Author: Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
The Centurion’s Wife by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke begins six days before Passover, at a very tumultuous time in Biblical history when Jesus has been turned over to Pontius Pilate and the rabble is clamoring that He be put to death.
Leah, the strong heroine of this tale, is the granddaughter of a close associate of Pontius Pilate’s father. Reduced circumstances have brought her to Pilate’s palace at Caesarea to work as a slave. Yet she is happy that her spirit is free. But not for long. Pilate prepares to marry Leah off to a centurion, Alban. Alban himself wishes to marry Leah only to further his own career in Rome.
As Leah prepares for a marriage bereft of love, greater things are afoot. Jesus is crucified and unrest begins to brew, as Jesus’ body disappears from His tomb, and His followers claim that He is the Messiah. Pilate, fearing revolt, agrees to Leah’s marriage with Alban, on condition that Alban solve the mystery of the disappearance of Jesus’ body.
Anxious to save her husband from banishment in the event of a revolt, Claudia Procula, Pilate’s wife, asks Leah to infiltrate the ranks of Jesus’ disciples and find out the truth.
As Alban and Leah make their own investigations, at first unknown to each other and then together, getting closer to the truth, they have no idea how completely the truth will transform their lives.
As romances go, the leading pair don’t meet until well into Chapter 19, and when they do, it is a meeting fraught with anxiety. After all, it is a marriage of convenience for Alban and a stranglehold for Leah.
The story, written from the third person viewpoints of Leah and Alban, comes alive as Alban attempts to piece the truth together through his conversations with key witnesses from the Bible, including Caiaphas, Joseph of Arimathea, the tribune, besides many unnamed ones, such as the guards at the tomb, the centurion who pierced Jesus’ side etc.
I liked the character of Leah. Unattractive by Roman standards, she is a woman who yearns for her own desires, and fights against that which is imposed on her.
Alban’s character is based on the centurion whose favoured servant was healed by Jesus. He is an ambitious man who dreams of advancing his career. He is a Gaul, an outsider in a region teeming with strangers and possible enemies.
Seeing through Alban’s eyes, we learn how he traverses the course from doubts to accepting Joseph of Arimathea’s words, It would mean that four thousand years of prayers have been answered. We also get glimpses of the story as we know of it in the Gospels.
Both the leading characters are plagued by doubts and fears and it is amazing and gratifying to see the transformation that belief in God works in their lives.
Herod too comes alive in the authors’ capable hands. A man who seemed to lick the words as they emerged gives us an impression of a man who lives to indulge his senses and who cares for none but himself.
The authors capture well the sense of intrigue and uneasiness that plagued the palace and the surroundings in those difficult times. “This province has more problems than there are fleas pestering a donkey’s hide!” The ego clashes, the petty thrusts for power, they are all visible here. It is a time when Parthian bandits are creating unrest while Herod plays politics to ensure his position.
The authors have conducted tremendous research into the history and milieu of the time. The writing is dreamy and imaginative, aspiring to heights of glorious description. Even the minor characters, Linux, Dorit and Hugo begin to grow on you.
When we read the Bible, it is sometimes hard to remember that the minor characters were all real people, with real fears and failings. Christian fiction based on the Bible helps bring these to light.
I found the pace a little slow at first but it began to pick up a few chapters down the line, and I found myself intrigued by the whole premise and the manner in which the authors had captured it.
The conversations between some of the soldiers were a delight, particularly the down-to-earth language some of them employed. May they be plagued by pestilent sores.
The authors bring out well the sense of unease that prevailed particularly in the days following Christ’s crucifixion. It is a time in which as one character put it, “I mistrust what I cannot understand.”
Snatches from the New Testament are fleshed out remarkably well. Mary Magdalene and other characters walk across the pages.
The authors’ own faith shines through whenever those who believe in Jesus get together. Mary Magdalene and the other early Christians constantly pray for others’ needs. It was heartening to read of the simple yet tenacious faith of the early Christians, who were driven by their love for Christ alone, shorn of any doctrine. They were people who knew how to pray, to a God who promised to listen.
Leah’s conversations with Mary Magdalene as the latter describes the story of how she went to the tomb and found the Lord gone, the substance of Easter devotions, are portrayed beautifully.
Hinting at the Biblical adage, Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, Joseph of Arimathea asks Alban, “What if the finding causes your entire world to be shaken to its very core? What if you indeed find the answers you seek, and everything you held as important, everything that shaped your world, all comes crashing down? What if you do discover the truth, and the truth shatters your life?”
That’s just the kind of cataclysmic change that comes over both Leah and Alban. I recommend that you read this investigation into the Resurrection story.