Monday, July 13, 2015

Day of Atonement by David A. deSilva

It was a time of change for the Hebrews. Alexander the Great had conquered much of the known world. After his death in 331 B.C. Ptolemy, one of Alexander's generals, took control of Palestine, other generals taking other lands. It was a time of Greek domination with the Greek culture influencing the conquered peoples.

Some Jews tried to better their status by working with the Greeks. In this novel, we see that in the person of Yeshua, younger brother of the High Priest Honiah. Preferring to use his Greek name, Jason, he wanted to incorporate Greek culture into Jerusalem. He was conniving to build a lyceum and gymnasium so that the Greeks and Syrians would feel at home in the holy city. He did not anticipate the many cultural and governmental changes that would soon occur.

But Honiah was all about serving God and preserving faith in and the proper worship of God Jehovah. He saw the Greek culture as a danger to their faithful ways.

This is not a page turner. It took me a long while to get into it. There are descriptions of architecture, priest duties, sacrifices, Sabbath observation, foods served at meals, etc. The narrative encompasses a large segment of time so there are many characters. A list of them is included at the back of the book and the ones who were historical figures are identified. I felt the characters were rather flat and not well developed.

One strength of this novel lies in the amount of information it contains concerning the tumultuous time between the Old and New Testaments, leading up to the Maccabean Revolt. There were family rivalries and feuds as individuals connived for the powerful office of High Priest. Other families struggled to remain faithful to Jehovah during the time of the encroaching pagan culture. Readers will gather much about the historical events of the time.

The other strength is in revealing the disturbing issue of one culture influencing another. The situation is not unlike what some Christians are experiencing today. An example from the novel is a family of Hebrew silversmiths who were asked to make a pagan charm. They declined the opportunity, knowing it would be wrong but bemoaned the lack of income. Another example concerns civil laws. The Greeks wanted a well functioning city, not some backward community governed by the idiosyncratic laws of a local religion. Imposing Greek law meant doing away with Jewish religious freedoms.

While there is not a discussion guide included, there is certainly much to to discuss. There are so many questions that arise when devotion to the old ways crashes into the introduction of a new culture. Many cried out, asking where God was as their world transitioned to something terribly ungodly. Many wanted to know what to do when the government transgressed their laws and polluted their very place of worship. Others wondered if it was the time for violence. As the cultural invasion progressed, many realized that what they thought was good for Jerusalem had turned out to be very bad. Character ruminations like that ensure that this novel will certainly provide many topics for a lively discussion. (Note: the way the Greeks treat rebellious Jews is savage and may disturb sensitive readers.)

A short historical note is included at the beginning but it was insufficient for my tastes. In addition to knowing who were real historical characters (indicated in the character list at the back of the book), I would have liked to know which scenes in the book were based on historical events. Having that information in an appendix would have increased the novel's impact.

David A. deSilva became fascinated by the Apocrypha growing up in the Episcopal Church. He is ordained an elder in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves as Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. He is the author of several nonfiction books. He and his family live in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Kregel Publications, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
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