The most perplexing character of the novel must certainly be the immortal Benjamin Eleazer. Since he is called different names by different people, it is perhaps conceivable that the novel contains three similar but different old Jews, but the reader is much more strongly pointed to a mythological meaning for his character. He seems in fact to be the “Wandering Jew” of popular legend, who struck and mocked Jesus Christ on His way to crucifixion and was told by Christ: “I go, but you will wait till I return.” Since then, the story goes, the Wandering Jew has traveled the earth waiting for the Second Coming of the Messiah. This legend is strongly suggested in one scene in which Benjamin looks into the face of a newcomer, only to say in disappointment “It’s still not Him.” A second legend is equally strongly suggested in the third section, when children shout at an old tramp, “he be old Lazar, same one ’ut the Lor’ Hesus raise up.” Could Benjamin Eleazar be the Lazarus of John 11, raised from the dead by Jesus—and then, in legend, not permitted to die again?
The answer is not clear. Yet the role of “the Old Jew” within the novel certainly is. His function is to present a kind of detachment from the follies of humanity, as one who has literally “seen it all before,” and as one who realizes that the truly significant events are not scientific, or political, or historical, but are those concerned with the salvation that he...
(The entire section is 511 words.)