2012 Book 98: The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare (6/30/2012)
Reason for Reading: I’m participating in the Middle Eastern literature theme read, and this book fits the theme because it takes place in Israel; however, I’m not sure they’re really interested in children’s literature, so this was really for my own edification.
My Review 5/5 stars
Daniel has been living for years as a member of a band of Zealots who wish to free the Israelis from Roman oppression. When he meets a preacher named Jesus, he realizes that perhaps his path of violence and thievery isn’t quite as logical as he’d thought it was. This is a fun book for kids, with adventure, interesting moral lessons, and new friendships. Although Jesus is a character in the book, he is only a minor one–the book is mainly historical fiction, and I think the lessons Daniel learns (violence, thievery, and hatred don’t accomplish anything good) are appropriate for kids of all religions or lack thereof. This is a must-read.
A controversial side-note: This book has been banned from many public school library on the following charges: 1) It’s too Christian, 2) It promotes bigotry against Jews, and 3) It suggests that Christianity is “right” and Judaism is “wrong.” I thought I’d address these issues.
1)Too Christian: Kids are intelligent, we need to have more faith in them. They are not going to convert to Christianity just because they read one Christian fiction book. This book isn’t even Christian fiction, though it does get close. Kids will be better people in the end if they are introduced to all world religions, as well as many different cultural ways of looking at the world…it will make them LESS racist and more empathetic towards people with different beliefs.
2) Hostile towards Jews: I’m not sure how? I’ve read a few arguments on this subject, and the people who claim that it promotes bigotry or that it is hostile towards Jews don’t provide examples. Or, when they do provide examples, they quote the book out of context to such extremes that it seems purposeful. But I’m going to assume that SOMEONE (who is actually honest) must have been insulted by this book at some point? I see only two reasons why that would be.
First, the characters in the book are mostly Zealots who are angry about the oppressive Roman regime. It could be perceived as portraying Jews as angry or racist. However, the book did a good job of showing that this anger is rightfully aimed at an oppressive regime. People under oppressive regimes get angry. That’s a fact. So this book is both sociologically and historically accurate when it portrays some of its characters this way. Furthermore, the book is very sympathetic towards the characters and is rather more hostile towards Romans than Jews.
Second, there was a very short (maybe 3 sentence) passage in which it said that the priests from the synagogue were angry at Jesus and might try to get him killed. I understand that this pokes at the let’s-blame-the-Jews-for-the-death-of-Jesus wound that is still open and festering among some Jewish people (and some Christians???). I’m truly sorry about this open festering wound, but the passage in The Bronze Bow was very short and there’s no way it will encourage kids to blame currently living Jews for the death of Jesus.
I grew up hearing these stories for my entire life, and I never realized this was an open, festering wound until I was 23 and talking to a rather onerous Israeli friend who (for reason still unknown to me) was trying to start an argument. He said to me: “You should hate me because, after all, I’m Jewish and we killed Jesus.” I was completely floored by this comment because the idea of blaming the Jews for Jesus’ death was foreign to me. I answered “But the Romans killed Jesus.” I had a Catholic education, heard all the stories from the Bible and still never considered the idea that Jewish people alive today could be blamed for the death of Jesus. It seemed preposterous. As far as I was concerned, Jesus was killed by Romans for political reasons that I didn’t quite understand. Though I know now that this is not just an issue with my Israeli friend…I came across the same idea in the book The Faith Club.
I think that books like this with very short passages that reference well-known stories out of the New Testament aren’t going to encourage kids to be bigoted. It’s bigoted parents, teachers, and role models that will encourage kids to be bigots, not The Bronze Bow.
3) Christianity is right, Judaism is wrong: Well, it DOES imply that Christianity is right. That doesn’t mean that it implies Judaism is wrong. It never says that anywhere. There are scenes when the kids break rules, like washing hands before eating…but if kids breaking rules proves that they’re right to do so, then the Harry Potter books imply that kids are “right” and schools are “wrong.”