Thus begins When Jesus Wept, book #1 in "The Jerusalem Chronicles" by Bodie and Brock Thoene. Taking what little is known about Lazarus from the Scriptures, they skillfully use their biblical knowledge and imagination to weave a moving narrative of what-could-have-been against the backdrop of political unrest at the time.
Lazarus . . . The man Jesus raised from the dead in one of the most extraordinary encounters with the living Savior in all of Scripture. But the life of Lazarus holds interest well beyond this miraculous event. Living in Bethany, near Jerusalem, Lazarus witnessed many of the most important events of Jesus' life and ministry. Lazarus owned a vineyard and devoted his life to caring for its vines and fruit. But he encountered another man - Jesus - whose vineyard was the world, its fruit the eternal souls of men.
This novel is extremely well researched, and that alone adds much depth and interest to the narrative. In fact, one of its strengths is how vividly it shows the greed, lust for power, political turmoil and danger of the times. Most of the words that Jesus spoke were taken straight from the Scriptures and indicated by footnote. And I loved seeing how the Jewish people sung or chanted passages from the Psalms as they traveled to celebrate feast days. Their familiarity with and memorization of Scripture was inspirational.
Scripture doesn't indicate what occupation Lazarus had, so he is portrayed as a highly respected vineyard owner - and the themes of cultivating grapes, pruning, wine making, and Jesus as the vine are prominent throughout. It is interesting to see Lazarus interact with familiar characters such as John the Baptist, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus.
One questionable aspect is that the authors identify Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, and the unnamed woman caught in adultery as one and the same. While some commentators take this position, it is not universally held as being accurate. But when it comes to biblical fiction, I remind myself that it is exactly that - fiction - and find inspiration in these characters and events during Christ's ministry.
The story is told through the voice of Lazarus, which could be why the character of Martha wasn't fleshed out at all. Reviews are subjective, so other people will have different opinions, but I didn't feel a strong connection with Lazarus or sense the close relationship he had with Jesus.
One of my favorite parts was the scene in heaven during the four days Lazarus was in the grave - a reunion, but also a glimpse at what was to come. In the words of Lazarus: "I stood in wonder in the midst of the ancient ones as they spoke of what was, what is, and what will be. Love. Envy. Rejection. Betrayal. Suffering. Victory. Exultation. Reunion. Forgiveness. Salvation. Restoration. Deliverance." And then, after being called forth from the tomb, "Of all those who witnessed my return from the vineyards of heaven to fallen earth, only Jesus knew what joy and beauty I had left behind."
I enjoyed When Jesus Wept overall and am eager to read more books by this talented husband and wife team. Recommended to those who enjoy inspirational biblical fiction.
For more information, visit the Bodie and Brook's website at thoenebooks.com.
This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookSneeze program in exchange for my honest review.
* * * * * * * * * *
Bodie and Brock Thoene
From the author's note at the end:
Jesus clearly believed in the power of stories. He told parables - stories - to stretch the minds and transform the hearts of his listeners. We, too, believe in the life-changing power of stories, and that's why we're passionate about writing fiction.
In every work of our fiction, there is truth, based on research, and there is imagination, based on our minds and perspectives. We weren't here, on this earth, as Jesus walked among the people, but through the verses of Scripture and our imagination, we have portrayed to the best of our ability what he might have said and the way in which he might have said it. When Jesus Wept is how we imagine the events might have happened for Mary, for Lazarus, and for all the other characters in this story.
Can lives, bodies, and hearts truly be transformed? With Jesus, anything is possible! through When Jesus Wept, may the Messiah come alive to you . . . in more brilliance than ever before.