Debut historical fiction centered on Jerusalem in the first century.
Born into a pleasant garden community near Gadara, Diokles lived his early life based on Epicurean principles—beliefs in the neutrality of the Gods, the importance of friendship and the encouragement of moderate pleasures. For the Homer devotee, the lifestyle is inviting if somewhat dull: “We take care of our homes, raise families…join in various cultural and social activities, and attend to personal matters of business.” Unsurprisingly, Diokles is unsettled by the culture-clash, metropolitan life in Jerusalem. Moving to the city to teach Jewish students in a Greek school, Diokles meets both fanatical pagans and hostile zealots—encounters that become only more severe as frictions between Jerusalem and Rome increase. These are, after all, troubled times. Emperor Tiberius, for instance, now in his 70s, “was rumored to be drinking himself to death and making life miserable for his personal caretakers.” With the notorious Nero just around the chronological corner, Rome wasn’t doing well. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a new cult was beginning based on a Jewish teacher named Jesus. What is a man of Diokles’ stoic nature to make of the rapidly changing times? By no means a neutral narrator, Diokles sheds fascinating light on early Christians, rebellious Jews and superstitious pagans, with open disdain for the apostle Paul: “I knew that he was a feebleminded and unstable man.” Elsewhere, he says, “Upper-class, vain, and haughty, Josephus relished positioning himself above other men, most of whom he considered to be vulgar and stupid.” Though slowed at times by dry, superfluous information—“The meal, wine, and service were the best I had had in months”—the story nevertheless holds up, particularly as Diokles ends up playing a larger role in the emergence of Christianity than he could have ever imagined.
Makes for a memorable journey through turbulent ancient times thanks to a sharp, judgmental narrator.