseph. His is the portrait of a man who vacillates, who is unsure of himself and afraid of the pain he must undergo...

(The entire section is 406 words.)