Jerusalem has fallen (the judgment of God or the fruit of dissension?), the Masada is besieged (the Zealots: heroic, or vainglorious?), and a boy who has worn linen and learned five languages turns his back on his father's house: ""Knowledge is the tool needed for work, but without understanding it is as useless as the carpenter's tools are to a man without arms."" Rooted in Judaic history and discourse, and speaking often in parables, this is the growth of David ben Joseph from boy to man within a year, and by his witness, life reduced to a struggle for survival in Jerusalem, life held too dear to survive ignobly on the Masada. It is most human when David shepherds three homeless children (The Little Fishes) into desolate Jerusalem; but chiefly interest inheres in the play of ideas between David and each of the three strong figures (two of them historical) and in his silent speculations, as near the close: ""To know yourself, is it not vanity?"" The book is itself an interrogation, and heady.