The Bronze Bow



The Bronze Bow

by Elizabeth George Speare

Age: 11+

Interests: history, religion, Israel, Judaism and early Christianity, war, ethics, romance, coming-of-age story

Houghton Mifflin: 1961

254 pages

Also by this author: Calico Captive, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Sign of the Beaver

This historical fiction is set during the life of Christ, in Galilee. A Jewish youth named Daniel was only eight when he saw his father crucified by the Romans. Later fleeing his cruel blacksmith master, he joins a gang of outlaws in the hills and dedicates his life to overthrowing the Romans and freeing the Jews. He and his cohorts ambush and rob Roman and Jewish travelers alike. As time passes and Daniel reaches his teen years, a chance meeting with a brother and sister – Joel and Thacia – compels him to visit the grandmother and sister he left behind in his old village. When his grandmother dies he decides to stay and take care of his sister. She is widely reputed to be possessed by demons; the trauma of their father’s death has left her terrified of the outside world and unwilling to venture outside their shack.

Taking over a friend’s blacksmith shop Daniel works hard and seems to be a peaceful, law-abiding young man, but he continues to agitate against Roman rule and gather enthusiastic young men in readiness for the revolt which he believes is imminent. Rumours of a new charismatic leader named Jesus in nearby Capernaum lead Daniel and others to think he would be the perfect leader for their rebellion. Daniel hears him speak a number of times, and slowly realizes that Jesus will never take part in any armed uprising. Daniel leads his band in a daring raid to rescue Joel from Roman soldiers, but they suffer heavy casualties and Daniel begins to doubt the wisdom of violence altogether. When Jesus visits his home and cures his ailing sister Daniel is finally convinced to give up his hatred of the Romans and follow Jesus. (Falling in love with Joel’s sister also nudges him along this path.)

It’s an action-packed story and there are more characters and twists that I don’t mention here: Daniel’s disenchantment with the outlaw hero Rosh, his friendship with a black slave rescued from the Romans, Joel’s decision whether to continue studying to become a rabbi or join the rebels, the economic hardship of the time and cruelty of Roman rule, the slow blossoming of Daniel’s feelings for Thacia, his sister’s secret friendship with a Roman soldier… The main core of the story however is Daniel’s slow evolution from an outlaw consumed by hatred and the desire for revenge to a responsible young man taking on family responsibilities and living peacefully with others, even the Romans.

Religious Themes: The author stated in her Newbery acceptance speech that her main goal was to extend her Sunday School teaching and present Jesus in a compelling way for young people. The brief scenes with Jesus are actually, to my mind, the weakest in the book, as he is depicted rather breathlessly as a charismatic speaker but not much of a real person, especially when compared to the other fully-realized characters in the story. Judaism is presented as unnecessarily restrictive and a little too preoccupied with the preservation of daily rituals and observances. Some critics point out that a few of the author’s assertions about religious practices at that time are not entirely accurate. And at the end Daniel converts from Judaism to Christianity, suddenly finding it in his heart to stop hating his oppressors.  Although this book was on the curriculum for American junior high schools for quite a while, it has more recently been challenged in some districts as not being unbiased enough regarding religion to be suitable as required reading in public schools. It has never been removed from school libraries – just from the required reading lists. I should also add that while the book is definitely pro-Christian, and mildly unflattering about some aspects Judaism, it is not anti-Semitic: all of the main characters are Jewish, displaying a wide spectrum of religiosity and viewpoints, and their plight under Roman rule is treated very sympathetically.

Religious leanings aside, this is a very well-written and well-told story. The main character is convincingly conflicted and consumed with his desire to overthrow the occupying forces. The glamour of the outlaw lifestyle captivates all the young men of the story and for a long time Daniel worships the bandit leader as a kind of surrogate father. As a teenager however, he begins to see the cracks in Rosh’s posturing, and is bothered by their raids on neighbouring farms for food. He is instinctively drawn to rejoin society and become a working blacksmith, though he cannot quite give up his plans for revenge on the Romans until the final moments of the book.

This is a lively adventure story about a youth becoming a man and deciding to radically change the direction of his life.




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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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