A fictional account of the birth of Christianity.
First-time author Neeleman has pulled off a staggeringly impressive feat: a rigorously researched historical novel that carries its scholarliness lightly and grips the reader with personal drama. Jacob was raised to be an intellectual, reading both Greek and Latin, as well as Hebrew and Aramaic, but also to love his native Jerusalem. He chafes under the oppressive, sometimes-capricious rule of the Roman Empire, however, despite the security such tyranny brings to the Jewish people. Still, he clings to his family, reluctant to endanger them and the quiet life he enjoys. After a ferocious massacre leaves his parents and sister murdered, Jacob’s desire for revolution and the autonomy of Jerusalem grows, plunging him into a war for liberty. Neeleman depicts the ensuing drama with a powerful prose that evokes the spirit of the time without devolving into historically archaic vernacular: “Beyond the gates were ranks of torch carrying soldiers marching two abreast, man after man in gleaming helmet; they formed a bristling, seething, shining, gigantic serpent. He heard the tramp of a hundred thousand armor-clad feet and the serpent’s awful roaring, joyful in its bloody work: victorious, violent, unbridled.” Despite its theological content, the story brims with sensual imagery. Overcoming his original antipathy to Christianity, Jacob eventually becomes the unnamed author of the original Gospel, bearing witness to the extraordinary transformation wrought by Jesus. Sometimes, the Job-like suffering of Jacob can be challenging to weather, and the tale could have been enlivened by a few more lighthearted moments, but this book remains a stirring account of a historically significant time and a deep comment on the nature of Scripture itself.
Especially for those interested in theological history, an extraordinary amalgam of fiction and fact.