Cover Story

Some 20th-century notables who almost crossed over...

Issue: "All in the family," March 2, 2002

Sholem Asch, a popular novelist who emigrated from Poland to the United States, grew up within an Orthodox family. During the first half of the 20th century he created characters who "like their creator, yearn for an ideal and search for a faith," according to The Encyclopedia Judaica. His novels about early Christianity-The Nazarene (1939) and others-dropped him into trouble. Jewish publications attacked him, and the Yiddish Daily Forward, to which he had regularly contributed, attacked him for encouraging heresy and conversion. Critics thereafter sniffed out missionary motives in all his subsequent writing, but he proclaimed that he remained within Judaism. Franz Werfel, son of a prosperous Prague glove manufacturer, became the most popular writer in German during the 1920s and early 1930s, and then headed to France after Hitler's rise. Heading south in 1940 with the hope of getting to Spain, he was stuck in Lourdes for five weeks and met Bernadette Soubirous, who reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. The Song of Bernadette, which Werfel wrote based on her story, sold 1 million copies and led to a movie in which Jennifer Jones won an Oscar for her rendition of Bernadette. Werfel himself was powerfully moved by what he learned about Christian faith, but he died in 1945 without having moved explicitly into Christianity. Bob Dylan late in 1978 encountered what he said was "a presence in the room that couldn't have been anybody but Jesus. I truly had a born-again experience, if you want to call it that.... It was a physical thing. I felt it all over me. I felt my whole body tremble." His albums Slow Train Coming and Saved reflected a new understanding, and on tour Dylan told audiences, "I told you the times they are a-changin' and they did. I said the answer was blowin' in the wind and it was. I'm telling you now Jesus is coming back, and He is! And there is no other way of salvation." But in the 1980s Dylan apparently reaffirmed his Judaism. "Rabbi R." from Satu-Mare, Romania, also came close to crossing over just before World War II, according to Richard Wurmbrand. Trying to free Wurmbrand from his "delusion," the rabbi agreed to read the New Testament with him and point out the errors: "We read together from eight in the evening until one o'clock next morning. He listened attentively, interrupting me from time to time, always with the same exclamation: 'Oi, vi shein, oi vi shein! Dus hob ich nicht gewist' ("Ah, how beautiful! How beautiful! I never knew that"). Not once did he contradict. That night he slept at my house. Next day, as we left the house together, he asked me: 'Please don't tell anyone in the synagogue what has taken place.' I agreed, but added: 'I think it should be a point of honor for you to tell the Jews that you consider the New Testament a wonderfully beautiful book.' Rabbi R. did not do that. Later, he moved to Cernauti. A year later I visited him, and found him sitting among his pupils. When I mentioned Jesus to him, he reviled Him with ugly jokes. During the war he was killed by the Nazis."

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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