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ArabicI.P. Friesen

Meine Reise nach Palästina

My family name is Friesen, which is a common Mennonite name. My mother was also a Friesen, and my mother’s father was Isaac P. Friesen. Isaac died in 1952, before I was born, so I had no chance to meet him personally.

In 1910, Isaac took a three-month tour of Europe. He went by train from his home in Saskatchewan to New York, where he joined a Mediterranean cruise on the S.S. Arabic, a ship of the White Star line. The Arabic was launched in 1903 and sunk in 1915 by a German U-boat. The ship stopped at Madiera, Spain, Gibraltar, Algiers, Malta, Greece, Constantinople, Beirut, Jaffa, Alexandria, Naples, and Nice. From Nice, passengers had the opportunity to travel across Europe by train and catch any White Star line ship back to New York from Liverpool, which my grandfather did. There is an interesting historical twist to this because Isaac wanted to travel on the Titanic on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, and his ticket would have allowed him to do so. However, the Titanic was not yet finished. She took her fateful maiden voyage in April 1912, while my grandfather returned from his European trip in April 1910, on the RMS Baltic.

My grandfather wrote a book about his trip, entitled Meine Reise nach Palästina (My Journey to Palestine). ¼ of the book describes Isaac’s time in Palestine, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. (The modern state of Israel was founded in 1948.) This book is especially interesting because Isaac took his trip during a window of time when modern technology coexisted with monarchy and medieval society. On the one hand, Isaac traveled as a modern tourist on a comfortable ship that was equipped with the brand-new invention of wireless telegraphy (it cost $2 to send 10 words to shore). On the other hand, the Ottoman Empire that Isaac visited was a historical relic of the medieval mindset. Isaac was able to take photographs of his trip and travel to most locations by train, but when there was no train, then the only alternative was horse and buggy, and Isaac repeatedly mentions the camel caravans and overloaded donkeys that he sees carrying goods and people in what he calls 'the Orient'. This juxtaposition of old society and new technology came crashing to the ground four years later when the first world war began, and four monarchial empires came to an end in this war: the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German Reich, and the Russian Empire. (I examine this juxtaposition from a cognitive perspective in the book Natural Cognitive Theology.)

Isaac’s book is out-of-print. It was also printed in the dreadful Fraktur font, which was designed to look German rather than be legible. I found a program that is capable of recognizing this font and have uploaded a digital version of the book.

The relevant links are:

Meine Reise nach Palästina in the original German.

A Google translation into English of Meine Reise nach Palästina.

A diary written in English by a lady who took the same Mediterranean cruise as Isaac on the same ship two years earlier in 1908.

Isaac’s Canadian passport for the trip. This was a single large sheet of parchment paper with a wax seal: Smaller Picture, Larger Picture.

A scan of a nine page book of color photographs and dried flowers that Isaac brought back as a souvenir, portraying Palestine at that time: cover, page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6, page 7, page 8, page 9.

Some luggage stickers that Isaac kept from his trip as souvenirs: Damascus, Luzerne, Nice, Jerusalem, Rome, Cairo, Luxor, Athens.

A menu from the S.S. Baltic, the ship on which he returned from Europe: cover, menu.


My cousin J. Glenn Friesen has a website on I.P. Friesen that is highly critical of what he calls the “dark side to the fundamentalist evangelical religion that I.P. Friesen substituted for Mennonite teachings.” Glenn adds that “Healthy-minded individuals are ‘once-born’ in contrast to the ‘twice-born’ religion of the morbid-minded” and Glenn’s website “centers on the religious conflicts of I.P. Friesen, and the long shadow that he cast on his family. He certainly tended towards the morbid side that emphasized the evil in the world and the continual need for conversion and forgiveness.”

I suggest that Glenn is confusing the message of personal rebirth with the attitude of fundamentalism. The attitude of fundamentalism feels that following God means denying self, suppressing physical pleasure, and preaching the message of the Bible. This type of ‘morbid’ attitude has motivated most Christian missionary activity over the centuries, and it probably colored the thinking of I.P. Friesen. One is reminded of the little child who thought that the donkey must be a good Christian because he has such a long face.

I mentioned that Isaac visited Palestine during a time when monarchy coexisted with modern technology. The scientific revolution had transformed the way people thought about the physical world, the Industrial Revolution had transformed the way people interacted with the physical world, and the consumer revolution which began in about the 1880s was transforming the way that people experienced the physical world. However, the subjective realm of social interaction, political power, culture, and religion remained untransformed. This combination led to the apocalypse of World War I. Governments demanded absolute obedience to God and country from their citizens—as they had always done. But modern technology now made it possible to kill people with a ferocity and efficiency that had never been possible before.

I.P. Friesen was an evangelist who preached a Christian message of personal transformation through being ‘born again’. I suggest that such a message has to be preached, because the trench warfare of World War I shows the hell on earth that results when thinking and doing are transformed through science and technology while feeling and personal identity remain bound by traditional culture and religion.

One of the primary goals of my research is to preserve the message of personal transformation while transcending the attitude of fundamentalism. Glenn, in contrast, has responded to I.P. Friesen by replacing the message of personal transformation with the philosophy and mysticism of Dooyeweerd. Glenn is an authority on Dooyeweerd, and I have written an essay on Glenn’s extensive and well-researched discussion of Dooyeweerd. In brief, I suggest that Glenn’s response ends up exacerbating the underlying problem. The tragedy of World War I occurred because people’s heads had embraced rational thought while their hearts were still being driven by childish emotions of tribalism and hero-worship. Philosophers such as Dooyeweerd turn this mental split into a system of religion, by insisting that all rational thought is ultimately held together by an irrational core (such as Dooyeweerd’s ‘supratemporal heart’) that transcends rational thought and moral content.