“I’ve heard that Rosh the outlaw lives on the mountain. I hoped I might be lucky enough to see him.”
“He’s a hero to every boy at school. But no one has ever seen him. Have you?”
Daniel hesitated. “Yes,” he said.
Joel stopped in the pathway, forgetting his caution. “What I’d give –! Are the things they say about him true?”
“What do they say?”
“That he fought beside the great leader Judas when they rebelled against the Romans at Sepphoris, and that when the others were crucified, he escaped and hid in the hills. Some men say he’s nothing but a bandit who robs even his fellow Jews. But others say he takes the money from the rich and gives it to the poor. Do you know him? What is he really like?”
No caution in the world could hide the fierce pride that rushed over Daniel. “He’s the bravest man in the world! Let them say what they like. Some day every man in Israel will know his name!”
“Then it’s true!” cried Joel. “He’s raising an army to fight against Rome! That’s what you meant up there, isn’t it? And you — you are one of them. I knew it!”
“Rosh is the man I told you about, the one who found me. I’ve been with him ever since.”
“I envy you! I’ve dreamed of joining Rosh.”
“Then come. No one could find you up here.”
Daniel bar Jamin is an 18-year-old Galilean boy who lost his parents at the hands of the Romans and gained, in the same fell blow, an abiding hatred for them. This is Palestine, during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, and the Jewish people wear the chafing, heavy yoke of Roman rule with varying responses — some patiently, some craftily, some defiantly — as they await the Messiah who will come and rescue them from their oppressors.
Daniel lives an outlaw’s life, hiding up in the mountains with a band of men under the leadership of Rosh, who is plotting to overthrow Roman rule by force. The lifestyle suits him, allows him to nurture the knot of hatred in his gut as he waits to take revenge, permits escape from the haunting spectre of his younger sister who is so traumatized by the violent death of her father that the whole village believes her to be demon-possessed.
Then, Daniel’s bitter plans begin to unravel. Grandmother dies, leaving him alone to care for his sister back in the village. While there, he encounters a teacher named Jesus, who greatly perplexes him. Is he a Zealot, preaching as he does about the coming kingdom? Yet Jesus seems to speak of a different kind of kingdom, and of a different kind of strength, claiming that love is the only thing that can properly conquer hate.
Elizabeth George Speare won the Newbery Medal for The Bronze Bow in 1962. It’s superb historical fiction, packed with multi-faceted characters, fascinating historical detail, a gripping plot, and significant themes. Many kids would name it as one of their all-time favorite books. For mid-to-upper elementary and up, this is another fine book to read during the Lenten season. Or any time!
Amazon link: The Bronze Bow