IMPORTANT BACKGROUND INFO:
Elizabeth George Sphere is a well known children’s author who has written a myriad of books of which most (if not all) have won awards. Among the books she’s written are The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Sign of the Beaver. Her books tend to deal with deep themes in a Biblical way.
The Bronze Bow is no different. The story follows Daniel Bar Jamin, an incredibly angry young man who has nursed his hatred for Rome since he was young. When we first meet him, he is living with a band of bandits hiding in the mountain-hills by the little town of Ketzah, part of a band of Zealots who hope one day to overthrow Rome. Daniel likes the mountain. He feels like he has room to breath up there, away from the crowded cramped spaces of his house in the village, the things expected of him, and the poverty of his frail, over worked grandmother and possessed sister, Leah.
What follows is a summary of the whole story. It’s pretty long, so if you want to skip it, feel free to scroll until you see the heading that says “What I liked.” Or, press command F on your keyboard and type in “What I Liked” to be taken there automatically. 🙂
When we first meet Daniel, he is on the mountain following Joel and his sister Malthaice (called Thacia) for reasons he’s not sure of. They quickly become fast friends, and Joel and his sister get to witness Daniel and the band of ragtag Zealots do what they do best: waylay a cavern along the road. Rosh (the leader of the band) ordered them to free one man, and one man only: a slave who is incredibly strong. Joel eagerly tries to help, and when Rosh compliments him, Daniel jealously takes charge of the slave whom they christen Samson.
Things began to change for Daniel when Simon the Zealot shows up on the mountain to visit him. He lets Daniel know how things have been at his house, and urges Daniel to at least come visit for a day or two. Daniel irritated, allows himself to be persuaded even though he has no desire to go. Arriving at his Grandmother’s house, he’s frustrated to see it’s even more desolate than he remembers it. That Sabbath, Simon invites him to the temple to hear a Teacher who seems curious. Instead of the Teacher’s hometown being proud of Him, they tried to kill him. This, along with the chance of the Teacher being a Zealot, ignites Daniel’s curiosity and he agrees to go with Simon.
Jesus’s words touch Daniel and confuse him, and he goes home, but can’t stand feeling trapped, so he flees back to the mountain. After being there for a little while, Daniel decides to try and recruit Joel to the cause, so after permission from Rosh, he heads to Capernaum. His first attempt is a failure, but after attacking a Roman, getting injured and needing a place to stay low, Daniel flees back to Joel’s house and manages to recruit him by sharing the story of why he hates Romans so much and what happened to his sister. Both Joel and Thacia, along with Daniel take an oath based off of the Watchword of the Maccabees and Psalm 18:32-34, inspired by the image of the bronze bow and God’s strength. Eventually, Daniel leaves again, anxious to get back to the mountain and his fight against Rome. He wasn’t there long until Rosh sends him back out to fix a special dagger, and Daniel has to travel back to Capernaum to get parts. When there, he encounters Jesus again and sees Him heal people. Puzzled and angry, Daniel tries to get Simon to explain it to him, but isn’t satisfied with Simon’s explanation. He wants Jesus to lead them against Rome, and is confused that Jesus’ talk about the Kingdom of God doesn’t seem to involve overthrowing Rome.
Daniel goes back to the mountain, and sets to the first task Rosh has given him to do on his own: waylay and old miser along the road and steal his money sack. Daniel does so, but, seeing the old man unconscious suddenly reminds him of his grandfather, and he waits till the old man wakes up and gives him back one of his knives. When Rosh scolds him, Daniel bursts out that he wants to fight against Rome, not fellow Jews and he’s tired of waiting. Rosh tells him to be patient, and scolds him for having a soft streak. He informs Daniel that he will hammer it out of him, and Daniel agrees. Later, working on his forge, he compares Rosh’s ideas to Jesus’, and he violently hammers what he’s working on in anger and confusion.
Sometime later, Daniel receives a message that his grandmother is dying, and heads down the mountain to see what he can do. The door to the house is locked, and he has to break it open, frustrated that none of the neighbors would do it for fear of Leah. The house is a sordid mess, Leah is bound by fear, and his Grandmother is almost dead, clinging to life solely by will until Daniel could get there. He does his best to clean things up and make the hovel more livable, ashamed of his unkind thoughts about the neighbors when they bring him something he needs. Unsure what else to do, he begins to talk to his grandmother, telling her things he remembers from his youth, and hesitantly reciting scripture. Leah comes to timidly sit by him Fearful of the trap that seems to be hemming him in Daniel stays like that all night.
Sometime during the night his grandmother passes. Daniel, angry and bound by blood to care for Leah, reluctantly accepts Simon’s offer to take over his forge in the city so Simon can follow Jesus. He and Leah move into Simon’s now-vacant house adjacent to the shop, and Daniel’s feels this is trapping him with unmalleable chains to a unpurposeful (he feels) drudgery he so desperately despises. Leah starts to get a little better in this new environment.
One day, Daniel’s patience is tested by a Roman solider coming to his forge. As he reluctantly fixes the item, he begins to dream of the mountain again, and soon, starts recruiting boys in the village to the Zealots.
After another visit to the mountain and continued visits to listen to Jesus, Daniel is having a hard time figuring out who is right. Jesus? Or the Zealots? Is Jesus a Zealot?
Soon, Rosh gives Daniel an assignment for Joel. A large banquet is happening, attenders being both Romans and rich Jews. Rosh wants Joel to get a list of the names of Jewish leaders who are daring to hang out with Romans. Unsure of why Rosh wants them, but certain it’s for the cause, Daniel, Joel and Thacia excitedly figure out how Joel will accomplish his mission. Later, they find out that Rosh used it solely to rob the houses of the rich men, and Daniel feels let down. Robbery by robbery, Rosh is showing himself to be nothing more than a common bandit.
Daniel finds himself slowly disillusioned and let down. Soon he starts loosing everything he worked for and the people closest to him. Joel is arrested, and after Rosh refuses to get Joel out of the predicament he basically is to blame for, Daniel tells Rosh he no longer works for him and leaves. Daniel and his boys plan an ambush to free Joel, but it goes wrong. They get Joel, but one of their number, and a good friend of Daniels are killed, and Daniel’s band of eager boys is no longer the excited, upbeat, eager-to-overthrown-the-Romans group that they were.
Soon, Daniel comes face to face with Jesus. The interaction confuses him even more. Jesus asks Daniel to follow Him. But when Daniel learns it would require him to give up his hate against the Romans and his oath he swore to avenge his parents, he says no, and leaves in anger and confusion.
Some days later, on the Day of Atonement, Daniel goes to the festival to see the girls dance. He tells himself he isn’t, but he’s really going to see Thacia. He leaves in fear of what she’d think of him before he thinks she sees him, but she did, and followed him. After an exchange in which he says everything wrong, he and Thacia part. He likes her – but his oath is everything to him and he can’t – won’t – let it go, even when Thacia explains that fighting for God’s victory might be something different then he thought it was. He arrives home in hurt and anger, and reluctantly shares with Leah, who is excited about something, what the festival was like. When Leah brings out a large basket of food for dinner, Daniel discovers something else. The young Roman who came to his forge has been visiting her, and talking to her over the garden wall. In a fit of rage, Daniel shouts at Leah, almost hurting her, and threatens to kill the Roman. When he realizes that doing so would actually kill Leah, he instead absolutely forbids her to talk to him, and after a parting insult, leaves the house to wander the streets in anger and frustration.
When his head clears, he realizes that he acted in a manner he shouldn’t have, and when he gets back to his house, he realized that his anger had undone every change Leah had made over the past several months. She wouldn’t even feed herself, and Daniel had to do everything – the sweeping, the cooking, the washing and even making sure she ate along with his job at the smithy.
Soon his thoughts turn to Jesus. He’d seen Jesus heal, and he’d heard that Jesus had the power to cast out demons. Even more so, Daniel knows that he can bring Jesus the guilt he has been suffering under for so long. But Daniel isn’t sure if he has the right to ask Jesus for things or talk Jesus because he refused to follow Him. Remembering Jesus’ eyes, Daniel leaves to find Him. Only Jesus and His followers have left Capernuam. Daniel sets out to find him, and discovers a crowd of thousands excited that Jesus has fed them all with a few loaves of bread and fish. The eager crowd wants to make Jesus king, but Jesus disappears and Daniel is confused why didn’t Jesus take the crown. Simon tells Daniel that he believes Jesus is Messiah, and that He isn’t going to lead Israel against Rome. Daniel doesn’t understand why Simon who was known as Simon the Zealot keeps following Jesus if Jesus won’t lead them against Rome. Angrily he confronts Simon who tells Daniel, that in a way, he already has the kingdom of God, and because of who God is, he is safe. Daniel argues back saying that Jesus has made them all unsafe. Simon’s steady response causes Daniel to stumble back home in the darkness, angry and alone. His vow is all that’s left to him.
In the days that follow, Daniel hopelessly works on his forge to sustain himself and a despondent Leah. When Leah’s goat – the last thing she held onto – dies, Leah grows incredibly ill. Realizing all he has done is repay love with vengeance, Daniel thinks that at least vengeance was better than nothing. As the day wears on, he realizes that Thacia ought to know Leah is dying, because Thacia was Leah’s friend and would often come sit and talk with her. A little bit after he sends the message off, Daniel heads back to his shop to see the Roman standing there, who asks after Leah’s well being. Daniel spits and responds rudely. A couple days later, the Roman returns, and tells Daniel that all he wanted was to see Leah because she is the only good thing left in the land. Daniel tells him he would rather let Leah die than see him. The Roman leaves, and Joel and Thacia show up with Jesus. They had brought Him because He alone could heal Leah.
Bound by chains of anger, resentment and guilt, Daniel longs to tell Jesus that all of this is his fault, but realizes that Jesus knows. Along with that, he realizes that Jesus might be right and that he wants to follow Jesus. Trying to cling to his vow, Daniel tries to cling to Psalm 18:32-34, but remembers that Jesus said victory was God’s promise, and He wanted men to make ready their hearts and minds instead. Suddenly Daniel wonders if it’s love that could bend the bow of bronze. As soon as Daniel surrenders to Jesus, the terrible weight is gone.
Remembering Leah he looks up to see her slowly wake up, and see Jesus. Leah tells Daniel she knows how Jarius’ daughter felt.
Seeing Thacia, Daniel realizes he can now love her, though he’ll never be worthy of her. Realizing Jesus left and he hadn’t thanked Him, Daniel rushes out of his house to see the Roman standing, waiting outside the house. Instead of going after Jesus, Daniel walks over to the Roman, and invites him into his house.
WHAT I LIKED:
More than anything else, The Bronze Bow has an inward-focused plot. It’s more character oriented than action oriented, meaning although there is action and adventure, the driving force of the story is Daniel’s inner struggle.
It’s a thought provoking story about a young man who is drowning in anger, but comes face to face with the love of Christ and realizes that the Kingdom of God is coming to earth in a very different way.
The characters are incredibly vivid; each had his or her own distinct voice. Daniel is a very angry young man. He’s hardened from what he’s lived through, determined to see his oath through to the end, but chained down by the duty to care for his sister and Grandmother. He truly wants to defend his people, has no fear, and is rather hotheaded. He would obviously be a miserable person to meet in real life, but you root for him throughout the story because you hurt for him, can see his confusion and want him to make the right choice.
Thacia is a strong female character (and by that I mean actual feminine strength), fiery, yet gentle. She loves beauty, and desires to help heal broken things. Thacia obviously wants to do the right thing, and seeks to figure out what it is.
Joel, like his sister, also wants to do the right thing. He’s incredibly eager, though less likely to jump in head-first. He’s studying to be a scribe, and enjoys that kind of heady work. He wants to follow Jesus, but also wants his friends to think right of him.
I enjoyed the story. It has depth without being boring, and the scenery is bright and easily imaginable.
CONTENT CONCERNS/THINGS TO KNOW:
Please note that I read laser focused on looking for content concerns so that I can write this review. It’s going to seem like there are a lot, but often they’re incredibly easy to gloss over or miss, and they’re not as concerning within the context of the story.
Daniel lives during the time when Jesus walked the earth. We get to see some of His ministry and hear the effect He has on the people around Him.
It is important to note, though, that many if not most of Jesus’ comments in The Bronze Bow aren’t taken from scripture, so wisdom would say to be discerning when reading the passages he preaches in.
Daniel struggles with whether or not to believe Jesus over the course of the story because he is hanging on to his anger. Daniel is drawn to Jesus, but feels let down upon discovering that Jesus’ plan doesn’t involve attacking the Romans.
Most of the main characters are law-abiding Jews, so the characters talk about Jewish laws and customs. When Daniel is hiding in Joel and Thalia’s house, they read aloud from, and discuss, the book of Enoch, as well as use the watchword of the Maccabees to take an oath. Though, I’m pretty sure these are historic Jewish texts, they’re not Biblical texts. I don’t think there was anything unbiblical in their discussions of it, though.
Daniel’s sister is possessed by demons; it’s portrayed like extreme fear and anxiety and helplessness. “Pursued by demons” or other iterations of that phrase are occasionally used by characters who are being driven by restlessness or angry emotions. Since there are a couple pagan characters, references to false gods are briefly made.
Daniel and Thacia like each other, though it isn’t a huge part of the story. The book leaves you with the idea that they’re going to get married. Joel explains to Daniel that their family operates differently – instead of arranged marriages, they’re allowing Thacia to choose only she won’t.
Leah asks Daniel what a wedding is, so he explains the way a Jewish wedding works. There are almost imperceivable hints that Leah likes the Roman solider who has been visiting the forge.
Throughout the story there are battles and various injuries. None of them are particularly graphic, but some do result in deaths of various members of either side, including the deaths of a couple main characters. Blood is mentioned.
When Daniel explains why he hates the Romans enough to want to kill them, he tells the story of how his father was arrested and crucified. The story is pretty dark, definitely sad, and could definitely be a little disturbing for some people.
Simon tells Daniel about a time when they tried to stone Jesus, but Jesus just walked through the angry mob untouched.
In Daniel’s anger, he threatens to kill a Roman solider.
We’re told Roman soldiers were highly trained in the art of killing.
Over all the language was clean. One of Rosh’s band of robbers makes a racist comment about a captured slave and someone makes a racist comment about a captured member of Rosh’s band.
Daniel angrily make a couple of sexist comments to Thacia, but instantly regrets it because he knows it’s rude.
Other things to know:
A liberated slave is described as “naked, except for a filthy loin cloth.” Workmen are described as half-naked.
Daniel is a Zealot, and part of a gang of bandits and thieves who rob, steal, and even kill on occasion. Daniel’s anger leads him to do and say things he shouldn’t, and he is incredibly prejudiced against Romans.
Thacia dresses up to look like a boy in order to help Joel with a mission.
The Bronze Bow is a good book. The heart of the story is Daniel’s wrestle with anger and hatred in the face of the love of Christ. It’s wrapped in action, adventure and a hint of romance. The writing is intriguing, and it’s a clean story with depth enough for an adult to enjoy it, and action enough to be enjoyed by a kid.
I really loved Daniel’s character arc, and his struggle to die to self and let go of his anger. He’s taken to the end of everything – loss of his team, his leader, his friends, everything except for his anger, and has to learn to submit to Christ.
Needless to say, this is a book I recommend. As a side benefit, it provides a lot of great discussion opportunities (I could have doubled my list), and would make a great addition to homeschool curriculum.
Let me know if you’ve read it as well as your thoughts, questions, comments and concerns!
Why do you think Daniel and the others who took the bronze bow oath thought that God’s victory meant overthrowing Rome?
What does the Bronze bow mean? Read (Psalm 18) and explain what you think the scriptures are saying.
Do you think Daniel’s thoughts about the law (after he decides to leave Joel and Thalia’s house, and realizes that would be horrified he’d choose the Sabbath) correct? Why or why not?
Why don’t we have to follow the law anymore?
Why does Daniel suddenly suggest to Joel that he shouldn’t have to follow Rosh if he doesn’t want to? What is Daniel starting to figure out?
Why doesn’t Thacia want Jesus to see her dressed as a boy?
Why does Daniel think Jesus means to lead a war? Do you think this assumption made sense according to Old Testament prophecies of Messiah? What does Jesus saying “the Kingdom of God is near at hand” mean?
What is Jesus’ actual plan for salvation?
Read a passage in one of the gospels where Jesus heals someone (such as Matthew 9:18-26 or Luke 11:19). What does faith have to do with it? Why is faith important?
What does Simon mean when he tells Daniel that in a way, he already has the kingdom of God?
How is Jesus definition of freedom different from Daniels?
Why does Daniel cling so hard to his vow, even when he looses everything and everyone around him?
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Taken from Amazon.
“In this Newbery Medal–winning novel, Daniel bar Jamin will stop at nothing to seek revenge for his father’s death at the hands of the Roman Empire.
After Daniel bar Jamin’s father is crucified by the Roman Empire, Daniel wants nothing more than to rid his land of Israel of Roman control once and for all. Yet when David meets Jesus of Nazareth, a traveling carpenter with a gentle message of love and forgiveness, David starts to realize that the hate festering in his heart might be his true enemy after all.”