A Jew Finds The True Messiah
Irving H. Cohen
Born an orthodox Jew, Irving Cohen was converted to the gospel with the help of a fellow officer while serving with the armed forces in Korea. This involved his making a radical change in the attitudes and understandings that were a part of his traditional background. Both as stake missionary and high councilor he has continued to bear a fervent testimony on all possible occasions and this has resulted in many other conversions to the gospel.
A dentist by profession, Irving Cohen lives in Schenectady, New York. He here gives the moving story of how he found the true Jewish Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ, and of some of the trials and joys this discovery brought him.
I was born into an orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. My parents had five children. I was their third child and first son. Like so many of the Jewish boys at the time, I attended Hebrew school and was prepared for my bar-mitzvah—the ceremony held for a Jewish boy when he reaches the age of thirteen and is considered a man by the Jewish community and he can then stand before the congregation and say certain prayers.
Right after my bar-mitzvah, as I continued to have my Hebrew lessons, I asked my rabbi: "Why is it that the Jewish people haven't had a prophet for two thousand five hundred years? I don't expect a hundred prophets, maybe not even ten prophets. But I do expect one prophet. Surely there must be one Jew somewhere who is worthy to be a 'nauvey' (prophet)!"
My rabbi could only shrug his shoulders at the question. I then took the problem to my wonderful father and he, too, could not answer the question. All the evidence for the fact that there would be no more prophets referred to the words of a Psalm (22:1): "Eli, Eli." "Eli, Eli" has the ring and cry of how the Jewish people have fallen away from God's graces and how they have been persecuted, burned, and spat upon throughout the ages, and how they yearn to be back again as God's chosen people.
I entered college a few years after my bar-mitzvah, and one of my classes was a course in philosophy. All term long we argued, "Is there or isn't there a God?" At the end of the term, each person in the class was required to write a thesis. My thesis was that God once lived but had died. I reasoned in this way: Supposing a great architect constructs a building. The building stands five hundred years, but the man who created it, the architect, dies at the age of one hundred. Somebody else comes along two hundred years later and discovers the building. In studying it he realizes that it took an intelligence to create the building. Similarly, I realized that it took an intelligence to create the world. But since the Jewish people haven't had a prophet for two thousand five hundred years and the Christian people basically can't claim a prophet for almost two thousand years, and since the world is in a horrible condition, the God who created this world must have gone off and died. I was sure that if he still had control over it, he wouldn't let it be in its present state.
So much for my philosophy! But as the years went by I tried, at least, to do the right thing by my fellowmen.
In the course of time I became a dentist. In 1953 I received a call to serve my country and I complied gladly. I was made acting company commander for one hundred dentists at Fort Sam Houston. My platoon leader, a dentist from Phoenix, Arizona, named Junius Gibbons, was somehow different from anybody else around him. Here were ninety-nine other dentists, and this one young dentist stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Not that he was taller; but his character shone forth. I said to myself, "This guy is different, and I want to get to know him so I can see what makes him tick." Later on he told me that he had had similar thoughts about me and had watched for the opportunity to approach me.
One day we were waiting to be interviewed by the commanding general, and Dr. Gibbons said to me, "Captain, what religion do you profess?"
I said, "I don't profess any religion; however, I am not ashamed to say that I am of Jewish background. But I don't believe in Judaism. I have searched Christianity and I don't believe in Christianity either—not the Christianity that I've found. I have also studied the other religions of the world, and I have come to the conclusion that religion is a man-made situation. If I'm going to be religious, it is not going to be in a man-made religion. I want to find God and worship in his religion, if there be such a thing."
He took me by the hand and said, "I'm a fellow Israelite."
I said, "You mean you're a Jew?"
He said, "No, no. If you are a Jew, you are probably of the tribe of Judah, and I'm of the tribe of Joseph. These are two tribes within the House of Israel." He continued to pump my hand.
He stunned me by that remark. I went home, and I said, "You know, I met a fellow who claims he is of the house of Israel, and he is not Jewish. How do you account for that?"
"Oh, don't pay any attention to him," was the reply. "Everybody is trying to get into the act!"
But I asked myself right then and there: "Does Gibbons know something that I don't know?"
Junius Gibbons and I were among those assigned to the Far East theater of operations, the Korean conflict, and we met next at Ft. Lewis, Washington. I saw him at breakfast. We were confined to the base, because we were leaving within twenty-four hours.
I said to him, "I'd like to hear more about what you have to say about the Israelites, the Jews, and the tribe of Joseph."
He was very anxious to help me. He said, "Fine. After breakfast let's find a little quiet place where we'll have some privacy, and we'll go over some of the Bible."
After we found our spot, Dr. Gibbons told me, among other things, that he had another book, similar to the Bible, called the Book of Mormon, and that he believed that book to be scripture also. And he told me a little about the origin of the book.
I said, "You mean to tell me that you had a prophet by the name of Joseph Smith, and he had the courage, the temerity, and the audacity to write these things in a book?"
"Joseph Smith didn't write them, he only translated them," he replied. "But here's the book."
I said, "You know, I'd like to have a copy of that book."
"I'll give it to you on one condition…"
"Okay," I said, and I reached for my wallet.
"No, no. That's not the condition," my friend Gibbons said, handing me the book. "Just promise me you'll read it."
I made the promise. By this time it must have been about one o'clock in the morning. My plane took off about 3 a.m., so I said goodbye to Dr. Gibbons and, taking his book, I went off for Japan on the way to Korea.
When I arrived in Korea, I didn't feel that I wanted to do what the other officers were doing—gambling, drinking, carousing. I had this book, the Book of Mormon. Reading it was worthwhile to me, but I was not about to believe that it came from the source it claimed. I thought I could disprove it by finding obvious errors, so I spent my time reading.
As I read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover, there were parts that I didn't absorb too much. I decided I'd better compare it with the Bible, so I asked one of my chaplain friends for a Bible, which he gave to me.
Now I read through the Old and New Testaments for the first time in my adult life. I was looking for errors, for contradictions between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I couldn't find any the first time through, so I knew I'd just have to try harder. I read the Book of Mormon for the second time, and this time I began to understand a little more about what was going on. Then I decided I had better read the Bible through again, and this I did, from cover to cover, for the second time. And then I went back to the Book of Mormon for a third time, and within the last chapter I read this:
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that you should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord has been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that you shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
Obviously that is written for a Christian. Here I am, Jewish. So I would like to reword verses 4 and 5 for my Jewish readers.
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that you would ask God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the name of the Messiah, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in the Messiah, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Ruach Elohim (literally translated, 'the Spirit of God,' and in Christian terminology, 'the Holy Ghost'). And by the power of the Ruach Elohim (or the Spirit of God, or the Holy Ghost) you may know the truth of all things."
This hit me, and I said, "If this is a book of God, then Irving Cohen is entitled to a revelation." But I had two problems.
Problem No. 1: The book said I had to ask in the name of Jesus Christ, and I didn't know whether or not Jesus Christ was the Messiah.
Problem No. 2: I could say a prayer for bread, a prayer for food, but there was no prayer in Hebrew covering the Book of Mormon. I was stuck!
At this time I was the regimental dental surgeon. My regiment had been moved down to the Isle of Koji where we were guarding the prisoners picked up on the 38th parallel. For some reason a great many operations were coming up and I didn't have enough supplies. I went to my colonel, and I said, "I need supplies desperately. I have a friend over in Pusan (on the southernmost tip of Korea), and if you will give me a three-day pass, I will get my supplies." He granted me permission for a three-day leave.
At Pusan, I went to see my friend, Junius Gibbons. He gave me my supplies and asked me, "By the way, did you keep your promise?"
"Yes, I did," I replied proudly. "I read it three times, not once." And then I told him about my two problems.
He said, "All right, Irving, I'll tell you what we'll do. Let's go through the Old Testament, the book of your people, and cover all of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, and then see where we go from there."
The Old Testament is a record of my ancestors, and the Jews still believe in the coming of the Messiah, so I agreed. We began with Deuteronomy chapter 8, verses 15 and 18; then we read from the Prophets, and finally we came to the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. I am going to change some of the words here again; I'm not going to take any of them out, but I am going to add a few words for clarity. Since the Old Testament is the book of the Jews, wherever it says "we" or "us," it means the Jews; wherever it reads "he" or "him," it refers to the Messiah.
"Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he [the Messiah] shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he [the Messiah] hath no form nor comeliness; and when we [the Jews] shall see him, there is no beauty that we [the Jews] should desire him.
"He [the Messiah] is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we [the Jews] hid as it were our faces from him; he [the Messiah] was despised, and we [the Jews] esteemed him not.
"Surely he [the Messiah] hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we [the Jews] did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
"But he [the Messiah] was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we [the Jews] are healed.
"All we [the Jews] like sheep have gone astray; we [the Jews] have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him [the Messiah] the iniquity of us all.
"He [the Messiah] was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he [the Messiah] is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he [the Messiah] openeth not his mouth.
"He [the Messiah] was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he [the Messiah] was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people [the Jews] was he stricken."
As we arrived at about this point in the Old Testament it seemed to me that a brilliant light started to come into the room where we were. I am not able to explain how it happened; all I know is that it did happen. And with this light came the Ruach Elohim, or the Spirit of God. Something leaped inside of me, causing me to jump up, and I shouted to my friend, Junius, "I've got it! I've got it!"
He asked, "What have you got?"
"I know now that Jesus is the Messiah!"
I found myself sobbing with joy and relief, and, for a few minutes we were silent. My mind raced. "Why do the Jews not believe in Jesus as the Messiah?" I asked myself. Because they are taught this idea by their parents. Were their parents there at the time? No. How did they know what was right and what was wrong? They failed to believe because they were also taught not to believe. Were their grandparents there? No. But because somebody made a mistake two thousand years ago, do I have to close my eyes and make the same mistake? In college I had always been taught to recognize truth. My parents had always taught me to be truthful and to defend truth. If God reveals to me that Jesus is the Messiah, am I supposed to close my eyes and go along the wrong path just to be agreeable with my mistaken ancestors? NO!
In New Testament times the original followers of Christ were all Jews. They could be compared to the radical element, while those who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah remained the [p.63] conservatives. As the years went by, those who accepted Christ became known by the new name, "Christians." The conservatives kept the old identification, Jews. But both of these groups had originally been Jews. And if one of my "Conservative" ancestors two thousand years ago could not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, then do all of his descendants have to follow that same tradition? Suppose Jesus is the Messiah. The question is, are we, the Jews of this generation, going to be big enough to accept him?
The Jewish people have an expression which they use in the synagogue: "Vawohovtah adonoi eloechchaw, becall levovchaw, vebecall nafshechaw, becall moadechaw," which in English means: "Love the Lord with all thy heart, with all thy might, with all thy mind, and with all thy soul."
Now that I knew that Jesus was the Messiah, I did love him with all my heart and soul, and with this love, the Ruach Elohim bore testimony to me (and still does) that indeed the Messiah is Jesus Christ. But I still didn't know how to pray. So Junius said to me, "If you want to pray, you begin by getting down on your knees."
"Just a minute. I'm a Jew, and Jews never get on their knees, not even on the Day of Atonement."
"But," he said, "if it's good enough for a prophet, it's good enough for Irving Cohen. Right? The Old Testament tells us that Daniel 'kneeled upon his knees…and prayed, and gave thanks before his God…,' even after King Darius had decreed that anyone who did so would be cast into a den of lions." (Daniel 6:10.)
And I agreed that if it were good enough for a prophet, it should be good enough for Irving Cohen. So Irving Cohen got down on his knees.
Then Junius said, "And when you pray, address the one to whom you are praying; after all, God is your Father."
The Jewish people pray "Auvenu Malkaynu," a chant meaning "Our Father, our King." "God is our Father," I thought, "and what righteous father doesn't want to hear his child talk to him directly?"
Junius said, "You address your Father in heaven." And then he taught me something—something I had never known before. He said, "You have to thank God for what you already have, because unless you appreciate what you already have, why should God give you anything more? See, he'd be spoiling you." (A wise parent doesn't want to spoil his child.)
It was at that time that I started to appreciate my blessings, which I had never done so fully before; I had not been properly aware of them. Junius said, "If you appreciate your blessings, you are in a position to ask for more, as long as it is done in righteousness. So then you ask whether or not this Book of Mormon is true; and then do it in the name of Jesus, the Messiah, Amen."
I said good night to my buddy, went into my own room, and then for the first time in my life—alone, by myself—I went down on my knees, and I made a prayer something like this: "Oh God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, forgive me for not knowing better in my youth. I am only interested in doing the right thing now. I don't want a man-made religion. I want a God-made religion. So I'll make you a proposition: If you will show me that this Book of Mormon is true and that the Mormon religion is your religion upon the earth, I'll take every opportunity to teach this to others. On the other hand, if this Book of Mormon is a false book, and you reveal this to me, I'll expose these Mormons as a bunch of frauds up and down the earth. And I say this in the name of Jesus, my Messiah. Amen."
I don't just believe the Book of Mormon is true; I know it. It was shown to me that night that God lives; that Jesus is the Messiah; that there are entities called angels; that there are prophets upon the earth restored to the house of Israel—not just to the Jews, but to the rest of the tribes of Israel as well.
The Book of Mormon, from the tribe of Joseph, is another record equal to the Bible, which is from the tribe of Judah. Now I understood what Ezekiel meant when he wrote:
The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions; And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.
In Ezekiel's days they didn't have books. Instead they took a piece of parchment, wrote on it, and wrapped it around a stick, and this they called a "stick." The stick of Judah which Ezekiel mentions is the Bible, written principally by Jews, descendants of Judah the son of Jacob. The stick of Joseph is the Book of Mormon, written by descendants of Judah's brother, Joseph, in America.
As soon as I knew the Book of Mormon to be truly a book of God, I immediately knew that there were troubled days ahead. Nevertheless, I had to keep my promise. That meant joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and devoting my life to telling others about the gospel.
Upon being released from the service, I finally returned to my home in Brooklyn, New York, where my Jewish wife gave me an ultimatum: "Either give up your Christian Mormon nonsense, or give me a divorce."
I didn't want my wife to divorce me, and I didn't want to lose my infant daughter. I also did not want to go contrary to God's will. I realized that I was in a real dilemma. What was I to do?
Then the thought came that I should follow the same pattern that I had learned. "Ask and it shall be given." I went to my knees and asked Heavenly Father what to do. I needed guidance. As I was thus in prayer, it seemed that a distinct voice began to speak to me, and with it came the power of the Ruach Elohim or Holy Ghost.
I immediately picked up a pencil and began to write that which I heard. It is recorded as follows:
"My son, when I created this earth and put the human family upon it, I did so upon the principle of free agency. Therefore, if your wife insists upon exercising her right to do so, don't attempt to prevent her. However, let the record show that she obtained the divorce.
"Further, whatever you give up in my behalf I will return it upon your head, seven-fold. Since you will lose your little girl, the future will return seven for one.
"I, the Lord God, further promise you, that upon reaching the age of maturity, your daughter will leave her mother and come and join her father."
Well, the years passed, and during that time my Jewish wife did obtain the divorce, and I remarried. This new union has now produced the seven children which were promised—plus one more. And after sixteen and one-half years of separation, my daughter came to me in July, 1970.
I bear my testimony that the Book of Mormon is true, that God lives, and that he will answer the prayers of anyone, provided that that person wants to do his will-not seventy per cent of his will, not eighty per cent of his will, not even ninety per cent of his will, but one hundred per cent of his will. This is the prerequisite for us as it was for Moses. If you are willing to do his will one hundred per cent, you are entitled to receive an answer to your prayers, just as I did and still do. For this I am humbly grateful. This testimony I bear in the name of Jesus, your Messiah and my Messiah. Amen.
Hartman and Connie Rector, No More Strangers, Vol 1 p. 56