Salome, infamous dancer of the seven veils, converts to Christianity in Federbush’s historical fiction.
As a child of the evil Herodias, 14-year-old Salome must dance for King Herod. The dress she wears has gold cords, and the faster she dances, the greater the lashing she receives. To please her mother, the intoxicated Salome demands the head of jailed John the Baptist, who is summarily decapitated. Bleeding, Salome then collapses with only servant Ide and 20-year-old Roman soldier Decius Invictus to help her. Anticipating trouble from both Herod and the Hebrews, Decius instructs Ide to cut Salome's hair so that she may appear to be male. The trio flee to Bethlehem, the home of Jesus' mother Mary, where they hope to find refuge. On the road, Decius encounters Jesus and receives spiritual sustenance for the journey: “When he touched my shoulder, all my worries ceased.” When Salome is of age, Decius hopes to marry her; yet he is increasingly preoccupied by the teachings of Jesus, whom Salome has yet to accept even as the hour of Jesus' death nears. This is an unusual tale of historical fiction, remarkably blending earthy sensuality with heightened religious devotion. Initially entering as a minor character, Jesus, along with his message and his disciples, comes to the forefront as the story progresses. Although Salome is only a teenager, her attraction to Decius is palpable and mutual, transforming from childlike playfulness to the sexuality of the marriage bed. Some may see Salome as a biblical femme fatale, but Decius' devotion, both to a woman and to Jesus, and his attempt to convey Jesus' message to Salome are at the heart of the story. The couple are not exempt from personal tragedy, and Salome's final “conversion” and her newfound maturity are not wholly believable. About halfway through the book, pacing lags as the focus turns to Jesus' arrest, torture and crucifixion, with the main characters at times serving as supporting actors in this passion play. Still, there's an undeniable artistry in the interweaving of biblical history and personages with the flights of fancy possible only in fiction.
Intriguing fictional tale encumbered by a retelling of the Gospels.