Friday, July 13, 2012

Noted Review: Novels on the Ancient World




Murphy, Paul. The Thirteenth Apostle: A Novel. Mobile, AL/Southport, NC: Evergreen Press, 2004. 216 Pages. Paper with CD-Rom curriculum guide. (Two copies received.) $11.99. (N)


Bond, Douglas. Hostage Lands. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2006. 235 Pages. Paper. $11.99. (N)



Two short novels incorporate fact and imaginative fiction in this review.




About "The 13th Apostle"

A mixture of fiction and Biblical fact, The 13th Apostle adheres strictly to the story of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection as depicted in the first five books of the New Testament. It is a tale of excitement, adventure, and miracles that is entertaining, educational, and inspirational.

Set amidst the political and historical turmoil of 33 A. D. in the city of Jerusalem, The 13th Apostle portrays events through the eyes of an orphaned street beggar who is shunned by mainstream society because of his epilepsy. Schooled in Judaism by a kindly old baker named Isaac who later adopts him and his younger friend Aaron, the boy embraces the teachings of Jesus, whom he believes to be the true Messiah; and his ability to apply Jesus' parables to the problems of everyday life earns him the respect of his community. As he helps others, Gamaliel dreams of meeting Jesus face to face.

Tensions run high as word spreads that Jesus and His followers will be among those coming from all over the world to celebrate Passover. Learning the religious leaders, spurred by rumors that Jesus wished to establish a New Kingdom and determined not to allow Him to usurp their authority, are scheming against Jesus, Gamaliel tries to think of some way to warn Him.

The intrigue, suspense, and barriers that keep Gamaliel from alerting Jesus to the dangers He is facing engage the reader in a provocative story about a young boy's dream of meeting Jesus.
(Author's website)

Our copies of the book came with a CD-ROM with curriculum guide for the Christian day school teacher. It comes with age-appropriate and subject-specific recommendations for tying the novel to a school curriculum.


I found the plot plausible. Had I the opportunity to give input before the book's initial release, I might have recommended a rewrite to reset the timing of Gamaliel's interaction with the apostles to after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.


That said, I beg the author's indulgence as to why this review was so long delayed. My pastoral and school duties had to take precedence over book reviews while I was wrestling with a medical issue. Then, I had surgery. As I have recovered over these summer months, I've had time to catch up on book reviews. And to rethink what I should say.


"And a little child shall lead them." Isaiah 11:6 came to my attention as our summer congregational "Jesus in the Book of Isaiah" Bible study has influenced by Bible reading and pastoral preparation these recent months.


"And a little child shall lead them."I think that's this author's point (in addition to the Lord's and Isaiah's reference to Jesus, Isaiah 9:6). Gamaliel's faith, trust, and leadership puts the grown-ups to shame. 


I welcome a sequel. How's that for encouragement, Paul Murphy?




Join Neil Perkins, Latin student at Haltwhistle Grammar School in England, as he uncovers a story of usurpation, treachery, and betrayal. After unearthing an ancient Roman manuscript, Neil dedicates himself to studying Latin and translates this exciting story from the third century . . .

Disaffected centurion Rusticus serves Rome at Hadrian's Wall, an unruly frontier. He is saved from massacre by Calum, a Celt who was deeply changed when he saw Christians martyred in the Roman Colosseum.

Readers will learn the differences between ancient paganism and the primal Christian faith practiced in third-century Britain by only a remnant. They, along with Neil, will begin a more thoughtful approach to life as they reckon with all they have learned. 

(Publisher's website)

We have already added Hostage Lands to our reading list at our Classical Lutheran Grammar school. Douglas Bond is a gifted author.


What a fun read! I loved the adventure, kept guessing at what would happen next, wondered at how Neil's story would end, and overtaxed my Latin skills.


This will be a wonderful book to add to your summer reading list (or school year curriculum).




I am wary about trends I see in Christian fiction today. 


It seems to me that publishers are putting out more books about historical events than books that provide ancient or modern texts (Tacitus, The Declaration of Independence, etc.). Classical education desires to put primary texts in the hands of our teachers and students. Related to this was the downplay of "great men" and "great events" in the history department of my university in favor of narrative history of common people. I left my math and history double major after receiving my Bachelor's Degree to go to seminary largely because Jesus was so left out of HIStory.


Further, I wonder at the long-term wisdom of creating new fiction designed for young people with young people as the main characters. Song for worship has been made supposedly "kid friendly" in recent centuries. I see that as an historical and long-term danger, for too many children grew out of "cotton candy" song and fell away from the Church rather than having their theological diet enriched by the best Christian psalmody, hymnody, and canticles sung everywhere and always by Christians young and old.


I like and will use both books at our school, a statement intended as high praise and encouragement to both authors and our readers.


The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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