Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Centurion's Wife by Davis Bunn & Janette Oke

The Centurion's Wife

The Centurion's Wife
by Davis Bunn & Janette Oke

Trade Paperback: 378 pages
Publisher: Bethany House
First Released: 2009

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Description:
A sweeping saga of the dramatic events surrounding the birth of Christianity—and the very personal story of Leah, compelled into a betrothal she never wanted, drawn by a faith she never expected...

When her family's wealth and power are lost forever, Leah is sent to Pontius Pilate in hopes that he might arrange a strategic marriage. But despite her betrothed's striking countenance and position, Leah deems life as a centurion's wife a fate worse than death.

Head of the garrison near Galilee, Alban has ambitions that could one day see him at the seat of power—in Rome itself. Eager to prove himself, he takes on the assignment of a lifetime, one that will put his career, his beliefs, and his very life at risk.

But when the death—and missing body—of an obscure rabbi find Leah and Alban searching for the same answers, what they discover changes everything.

This is a Biblical fiction romance novel. When I pick up a fiction book written by Christians for Christians and it uses an account given in the Bible, I expect the novel to stick to the words and actions given in the Biblical account where the fiction story and the Bible account overlap. Unfortunately, this book doesn't. The Pentecost scene is severely chopped up to shorten it. As for the soldiers guarding Jesus tomb, Pilate puts two of his Roman soldiers under the High Priest's command to watch Jesus' tomb instead of the guards being temple guards (enough to "make the tomb as secure as you know how," which I've always assumed was more than just two men) under the command of the chief priests.

The authors also make the hero, Alban, the centurion with great faith ("I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.") yet strip him of his faith. In the Bible, the centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant, sent Jewish elders to make this request, and then had Jesus heal his servant from afar because he understood that Jesus didn't need to physically be there to heal the servant and he didn't feel worthy of having Jesus under his roof. In the novel, Alban doesn't believe in Jesus, the elders offer to go to Jesus for him, and Alban accepts but doesn't want Jesus and his huge crowd of followers to enter his house so sends his second message to keep Jesus away. The novel still has Jesus commending Alban for his great faith even though Alban doesn't believe that Jesus is more than just a man who might, perhaps, be able to help since nothing else is. To me, this novel implies that Jesus either lied (saying the centurion had great faith when he didn't) or was ignorant (he thought the centurion had great faith when he didn't). Neither is consistent with the Jesus of the Bible.

I also had problems with some logic flaws in the novel. For example, they have Mary, Martha, and Lazarus living in a small house and so poor they can barely find food to put on the table each day. This is the family that regularly hosted Jesus and his followers (providing food and housing). The novel even stages a large post-crucifixion gathering of disciples at their house. So where did all the food and sleeping room for the guests come from?

The novel is fast-paced and full of period details that bring the story to vivid life, but I had reason to doubt some of those details. For example, they had Romans frequently drinking tea as an alternative to wine. Also, devote Jews in the novel fairly frequently referred to their God as Jehovah when speaking to Alban about him.

Much of the time, I felt distant from the emotional struggles of our hero and heroine. For example, Leah's full story of loss wasn't told until two thirds of the way through. I would have felt more sympathetic toward her fear of marriage if I'd known that information earlier. Also, the secondary characters didn't generally have much depth.

Several major loose ends were left hanging at the end, like Alban's fate (death, banishment, or whatever) and Leah is left in debt to a cruel, greedy man.

There is no sex or magic or cussing in this book. Overall, it was a clean read.

Excerpt: Chapter One
AD 33, Caesarea, Judaea Province
Six Days Before Passover

Usually Leah followed the path briskly from the main kitchen to the baths. Today, with the Mediterranean breeze caressing her face and the sun not yet a scorching heat overhead, she could not help but slow her steps. She lifted her eyes at the cry of the seabirds. How peaceful it appeared. Only a few clouds hung in the sky, like a flock of spring lambs. Down below the walkway, sea waves lapped gently along the promontory's edge. Not even the first stirrings within the palace compound behind her could diminish her sense of delight.

For one further moment Leah drank it all in, her gaze sweeping across the panorama before her. Finally she turned away from the vast blue sea and studied the beauty of the city's setting.

Caesarea stretched like a royal necklace along the seafront, with the palace of Pontius Pilate its centermost jewel. From her position upon the rocky point, Leah studied the elaborate courtyard with its columns and statuary, the opulent ceramic-tiled baths, and the impressive marbled facade of the palace itself.

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