Born at Reeklichhausen, August 1, 1567, Gerson received the usual Talmudical education, and was a teacher in several places. A neighbour, who was a Christian woman, borrowed from him ten pence, giving him as security a Lutheran New Testament. Curious to know the source of the Christian errors, he and his two brothers-in-law read it with much amusement. Yet finding there quotations from the Old Testament, he continued reading it more earnestly, comparing Scripture with Scripture, until his conscience was awakened and felt the need of salvation through Christ. (p232)
He saw how closely the New Testament relied on the Hebrew Bible, and read the text over and over, ‘‘but in secret so that my wife should not notice.’’ For obvious reasons, Gerson did not reveal his thoughts to anyone, not even his wife, and could not decide how to proceed. ‘‘My beloved wife, our child, friends, household … my heart was troubled and anxious for weeks, food or drink had no taste for me.’’ He knew he would have to leave home in order to declare his faith.
He wrote afterwards—”I found such light, for which I have to thank the Lord God all my life.“ He was baptized by Pastor Silberschlag at Halberstadt, October 19, 1600. Gerson’s son Stephen was baptized years later, but his wife got a divorce from him.
At his baptism Gerson took the name “Christian”, defined himself as a ‘‘widergeborner Jüde’’ (a born-again Jew), and gave a firm “yes” to the traditional but woefully misguided question ‘‘Do you renounce the Devil and all his works, and Jewish error, superstition, and blasphemy?’’
He then taught Hebrew at Copenhagen, and eventually, after being persuaded by friends, he became a preacher of the Gospel. Testimony is given him that he heartily loved his people, and defended them against blood [libel] accusations. His works are: “Des Jüdischer Talmud fürnehmster Inhalt und Widerlegung,” Gislav, 1707, Gera, 1613. A German translation of the eleventh chapter of Tract Sanhedrin. Gerson died on October 22, 1642, only 47 years old, as a preacher of the Gospel, in poverty. He was pastor of two parishes, receiving a stipend of six gulden, and had to work as a farm labourer for his living. In the Jewish Encyclopædia it is stated that Gerson was drowned at Roelheim, September 25, 1627. Here is a specimen of the contradictory statements of historians.
Bernstein’s account barely scratches the surface of a controversial and problematic life, open to several different interpretations. He describes his sense of personal loss and displacement at becoming a believer, which many of us experience as Messianic Jews:
‘‘My wife, with whom I had lived in marriage, with love and fidelity, and with whom I had two sons, I left at her request … all my relatives, all my disciples … all my Jewish neighbors and acquaintances … have become implacable enemies… . My money and my property, my esteemed name … I gave it all up because I truly believe in Christ.’’
His major works
- Der Jüden Thalmvd fürnembster innhalt, vnd Widerlegung, Goslar 1607
- Chelec: oder Thalmudischer Judenschatz, Helmstedt 1610
evidence his detailed understanding and knowledge, but at times harsh, inaccurate and judgmental interpretation of Jews and Judaism. His musical rendition of Jewish cantillation using popular drinking songs is a historical puzzle. Was he parodying and mocking such liturgy, or accurately recording a bye-gone Jewish liturgical style?
Did he die in poverty, or as the result of a tragic accident of his carriage careering into a river in full flood?
Lord, thank you for showing Christian Gerson that Yeshua is the Messiah. His life, like ours, seems capable of different interpretations. The tensions he experienced with his family, his faith, his people and the relationship between his Jewish and Christian identities were not quickly resolved or easily negotiated. For us it might be easier – there are more of us, and both Jewish and Christian communities are more open, forgiving and tolerant. But it is still not easy to be a Messianic Jew. Please may the elements of his writing, teaching and ministry which came from pain and anger rather than love and grace be cleansed, healed and renewed, even as they flowed into the traditions of Christian anti-Judaism and Jewish survival in hostile context that led to strong reactions against those who like Gershon, believed in Jesus. Please help us to show love and light to all, in the name of our Messiah Yeshua. Amen.