Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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*****= An all-time favorite
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****The Jerusalem Scrolls

by Bodie and Brock Thoene

Reviewed November 3, 2001.
Viking.  2001.  Available at Sembach Library (F THO).

Bodie and Brock Thoene are outstanding Christian writers.  The Zion Legacy series continues the stories begun in The Zion Covenant and The Zion Chronicles series.  The Zion Covenant tells of Jews struggling to escape the Nazis during WWII.  This series is my favorite--full of edge-of-your-seat suspense.  The Zion Chronicles tell about the formation of the new country of Israel after WWII, despite the determination of the countries around them to stamp them out.

The Zion Legacy series has been telling about the battle for the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948, still following some of our much-loved characters from the earlier books.

This book, however, is something totally different.  You do not at all need to have read the other books to appreciate this one.

This book is a Biblical novel about Mary Magdalene.  The frame is that one of our characters, Moshe, is under the city of Jerusalem in a hidden library, reading an ancient scroll.  I didn’t think the frame worked very well--I can’t really believe that in ancient times someone would write such a beautifully textured document, full of people’s emotions.  However, the frame is only a few pages of the book.  The story itself is excellent.

I must admit, I was slowed down in my reading when I discovered that I was reading something totally different than what I expected.  I’m not usually crazy about Biblical novels, probably because I have too many preconceived ideas.  However, as I read on I had to admit that the authors had done an excellent job.

First, they use the characters’ Hebrew names.  This makes sense, as the names we are used to are the Greek transliterations of Jewish names.  So it takes a little while to figure out that Miryam who lives in Magdala must, in fact, be Mary Magdalene.  I liked one thing that they did very much.  They took several unnamed characters who were healed and touched by Jesus in the Gospels and made them Mary and her friends.  And, you know, it makes sense that those people would have become devoted followers of Christ.  Another main character is a centurion.  You’ll probably remember some places where a centurion comes into the story, but I won’t purposely give it away.

The story only brings us to where Mary becomes a follower of Christ.  So I’m wondering whether the next book will continue her story, or go back to 1948 Jerusalem.  I’m hoping that they will go on with Mary.  They’ve made Mary Magdalene to be the same Mary as the sister of Martha and Lazarus, but haven’t even touched on the famous stories involving them.  And we know that Mary Magdalene is the first one to see the risen Lord.  Is there any moment in the Bible more touching than the one when Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener until He says her name?

I didn’t mean to like this book.  I was disappointed that it wasn’t what I expected, and I wasn’t crazy about the parts where Mary was at her worst and sunk in the depths of despair.  I persevered, however, and ended up loving it.  It made me want to read the Gospels again, especially the book of John, and I’m doing that with new eyes.  It made me think about what it must have been like to have been one of those people touched by Jesus.

I do recommend this book.  Don’t worry that it’s the fourth book in the series.  Read it as a good Biblical novel, written by superb authors.

Also, I was thinking about how I wouldn’t expect something written in those days to show so much emotion.  That made me think of an exercise for writers.  Read the gospels.  Notice how John, in his account, shows you the emotions of his characters in their dialogue.  There are some great lines:  “Sir, come down, before my child dies!”  Or “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know:  I was blind, but now I see!”  Even the line “Jesus wept.” is in John.  No, it’s not Jesus crying over the hard hearts of the people of Jerusalem.  He’s crying because his friend Lazarus is dead.  Compare with the other gospels where we are mainly told the facts.  John draws me into the story much more than the others do, yet he still doesn’t say as much about feelings as a modern writer would.  What do you think?

A review of the next book in the series:  Stones of Jerusalem

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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