Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Robe

The Robe: The Story of the Soldier Who Tossed for Christ's Robe and Won
  
The Robe was a powerful read. It tells the story of the robe worn by Christ to his crucifixion, and the Roman soldier who diced for it and won. But it's so much more, as well. This is nothing less than a look at faith, and the early days of the Christian church, as seen through the eyes of a Roman tribune. And not just any Roman tribune- Marcellus was actually tasked with crucifying Jesus. To say it changes his life would be a great understatement. 

Marcellus is the son of a wealthy senator and seemingly has a bright future ahead of him. He's privileged but he's also a good man- honorable, a good swordsman, loyal. He gets himself into trouble though when he makes an impolitic comment at a banquet to Gaius, the Prince Regent of Rome. Sent off to a dusty outpost in Palestine to rot, he becomes part of the contingent that crucifies Jesus. After winning Christ's robe in a wager, he finds his life changed not only by the garment, but by the tireless faith and amazing stories of the men and women who followed Jesus, and knew him well.   

This novel is told from a Roman perspective, and whether you're a Christian or not, it's fascinating to see how early Christianity, and indeed Jewish traditions of the early first century  might look through a Roman lens. Marcellus initially has no interest in a cult springing up around a dead man, and even though the crucifixion weighed on him heavily- he felt Jesus was innocent- he is very resistant to any hint of supernatural significance. Nevertheless the robe affects him greatly, sending him into despair and depression, which eventually lifts due to once again being in proximity with the homespun garment, and from there Marcellus investigates this nascent religion more closely, traveling to the Holy Land again and meeting figures from the New Testament. 

Marcellus is a very interesting character and along with his perspective we also get the POV of his slave Demetrius and his lover Diana. Demetrius is very close to Marcellus, notwithstanding their master/ slave relationship, and they have many adventures, both singly and together, as they trudge the dusty lands of Palestine, or spend time together in Greece learning more about Christ. Demetrius becomes a Christian over the course of the story, and is a true friend to Marcellus, as well as Diana. Not only do we get a look at the early Christians, struggling to grow their new religion in the midst of a hostile Roman empire, but we also get a look at how slavery operated within that empire, and how Demetrius can be a friend to his master even as his freedom is taken. 

Diana, meanwhile, is a childhood acquaintance of Marcellus' who falls in love with him, and he falls for her also. Their love is tested, however, as she must endure the attentions of the current emperor, who sends Marcellus off to learn more about Christianity, but doesn't much like what Marcellus finds. It was also fascinating to see how the author approached the issue of New Testament figures, from Simon Peter to fictional characters who have important but sometimes peripheral roles in the tale.  

This is as much an adventurous tale, at times, as it is a book about faith. The sheer canvas of the setting, the way Marcellus develops, changes, comes to grips with what's happening to him- and the travails and triumphs of Demetrius- seriously, everyone should have a friend like this- not to mention, the uncertainty that Marcellus' loved ones go through, the life changing things Marcellus does. The feelings Diana goes through- she wants no part of a new religion, she doesn't understand what's happening to her previously practical childhood friend- a friend who is now in love with her. Where does she fall?  

I've heard it said that The Robe is a life- changing read, and I can attest to that. As a Christian I got certain things out of it but even if I weren't a believer I feel like this would have been a worthwhile, absolutely gripping read. The travails and growing pains of the early church, the stories about Jesus and whether to believe them, the feeling of first century Palestine in the throes of upheaval- I almost felt at times like I was in that earlier world, immersed in all the history. I was moved at times by the emotions I felt, such as when Simon Peter and Marcellus talk about Jesus, and their experiences with him, together- near the site of his death. I'm not ashamed to say I may have teared up. This is a book that has affected me greatly, not only in a way that affirms my faith, but in the sense of place it gave me- I felt like I was in Rome at times, or Athens. A magnificent read.     

18 comments:

  1. I read this in my teens because it had Romans in it and I was into ancient history. I can well understand that a believer would live it, but I’m afraid I was uncomfortable with the traces of ant-Semitism in it- sorry! 🙁

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    1. Thanks for the comment Sue! I didn't find this to be anti- Semitic as a whole, but then again I see where some might differ- especially since we're getting a Roman perspective, and they clearly looked down on the Jews to a large extent. Whether the author had an anti- Semitic bias is I suppose open to debate, but I certainly hope not! Thank you for helping me to think deeper about this!

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  2. Wow! This one does sound like it is really fascinating. The Roman perspective really intrigues me. Lovely review, Greg! :)

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    1. I loved the Roman perspective- even if it was occasionally horrifying- but not only does it examine faith, it looks how the empire was run also!

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  3. I have never heard of this book but it sounds really amazing. I always wondered what some of those Roman soldiers were thinking when they saw the crucifixion and the sky go dark. Thanks for the review!

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    1. It's a movie too, although the movie differed in lots of ways. Actually there were two - Demetrius and the Gladiators was sequel. I love the book though!

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  4. It definitely looks interesting you're right! I confess that I didn't know about this book but I'm curious

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  5. Sounds like an interesting read Greg. And how awesome that this book affected you so much!

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  6. While it's not my kind of book I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it.

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  7. I can't believe I've never read this book. Didn't they also make a movie of it?

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  8. This seems like it could be a fascinating read, although I imagine it's also a tough read at times, particularly from the Roman POV.

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  9. I must have had my head in the sand because I've never come across this one before. I do like the Roman perspective and that while it's about Christianity it's really for everyone. I need to read this one!

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  10. I've not heard of this book before but it sounds like a pretty powerful read.

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  11. I actually have not heard of this book before but it sounds like a very powerful read. I will have to look for it.

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  12. I have to admit to not being very knowledgeable about the history of Christianity, but this does sound like a powerful and fascinating read. Well-written too, from everything you said about the characters and relationships. I'm glad it was so good!

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  13. I might read this next year during my Year of Classics. I'll have to scoot over and add it to Goodreads. I used to have a thing for early Roman history because of taking Latin in high school. I know I've seen the film, but it was so long ago I don't remember much about it. Thanks for reminding me about this book. 👍✨

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  14. This one is new to me, but I'm happy it was such a hit for you! I love books that make us really feel the story and what the characters are going through. Also, this one seems to have real life applications, which always makes me think about life and living.

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

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