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The Terrible Beauty of the Evil Man

The evangelist who converted

    Finis Leavell Beauchamp,
    Kodesh Press, £8.29pb

    In this ambitious autobiography, the author documents his transition from fundamentalist Christianity to his conversion to Judaism, written as a combination of numbered passages and thoughtful poetry.

    Although this is Beauchamp's first book, it evinces a rare maturity and was a pleasure to read, if a little long; some excursions from the main narrative, such as his views on Kant, enhance the message, while others feel too exhaustive and somewhat self-indulgent.

    Beauchamp hails from one of the US's most influential evangelical families, who considered him so "evil" that they subjected him to a series of exorcisms and other abuse and eventually disowned him. This is all described in eye-watering detail, as are his teenage sexual adventures, one of which landed him in prison.

    Beauchamp's interest in Judaism and his path to conversion occupy a third of the work. His descriptions of his encounters with Jews and communities are irreverent and absorbing. Three particular episodes stand out. The story of how he ended up unwittingly on a gay date when searching for a Jewish mentor was amusing and his description of meeting Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt, a great halachist, memorable. And Beauchamp's account of his first visit to a shul is a delight: his early arrival to an empty sanctuary; the man shockelling whom he assumed was mentally ill; the conversations about "mundane matters" which no-one found unusual.

    It's an unusual example of a familiar narrative - Christian becomes Jew - and the best I've seen of the genre.

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