Another knock-off of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent: this time, the story of Saint Paul.
In this fictionalized account by former journalist Cannon (Time and Chance, 1993), Saul zealously devotes himself to Torah study after his beloved mother’s death. He earns a post as clerk on the Sanhedrin, the rabbinical court, and eventually becomes the chief persecutor of those who followed the recently crucified Jesus of Nazareth. After his dramatic conversion (and name change) on the road to Damascus, Paul becomes a leader of the new religious movement, spreading the gospel throughout the gentile world. There is, of course, a romantic sub-plot. Paul and his childhood sweetheart Phoebe separated when he left Tarsus to study at the school of Rabbi Gamliel, but she never lost sight of her beloved, and when she learned that he had become a Christian, she followed suit. Years later, the two meet up again, and though Paul declines to marry Phoebe—he worries that marriage would interfere with his mission to carry the Good News around the world—the two rekindle a certain friendship, and she becomes one of his most trusted delegates. Paul is articulate and fiercely devoted to the cause, but he is not perfect. As a young man, he is prideful and arrogant. After becoming a devotee of Jesus, he finds himself jealous and critical of James, Jesus’ half-brother, and of Peter, one of the original disciples. Paul thinks James “pretentious” and “defensive,” and deems Peter “woefully unprepared” to oversee anything “larger than a fishing boat.” The novel slows down a little when it comes time for Paul to draft his famous epistles; it would take a writer more skilled than Cannon to make chapter after chapter of letter-writing gripping. And, throughout, the book is marred by stilted prose: “Chattel I am,” one character laments. “To be sold for silver, like a lamb to be sacrificed.”
Flawed, but surprisingly engrossing.