``IT'S JEWISH''

 

The Story of a Poem

 

by Doug Ward



Over the last few years, an entertaining poem entitled ``It's Jewish'' has been circulating on the internet in Sabbatarian and Messianic circles. The following version of this poem can be found, with a few variations, at several websites.




When we present God's holy law,

 

And arguments from scripture draw,

 

Objectors say, to pick a flaw,

 

`It's Jewish.'

 

Though at the first YHVH blessed

 

And sanctified His day of rest,

 

The same belief is still expressed,

 

`It's Jewish.'

 

Though with the world this rest began,

 

And thence through all the Scriptures ran,

 

And Yahshua said ```twas made for man''-

 

`It's Jewish.'

 

Though not with Jewish rites, which passed,

 

But with the moral law 'twas classed,

 

Which must exist while time shall last,

 

`It's Jewish.'

 

If from the Bible we present

 

The Sabbath's meaning and intent,

 

This answers every argument-

 

`It's Jewish.'

 

Though the disciples, Luke and Paul,

 

Continue still this rest to call

 

The `Sabbath day', this answers all:

 

`It's Jewish.'

 

The gospel teacher's plain expression,

 

That ``Sin is of the law's transgression,''

 

Seems not to make the least impression-

 

`It's Jewish.'

 

They love the rest of man's invention,

 

But if Adonai's day we mention,

 

This puts an end to all contention:

 

`It's Jewish.'

 

O ye who thus G-D's day abuse,

 

Simply because 'twas kept by Jews,

 

The Saviour, too, you must refuse,

 

He's Jewish.

 

The Scriptures, then, we may expect

 

For the same reason you'll reject;

 

For if you will but recollect,

 

They're Jewish.

 

Thus the apostles, too, must fall;

 

For Andrew, Peter, James, and Paul,

 

Thomas, Matthew, John, and all

 

Were Jewish.

 

So to your helpless state resign

 

Yourself in wretchedness to pine;

 

Salvation, surely you'll decline,

 

It's Jewish.



Some websites state that the author of the poem is unknown. In fact, an examination of the poem would indicate that it undoubtedly had at least two authors: (1) an original author from a previous generation, and (2) a more recent author from a Sacred Names background who altered a few words in the original poem.1

How does one reach this conclusion? Elementary, my dear Watson! The way in which God's name is handled in the poem is an especially revealing clue. In particular, notice that in the third stanza, Jesus is designated as Yahshua, a transliteration used mainly by Sacred Names believers. (Messianics typically use Yeshua instead.)

There are some telltale signs, however, that this Sacred Names writer was not the original one. Observe that in three places in the poem, the usual meter is thrown off by an expression for God or Jesus: (1) In the third stanza, where Yahshua is chosen for the name of Jesus, the use of ``Jesus'' would preserve the meter of that stanza. (2) In the second stanza, substitution of ``Jehovah'' for ``YHVH'' would give the stanza a consistent rhythm. (3) Similarly, in the eighth stanza, the meter can be smoothed out by replacing ``Adonai's'' with ``Jehovah's.'' These examples strongly suggest that the second, third, and eighth stanzas were originally penned by a Sabbatarian Christian writer and subsequently altered by a Sacred Names editor who did not care for ``Jehovah'' as an English transliteration of the tetragrammaton. It would also seem likely that the first stanza, which gives God's name without a hyphen (as in stanza nine), was written by the original author and left unedited.

Finally, the original writer's use of the word ``Jehovah'' indicates that he (or she) belonged to a previous generation, since it is customary today to use the spelling Yahweh instead.

 

The Original Poem



Lest you mistakenly infer from the above that I am textual critic of Sherlock Holmesian stature, I must confess at this point that I have before me a copy of the original poem, which is included in [1]. The original version consists of stanzas one through four and six through eight of the version from the Messianic websites, with ``Jesus'' instead of ``Yahshua'' in stanza three, ``Jehovah'' instead of ``YHVH'' in stanza two, and ``Jehovah's'' in place of ``Adonai's'' in stanza eight. It was written by Roswell Cottrell, a Seventh Day Baptist who became one of the early Seventh-day Adventists; and it first appeared on the front page of the February 1851 edition of the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, an Adventist publication.

I also have a later copy of the entire twelve stanzas as they appeared in the August 1969 issue of the Sacred Names magazine The Faith. In this 1969 version, which lists the author as unknown, ``Yahweh's'' is substituted for ``God's'' in the first and ninth stanzas and for ``Jehovah's'' in stanza eight. In addition, Yahweh is used instead of Jehovah or YHVH in stanza two, ``Yahweh's'' is chosen over ``Jehovah's'' or ``Adonai's'' in stanza eight, and ``the Saviour'' is substituted for ``Jesus'' in the third stanza.

When, and by whom, were stanzas five and nine through twelve added to the original poem? Were they the work of Cottrell in the nineteenth century, a Sacred Names writer in 1969, or someone in between? I am still looking for further information on the answers to these questions, but I will hazard a few guesses based on what I know already.

First, since the author was unknown to the editors of The Faith in 1969, the final five stanzas could have been added considerably before that time. Moreover, the extra stanzas were probably not added by someone from a Sacred Names background, since the meter of the first line of stanza nine indicates that ``God's,'' rather than ``Yahweh's'', was originally used there.

It is also interesting to observe that the extra stanzas offer a different defense of Christian Sabbath-keeping than the original poem does. Cottrell, who may have been uncomfortable with the charge that the Sabbath is Jewish, answers it, as Sabbatarian Christians have done since the Protestant Reformation, by arguing that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance of universal character and validity. On the other hand, the author of the last four stanzas seems to embrace the Jewishness of the Sabbath. These stanzas say, in effect, ``Yes, the Sabbath is Jewish. So is all of Christianity, for that matter. Deal with it.''

The different approach of the final four stanzas to the ``Jewish problem'' suggests that they may have been added by a second author. In any case, the extra verses are a welcome addition to the poem and reflect a healthy attitude that has become more prevalent in modern Christianity. Today more and more Christians are learning about, celebrating, and benefiting from the Jewish roots of their faith. In particular, many are experiencing the joy and peace of the Sabbath-not necessarily as a commanded obligation, but as a special opportunity for fellowship with our Creator. This trend is the first step toward the wonderful day when the phrase ``It's Jewish'' no longer carries any negative connotations. May God hasten that day!




References:

 

1. Keith A. Francis, ``Adventists Discover the Seventh-Day Sabbath: How to Deal with the `Jewish Problem' '', pp. 373-378 in Christianity and Judaism, Diana      Wood, ed., Blackwell, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992.



2.  The Faith, Vol. 32, No. 8 (August 1969), p. 14. Recent issues of this magazine can be viewed at the website  http://www.assemblyofyahweh.com



Acknowledgments: I am grateful to Brian Knowles, Rick Chaimberlin, Richard Nickels, and the publishers of The Faith magazine for their help in my ongoing

attempts to trace the history of the poem ``It's Jewish.''

 

Note added in 2006:  Some Adventist websites identify the author of the final version of the poem as Uriah Smith.  Smith (1832-1903) was a longtime writer and editor for the publication in which Cottrell’s original version of the poem appeared, so he is a likely candidate for the authorship of the additional stanzas.  I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has additional information about the history of the poem.


Footnotes:

1 The Sacred Names movement began in the 1930s as an offshoot of the Church of God (Seventh Day). Its adherents are careful to use specific Hebrew names for God-e.g., Yahweh for the Father, Yahshua for Jesus Christ-and they are also very concerned about the manner in which these divine names are pronounced and transliterated into English. For information on the history of this movement, see the website http://www.ynca.com

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