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Vilde as the constructor of Maltsevism



This study proves, more than ever, that in addition to Joosep Freimann’s and Gustav Malts’ manuscripts as well as articles critical of Maltsevism, which appeared in the newspaper „Perno Postimees”, important material for constructing Maltsevism was acquired by borrowing the term „re-born” from Free Church and Baptist spirituality. Eduard Vilde investigated the spirituality of the Free and Baptist congregations born in Estonia in the 1880s, trying to discover the basic pattern of spirituality of the Maltsevians formed in the late 1850s. However, the construction of a picture of Maltsevism with „re-birth”, practice of rebaptism and an independent practice of the Lord’s Supper, is not authentic because these three terms came into use only in the early 1880s among the Free Believers movement and the Baptist congregations that separated from them. As appears from various records, the image of the „White Ship” was neither a product of Maltsvet’s nor his assistant-prophet Miina Renning’s (prototype of the Miina Reining of the novel) fantasy. It was a result, perhaps, of the imagination of a Maltsevian who has remained anonymous or even of the mockery of the movement which circulated in newspapers since June 1861. Vilde’s novel branded this image in people’s minds as well as in literature. The authenticity of this powerful belief was never doubted by the religious historian Uku Masing, who thence derived the paranoia religiosa found in the Estonian history of religion as a spiritual symbol of our entire people. A closer look at Juhan Leinberg’s (resp. Maltsvet’s) historical-folkloristic descriptions of conversion provides a vivid evidence that anything of revolutionary importance is typically placed in the sphere of dreams and angels, thus leading one to conclude that Biblical influence has been at work in its formation. Thus, Vilde’s novel saved from oblivion the folklore created around Maltsvet. In conclusion, although Vilde collected material from oral sources and documented material about Maltsvet as well as the movement inspired by him, his novel does not describe the historical person or movement; rather, he illustrates a Marxistic theory of religion where religious movements are born as a result of socio-economic factors. „The Prophet Maltsvet” can truly be called a description of the Estonian history of oppression.