Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Pan Viadomsky

Pan Viadomsky, an anti-Semitic Catholic scholar living in the 1930’s. Old and irascible, he is both brilliant and fraudulent as a researcher of the Holy Land during the first century. He is the reincarnation of the Roman soldier, Cornelius, who apprehended and arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his twentieth century incarnation, Viadomsky is still tortured by his memories of Jesus. He is fascinated with Jews as well as with anyone he perceives to be reincarnated from Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. At the same time, he is filled with hatred of Jews, an attitude that increases his prestige as Nazi Socialism becomes increasingly popular. He depends on the ability of the narrator, a young Jewish scholar, to translate Hebrew and to recall things from ancient Jerusalem.


Cornelius, a professional soldier who has cast his lot with Pontius Pilate, lives in Jerusalem, and observes the various aspects of Hebrew culture as he continues his service under the Roman governor. He believes in power as the answer to all ethical problems, and maintaining Roman power is in his interest. Although he is intrigued with Jesus, he must decide to view the “Rabbi of Nazareth” as a serious threat.

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth, the Rabbi from K’far Nahum, known to some, toward the end, as the Messiah ben David. He is the focus of Cornelius (speaking in his reincarnated form, that of Pan Viadomsky), of Judas Ish-Kiriot (Iscariot, who speaks through a manuscript found by...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Asch is particularly vivid in his narrative, and his characterizations are convincing and realistic. From the leaders of the Sadducees and Pharisees to the individuality of each disciple to the fascinating charm of Mary Magdalene or the integrity and courage of Rabbi Nicodemon, Asch depicts real and lifelike characters with human struggles and dilemmas. Judas Iscariot is an intense zealot, but the rationale for his betrayal of Jesus lacks plausibility. There is a certain ambiguity, though, in Asch’s development of his character. At one point, for example, he writes of a conversation between Jesus and Judas in which the Rabbi tells his disciple:Judah, thy heart is restless; it is like a lost ship in a stormy sea. Why canst thou not find rest, like my other disciples?” And I answered, saying: “Rabbi, perform now one of thy wonders and strengthen my faith in thee.” And my Rabbi answered: “Even for this did I pray now, Judah, for thou couldst have been my most beloved disciple.

Cornelius was an agent of Pontius Pilate who, according to Asch, plotted the arrest and execution of Jesus. In sharp contrast to the historical record in the Gospels, the Romans pushed the Jews to ask for the execution of Jesus, rather than their having pressured Pilate to do so. Asch here seeks to modify the anti-Semitic European tradition that viewed all Jews as “Christ-killers.” Orthodox Christian doctrine has always taught the universal guilt of mankind and Christ...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Asch, Nathan. “My Father and I,” in Commentary. XXXIX (January, 1965), pp. 55-64.

Bates, Ernest S. “The Gospel in a Modern Version,” in The Saturday Review of Literature. XX (October 21, 1939), p. 5.

Colum, Mary M. “Re-Creation of New Testament History,” in Forum and Century. CII (December, 1939), pp. 261-262.

Madison, Charles A. “Sholem Asch: Novelist of Lyric Intensity,” in Yiddish Literature: Its Scope and Major Writers, 1968.

Siegel, Ben. The Controversial Sholem Asch: An Introduction to His Fiction, 1976.