Wednesday, May 04, 2016


Title: Blood of a Stone
Author: Jeanne Lyet Gassman
Publisher: Tuscany Press
Pages: 333

Blood of a Stone projects the blood shed through violence against the blood willingly shed by Jesus.

Demetrios is a slave, sold to his Roman master, Marcus, by his own father. As a slave, Demetrios is ill treated and starved by Marcus. The brand of a slave that his master sears into his flesh is, in truth, seared upon his very soul. 

When he kills Marcus in self defence, Elazar, Marcus’ Jewish servant, helps him to dispose of the body. Together they escape to Nabatea, a region free of Roman authority. 

Eventually they reach Tiberias, settling there as traders and caravan drivers to the Holy City, Jerusalem. As their business becomes profitable, many ask to join their caravan. One of them is Judas Iscariot, who wishes to hire their services to fulfil the spiritual prophecy of the Son of Man entering Jerusalem, seated on a white donkey.

Demetrios cannot shake off the sense of guilt he suffers at having killed Marcus. Even though he is now free, in his mind, he is not. He is afraid of every stranger, afraid of retribution, of the law catching up with him.

It is in Chapter 9 that we hear of John the Baptist and Jesus for the first time. When Elazar wants to walk out of their thriving partnership in order to follow Jesus, and even later, confesses his part in disposing of the body of Marcus, it sets Demetrios on edge. He begins to fear that Elazar will be his undoing, and that Jesus will betray him to the Romans.

Jesus’ coming spells hope for Demetrios who seeks love in the wrong places or so Elazar says. But what is Demetrios to do, when Jesus Himself seems like a charlatan to him.

The slave consults a sorceress, Endorah, to quiet the fears and misgivings that arise from the guilt of killing Marcus. The blood from the stone he used to still a life weighs heavy on him. Endorah tells him that he must kill Jesus if he wishes to be free. And so begins Demetrios’ quest to kill Jesus.

The author does a great job of painting vivid word pictures of the surrounding countryside but her tendency to keep using the same first names multiple times in a single paragraph, when a pronoun would have worked better, rankles. In one case, there were four mentions of Demetrios in a single paragraph. Fortunately, she gets a grip on this problem after only a few pages.

Once she gets comfortable with her story, she draws you on. I found myself reading page after page, rather than shutting the book. The writing got better and it felt as if I had travelled back in time to the era when Christ walked.

But there were some inconsistencies that struck me. Even though Judas offers to pay for 13 people to join Demetrios’ caravan, eventually Jesus and His disciples do not enter Jerusalem with them, and we are given no explanation as to the change of plans.

Also, in chapter 9, we are told that rumours abound about John the Baptist and about Jesus. But the author leaves us in the dark about the passage of time during this occurrence. So we hear of some gossip relating to the Jewish prophet living in the wilderness who foretells the coming of the messiah. Then over the course of the cold winter months, Demetrios hears stories of the miracles. Elazar leaves the caravan to follow Jesus. And just a few days later, Judas asks to join their caravan. Shouldn’t three years have passed between the news about Jesus’ baptism at the hands of John the Baptist and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, seated on the donkey? But there is no telling how much time has actually passed. We get a sense of vagueness.

The resemblance to Biblical events is only in passing. For example, the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, which Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday, is missing. Also, when Jesus goes into the wilderness to pray, the Bible tells us that He prayed in the Garden at Gethsemane, but the author makes no mention of that.

Very early in the book, the author places before us the dichotomy between the Roman god Mercury that Demetrios adopts as his own and Elazar’s God.

The author paints a realistic picture of the crowds that used to follow Jesus. Not all those gathered were true believers. There were many there with their own agenda and Demetrios’ confusion, distrust and fear sit well among them.

The author’s descriptions are forbidding and ominous, yet beautiful, much as I imagine the landscape of Israel to be. The description of the lepers was particularly heart-rending.

While the writing is beautiful, and manages to evoke just the right atmosphere, I got the feeling that Demetrios was getting all worked up for no reason at all. His paranoia is so strong that he fails to realize that Jesus poses no threat to him.

The idea of seeing Christ through the eyes of a Gentile slave was interesting. But the author takes far too long to introduce Demetrios to Christ. The life-changing transformation that would have elevated this book comes too late, literally at the feet of the crucified Jesus, to sound convincing.

(I read a Kindle edition of this book through NetGalley.)

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