How have I missed this book for so many years? I’m familiar with Elizabeth George Speare. Her Newberry-winning story, The Witch of Blackbird Pond was one of my very first lasting favorites as an adolescent, and I later fell in love with The Sign of the Beaver. How did I miss The Bronze Bow?
I stumbled on this book quite by accident. I was searching online for a novel to compliment my daughter’s ancient civilizations course. When she finished reading it, she told me, “Mom, you HAVE to read this. It’s the best book ever!” So I did. And I enjoyed it even more than the other two titles by Speare.
This is the story of Daniel, a young Jew in Israel at the time of Christ’s ministry. His whole life is focused on one thing: ousting the Roman oppressors from his land. Hatred and vengeance dictate his life, so he rejects the peaceful message of the young Rabbi with whom the common folk are so enamored. Daniel does not seek a leader who preaches peace and love, but one who will lead Israel to fight for their independence and usher in the kingdom spoken of in scripture.
The Bronze Bow is an eye-opening account of the life and culture of ancient Israel, delivered with the style and grace for which Ms. Speare is well-known. How did peasants really live? How were they treated by the priests? What were the hopes, the festivals, the yearly tempo of life of the ancient Jews? What did they eat? How did they dress? What occupations did they hold? What was it like to live under Rome? How did they react? What did they seek in the Messiah they anticipated? All these are vividly answered in a story that goes far beyond culture and searches the heart and relationships of one young man who meets Jesus.
Ms. Speare not only offers the meticulous details for which I was searching as a history accompaniment, but she has a dead-on grasp of the tenants of Christianity and the ministry of Christ. His message was at odds with the expectations of his followers. He was terribly misunderstood, yet He poured out his heart and compassion for the untouchables scorned by more respectable folks. His message had a transforming effect on Daniel’s outlook, as it has had on countless others in the two thousand years since.
I highly recommend this Newberry Medal winner for children of at least a fifth-grade reading level, for world civilizations students, for adults who love well-written historical fiction, and for those interested in a deeper understanding of New Testament-era Jewish culture.