Saturday, February 21, 2015

A.D. 30

I finished this book, A.D. 30, by Ted Dekker, quite awhile ago, and I apologize that the delay in getting this review out has somewhat diffused my initial impressions.

I gave the book four stars (It's Ted could I not?), but it's a different kind of story than what you might expect from the thriller writer. When I first heard what it was about, I thought of The Big Fisherman, by Lloyd C. Douglas, who also wrote The Robe (two books I read in middle school and was very impressed by). But aside from having similar female protagonists with similar vendettas, their plots play out far differently.

A.D. 30 takes us on Maviah's journey from the depths of the Arabian desert to the palaces of kings and eventually into the presence of another kind of king, Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. Maviah is the illegitimate daughter of an Arabian ruler. She's a former slave brought back to her father's household but still looked down upon. She is nothing, but when her father's wife dies and his alliances fall apart, she may be the only one who can help her people. She just has to go to Palestine and convince King Herod of the Jews of her worth. Accompanied by trusted servants, one of whom she grows to love, she sets out to do the impossible: become a queen. Only an Arabic tribe that wants her dead, two dangerous kings, the past, and her own grievances stand in her way.

While the main plot and conflicts of the story are completely fictionalized and deal with alliances and power-struggles, the climax has to do with issues of the heart, and the heart of this story takes us to the hillsides of Galilee to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Dekker uses passages straight from the Bible for almost all of Jesus' dialog but, of course, still manages to put his own fictional stamp on those scenes, making Jesus seem more of a mystic to the people and the reader than we normally think of him as. In Dekker's telling, he is mysterious. He speaks in riddles, never directly. He knows things about people that a normal human shouldn't be able to know, as though in constant contact with a Being who gives him insight into every heart. Some of these things conflict with how I view Jesus in the Bible, but I didn't feel I could dismiss them entirely. We don't really know much about the day-to-day interactions of Jesus. Perhaps he always spoke in riddles. We know he always taught in parables. Did Jesus know from moment to moment what people were thinking? How much of God was in the Man? While on Earth, he was human, but is it conceivable that God gave him super-human knowledge on a moment-by-moment basis? I guess so.

Writing about Jesus in fiction cannot be easy. I know Dekker had been thinking about this book for years, and I could definitely see Dekker's views on how Jesus works today written into his view of Jesus when he walked the Earth. I'm not sure Dekker is right on this, but I can't say definitively that he's wrong either. I appreciate that he tried not to add to or change Jesus' own words, but there's still a surprising amount you can do without words to create a persona. Regardless, the important part, Jesus' teaching, is not changed. The interesting part comes in how the people interpret Jesus' words, and that can be fictionalized all you want, I suppose.

I confess, my favorite pieces of the story were those that were entirely fictionalized. The sections with Jesus were a little off-putting, partly because so much Bible was directly quoted and because Jesus came across as so mystical and a bit inhuman. I don't know how it might have been done better, but it just didn't entirely work for me. Knowing Dekker, though, I think he'd be happy if the Jesus parts made people uncomfortable, as long as they made them think about what Jesus' words really mean. Hopefully, his version isn't too distracting for the truth to come out. On my part, I saw the truth most clearly not in the words I am so familiar with but through Maviah's understanding of them, and I think that, too, is part of Dekker's plan here.

Dekker always has a message, and you'd expect nothing less from a work of fiction that quotes the Bible directly. His latest focus in writing has had a lot to do with identity and who we really are, as seen through God's eyes. This book has some of that, certainly, but also a lot about letting go of grievances, forgiveness. I noticed other themes as I read, but some of those elude me now after so much time.

A.D. 30 appears to be the beginning of a new series or, at least, the first of two books. It will be interesting to see where Maviah's story goes and how Dekker handles the other events of Jesus' earthly life. Dekker always surprises, perhaps more subtly now than in his early works, and he always makes me think. For that, I am a big fan, ready to explore whatever he may throw at us next.

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