Mark Twain’s Land of Israel

January 15, 2020 | Diane Cole
About the author: Diane Cole is the author of the memoir After Great Pain: A New Life Emerges. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street JournalNPR online, and elsewhere, and she serves as the books columnist for Psychotherapy Networker.

Published in 1869, Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad was the book that launched him to literary stardom. It is based on the dispatches he wrote from a steamship tour that took him to various Mediterranean and Black Sea ports of call, including Jaffa and Jerusalem. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Innocents Abroad, the New-York Historical Association has mounted an exhibit on Twain’s visit to the Holy Land, where, writes Diane Cole, he found his tour’s “main attraction”:

Throughout the trip, Twain highlighted the disparity between the desire of his guidebook-led companions to see what they had been promised and the reality of what was actually in front of them. The contrast reached its peak once they arrived in the Holy Land. “I must studiously and faithfully unlearn a great many things I have somehow absorbed concerning Palestine,” he commented, beginning with the reality of the relatively small size of the local grapes he saw, as opposed to the enormous vines portrayed in his favorite Bible-story illustrations.

Similarly, Jerusalem itself seemed “[s]o small! Why, it was no larger than an American village of four thousand inhabitants,” he wrote.

But beyond Twain’s 1867 [visit to the Holy Land] . . . it was his later travels to Europe in the 1890s that brought to the fore his rejection of anti-Semitism. In Paris, he was shocked by the visceral anti-Semitism exhibited in the Dreyfus affair. Visiting Vienna, he was condemned by the increasingly anti-Semitic press there for meeting with leading Jewish intellectuals such as Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl.

Read more on Jewish Review of Books: