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A Book Review: Using Historical Fiction for Writing Prompts – The Bronze Bow
Young, budding writers learn a lot by using historical fiction as writing prompts and incorporating the many topics that make up a unit study. For the demonstration we will use The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speer who lived 1908-1994. This book won the 1962 Newbery Medal.
Literature and Vocabulary: Students should learn that historical fiction consists of a story that emerges from the author’s imagination in a historical setting. For the Bronze Bow, we need to know that a small town in Palestine near Capernaum during Christ’s lifetime forms the setting for the story’s time and place.
Characters in Bronze Bow include: Danielle, her sister Leia; Joel and his twin sister Thasia, Joel and Thasia’s father, an important rabbi; Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15), Rosh, Samson; Marcus, the young Roman soldier and Jesus. According to the Bible, we know that Jesus lived and the story refers to that Jesus. Simon the Zealot, a disciple, followed Jesus in scripture and story. Most of the other names occur more often in scripture or in general historical writings, but Speer probably uses them because they fit the setting.
The title and theme come from, Psalm 18:33-35, “He makes my feet like the feet of deer and sets me on my high place. He teaches my hand to fight, so that my arm can bend a bow of bronze. You make me the shield of your salvation.” You have given me; Your right hand has held me, Your gentleness has made me great.”
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary ZEALOT, a noun meaning, “a person who has strong feelings about something (such as religion or politics) and who wants other people to have those feelings.”
Also, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, a Zealot is, “a sect of Jews that sprang from Judas the Gaulonite (Acts 5:37). They refused to pay homage to the Romans, on the grounds that it was a violation of the principle that God was the sole king of Israel.” They rebelled against the Romans, but were soon disbanded and reduced to a lawless band of mere brokers.”
Topics covered in this book include mathematics (talking about the distance between the village and Capernaum); Vocational education/history (explore occupations of the time – blacksmith, rabbi); Science/Health (explore healing practices of the period), Art/Music (make a model of the area; explore Jewish music of the period) and Physical Education (see how long it would take to walk 3 miles to Capernaum).
By Elizabeth George Spear
Elizabeth George Speer opens The Bronze Bow with our main character roosting in the mountains, a zealot. When the Romans killed Daniel’s parents years ago, he decided to join a band of Zealots led by Rosh. These young men followed Rosh believing that when the time was right, they would defeat the Romans. Throughout the book we see how Daniel progresses in understanding how the Jews will be freed from the Romans. During the story, we follow Daniel, as a follower of Rosh, the zealot of the mountain; Daniel as Rosh’s resource in the village and as a follower of Christ in the village.
Daniel meets Joel and Thasia as they explore the dangerous mountain region before their family moves to Capernaum. He warns them to stay away from the area. Joel remembers that Daniel left his blacksmith’s apprenticeship in disgrace. Daniel firmly believes in Rosh’s mission to restore Israel to self-rule by the Romans who killed Daniel’s parents. Also, Joel promises Rosh that he will make himself available to Rosh for the mission when the time comes. After they leave, Rosh sends Daniel on his first solo mission to capture a slave who will eventually only respond to Daniel. Many didn’t like that Rosh stole and captured so they could attack Rosh at the right time.
We then learn that Daniel’s grandmother has died and he must return to the village to take care of his sister Leah. He never leaves his house and cannot tolerate visitors. Daniel is free to go back now that the blacksmith he apprenticed with is dead. Simon, the Zealot, also a blacksmith, wanted to follow Jesus so he gave his shop and house to Daniel. This allows Daniel to work and take care of Leah. Daniel and Joel both have to work for Roche while living in their respective homes. Thasia and the youth meet together and make a pact using the Psalm verse as their motto, “that my arm may bend a bow of bronze” even though they do not fully understand it. Surprisingly, Thasia and Leah become friends. Daniel continues to believe that under the leadership of Rosh the Israelites will drive out the Romans and many sacrifices are made.
Daniel, Thasia, and Joel find many opportunities to listen to Jesus. At first it is difficult for them to understand what he teaches. Finally, Daniel, Leah, Joel, and Thasia, understand and accept that the kingdom Jesus spoke of was spiritual, not physical. Jesus heals Leah physically and them all spiritually. Rush didn’t have the answer, but Jesus did.
Elizabeth George Spear does a great job of placing the reader in the story and setting. We see how Daniel and the others move from hatred to revenge and finally reconciliation. Jesus changes lives.
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