The sellers offer on their altars the first fruits: green- flecked lemons, jewelled cherries, shameful peaches with torn leaves…. Owlish wisdom stares from their eyes brooding upon the lore of their Summa contra Gentiles.
Many Jews landed in Trieste after fleeing mistreatment in the Russias. The Jewish and Irish diasporas have met, and James Joyce is captivated by the look of Askhanizic women, their olive complexions, veined eyelids, their mysterious separateness. How does a fallen-away Irishman seduce an underaged observant Jewish girl under the watchful care of her family? Joyce’s answer was to find a theological loophole and use Judaism against itself.
In this canto, Joyce has a chance encounter with the men of HER family. The Popper men cross Trieste’s market in a horse-drawn carriage. Produce (PRO’ duce, that is) triggers a stream of consciousness that might justify Amalia’s surrender to Joyce as a sacrifice to modern ways in a new Western Europe. Bikkurim is the tradition of bringing the first fruits of the harvest as an offering to the temple. SHE might be that sacrifice. He might be that temple.
The second prong of his offensive, thinks Joyce, might be to argue that Judaism is not so different from Christianity. In this, he adopted the writings of Aquinas, who prepared a how-to book to convert Jews and Moors during the Spanish Reconquista. The Summa contra Gentiles composed from 1229 through 1235, consists of four books. John Rickaby, S.J. translated the Latin to English in 1805. The argument of each book in the text focuses on a particular appeal to the potential convert. The convert was not presumed to be alienated from her religion, so the treatment was gentle.
- Book I presents the similarities of Christianity with Judaism and Islam that monotheism offers.
- Book II supports the shared importance of the natural Creation for the three religions.
- Book III demonstrates a commonality in the religions’ treatment of good and evil, free will versus fate, and human reason.
- Book IV addresses theological differences.
The final book encourages a soft sell. It compares, for example, Moses and Jesus as servants of God. The Son attends to His Father’s house, but the argument makes the distinction that, unlike Moses, Jesus not only serves the Father but is linked to Him by lineage. Aquinas’ work was not directed to the prospective convert but to those who would deliver the argument to the candidate. The strategy seems circumspect. Joyce would appreciate the rhetoric even if the case seemed contrived (like Dedalus’ argument in Scylla and Charybdis).
As the 19th Century turned to the 20th, optimism surged in Europe and Asia. Internationalism sprung up in traditional societies, including Turkey and Japan. Electricity crackled everywhere. The skies came under Man’s mastery, and transatlantic communication had become commonplace. A nascent Psychology promised an understanding of the human mind, although the promise was more ambitious than the science would yet support. Spiritualism competed with organized religions for the souls of Europeans, and inter-cultural relationships were, if not accepted, at least possible. James Aloysius Joyce might marshall a stratagem, muddling Jewish tradition and Catholic expansionism, and perhaps win a prize that would be left neither traditional nor apostolic.
don ward August 20, 2020