My Brother’s Keeper by Bill Kassel
This is a story well-told, well-researched, easy to read, with fresh imagination, and beautifully written. This is a book for all readers, Jews, Catholics, and Protestants as well as non-believers. It’s history, it’s culture and politics. How many times while listening to gospels or Sunday School lessons or an old Charleston Heston biblical film, have you wondered what it was really like “back then?” How did they work, interact, what motivated them? All those different rulers all at the same time, so confusing, right?
I feel like I’ve just walked hundreds of miles between little towns, through the verdant valleys and busy market places, watched merchants’ caravans coming and going on the trade routes, been in the homes of the Jewish people to observe their customs, their traditions and their way of life, to learn what the Romans were doing there and who those rulers were who weren’t even Jewish. What is a zealot, anyway? This book gave me answers to questions I didn’t know I had! I feel kinship with traditions of the Jewish people that have passed down to become part of the liturgy of the Mass, in prayers, in gestures. It’s beautiful. And it’s fiction, folks! It’s not a historical treatise or catechesis or Torah or gospel. But, as I said, well-researched, including the author’s sources of two Jewish historians of the time period who wrote accounts of the first three centuries of the church. The book doesn’t rewrite Scripture. It simply fills in some missing gaps, based on history and the tradition of the Jewish families and their faith in a very enjoyable read.
The story is written from the viewpoint of James the youngest son of Joseph and his deceased first wife. James became the half-brother of Jesus. We meet them in the compound of his family, where they work and live and pray, enduring the politics of their time. Joseph is a highly respected, not poor economically, trusted by tradesmen for his honesty and observance. The family struggles with the first major plot change when young Mary’s father comes to visit Joseph with a most unusual request of the older man. The human worries of his sons, the petty grievances of his daughters-in law, the private jealousies and his own fears are overcome by the practice of their faith and their loyalty to family. It’s a testament to the strength of a family of faith. The interesting backstory of Joseph’s life before Mary, and Mary’s early life, the placement of key people in Jesus’ life, and the very probable reason not much is known about Jesus until he begins his life’s work, are all interesting ideas backed up by the history and social structure of the time. We learn much about the education and environmental impact on James, the youngest child of Joseph come late in life, whose mother died and who was raised by his father and other family members. James is ordained for the scholarly life and becomes a rabbi of distinction, James the Just. His position becomes important later in Jesus’ adult life.
As I’ve said, I’m not a book reviewer, I’m not paid to review, and I don’t have the practiced skills to do a satisfactory report, but this I will tell you. Here’s a book you’ll be glad you’ve read; a book of substance, a book that will leave you wanting more. And you know where that can be found, right?
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