Book Review - Day of Atonement

Image of Day of Atonement: A Novel of the Maccabean Revolt
by David DeSilva
Kregel Publications 2015
Paperback 320

Most Christians do not realize there is a large gap between Malachi and Matthew. We’ve noticed a blank page or two, but eagerly turn from the Old Testament to the New without much thought. Those blank pages hide four hundred years of turbulent history in the life of the people of Israel. Some Bibles even include additional books to fill in the missing details. I’m not advocating a return to the Apocrypha, but every Christian can benefit from an appreciation of the harrowing tale that stands behind the Maccabean revolt. That history stands behind Jesus’ celebration (and endorsement?) of the Feast of Dedication.

The Maccabean history is helpful in today’s world where increasingly Christianity is marginalized and a pressure is building for us to synthesize our faith with the lifestyle of those around us. Just water down our faith, bend a little here and a little there, and we’re sure to increase our cultural status. A similar challenge faced the Jews who would be true to God in the face of the siren call of Hellenization and Greek influence.

This story of heroic resolve to stand for the faith finds new expression in a debut novel from a scholar who specializes in this time period: Day of Atonement: A Novel of the Maccabean Revolt (Kregel, 2015). The characters in this fictitious tale grapple with their changing world in different ways. Some give in and accommodate the Greek way of life, ever giving more and ultimately finding that compromise was too costly. Others try to keep roots in both ways of life and ultimately must choose for whom they will stand. Some resist quietly and others spur on a rebellion. Then there are those who give their all: becoming objects of gruesome persecution at the hands of Antiochus IV himself. There are no easy paths to follow, but those were no simple times.

The tale itself is told masterfully and the reader is slowly drawn into the world of the second century B.C. Historical figures find their way into the tale, Antiochus IV makes several appearances, but only after sufficient time to grasp the setting of Jerusalem at that day. The account is believable and the personal touches are compelling. Detailed account of sacrifices in the Temple and personal prayers are sure to inspire devotion in the reader. Historical details are abundant and the author weaves a picture of life in Jerusalem in full color.

The backstory to the rebellion takes most of the attention, along with the personal challenges to accommodate or persevere. But enough of the action is told to satisfy the curiosity of the reader who may know what is coming. Still it made me want to pick up a copy of I and II Maccabees (or is it III and IV Maccabees?).

Evaluation

One feature of the story deserves special attention. The author appears to describe the book of Daniel (in the form we know it today) being written during the Maccabean period. He still has the prophecy tell the future, but not from Daniel’s hand. “The spirit of Daniel” rests on the book’s author. Since other characters betray knowledge of Daniel’s example of faith in the face of apostasy, not every reader will pick up on this point. But it seemed clear to me the author must hold to a late author for at least the visions of Daniel. This point is not vital to the storyline and the conservative who holds to a sixth century B.C. date for the book of Daniel can easily disregard it.

For a first novel the book does not disappoint. At times there were some artificial elements. The Maccabean rebels at one point sound almost like the Covenanters of Scotland. But on the whole the book does a superb job of telling the Maccabean story in a personal and poignant way. I highly recommend it.

About the author

David A. deSilva is trustees’ distinguished professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary. He is the author of over twenty books, including Unholy Allegiances: Heeding Revelation’s Warning; Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance; and Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture.

Bob Hayton Bio


Bob Hayton has a BA in Pastoral Theology with a Greek emphasis and a MA in Bible from Fairhaven Baptist College and Seminary in Chesterton, IN. He is a happily married father of seven who resides in St. Paul, MN. Since 2005, he has been blogging theology at FundamentallyReformed.com, where he has also published over 190 book reviews. He can also be found occasionally at KJVOnlyDebate.com.

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There are 7 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

I've read the apocryphal books, and concur with Luther; they are interesting and worth reading, but not Scripture.  There is a completely different feel to them.  One of my favorite parts is where Judith, on her way to kill Holofernes, approaches the camp, and the soldiers start questioning their plan to conquer Israel more or less because she's really hot.  And she never eats, if I remember correctly.   I nearly got in trouble once at church because I was carrying a 1611 that (like all true 1611s) contained the Apocrypha.  No worries, I know what it is, and is not.

And more directly to my neighbor Bob's point (he went to college in the town where I grew up), books like this definitely serve a purpose in helping us understand what God was doing between the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the coming of Christ--given that Christ celebrated the feast of dedication (Chanukah), which was started in this period, and given that the backdrop to the great "love" felt for the Romans is explained in the intertestamental documents, very important stuff.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Rob Fall's picture

I don't start saying Merry Christmas until the day after Chanukah.  My thinking is without Chanukah there's be no Christmas.
 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Bob Hayton's picture

Bert, 

I could reach for one of my 1611 reprints to access the Apocrypha. but the archaic spelling and stuff might distract me. I may check out the ESV version if I can find it online!  :)

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Bert Perry's picture

Or if you read German, Luther translated it.  Here it is for $3 on Kindle, and here it is for free.  But really, if you can read Shakespeare and know your phonics well enough to understand that i and j, u and v are used interchangeably, your 1611 ought to be really accessible to you.  If they reprinted the 1611 in toto, of course.  

Given that our Puritan/Separationist forebears were united against the KJV in great part because the Apocrypha was included, I've got to wonder if your 1611 even has it--I could imagine KJVO advocates being very reluctant to include that part of the 1611 for obvious reasons.  Gotta admit I'm curious if Fairhaven would include the full 1611.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bob Hayton's picture

The Zondervan 400th anniversary edition of the 1611 doesn't include it but my Hendrickson edition has it.  However that version does sanitize some of the visual art in the block letters opening chapters, which might be frowned upon by some. 

I did not find the ESV Apocrypha online, though. And it is not in my Logos 6 package, either. Sad

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Many years ago, I bought an RSV off of a sale table in our local Mall because it included the Apocrypha.  It has proved to be an excellent translation, perfectly suited to my needs for a readable Apocrypha.

G. N. Barkman

Bob Hayton's picture

Always fun when the author interacts with a review. Dr. DeSilva is commenting on my Facebook post about this review: https://www.facebook.com/rjhayton/posts/10154157280384768.  He points out that he is one of the translators of the ESV Apocrypha! Unfortunately it is not available online, due to being copyrighted by Oxford, apparently. DeSilva also interacts with my observation about his views of Daniel. He intentionally holds to a mixed view of the authorship - that the historical accounts may predate the visions. 

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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