My first experience with Biblical Fiction was several (twenty plus) years ago. I picked up Francine River’s Mark of the Lion series and was engrossed in a time when Christians were persecuted and died horrible deaths for pronouncing their faith in a man many believed would ruin their world. A time when Christians were thrown to lions, made human torches, hung on crosses but refused to denounce Jesus and the one and only Messiah. The true ruler of everyone. It seemed that for a while there, books about the end times and the rapture took over Biblical Fiction. Over the past several months, I’ve noticed the resurgence of Biblical fiction. This is the third book I’ve read in as many months dealing with characters living at the time of Jesus’s ministry and/or death.
The Advocate has a little different spin. Theophilis dreams of making a name for himself in his beloved city of Rome. He longs to be a voice of reason in what he considers the greatest place on earth. The book follows Theophilis from his teenage years where he learns about crucifixion through his time in Greece where he learns much about orating and caring for mind and body. When he is twenty, he returns to Rome where he is asked to advocate for a man who is wrongly accused. This is his chance, the place where he can become known to others in the city. Unfortunately, Theophilis is destined to become the advocate for many wrongly accused people. Each person making him less popular with the Roman Senate. When he is sent to advise Pontius Pilate, he comes across a man who astounds him when he doesn’t defend himself. Trying to give the Nazarene, Jesus, a way out, Theophilis suggests to Pilate that he offer up Barabbas instead. Years later, he is again asked to defend an innocent. This time it is the apostle Paul. Will he be able to appease his guilt over sending Jesus to his death so many years ago or will another innocent man die at his hands?
Admittedly, I have never been a great student of history and it takes longer for me to get into historical fiction. Same with legal fiction (and I’m a fan of John Grisham most of the time). Singer incorporated both of these things, but Rome fascinates me. This book had so much going on throughout. Information about the many Caesars, the Senate, the advocacy, the Vestals (virgins who lead sacrifices) fill the pages of this book. The author’s note even mentions you can go to his website to see all of his research. The meaning of Theophilis’s name in the final pages is an interesting little gift that I didn’t see coming. As I neared the end of the book, the thing that I was left thinking was What kind of Christian would I have been at that time? Would I have been one of the people who gave in and testified against my fellow believers in order to save myself and those I loved or would I have been one of those who professed my faith and sang to God’s glory as I stood in the face of horrendous torture and death? Would my life end well despite mistakes or regrets that litter my past?