A novel imagines the lives of Dismas, the thief crucified alongside Jesus, and his son, Ezekiel.
Everyone in Nazareth seems to know that Ezekiel’s father, Dismas, is a thief who brims with contempt for all things Roman. The young boy hopes one day to marry the beautiful Rina, but he couldn’t possibly afford the appropriate bride price, and she frets that he has inherited his father’s dishonesty. Dismas entrusts Ezekiel with a valuable dagger he has stolen from a wealthy Roman and asks his son to secure it until he returns from a journey of indeterminate length. After years pass, Ezekiel sells the dagger for a small fortune in order to start a fishing business and asks Yeshua (Jesus), a carpenter and rabbi, to build him boats. Yeshua refuses and warns him with a cryptic prophecy: “You were entrusted with a stolen dagger by which you came into this money. If I take the money, knowing it was stolen, I am no better than the one who stole it. If I build you these boats and do not have the means to return the dagger or the money, it will result in someone very close to you being put to death.” In Addison’s inventive version of a well-known biblical story, Yeshua’s prediction comes true. Dismas is arrested by Roman authorities and sentenced to be crucified near Yeshua unless Ezekiel can retrieve the dagger he has sold. To make matters worse, the dagger ends up in the hands of Abigail, a Roman woman who has reasons to despise both Ezekiel and Rina’s family and who wants Rina’s father, Hadwin, dead. Since so little is known about Dismas—virtually nothing beyond the forgiveness Jesus offered him just before his death—Addison had plenty of historical space with which to conjure a backstory, latitude he exploits with impressive literary ingenuity. But it is Ezekiel who emerges as the true protagonist of the story. The author chronicles Ezekiel’s transformation from cynical pragmatist to someone open to a deeper faith, maybe even in the radical teachings of Yeshua: “If God was real, then he was cruel and didn’t fully understand the weakness of men. Still, a beacon deep in his soul told him a different story. A story of redemption if he would just listen.” Furthermore, Addison reconstructs the volatile political environment of the time with impressive subtlety and historical rigor. Yet the plot can suffer from the weight of its digressions—complex, entangled subplots involving Rina’s family begin to feel gratuitous and distracting, even soap-operatic. In addition, Abigail is never a fully believable character—her own moral arc, from someone capable of dastardly deeds to a woman able to show astonishing mercy, isn’t conveyed in a dramatically credible way. Still, these narrative failings are ultimately minor ones—none of them undermine the moral power of the story or the creativity of its rendering. For readers in search of historical fiction with a captivating religious angle, this is a delightful book.
A theologically astute and historically authentic transformation of a familiar story.