Jesus seems like a nice guy, I decide while passing the tenth Nativity scene on my trek outside. It's hard not to be sympathetic while starring into his sincere and kind plastic eyes. I admit that I've always been fascinated with the character of Jesus, a man who in life may have promoted peace, but in death, was the excuse for countless wars. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, winner of the 1962 Newbery Medal, brings up many questions about the man who was and the man he became, and in the end, left me wondering what Jesus would do in my situation.
The Bronze Bow takes place during the Second Temple, when Israel is fragmented by infighting between different sects of Jews. At the same time, the harsh rule of the conquering Romans has intensified, and rebellious Jews band together to fight against them under the symbol of the bronze bow. The novel centers on Daniel, a young man who joins a band of outlaws to escape his heartless master, the blacksmith. Daniel encounters people from all walks of life, including an important meeting with Jesus that will change his life forever. Speare's writing captures the time with vivid details and historical facts. Moreover, her characters are likable and captivating. I could not help but admire Rosh, the leader of the outlaws, pity Samson, a slave that Daniel cares for, and respect Jesus, who brings hope in the darkest times. Even I wanted to join Jesus on his journey to share his teachings. Taking a step back to view this book objectively, I couldn't help but feel like I had just read a very good piece of missionary literature. In contrast to Speare's previous book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which depicted zealous Christians persecuting innocents, this book put a rosey glaze on the good work of righteous Christains. While Speare's intention might have been to show the decline of the original creed, this book feels like propaganda meant to endoctornate children. Jesus might have said that "let he who is without sin cast the first stone," I say I'm not stoning this book, but I can't recommmend it. If that makes me a sinner, so be it.
I can, however, recommend The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, one of the Newbery honor books for 1962. Without dogma or preaching, it stands out as the perfect historical fiction novel. When I was in middle school, I went through my "Egypt Period," collecting novels, coffee table books, and artifacts about Egypt. My fascination was primarily influenced by The Golden Goblet. Set in ancient Egypt, it tells the story of Ranofer who dreams of being a goldsmith, but is squealched by his evil half-brother, Gebu. Surrounded by the minutae of Egyptian life, the story unfolds as Ranofer attempts to shape his own life. It is this message of individuality that has stayed with me as my Egypt obsession withered.