“It Had Been a Long Time since Someone Like You Had Appeared in the World”: Roth Fulfills His Mission
Despite, Roth believed, going to prison due to his fight for freedom of expression, he was psychically unfulfilled. In Lewisburg penitentiary, he wrote a long novel entitled My Friend Yeshea. The plot describes Mishillim (Roth’s Hebrew name) accompanying Yeshea (Jesus) on His final trip to Jerusalem and witnessing His benevolence, crucifixion, and resurrection. Other writers, most importantly Sholem Asch (The Nazarene), had delineated Jesus as an exemplary Jew. Yeshea is uniquely American, modernist, and even Joycean in its author’s belief in the ability of commonplace, worldly behavior to co-exist with the deeply spiritual. In the novel, Yahweh himself proclaims Mishillim a wise man (tzaddik) in his generation and gives him the mission of bringing about world peace. After prison, Roth resumed publishing. He found that the popular literature he dealt in had been supplanted by more explicit media.
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