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Lessons from Ivanhoe, Part 2
Posted on May 26, 2009

One of the things that really disturbed me in reading Ivanhoe this time through was the Medieval Christian attitude toward the Jews as portrayed by the book.  I cringed as I read both the spoken and thought dialog about the Jews.  Both the clergy and the laity were portrayed as viewing the Jews as vile, almost less than human.  They were viewed that way, that is, until those who held those positions were in need of the Jews financial assistance.  At that point, somehow, they overcame their distaste for those of the dispersion.

One scene in the book that graphically illustrates this is the dialog between the injured Ivanhoe and the Jewess healer Rebecca.  In the scene Ivanhoe has just awakened from a swoon caused by loss of blood from an injury sustained in a tournament melee.  Rebecca has bound and treated his wounds and he has awakened with her still in the room.  Rebecca is portrayed in the book as stunningly beautiful.  Ivanhoe awakes to see this beautiful woman ministering to him and is taken by her care and beauty.  This lasts until she tells him of her nationality.  At that point the narrative paints the picture of an immediate change in countenance and attitude of Ivanhoe toward his healer.  Rebecca in her thoughts is saddened by the impact of one word on her relationship with Ivanhoe.

Regardless of your theological bias, a plain, honest reading of the Bible makes it clear that Israel has a special place in the history of mankind and in the workings of God to reveal himself to us.  I found myself wondering, in light of this, how Christians could have such a negative view of Israel.  It occurred to me and it was clear through the book (I know that it is historical fiction) that most of the laity, were illiterate.  The Bible was, at the time, the exclusive domain of the clergy.  The laity, including the knights, like Ivanhoe, did not have access to the Word of God.  That rendered them completely dependent on the clergy for all matters that dealt with faith.  The result was some seeming misguided crusades and some practices that, using the words of one of the men in our men’s Bible study, were from the department of making things up.

We live in a much different age.  Men have literally given their lives to put the Word of God in our hands.  We are no longer completely dependent on the clergy in matters of faith.  We have the ability to come to the Word ourselves to discover what He would have us think and do.  That requires us to actually do that.  The Thessalonians attitude was that they did not accept what Paul was saying without checking out what he said in the Scripture (Acts 17:11).  It seems to me that if we do not do that with our leaders, we are voluntarily stepping back into a medieval mindset where we choose to be dependent on what others tell us to believe.  I believe another word for that is dark ages.

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