The little town of Nazareth is a long way from Jerusalem and King Herod's evil clutches. Yet is anywhere in Judea far enough? In their most dramatic, ambitious, and significant historical series to date, Bodie and Brock Thoene once again transport readers back in time to first century A.D. to the birth of Christthe most critical events in the history of the world.
About the Author
Bodie and Brock Thoene (pronounced Tay-nee) have written over 45 works of historical fiction. That these best sellers have sold more than 10 million copies and won eight ECPA Gold Medallion Awards affirms what millions of readers have already discovered - the Thoenes are not only master stylists, but experts at capturing readers' minds and hearts. Bodie and Brock have four grown children - Rachel, Jake, Luke, and Ellie - and five grandchildren. Bodie and Brock divide their time between London and Nevada.
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By Bodie Thoene Brock Thoene
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Bodie and Brock Thoene
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAt over six feet in height, wrapped in a dark cloak from ankles to prominent, bushy eyebrows, Zadok was an imposing figure atop the dune. He scanned the horizon in all directions, anxiously searching for the signal lantern.
Zadok feared that the moaning wind, the waves, and the sand underfoot would combine to muffle the sounds of guards approaching from Jaffa. The port city lay less than a mile to the south. Lights marking the summit of Andromeda Hill, which crowned the town, were visible.
The night was finally pitch-black. Moonset had occurred not long before. Darkness helped hide Zadok and his charges from Jaffa's Herodian guards and Roman customs agents, but the wind was a problem. Tossing surf made a boat's entry to the rock-bound inner harbor dangerous, if not impossible. Zadok fretted and paced. Would the smugglers never arrive? Had Zadok wasted a gold piece making this plan? Or worse, had the smugglers sold him out to the authorities?
A low moan made Zadok descend to the hollow to his crippled, fugitive brother Onias and Onias' daughter, Menorah. The shepherd dropped to his knees beside the ragged bundle of cloak and torn flesh that was Onias.
"Won't be much longer," Zadok rumbled reassuringly. "That Cypriot smuggler may fear the guardsand the sea ... but he'll come for more gold. Aye, he'll come."
Eyes glinting feverishly, Onias wrapped his bony forearms around Zadok's muscular right arm. He tried to haul himself upright, but his weakened state and the pain in his pierced hands defeated him. He sank back into the wicker stretcher on which Zadok had toted him from Beth-lehem during two days and nights.
"Promise me ... Zadok." Onias was racked with a fit of coughing, but he shook off the offer of a drink from a waterskin. "Promise me ... don't let Menorah be taken! If guards come ... save her and raise her ... as your own. Save her, Zadok!"
"Papa, I won't leave you!" five-year-old Menorah protested sharply. "You can't make me leave him, Uncle Zadok!"
"Hush, child." Zadok the Shepherd placed a large calloused hand on Menorah's shoulder to calm her as he would a frightened lamb. "I've told y' before: The two of you are goin' t' Cousin Japeth in Alexandria. Once there, your love and care'll nurse your father back t' health."
Zadok wondered what part of those encouraging words Menorah actually believed. Even if she and her father escaped capture, Onias might die during the voyage to Egypt. Onias had been crucified on the wall of his own home by order of King Herod for complicity in an imaginary plot. It was a miracle Onias had survived this long.
"If he stirs, offer him water again," Zadok instructed, returning to his perch on the dune.
No sound from the landward side. To the north, nothing in sight. Due west, nothing. Southwest?
Zadok froze, peering into the blackness with the intensity he used to seek the skulking form of a marauding jackal among his sheep. A pinpoint of light appeared. It danced nearer.
But was it on the prow of a boat or a lantern in the hand of a soldier? It was near ... too near the shore for Zadok to be certain. Farther out in the bay a line of white breakers crashed against the rocks, but inside that boundary all was blackness.
Was it a routine patrol of the beach? Had Herod's butchers been alerted to the presence of the man they considered an escaped criminal?
Should Zadok grab the cripple and the girl and run? How long could their presence near Jaffa go unremarked? How long could Onias live if he had to hide in barns and caves by day, sleep rough by night, and go without proper food?
What if they missed their one chance of escape?
As the light drew nearer, it bobbed even more wildly-up and down and side to side. At last a skiff was revealed, riding the swells. Crewed by six men and captained by the Cypriot smuggler, the skiff slid onto the shingle, just below Zadok's position.
Moments only were required to load Onias and Menorah. Zadok pressed a money pouch-all that remained of his inheritance-into the captain's hand. "There'll be that much again for y' when they're safely with Japeth the Carpenter in the Jewish Quarter of Alexandria. Mark me! Take good care of them ... or you'll have me t' deal with."
The captain, half a head shorter and forty pounds lighter than Zadok, started to laugh. Then he must have seen the intensity of the shepherd's eyes in the lamplight or heard the threat in his voice. The captain's amusement was cut short. "Pray to your god, Jew, that your brother is spared of dying from his wounds. Beyond that you may rely on me. I'll see them safe to Egypt."
There were quick hugs and parting blessings. Then, all too soon, Zadok stood on the sand alone. He continued staring after the swaying beacon as it wove between the rocks toward the trading scow anchored offshore. The light grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared in the distance, swallowed by the night and the sea.
* * *
Dawn ripened to red on the rim of the horizon beyond Beth-lehem. Red sky at morning meant trouble, yet the baby crowned and, with one great groan of effort, was pushed from Sharona's womb. As the child breathed in Zadok's wife Rachel's capable hands, she knew everything would be all right.
* * *
First light exploded over the distant mountains in the east. A newborn's wail of protest erupted within the birthing cottage behind the house of Zadok in the village of Beth-lehem.
Seven women who had come to watch and wait through the night for the birth of their cousin's child awoke suddenly. "The baby!"
The father, a shepherd named Lem who had four sons already, acted as if this were his first child. He ran his fingers through his red hair and embraced Rabbi Eliyahu, who pounded him on the back.
"It's a strong one, eh? Listen to that! A strong one!" Lem remarked, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
"Blessed are you, O Adonai!" Rabbi Eliyahu responded. "That's the sound of a son." Eliyahu laughed. "Congratulations, Lem."
"Rabbi Eliyahu, can I go in now? Havila and Rachel kept me out this time. I've been frightened before, but never like this. Do you think I can go in? see Sharona?" Lem asked the rabbi.
Rabbi Eliyahu, whose wife, Havila, was Zadok's sister and assistant midwife, discouraged him. "Wait! Wait. Rachel will say when it's time. My Havila will come out to you."
* * *
As the watchers stirred, Rachel, midwife of the territory of Ephratha, passed the newborn to Havila, who washed him, rubbed his skin with salt and oil, then wrapped him in swaddling cloths. Rachel finished bathing the mother. "You did well, Sharona. It gets easier every time, eh?"
Sharona, reaching for the infant, shook her head in disagreement. "Let me hold him. Oh! Look! Rachel! He looks just like Lem."
"They all look like Lem," Havila quipped. "Ask that husband of yours for a daughter next time, will you?"
Sharona sighed and kissed her son. "It doesn't matter. A boy. A girl. Ten toes. Ten fingers. Perfect. Perfect."
Rachel rose stiffly to her feet. The truth was, this had been a difficult delivery. The baby had come into the world turned upside down. He had not dropped into the birth canal without Rachel's coaxing. When he had finally emerged, the cord was wrapped around his neck. If Sharona had been so unlucky as to live anywhere else, she would not have survived, and the baby certainly would have been stillborn.
Rachel made her way to the open door of the house. Arms extended, she clasped the lintels and drank in the morning.
There, beneath the arbor, were Lem and Eliyahu. And beneath the tree, the women of the town. All looked to her expectantly.
"All is well!" Rachel announced.
"Boy or girl, Rachel?" called Sharona's sister.
"What else? It's Lem's child."
The women twittered with laughter. Five sons! Surely a blessing, but every woman should also have at least one daughter.
"Such a voice, eh?"
"The bellow of a prophet!"
Lem called, "Rachel!" And then again, "Rachel! Is ... everything all right?"
Havila's weary face appeared. "Bless me! Bless all of us! It's a bright red angry boy child with bright red hair and hands this big!"
Rachel exhaled loudly with relief. And did anyone mention the shoulders? So broad! Too broad for a posterior baby. Eighteen hours of labor!
Lem walked toward the cottage. "May I?"
Rachel nodded and wiped her eyes. She put a hand out to him. "Lem, it was a difficult delivery," she whispered. "The lamb was turned wrong way up. You know how it is."
Lem frowned. Yes, he knew. Lambing season in the lambing caves always brought one or two that were turned that way. "But she'll be all right?"
"Yes, but if this had been her firstborn, Lem ..."
There was no need to say more.
He nodded. "Thank you, Rachel. Thank you. You've got a gift. Zadok says it. It's true. You've got a gift." He shouldered past her and knelt beside Sharona's bed.
Rachel did not move from the doorway. The fresh air felt good. She scanned the road in hopes Zadok would appear. Where was he? Had he managed to get his brother Onias onto the boat? Had he been caught by the Herodian patrols who scoured the beaches these days in search of people attempting to flee Herod's maniacal purges?
Havila joined her. "It was a hard one, eh?"
"Not one I would like to see repeated," Rachel replied.
"She'll recover. And the baby ... he's a lover if ever there was one." Havila placed her hand on Rachel's shoulder. "Any sign of Zadok?"
"No." Rachel's voice was hoarse with exhaustion. "But he'll come soon. I know he will. I sensed the danger last night. I prayed. I know ... somehow ... he's safe. I am sure of it."
Digging Deeper into FIFTH SEAL
Take a moment to step into Mary's and Yosef's shoes.
Although the newlyweds were just beginning their life as a couple, they already have a baby on the way. Because the timing of the pregnancy is suspicious, all their neighbors intently watch the bride's waistline ... and count the months prior when the groom-to-be was out of town. Vicious gossip swirls around the new bride and groom. Gossip that isn't true, but there is no way to defend themselves or the bride's honor without giving away a precious secret or endangering the life of the baby.
Then news comes that the madness of the evil king Herod-the Idumean who shouldn't even be ruling the Jews-is increasing daily. And the people wonder, When will the long-hoped-for Messiah come to bring peace and righteousness to our tumultuous nation?
Let's face it. It was not a good time to walk the earth. And it was an even worse time for a child-any child-to be born. Yet in the midst of this upside-down world rife with injustice, prejudice, and betrayal, God was sending a miracle. The greatest miracle of all time.
Yosef was a simple carpenter, thrust into a situation beyond his control and his understanding. Mary was an innocent young woman filled with undoubting faith. Yet there were times when the gossip broke her heart ... and her spirit.
Both Yosef and Mary seemed so ordinary-salt-of-the-earth kind of folks. They lived in a small, ordinary home in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Yet they were uniquely chosen by God to play pivotal roles that would impact not only their generation, but all generations to come-throughout the world and for all eternity.
At times, you may feel "ordinary" too. You may wonder what God has in store for you, or if He's even thinking about you. But take heart:
"I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11
That means God is preparing you for a unique role too. How will you respond?
Following are six studies. You may wish to delve into them on your own or share them with a friend or a discussion group. They are designed to take you deeper into the answers to questions such as:
Why does God allow suffering?
How bold should I be about what I believe and hold dear? (You'll meet three gutsy women who won't back down ... and for very good reasons.)
How can an "ordinary person" like me make an impact?
What's the difference between accepting life and being content with life?
Who is the real Messiah?
When the future seems scary or unclear, how can I look ahead with expectant hope?
Through Fifth Seal, may the promised Messiah come alive to you ... in more brilliance than ever before.
"There never was a more dangerous time on earth.... Ah, Mary. Every day and night I ask God why. Why now? ... Why must you endure this?" -Yosef (pp. 162-163)
Have you ever asked God why? in the midst of a turbulent time? Tell the story. ___________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________
Imagine that you have one night to make a crucial decision: Should you leave your childhood home and travel into the unknown or not? What would you choose? ___________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________
Now add this information to the scenario: It is highly possible that within the next few days soldiers may come to question you, to put you in prison, or to silence you-permanently. Would your decision change? Why or why not? ___________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________
The little village of Nazareth had been peaceful-relatively untouched by the maniacal purges of King Herod and the deadly politics of Jerusalem and Rome. After all, why would a king care about an unknown town in the middle of nowhere? Then Herod's madness and evil begin to spread. Herod's own sons-Alexander and Ari-are condemned by their father for treason (see pp. 13-14) and are executed. Righteous teacher Onias, brother of Zadok the Shepherd, is crucified on the wall of his own home "by order of King Herod for complicity in an imaginary plot" (p. 4). Two hundred others are murdered. Spies are everywhere-even at the Temple, which should be safe ground (see p. 127).
It's no wonder that Zachariah and Elisheba decide to flee the Galil with their miracle baby, Yochanan. And it's no wonder that Mary and Yosef realize they must hide the identity of the baby in Mary's womb.
Thus far the brutal purge in Jerusalem had resulted in the arrest and trial of Herod's sons and the murder of over two hundred others. This had prompted Aunt Elisheba and Uncle Zachariah to rent out their vineyard in Beth Karem to tenant farmers. East of the Jordan the couple could live in obscurity and raise their child in safety. The angel who had appeared to old Zachariah in the Temple had spoken treason against the Herodian dynasty. The miraculous birth of Zachariah's baby boy nine months later was a very real threat to the aging monarch....
Jerusalem still reeled from Herod's attacks on imaginary enemies. Might Herod wake up some morning and remember an aged priest, an angel, and a baby boy? Like Pharaoh of old, was it possible that Herod could consider a newborn his rival and seek to destroy him?
Zachariah and Elisheba could not take the chance. -p. 16
The image of Herod's retribution clouded Yosef's mind. "No one can know. Not yet. That's the idea. Let the neighbors think the worst. Of you. Of me. It's all right."...
It was plain to Yosef that Mary was indeed troubled. For the first time since he had known her, a shadow seemed to stand at her back and plague her with imagined fears. He could see the pain of betrayal flickering in her eyes as they walked to market. Only a few would even talk with her. Most just made her the fodder of their gossip.
And in the months since their marriage, Yosef had seen, with sadness, those barbs of betrayal hurt Mary deeply. She seemed to strong yet was so vulnerable. Were her frequent, unexpected tears simply part of pregnancy or the result of her pain? Perhaps it was because she had become so alone in her hometown-so rejected by all who had known her since infancy. -pp. 178-179
Excerpted from Fifth seal by Bodie Thoene Brock Thoene Copyright © 2006 by Bodie and Brock Thoene. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had to force myself to finish this book. For one, the pace slow down a whole lot. Second, the narrative portions of the book take a back seat to the teaching portions. The lessons on Hebrew and on the Old Testament, as well as the observations of the wise men take up quite a large part of the book (or at least it seemed that way). I feel bad at not being appreciative, because I'm sure Bodie and Brock Thoene spent a lot of time researching these aspects. However, the result was fairly flat. Another thing that I wasn't crazy about was the portrayal of Mary¿she's so perfect. Too perfect. In contrast, Yosef struggles and doubts (like any normal human being). Bottom line? This was a disappointing read. Hopefully the next book will be better.
Mary and Joseph deal with the fallout of getting married despite the fact that Mary is pregnant. However, with the political forces in play, what danger might they face. This was a slow moving book. The fictional characters were interesting, but it wasn't enough to save the book.
Biblical fiction at its best!! The whole series makes you feel, hear, and and walk into the world of Bible times! Makes everything more real than before!