In the tradition of his other Biblical novels, The Prophet succeeds, where many imitations fail, in giving not only an...



In the tradition of his other Biblical novels, The Prophet succeeds, where many imitations fail, in giving not only an extraordinary recreation of time and place, but in holding closely to the spirit and the very words of the Biblical passages on which the story is based. This must have been singularly difficult in this case, for ""the prophet"" of the title is the Second Isaiah, of whom so little is actually known. With the Book of Isaiah at hand, one realizes that many of the conclusions to which Sholem Asch came, in drawing his character, are implicit in the text. He accepts unreservedly the conception of the two Isaiahs, separated by that period of historical time between King Nebuchadnezzar, who brought the Jews into captivity in Babylon, and King Nabonidas. He sees the second Isaiah as a youth, fired with devotion to the traditions of his race, the belief in the One God, Jehovah. To this youth the dying prophet Daniel deeds his mantle of prophecy, his role as inspiration of the nucleus of Jews who cling to the hope of a Messiah and a return to Jerusalem, lying in ruins. Many of the Jews had abandoned their faith; accepted either the worship of Ishtar, with its sex orgies, or of Bel-Merodach, with its violence, becoming rich and powerful in the marts of trade. Other Jews in Egypt and elsewhere had also abandoned hope or desire to return to the homeland. But Isaiah brought back hope and faith to many; his prophecies bore fruit when Cyrus, whom he saw as the hand of God, came in as conqueror. But there were periods when Isaiah was scorned and scoffed at, imprisoned, shunned by those fearful of the consequences of being counted his followers. When Cyrus adopted the Babylonian god, Isaiah's own faith in his star faltered. But when Cyrus promised those Jews who wanted freedom a chance to go back to rebuild Jerusalem, Isaiah was exalted again. And throughout, the immortal words of his prophecies, his challenges to his people, his exaltation, his visions make the Biblical chapters live again- as they live each week in the Jewish synagogue and temple. The portrayal of the life and people of Babylon is superbly done. That the book makes often difficult reading and that the development, through its pages, of the Messianic ideal, proves a challenge to the reader- but the end result is its own reward.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1955


Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1955