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A Book Review: Using Historical Fiction for Writing Prompts – The Bronze Bow
Aspiring young writers learn a lot by using historical fiction as a guide for writing and incorporating many topics as a unit of study. To demonstrate we will use The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare who lived from 1908 to 1994. This book won the Newbery Medal in 1962.
Literature and Vocabulary: Students should learn that historical fiction has a story that grew out of the author’s imagination in a historical setting. For The Bronze Arch, we must know that a small town in Palestine near Capernaum during the life of Christ forms the FRAMEWORK for the time and place of the story.
CHARACTERS in The Bronze Bow include: Daniel, his sister Leah; Joel and his twin sister Thacia, Joel and Thacia’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 history refers to this Jesus. Simon the Zealot, a disciple, followed Jesus in Scripture and in history. Most of the other names appear often in scripture or general historical writing, but Speare probably just used them because they fit the setting.
TITLE and THEME comes from, Psalm 18:33-35, “He makes my feet like the feet of a stag, and places me on my heights. He teaches my hands to make war, That my arms may bend a bow of ‘brazen. You also gave me the shield of your salvation; Your right hand upheld me, Your gentleness made me great.
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, ZEALOT, a noun means “a person who has strong feelings about something (like religion or politics) and wants other people to have those feelings.”
Also, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, a fanatic is “A sect of Jews who originated with 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 only king of Israel.They rebelled against the Romans, but were quickly dispersed and became a lawless band of simple robbers.
Other topics that can be covered with this book include mathematics (talking about the distances between the village and Capernaum); Vocational training / History (explore the trades of the time – blacksmith, rabbi); Science/Health (explore the healing practices of the time), Art/Music (make a model of the area; explore the music of the Jews of the time), and Physical Education (walk 5 km to see how long it would take to go from the village to Capernaum).
The bronze arch
by Elizabeth George Speare
Elizabeth George Speare opens The Bronze Bow with our main character on the mountain with fanatic Rosh. When the Romans killed Daniel’s parents years earlier, he decided to join a group of Zealots under Rosh’s leadership. This young man followed Rosh believing that when the time came, they would defeat the Romans. Throughout the book we see how Daniel progresses in his understanding of how the Jews would be freed from the Romans. Throughout the story, we follow Daniel, as a disciple of Rosh, the Zealot in the mountain; as a resource for Rosh, in the village and Daniel, as a disciple of Christ, in the village.
Daniel meets Joel and Thacia as they explore the dangerous mountainous area before their family moves to Capernaum. He warns them to stay away from this area. Joel remembers Daniel leaving his blacksmithing apprenticeship in disgrace. Daniel strongly believes in the Rosh mission to restore self-government to Israel without the Romans who had killed Daniel’s parents. Also, Joel promises Rosh that when the time comes, he will avail himself of Rosh for the mission. After they left, Rosh sent Daniel on his first solo job to capture a slave who, in the end, would answer only to Daniel. Many did not like Rosh stealing and capturing to allow them to mount the attack at Rosh considered the right time.
We then learn that Daniel’s grandmother dies and that he must return to the village to take care of his sister, Leah. She never leaves her house and does not tolerate visitors. Daniel can now return freely because the blacksmith with whom he had apprenticed had died. Simon, the Zealot, also a blacksmith, wanted to follow Jesus so he gave his shop and his house to Daniel. This allowed Daniel to work and take care of Leah. Both Daniel and Joel have work to do for Rosh while living in their respective homes. Thacia and the young men come together and make a pact using the Psalm verse as their motto, “That my arms may bend a bow of bronze” even though they didn’t quite understand it. Surprisingly, Thacia and Leah become friends. Much sacrifice ensues as Daniel continues to believe that under Rosh’s direction the Israelites will drive out the Romans.
Daniel, Thacia and Joel find many opportunities to listen to Jesus speak. At first it is difficult for them to understand what he teaches. Finally, Daniel, Leah, Joel and Thacia, understand and recognize that the kingdom that Jesus was talking about was spiritual and not physical. Jesus heals Leah physically and all spiritually. Rosh didn’t have the answer, but Jesus did.
Elizabeth George Speare does a great job of bringing the reader into the story and the setting. We see how Daniel and the others go from hatred to revenge and finally to reconciliation. Jesus changes lives.
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