Joy: Jewish, Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis

21 Feb Joy: Jewish, Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis


Joy Davidman was the wife of C. S. Lewis. Their marriage was memorialized in the film Shadowlands and Lewis’s memoir, A Grief Observed.  Davidman was a poet and radical and an active member of New York literary circles in the 1930s and 40s. After growing up Jewish in the Bronx, she became an atheist, then a practitioner of Dianetics. She eventually became a believer in Jesus. She was known as an animated, demanding and intelligent woman. Davidman was the scholarly and spiritual partner of CS Lewis.

“In a sense, the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world…”

These words were written by CS Lewis in the introduction to Davidman’s book, Smoke on the Mountain. I was captivated. Lewis went on to say, in speaking about Jewish people:

“… to him, in the first instance, the promises were made, and he has availed himself of them. He calls Abraham his father by hereditary right as well as by divine courtesy. He has taken the whole syllabus in order, as it was set; eaten the dinner according to the menu. Everyone else is, from one point of view, a special case, dealt with under emergency regulations. To us Christians the unconverted Jew (I mean no offense) must appear as a Christian manqué; someone very carefully prepared for a certain destiny and then missing it. And we ourselves, we christened gentiles, are after all the graft, the wild vine, possessing ‘joys not promised to our birth’; though perhaps we do not think of this so often as we might. And when the Jew does come in, he brings with him into the fold dispositions different from, and complementary of ours.”

I wanted to know more about Davidman’s own Jewish identity, but there is very little about how Joy came to terms with her Jewishness after believing in Jesus. In Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis, Abigail Santamaria writes:  “Joy had no intention of becoming a Christian. For one thing, the idea of it was excessively uncomfortable, given her heritage. ‘The Jew who enters Christianity is always haunted by ghosts,’ she would write years later. ‘Voices out of his past assure him that he is making a fool of himself, betraying his traditions and his ancestry; he must keep arguing constantly, defending the truth of his new faith against the jeering shadows in his mind.’ Yet Lewis earned her trust, and she wanted to learn from his theist perspective.

She began to use Lewis’ books as ‘constant reference points.’ She said that ‘Lewis’s clear and vivid statement of Christian principles served as a standard by which to measure the other religions we studied.’ When she became a Jewish believer in Jesus in 1946 she said “I must have been the world’s most astonished atheist.”

Her biographer mentions that Joy was asked to speak at a London church about being a Jewish believer. It would be very interesting to read what she said at that church. But the book does not include it and I cannot find it. I have written to two of Joy’s biographers in the hope of finding the transcript. One told me that he fears it has not survived. I’m still looking for that message as Davidman continues to inspire me with her wit and intelligence. I encourage you to read her poetry and books and her biographies.


Written by Andrew Barron, Director of Jews for Jesus Canada.
Email him at [email protected]. You can also suggest topics for future blog posts.

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