Character development is my favorite part of reading a book, whether it’s a work of fiction, a biography, or an historical account. The individual’s motivation, inner dialogue, sense of humor, use of language, and interaction with other characters is fascinating to observe. In Empire’s End, Jerry Jenkins has taken on the challenge of melding a biographical account of the Apostle Paul with fictional events and characters to round out the narrative where the historical record is thin.
Saul of Tarsus, a small, balding, and bookish man in his thirties, was thrilled with the effectiveness of his tireless efforts to destroy a cult known in first-century Palestine as The Way. Driven by his ambition and by his zeal for a pure Judaism, he and his team were merciless, swift and brutal in extinguishing followers of the so-called Messiah, until one day, on his way to wipe out a community of Christ-followers in Damascus, Saul was blinded by a bright light, heard the voice of Jesus Christ, and his life was forever altered.
Any Sunday school child could provide an overview of Saul’s new life as Paul the Apostle, for it comprises over half the book of Acts and his journeys have been mapped, color-coded and included in curricula and Bible studies the world over. Empire’s End includes what every storyteller worth her flannelgraph has been incorporating for decades: the addition of details from sound research and a sanctified imagination to bring the story to life. Whether it is called “biblical fiction” or “fictionalized scripture,” this genre provides at least three important services to readers:
1. Enhanced descriptions of setting and historical context.
The political shenanigans behind the scenes in the Roman Empire, the harsh and unforgiving landscape that Paul traveled, and many cultural norms are simply taken for granted in the New Testament. Luke’s purpose in penning the book of Acts was to record, or, in his own words, “to give an orderly account,” (Luke 1:3) — not to capture attention or to entertain. A biblically astute reader will distinguish between the author’s additions and the basic details given in Scripture.
2. Transformation of the beads into a necklace
We all know that Paul went over the city wall in a basket, but then the next verses in the Acts account put him in Jerusalem. Later, we learn that somewhere along the way he spent time in the desert. Jerry Jenkins has pieced together all the exciting cliff hangers of Paul’s early ministry and suggested how Paul might have travelled, where he might have lived, and even whom he might have met in his travels. Jenkins has invented a few miraculous occurrences to account for things, but when you consider that he’s writing about the guy who restored Eutychus to life, survived a poisonous snakebite, and was transported out of the body, it’s hard to accuse him of straining the imagination.
3. Flesh layered onto the bones
Returning to Paul’s narrow escape from Damascus in a basket, have you ever wondered who lowered him over the wall or what it felt like inside the basket? How did he escape once he hit the ground? How did Paul’s background and knowledge of Scripture impact on his new life? How did he receive teaching during his three years in the dessert, and how did he even survive? Did his sin-tendencies and old habits from his former life ever flare up? These are some of the questions Empire’s End addresses. Extremely powerful are the instances in which Jenkins uses content from Paul’s epistles in his reconstituted and hypothetical thought processes. For example, when Paul is struggling to accept the authority of the watchmen guarding the apostles, the words of Philippians 2 come to his mind:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Himself the form of a servant . . .”
Paul’s tender relationship with Barnabas, his instant and promising connection with his young nephew, and the fact that the story comes to a screeching halt before Paul begins a single missionary journey make Empire’s End a story that absolutely begs for a sequel. Therefore, I expect that readers looking for a follow up to book one (I, Saul), and Empire’s End will not be disappointed . . . or Left Behind.
This book was provided by Worthy Publishing in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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