Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Good reads: Making a home for Jews in the Holy Land


"The Double Life of Laurence Oliphant," by Bart Casey

This book is the improbable tale of a Victorian young man who abandoned a glittering career as an author, war correspondent, diplomat and Member of Parliament to embark on a quest to understand the true meaning of life by finding God and the angels in heaven.

He believed he succeeded in that mission, together with his beautiful young wife, British heiress Alice le Strange, first by pledging his fortune and subservience to a hypnotic prophet from America named Thomas Lake Harris, and then by striking out on their own to carry on the Lord's work by establishing a homeland in Palestine for the displaced Jews fleeing persecution in the 1880s.

Motivating the entire quest was the certain conviction that there was a real God with angels in heaven who were ready to help mankind live in harmony with the spirit world, just as we had before the Fall of Adam and Eve in Eden.

Alice was a young British woman in her 20s, living in Paris, when she met Laurence. He was her next door neighbor and the chief correspondent for The Times of London covering the siege of Paris and the bloody aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war with its barricade- fighting in the streets of Paris between forces loyal to the defeated emperor Louis Napoleon and citizens intent on a new regime.

Laurence was older and dodging bullets in doorways as he filed his stories for his newspaper. They fell deeply in love. Together they gave up their fortunes and free will to embark on a spiritual quest to find the real meaning of life under the guidance of the despotic cult leader Thomas Lake Harris at his commune in America.

Harris cobbled together revelations he imagined were from spirits in Heaven planning for the Second Coming of Christ when they would return to earth and live together with the chosen.

After 14 years, Laurence and Alice broke with Harris who they believed had become a false prophet in love with sex, money and power. With the backing of the British government and Jewish leaders across Europe, they devoted their final years to easing the suffering of Jewish refugees by establishing a home for them in the Holy Land.


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