The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare takes place during the time Christ lived in Israel. Daniel bar Jamin is a young Jewish man fueled by one passion: vengeance against the hated Romans. They had crucified his father and uncle when Daniel was eight, his mother died of grief, and his sister, who saw the bodies on the crosses when she was three, was so traumatized that she became excessively fearful and has never left the house since. Daniel’s grandmother took the children in, but she was so poor that she had to sell Daniel to a blacksmith as an apprentice. Daniel’s master was so cruel that Daniel escaped to the hills, where he was taken in by a band of outlaw freedom fighters.
One day Daniel, now a young man, spies another young man and his sister exploring the hills and realizes he uses to know the other young man, Joel. Though it’s not wise or safe, Daniel feels compelled to speak to them. They get reacquainted and wonder whether the freedom fighter’s leader, Rosh, could possibly be the deliverer, the Messiah they wait for. Joel wants to join Rosh’s band, so Rosh tells him to go back to town and wait, and he’ll send him word when it’s time.
Eventually Daniel’s friend, Simon the Zealot, sends word to Daniel that his grandmother is dying. As his sister, Leah’s, only living relative, Daniel feels compelled to go back and care for her, though Rosh calls him “soft.” Simon offers Daniel his blacksmith’s shop since Simon is following Jesus and not using it. Daniel finds that most people in the village, though they don’t like Roman rule, aren’t willing to fight against it. Though homesick for the free air and space of the hills, Daniel recruits Joel and other boys to a band to train to help Rosh when the time comes.
As Daniel hears of Jesus from Simon and Joel, goes to listen to his teaching, and witnesses healings, he can’t help but wonder about him and ponder his words. He wishes Jesus would team up with Rosh. But eventually he realizes Jesus’s deliverance is not so much from Roman oppression, his message is not about revenge, hatred, and war: in fact, he tells people to love their enemies. That Daniel cannot acquiesce to, so he goes his own way, which eventually leads to disaster and despair. Will Daniels’s hate destroy everything dear to him, or will his hitting rock bottom finally allow him to look up?
“Daniel,” he said. “I would have you follow me.”
“Master!….I will fight for you to the end!.”
“My loyal friend,” he said, “I would ask something much harder than that. Would you love for me to the end?”
It is the hate that is the enemy. Not men. Hate does not die with killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger than hate is love.
I came across this book while searching for an award-winning classic for the Back to the Classics challenge, and this won the Newberry medal. I was resistant to reading it, both because I figured it would be predictable and I am wary of fictionalized Bible-related stories. I chose another classic but had to lay it aside due to bad language and couldn’t find anything else, so I came back to The Bronze Bow. And I was pleasantly surprised! Though one event happened like I thought it might, the rest of the story didn’t pan out like I thought it would at all, and I was drawn in to Daniel’s story and angst. I listened to the audiobook nicely narrated by Peter Bradbury, but also checked out the hard copy from the library to go over certain passages more in depth.
I wouldn’t take my theology from this book. There are conversations and incidents involving Jesus that may not represent Him or His message entirely accurately, and the redemption described seems more about overcoming hate than personal salvation from sin (though of course overcoming hate with love is certainly a part of salvation). But it does give an excellent feel to the times, especially to what being under a Jew under Roman occupation was like, and shows the cultural customs naturally without being didactic. The characters were well-drawn and the story drew me right in.
One thing that stood out was the sense of anticipation of waiting for the Messiah, the Deliverer, even though some people missed the point of what He was coming to deliver them from. It was interesting reading this during the Christmas season, when we commemorate the anticipation of His coming the first time, and renews in me that sense of anticipation of His coming again.