M. W. Steinberg

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 821

[The Second Scroll is] a story of complicated form, in which, on the simple framework of a nephew's search for a long-lost uncle, Klein weaves a moving pattern of contemporary Jewish history seen as the fulfilment of age-old religious and national aspirations. The return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land, regarded as a miracle manifested by God, establishes in part the religious theme of the novel. Concurrent with the development of this theme and bearing on it is the question of faith in God and the acceptance of His ways. (p. 37)

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It is clear that Uncle Melech is to be taken as the Jew in exile, and his experiences, his divagations from the faith—his enticement to other ways and beliefs—are those of his people, as are his sufferings, the burden of the "galuth", and his eternal quest for truth and justice, and his final ascendance to the Promised Land.

As the role of the Uncle undergoes change, the meaning of the nephew's search, its purpose, becomes clearer. The thread of narrative is the journey of a Jewish-Canadian journalist to the new state of Israel to discover for his publishers the poetry of the re-born people. A second and more important strand of narrative grows out of this as the nephew determines to track down his uncle while in Europe, a search that takes him to three continents. The subtly suggested shift from the literal to the symbolic in the presentation of Uncle Melech shapes and gives new levels of meaning to the external framework. The young Canadian Jew, it is suggested, separated from his European relations, is not sufficiently involved in their fate. Though his concern with their tragedy and their future in Israel is real, one feels that it is also somewhat remote, belonging to the realm of dreams, of abstract fancyings. (p. 40)

[The] religious interpretation of events raises a more profound religious question, one that runs through the entire novel and constitutes its central and most moving motif: the question of good and evil, a question which involves the nature of the relation between God and man. (p. 43)

Through meaningful Biblical allusions and symbols in the text of the novel, Klein suggests the reconciliation of good and evil, necessary for the acceptance of God. (p. 44)

It is not my intention here to get involved in this ancient and continuing question, the dilemma confronting all who seek meaning and purpose in life. Klein's answer in The Second Scroll to the question of evil adds nothing new. The objections to his answer, which are also long-standing, are not invalidated, but neither do they offer the final word. The problem remains unresolved, for it is essentially unresolvable. One takes up a position, knowing its vulnerability, and orders one's life accordingly. And Klein, in this novel, accepts the traditional Jewish position, an optimistic view which does not regard reason or will as fixed and final, but as a dynamic force capable of expansion to the point where man, by his efforts, aided by Divine Law and the occasional intervention of a loving God, approaches a Messianic condition. Klein's novel is based on this assumption, and so despite the cataloguing of horrors, it ends on an exultant note.

The Second Scroll is then not simply, as some critics suggest, a neo-Zionist novel. Even if one were to regard Zionism as an expression of religious faith and yearning and not merely as an expression of nationalism—for Zionism, historically, was conceived and maintained in a category of holiness—such a view of Klein's intent is too narrow. The novel is concerned fundamentally with religious themes, in that contemporary Jewish history is interpreted in terms of religion as the coming together again of God, the Jewish people and the Holy Land. The events, seen as miraculous, reveal the involvement of God's will. The Second Scroll, however, is a religious novel in an even more fundamental and universal sense. The universality of Klein's religious theme is made evident by his indicating the essential oneness of the three major western religions, Judaism, Christianity and Mohammedanism…. And just as the Bible tells not only the history of the Jews, but, more important, recounts the unfolding of man's awareness of God largely through God's revelation of Himself through deeds, so too A. M. Klein here develops as his central theme the drama of man losing and finding God. This religious theme is, of course, in this story inseparable from the national theme, for the miraculous return to Israel is seen as part of God's plan, and is the happy fulfilment that furnishes the optimism basic to a renewed faith that alone enables him to resolve the old dilemma faced by religious thinkers, the problem of evil and its bearing on God's relation to man. (pp. 45-6)

M. W. Steinberg, "A Twentieth Century Pentateuch: A. M. Klein's 'The Second Scroll'," in Canadian Literature, No. 2, Autumn, 1959, pp. 37-46.

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