Bruce H. Joffe. Manassas, VA: Mentor Press, 1994. 168 pages. $7.95, paper.
What happens when David, a college-aged, handsome, agnostic Jewish man meets Charlotte, a pretty but somewhat naive evangelical Gentile Christian? Not what you might expect!
Bruce Joffe’s The Scapegoat is based on the author’s real-life conversion experience. Joffe is professor of communications at George Mason University. Concerning The Scapegoat, he writes, Christians need to know more about the Jewish roots of Christianity—after all, Judaism was the religion of their Lord.…And Jews should be curious, at least, about Christianity’s claim that Jesus indeed was Israel’s promised Messiah.”
But this is no simple tale of boy-meets-girl and boy-wins-girl. In this story, David’s fight to win Charlotte brings him into an unfamiliar arena in which he must confront her belief that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Her faith challenges him to question that part of his Jewish upbringing that has taught him to deny that Jesus could be the Redeemer. And before David can win Charlotte, he must resolve these questions. On this dramatic tension, the novel turns.
As the main characters are sketched out, we see that Charlotte’s initial attempts to avoid David relate both to her religious convictions and to her basic upbringing: nice Christian girls don’t get involved with Jewish boys! Joffe has painted a kind picture of this woman as she struggles between her growing feelings for David and her godly concern for his salvation. Some believers may be tempted to view Charlotte’s “missionary dating” unsympathetically, but that is beside the point of Joffe’s book.
As to David, his somewhat haphazard and inconsistent Jewish upbringing has done little to fortify him against the truth of the gospel. However, his love for his parents together with his mother’s ample arsenal of ammunition in the form of guilt compound his inner struggle as he deals with the claims of Christianity. In pursuing Charlotte, David ultimately embraces the truth and finds peace in Jesus as his Messiah.
Yet even as one battle is won, another is being waged on the home front. The opening chapter, set later in time than the rest of the book, portrays a scene in a hospital room where David’s wife Charlotte is lying eerily still, the victim of a tragic car accident. Their baby has been killed, and Charlotte’s survival is uncertain. In a desperate moment, David’s father promises: “I’ll make you a deal: Let’s ask God to completely heal Charlotte. Do that for me, David, and I promise you I’ll accept your God—even if it is Jesus—when Charlotte recovers.” David’s mother breathes an audible gasp.
The drama is played out on two levels: David has opposed his parents in both his faith and his marriage to Charlotte. Now with this near-fatal accident, David’s trust in God and a father’s love for his son are tested. As is often the case in life, we find two people making extraordinary promises to each other in a moment of crisis. But is David’s new-found faith real enough to sustain him? And will God prove Himself true to David’s father?
The Scapegoat is easy reading. But halfway through, Joffe begins what will become an irritating habit: he intermittently inserts Yiddish words. A Jewish person would find this amusing, and perhaps a bit bothersome, but a Gentile reader may wonder at this sudden costume change. Joffe may have been tempted to add these Yiddishisms to make the story more authentic to Jewish readers, but non-Jews will find them distracting.
Joffe’s attempts to bring the two audiences together should be praised, however, for few books of this type are able to bridge the gap. “Few books about Jesus are of any real interest to Jews,” says Joffe. “Yet very few Christians ever get to hear the Jewish side of the story.” The book does a good job of explaining Christian beliefs in a sensitive manner, as well as portraying fairly the struggles involved in a Jewish person considering Christ. Yet in educating the Gentile believer about Jews and how they think, Joffe may unintentionally alienate some unbelieving Jewish people who wonder what Gentiles think about Jews.
However, The Scapegoat may appeal to both audiences simply because of the style in which it is written, a sort of Erich Segal’s Love Story minus the poetry. This makes for entertaining and light reading. On a deeper level, it offers both a clear gospel message and a bit of insight into the dilemmas faced by Jewish people as they encounter Christ, making it suitable for the unbeliever and the Christian.
Melissa Moskowitz is the wife of Chicago Jews for Jesus branch director Jhan Moskowitz and is the author of The Jews for Jesus Family Cookbook.