I read this fictional book sometimes with difficulty over the past 3 months. It is exceedingly long at 742 pages in small print. The Cardinal Giant paperback edition shown at left, was published in 1957. It was coming apart at the seams and I had to shore it up with scotch tape multiple times. I discovered this book in the Oblate Reading Room in Martha’s Cottage basement at the Galilee Centre in Arnprior. I am the sometimes volunteer librarian of this hoard of books which came from the personal collections of several Oblate priests. I was not disappointed.
You see I grew up going to St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church on Woodroffe Ave in Ottawa. I never knew much about St. Paul other than he was the apostle of the gentiles and wrote many letters in the New Testament. I am now much more knowledgeable and partial to St. Paul as a result of reading this book.
First a word about the author. Sholem Asch (1880-1957) was a prolific Polish born Jewish author, play write and essayist. He wrote in Yiddish, a high German derived language with elements of Hebrew and Aramaic that is still spoken today by 2 million Hasidic and Haredi Jews. He remained a Jew in faith all his life but was smitten by a desire to bridge the gap between Jews and Christians. For writing this and similar books he was attacked by his supporters for promoting Christianity. (1941 Photo courtesy Wikipedia.)
The story of Paul is simply amazing. Born a Jew in Tarsus on the south coast of Turkey, he was originally known as Saul of Tarsus, Greek speaking, he was sent to Jerusalem to study Jewish law. He became a prominent Pharisee charged with persecuting so called Christians who believed that the Jewish Messiah had already come, been crucified by the Romans and had come back to life. In exceeding detail Asch describes how early Christians were pulled from their homes and tortured to death in an effort to exterminate them.
On the way to Damascus to persecute the Christians living there, Saul has his famous encounter with Jesus and is blinded for days. He then spends the next 40 years in the desert (e,g, in Petra) contemplating what he is to do with the rest of his life. We all know the story – Saul becomes Paul and takes it on himself to spread the Christian faith to gentiles i.e. non Jews. But nobody believes him. They remember him as a Christian persecutor. What is going on?
The novel describes in vivid detail how Paul continued to run into roadblocks wherever he went. The Jerusalem apostles accuse Paul of breaking with the Law of Moses and reject him as a authoritative member of their community. The pagan communities in Greece, Turkey and eventually Rome run him out of town. He is ruining business for the idol makers. Actually he is scourged 5 times, stoned twice, shipwrecked 3 times and locked up in prison for years. And still he lives and persists!
I like the book because it conveys the details of paganism that existed in those times. Imagine believing in an invisible God!! Pagans were having none of it as they had Isis, Diana and a host of other “visible” Gods including Roman Emperors Claudius and Nero whom they could see and make sacrifices to for protection. The sweep of history covered is incredible and Asch is a great researcher in carrying us along. If it wasn’t for St. Paul it is most likely that the Christian faith would have been snuffed out as just another one of many Jewish sects.
Some of the language makes it difficult to read e.g, Peter is called Simon bar Joseph throughout. In a touching ending, Peter and Paul embrace in Rome. Peter goes one way to be crucified up side down. Paul goes the other way to be beheaded, since he is a Roman citizen. Magnificent.
9.5 out of 10 stars. I definitely want to read more Sholem Asch!
We continued south through Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, New Mexico and then crossed into west Texas. The things we remembered most about El Paso is that you can see Ciudad Juarez across the border and the Walmart parking lot we stopped in. When I opened the back door of the Trekker, the strong wind caught the door and almost tore it off the hinges. Walmart food marts were our go to place for groceries and wine throughout this trip. They are numerous, have a standardized lay out and of course, are known for their cheaper prices if not for the quality. Sadly, the Walmart we stopped in here was to be the scene of a major mass shooting of Latinos in 2019. And they said Ciudad Juarez is the more dangerous place.
So we quickly headed out of town and made our way to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and went for an amazing hike.
Somewhere during this week, we had run into an friendly Englishman at a camp ground and chatted about places to see. He mentioned Carlsbad Caverns in SE New Mexico. “Absolutely gobsmack!” he said in referring to these huge underground caverns. Never having heard this term before we wondered what it meant. Was it good or was it bad? After googling it we decided we had to go and see for ourselves.
Pictures fail to capture the beauty and scale of these underground caverns that a river gorged out millions of years ago. Stalagmites and stalagtites and pools of aquamarine coloured water with crystals everywhere. It goes on for miles.
We then headed for the sandiest campground we had ever stayed in. Wow what a different experience this was. In fact it was gobsmack!
Well we have been on this journey for over a month now. Just to recap. We set out from Ottawa about March 1, 2011 on a two month tour to the SW US in our Roadtrek 190. We had now visited 10 States and driven about 6000 km or so. We are not quite half way through. You may recall we sold our home by cell phone when in Oceanside, CA. What we did not explain then is that we had given an early exit date – May 24. So we had about 7 weeks left to complete our trip and move out of our house in Ottawa to somewhere. Time to pick up the pace a bit…
But the beautiful desert scenery in eastern Arizona and then western New Mexico kept holding us back. We drove thorugh small towns called Hotevilla, Shongopovi and Second Mesa in the painted desert Navajo Nation lands.
Then we drove through Winslow with the Eagles song playing loudly. We did not know it at the time but Madonna House Apostolate located in the Ottawa Valley in Combermere, ON operates an outreach house in Winslow.
Next stop was the Petrified Forest National Park. Wow what a neat experience to wander though the stone age trees that had literally turned to stone. Just a note on National Parks. We like parks but the US National Parks we visited out west are absolutely the most amazing parks we had ever seen. Banff National Park and Jasper in Canada are definitely in this category too.
We passed the continental divide and headed east for Albuquerque. We would have liked to go to Santa Fe but we turned south instead.
We stopped in for a visit at Fr. Richard Rohr’s Centre for Action and Contemplation. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and author is one of the world’s most popular spiritual writers and speakers. A lot of Catholic’s we know follow him daily and read his books. Non Catholics and disaffected ones too. We dropped in unannounced. It was funny. The receptionist greets us warmly and we casually ask if Richard is in today. No he is not here today and besides, you can’t just drop in and expect to see Richard….Then she smiled and gave us a nice cook’s tour. It was really fun.
It had been a long couple of days so we headed south for a peaceful evening in Elephant Butte Lake State Park.
We drove north through Flagstaff and it got cooler due the high elevation of 7000 ft above sea level. We descended again and arrived at Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. No matter how much you prepare yourself it is hard to fathom the monstrous size of this canyon – one of the largest in the world – 400 km long by 15 km wide x 1.7 km deep! To say it took our breath away is an absolute understatement. We gazed and we gazed an were stunned by the beauty and scale of what we saw there.
We settled into the campground for a couple of nights and enjoyed the wildlife. That evening we went to a camp fire chat by the ranger. He said they lose several young people every year who get too close to the edge and fall over!!!
If we had more time, we could have hiked all the way down to the Colorado River (5000 vertical feet), stayed overnight in a lodge and rode a donkey back up the next day. Instead, we settled on hiking down about a 1000 feet into the canyon and then backup again. What a refreshing and tiring experience. We learned that some really athletic people hike all the way down and run back up in half a day just for the exercise.
Dave bought a new Tilley hat to replace the one he forgot on the train in Pamplona. Next day we headed east for some more sightseeing toward Navajo and Hopi country.