“There is one fact which none can contest. Christians may continue to persecute Jews, and Jews may persist in disbelieving Christians, but who can deny that Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Son of the Most High God, is the eternal glory of the Jewish race?” (Benjamin Disraeli, Chapter 10, “The Jews”, Lord George Bentinck: A Political Biography, 1852)
“You were born a Jew and you forsook your great people”, Queen Victoria said to Benjamin Disraeli. “Now you are a member of the Church of England, but no one believes that you are a Christian at heart. Please tell me, who are you and what are you?”
“Your Majesty,” Disraeli famously replied, “I am the blank page between the Old Testament and the New.”
Benjamin Disraeli was born December 21, 1804 and died on April 19, 1881. Today, the 140th anniversary of his passing, is marked by Primrose Day. The primrose was his favourite flower and Queen Victoria would often send him bunches of them from the Great Park of Windsor Castle and from Osborne House, her holiday home on the Isle of Wight. She sent a wreath of primroses to his funeral.
Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, KG, PC, MP, FRS (21 December 1804 – 19 April 1881), was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, serving in 1868 and from 1874 to 1880. He was a member of the British Conservative Party and played a central role in the creation of the modern Party, defining its policies and its broad outreach. Disraeli is remembered for his influential voice in world affairs, his political battles with the Liberal Party leader William Ewart Gladstone, and his one-nation conservatism or “Tory democracy”. He made the Conservatives the party most identified with the glory and power of the British Empire. He is the only British prime minister to have been of Jewish birth. He was also a novelist, publishing works of fiction even as prime minister.
Disraeli dominated political life as no other, and politics has been permanently impacted by his contributions to the Conservative Party, the Parliamentary system, and global diplomacy. But he struggled for most of his life with commercial and financial disaster, opposition, hostility, antisemitism and debt. Lord Randolph Churchill crisply summarised his career as one of “failure, failure, failure, partial success, renewed failure. Ultimate and complete victory.” As an ‘outsider’ with ‘Jewish disabilities’ used against him, and without money or membership of the aristocracy he manage to climb “the greasy pole” of power and dominate the political life of the nation.
In 1835 Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Roman Catholic leader, attacked Disraeli in the House of Commons. In the course of his unrestrained invective, he referred to Disraeli’s Jewish ancestry. Disraeli replied, ‘Yes, I am a Jew, and while the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”
There are numerous biographies and studies of his life, and particularly of the relationship between his Jewish ethnicity and his Christian faith. Stan Meyer’s “The Bible’s Missing Page” surveys the disputed questions of the authenticity of his religious convictions, and the construction of his Jewish identity.
Robert Blake argues that Disraeli’s
“…theological ideas were, in reality, the rationalization of his own peculiar psychological dilemma. It suited him to blur as far as possible the differences between the Jewish and Christian faiths. He almost seems at times to regard Christ’s Jewishness as more important than His divinity. To him the Jew is a proto-Christian, and Christianity is completed Judaism. How else could a person intensely proud of the Jewish ancestry which his less worthy enemies flung in his face, yet at the same time a convert to the very faith of those who sneered at him, justify both that pride and that conversion?” (Disraeli. London: Eyre and Spottiswood, 1966:204)
Here is Bernstein’s summary in “Some Jewish Witnesses for Christ”
Disraeli, Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield, born in London, December 21, 1804, died there April 19, 1881. Of this pre-eminently distinguished man in the nineteenth century there are many biographies and lasting monuments. We need only record very briefly here that he was one of England’s greatest sons and statesmen, and the greatest ornament of the Jewish people in modern times. An ardent lover of his nation, a genuine English patriot, a friend of his great Queen, a thorough Protestant Churchman, yet with liberal tendencies, and a true believer in Christianity, which he regarded as completed Judaism. His works are these: “Vivian Grey,” 1817; “The Infernal Marriage;” “Ixion in Heaven,” and “Popanilla,” 1828; “Contarini Fleming,” and “The Wondrous Tale of Alroy,” 1832; “The Young Duke,” about that time; “What is he?” 1833; “Revolutionary Epic,” 1834; “Coningsby,” 1844; “Tancred,” 1847; “Sybil,” 1845; “The rise of Iskander,” “Vindication of the British Constitution,” “Venetia,” “Henrietta Temple,” “The Tragedy of Count Alarcos,” and “Lothair,” were all productions of his great intellect at different seasons. Benjamin’s mother, his sister Sarah, born 1802, his brother Ralph, 1809, and his brother James, 1813, were all Hebrew Christians.
“Is it therefore wonderful that a great portion of the Jewish race should not believe in the most important portion of the Jewish religion? As, however, the converted races become more humane in their behaviour to the Jews, and the latter have opportunity fully to comprehend and deeply to ponder over true Christianity, it is difficult to suppose that the result will not be very different. Whether presented by a Roman or Anglo-Catholic or Genevese divine, by pope, bishop, or presbyter, there is nothing, one would suppose, very repugnant to the feelings of a Jew when he learns that the redemption of the human race has been effected by the mediatorial agency of a child of Israel: if the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation be developed to him, he will remember that the blood of Jacob is a chosen and peculiar blood; and if so transcendent a consummation is to occur, he will scarcely deny that only one race could be deemed worthy of accomplishing it. There may be points of doctrine on which the northern and western races may perhaps never agree. The Jew like them may follow that path in those respects which reason and feeling alike dictate; but nevertheless it can hardly be maintained that there is anything revolting to a Jew to learn that a Jewess is the queen of heaven, or that the flower of the Jewish race are even now sitting on the right hand of the Lord God of Sabaoth.
Perhaps, too, in this enlightened age, as his mind expands, and he takes a comprehensive view of this period of progress, the pupil of Moses may ask himself, whether all the princes of the house of David have done so much for the Jews as that prince who was crucified on Calvary. Had it not been for Him, the Jews would have been comparatively unknown, or known only as a high Oriental caste which had lost its country. Has not He made their history the most famous in the world? Has not He hung up their laws in every temple? Has not He vindicated all their wrongs? Has not He avenged the victory of Titus and conquered the Caesars? What successes did they anticipate from their Messiah? The wildest dreams of their rabbis have been far exceeded. Has not Jesus conquered Europe and changed its name into Christendom? All countries that refuse the cross wither, while the whole of the new world is devoted to the Semitic principle and its most glorious offspring the Jewish faith, and the time will come when the vast communities and countless myriads of America and Australia, looking upon Europe as Europe now looks upon Greece, and wondering how so small a space could have achieved such great deeds, will still find music in the songs of Sion and still seek solace in the parables of Galilee.
These may be dreams, but there is one fact which none can contest. Christians may continue to persecute Jews, and Jews may persist in disbelieving Christians, but who can deny that Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Son of the Most High God, is the eternal glory of the Jewish race?”
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the life and contribution of Benjamin Disraeli, who served his nation, his people and his Messiah. Thank you for his political mind, his ability to negotiate the boundaries of Judaism and Christianity, and his example of what it means to construct an identity as a Jewish disciple of Jesus, despite his own weaknesses, imperfections and the challenges he faced. May we learn from his example, and live out with authentic faith and integrity what is means to be Jewish disciples of Yeshua. In his name we pray. Amen.