Among the Jews of New York
Early in the year 1857 certain Christian Jews in New York commenced meetings which were intended to bring some of their fellow Jews to a belief in the Christian religion. The meetings were open to all, and discussion was to be free. A goodly number of people took advantage of the invitation, and considerable opposition was evinced. Dr. Thomas was not at the original meeting, which was held at a hall a long way from Mott Haven. He was informed of what took place, and was asked to attend in future. He therefore arranged to go, and continued to do so for some weeks.
The pages of the Herald contain a racy description of the meetings. One of the more capable of those who attended was a certain Dr. de Lara, who evidently conducted himself with decorum and respect, in striking contrast to some others. When he intervened in the discussion he raised questions that nonplussed the Christian Jews who had convened the meetings. He wanted to know which of the sects represented Christianity. Was it Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Unitarianism or Trinitarianism? He proved to be a capable opponent. Dr. Thomas, however, presented an entirely different view of Christianity from that of the convenors of the meeting. The Jews who were present listened to him with attention, but those associated with the organisers were greatly annoyed. They had not been heard; their sayings were objected to; now, Dr. Thomas was listened to with, at least, respect. They therefore announced that no one would be allowed to speak in the discussion for more than five minutes. That silenced Dr. Thomas, who was used to speaking for an hour or more.
In the circumstances the Doctor invited some of the Jews, including Dr. de Lara, to hear him elsewhere. Just as the Doctor was about to address the meeting Dr. de Lara placed a letter in his hands. It commenced with the words, “Dear and Honoured Sir,” and proceeded to raise questions which, with the more general parts of the letter, occupied about 120 lines of print. It was a letter which a Jew might write on such an occasion, though it was obviously unfair to expect an answer to be given on the spot. However, the Doctor described it as having a candour that was quite attractive; its points were stated distinctly, and the view of the writer boldly averred.
At the meeting Dr. Thomas dealt with the letter in a general way. When the meeting was over Dr. de Lara apologised for having handed the letter over at such a moment. In reply Dr. Thomas intimated that on the following Sunday night he would lay before the audience the Mosaic and Nazarene teaching concerning God. The answer to Dr, de Lara is given in several articles in the Herald.
In his opening words Dr. Thomas emphasised the importance of the subject, quoting the words of Jesus, “This is the life of the Aion that they should understand Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Anointed whom Thou sendest.” As the subject was developed in subsequent numbers he directed attention to the names or titles by which God made Himself known in the pages of the Old Testament, calling attention to the fact that certain of them implied plurality and yet at the same time insisted on the unity of God. Thus the name “the Lord God” was, in the Hebrew, Yahweh Elohim, the first being singular and the second plural. Yahweh was the God; the Elohim were those through whom His will and commands were carried out. He summed up the idea in the words, “The Mosaic and prophetic revelation concerning Deity is that there is one Power multitudinously manifested.”
There can be little doubt that the Doctor’s brush with the Jews of New York, and particularly with Dr.de Lara caused him to study the Scriptural teaching about God more deeply than before. His ideas on the subject became more developed and his teaching more definite, as a comparison of what is said in Elpis Israel and in his later works shows clearly. The incident was therefore an important one in his career.
In the course of his exposition Dr. Thomas dealt with the revelation of God to Moses at the bush in Horeb. He expressed it in the words: “The Memorial name in its simplest form is ehyeh asher ehyeh, I shall be who I shall be”; he defined the term ehyeh as first person singular, future tense, of the verb to be. With this as a foundation principle, he went on to show that the Messiah who had been promised, as all Jews admitted, was to be a man of Adam’s race, the Seed of the woman yet the Son of God; that he was to be killed, then to rise from the dead, and finally, destroy the power that had held him. All this was supported by Scriptural allusions, marshalled in a characteristic and convincing manner. Dr. Thomas referred to the sayings of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John, such as “I am the bread of life,” “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and “the bread I will give is my flesh.”
It will be seen that a very useful purpose was served by the invitation to attend the meetings by the Christian Jews of New York, and by the interposition of Dr. de Lara.
Articles continued to appear in the pages of the Herald for some time. They led to point after point being considered, setting forth the relation of Jesus to God as His Son through his birth of Mary, yet as a manifestation of God—God manifested in the flesh. In the circumstances it is no fancy that sees the hand of Providence. One practical result was the appearance, toward the end of 1869, that is twelve years after the meetings took place, of a book, or pamphlet, bearing the title Phanerosis. The title was based on a Greek word phaneros, which means open to sight; plain, manifest, or evident.
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