Rabbi Ruth Gold
(creator: Athol Dickson)

Athol Dickson
Rabbi Ruth Gold is rabbi at the largest Reform Jewish Temple in New Orleans. She has “short, boyishly cut black hair always casually out of place", large brown eyes, and a faultless olive complexion. Her father had been a rabbi too and it was he who had raised his daughter to love Judaism. She is still single, altrhough a few months before we first meet her she had been proposed to by a Jewish laywer, Steve Cronen, whom she much admired. But her passion for privacy had made her say “Maybe, hoping that would satisfy him now.”

Athol Dickson was born in Oklahoma. When he was three months old, his family settled in Texas, where he lived until his recent move to southern California. He has worked as a newspaper boy, taco bender, clothing salesman, carpenter, bartender, dental instrument maker, architect, and writer. He has been married for over twenty-five years.
During his late teens and early twenties, he lived a hippie life, involving amphetamine addiction, heavy drinking and violence. He turned to Zen Buddhism, but, as he explains on his website, "It was a decision to explore the New Testament and the beautiful narrative he discovered there about love and forgiveness that changed his life. He has been a flawed but committed follower of Jesus Christ ever since."
He wrote his first two novels while practicing architecture as a founding partner in his firm. Then in the mid 1990’s, he began studying the Torah, and, after five years wrote a bestselling memoir, The Gospel According to Moses, which described what the experience taught him about his own religion. Eventually he left architecture to become a full-time writer. His third novel, They Shall See God, is reviewed below. He went on to publish several prizewinning novels.

They Shall See God (2002)
They Shall See God tells how Reform
Rabbi Ruth Gold and lapsed Protestant Kate Flint share a hideous legacy from their childhood: together, when Ruth was only seven, they had stumbled upon a murder scene, then helped incarcerate the man they saw holding a knife by the victim. Now he's been released after 25 years in prison, and a bizarre string of events mimicking stories from the biblical book of Genesis unfolds in present-day New Orleans. Gold's boyfriend is poisoned with cyanide after eating an apple in her living room, a brother is tricked into killing his brother and wild animals are released from the zoo to roam the city. Meanwhile, tension escalates between Gold's Jewish congregation and a group of Christian fanatics who picket the temple and badger the Jewish people to turn to Jesus.

The story jumps around from one person to another as well as from one time to another so can get quite confusing - and this is not helped by the inclusion of many Hebrew and Yiddish terms, although these are often - but not always - explained in a glossary at the end of the book. And sometimes it seems that the author uses quick cutting to be deliberately misleading, but there is no lack of incidents and excitement (as when a whole zoo-full of animals is released into the open and a tiger is left free to roam the park) and the insight into Jewish life and belief is both convincing and revealing.

The relationship between Ruth and her childhood Protestant friend Kate (who, it transpires, had herself had a Jewish husband) is at the heart of the story, which grows increasingly complex and tempestuous, as does the interaction of their respective religious beliefs. So when Ruth tries to persuade Kate to help her catch the murderer, and is at first rebuffed, she soon gets very agitated. Then Kate tells her, “Calm down a little, okay? Maybe in your line of work you come in contact with this kind of thing – "
“What are you saying, Katie?” snapped Ruth. “That I work with murderers because I'm a rabbi?”
“All I meant was – ”
“I know what you meant! People like you have been saying the same thing about people like me for centuries!”
“Ruth, let me explain. I – ”
“No need to explain. I understand completely.” Ruth Gold spun on her heels and marched to the front door, jerking it open. As she was about to exit, she turned back. “At least you didn't tell me some of your best friends are Jews!”
After she slammed the door, the tiny brass bell tinkled for full five seconds as Kate Flint sat motionless on the antique settee, trying to understand what had just happened.”

The author writes about the Jewish experience with considerable sympathy, as when Ruth tells Kate that even Martin Luther had written, “The Jews, being foreigners, should possess nothing, and what they do possess should be ours .... their synagogues should be set on fire .... their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed .... they should be deprived of their prayer books and Talmuds .... their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more .... Passport and travelling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews ...."

Kate replies by telling her that she is not trying to convert her, but “just trying to get you to understand that you can't judge Christianity by what Christians say and do, you have to judge it by what Jesus said and did. Nobody is perfect – religion or no religion. Even Jews do evil things sometimes. Does that mean your religion makes them evil? I mean, I know I'm not exactly perfect. So what? Does that mean I'm not really a Christian? Does it mean Jesus lied? If I'm a bad friend or .... or a bad mother, does that mean God doesn't care about me? If I'm a little selfish now and then, does that .... I mean, if I .... if ....” Kate's voice faded as she inhaled rapidly through her open mouth, tried to catch her breath, trying to cry.
Ruth spoke very softly, “Forgive me if this hits a little close to home, but I have to ask: what good are the things that Jesus said and did if they make no difference in how people live?”

Kate's own faith is at times far from certain and this makes it seem all the more real, as when “for the thousandth time, she wondered, why does God let these things happen?" It is she who eventually realises that the terrible events that are going on are following the stories in Genesis.

Meanwhile the sinister fanatic, Orvis Newton, is ever ready to strike. Whenever he felt the old familiar rage, “he tried to focus on his Bible" and so “felt renewed commitment God's plan". It is a frightening portrayal of a murdering bigot.

At the very end Ruth adds this Christian inscription to her mother's tombstone: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. It makes a fitting message of hope and reconciliation, and this is surely the main achievement of the book.


The author has his own website, including his blog, and there is a brief (written) interview with him on the Inspys site.




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They Shall See God cover
The cover is simple, yet the storytelling style is sophisticated - but its plea for Christian-Jewish understanding certainly comes across.
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