Saturday, December 27, 2014

Jesus, Marx, and Zamenhof

He came to bring
peace to the proletariat
through Esperanto.
It’s an odd grouping, sure, but it is the grouping of “three great Jews who have had a profound influence on the world” that William N. Jones, the managing editor of the Baltimore Afro-American wrote about in his December 27, 1924 column. Mr. Jones wrote that students were asked to identify the three at a social gathering (the students are described as “high students,” which I’m taking as a typesetting error for “high school students”).

You would think that at least one of these names would mean something to students in 1927, but that wasn’t the case. It’s an easy guess which one of the three was someone of whom the students knew nothing. Yeah, Zamenhof. His fame seems to have declined somewhat more rapidly than the other two.

A Google search reveals that Mr. Jones called for African-American voters to support the Communist Party, however Hayward Farrar notes in his book on the Afro-American that “Afro readers obviously did not heed the paper’s managing editor,” as the Communist candidate received only 700 votes from Baltimore in the 1932 election.

I won’t quote the entirety of Mr. Jone’s piece, but a few extracts are worth quoting.
A group of high [school] students at a social gathering this week were asked to tell what they know about Jesus Christ, Carl Marx and Dr. Zamenhof, three great Jews who have had a profound influence on the world.

Of the greatest of these Jews, Christ, they expressed a hazy idea of some mysterious Son of God, who died to save sinners. Of the real man that lived and walked the streets of Jerusalem and of his beliefs, they were silent.
Jones doesn't say who was asking high school students about famous Jewish men, but it's my guess that this is his way of soft-pedaling that he was asking high school students about the author of Das Kapital and co-author of The Communist Manifesto. The Communist Manifesto was first translated into Esperanto by Arthur Baker. A 1990 translation by Detlev Blanke is available online.

I’m one of those who has growing doubts about the historicity of Jesus. Maybe there was a Hellenized rabbi who both sought to reform Jewish practice and was executed by the Romans for being a revolutionary, or maybe he’s something of a composite figure. (Not buying the incarnation of a deity.) On the other hand, in a story that’s all about salvation, you have a protagonist whose name is Salvation (Yeshua). That’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it? More and more I find myself doubting that there ever was a “real man that lived and walked the streets of Jerusalem.”
Of Marx, one young man remembered having connected him in current history with “some kind of socialistic movement” and of Zamenhof they knew nothing.
When Mr. Jones wrote this, Zamenhof had been dead for only seven years. He concludes by encouraging “young men and women” to “trace the life of CHRIST, THE MAN though the streets of the towns and hamlets of Palestine,” to “read Carl Marx from beginning to end,”
And of Zamenhof, who was he? This man saw a mixture of racial groups fighting in the streets of Russia because they could not understand each other’s language and made an effort to invent a language that would cement the interest of all human beings.

This language, called Esperanto, may never become the perfect world language, but the spirit of that Russian Jew, to MAKE MEN KNOW AND UNDERSTAND THE COMMON INTERESTS OF EACH OTHER, will live.
Was Mr. Jones an Esperantist? Did he just take Zamenhof as a symbol of peace among men and working for the common good, or did he go so far as to learn the language the ideals of which (called the “interna ideo” by Esperantists) he championed in the pages of the Afro-American? I have to admit to being stumped on biographical details on Mr. Jones. There’s no reference readily found in the Esperanto literature. My assumption was the other sort of biographical data (date of birth, death, and so on) would be readily available, but other than confirming that he was the managing editor of the Afro-American, Ancestry’s databases were of no help (he must be in the census somewhere). For that matter, why isn’t there a biography of this man, other than this brief one written during his life?

Was Mr. Jones an early African-American Esperanto speaker?
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1 comment:

  1. Great article as always.
    Bona artikolo estis ;)


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