Topics for Further Study
- Speare’s The Bronze Bow is a novel of historical fiction, which means that the author takes real characters from history and puts words in their mouths and assumes their motivations. Is this fair?
- Research other powerful women from the Bible. Some examples include, but are not limited to, the following: Sarah, Rachel, Esther, Ruth, Deborah, and the Queen of Sheba. How did these women make contributions to society? Examine their political impact and ability to enact social change.
- Is Speare’s depiction of indentured slavery accurately portrayed? What did a slave endure? How often did they live to see the terms of their bond end? Where does Speare portray this aspect of Jewish life well? Where does she fall short?
- Define the term zealotry as used in the novel and now. What current figures might be considered “zealots”? For what causes do these zealots fight? Examine their social, political, and economic motivations both historically and in the present day. Consider whether Rosh or Simon meets the definition of a true zealot.
- Compare and contrast the roles of the women in Speare’s novel and modern women in Israel. How have their roles changed? Has anything remained the same?
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What Do I Read Next?
- Calico Captive is Speare’s first novel, published in 1957. Set during the French Indian War in Charleston, New Hampshire, Calico Captive takes place prior to the American Revolution.
- Probably her most famous work, Speare’s second novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, garnered her the coveted Newbery Medal for “Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children” in 1958. It is the story of sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler and her life in Connecticut Colony during the hysteria of the witch trials.
- Not written until 1984, The Sign of the Beaver is Speare’s third Newbery winner. This novel returns to Speare’s American roots, with twelve-year-old Matt trying to survive on his own until his father returns to the family cabin in the Maine wilderness.
- Elizabeth Jarvis McGraw is also a Newbery winner for a novel of historical fiction called The Golden Goblet. The story’s protagonist, a young Egyptian boy, attempts to reshape his own destiny while solving a murder.
- For nonfiction works aimed at this age group, consider Daily Life at the Time of Jesus by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh. The author considers how much a shekel would buy and other common challenges of everyday life.
- Another nonfiction work accessible to young adults is Schulyer Brown’s The Origins of Christianity: A Historical Introduction to the New Testament. Brown recounts the life and death of Jesus as well as the origin of the movement that venerated him.
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Questions and Answers: Chapters 1-5
1. Who is Rosh, and what is his “cause”?
2. For what are the Jews waiting?
3. How does Jesus differ from Rosh?
4. Why does Rabbi Hezron defend the Roman occupiers?
1. Rosh is the leader of the rebels who live in the hills above Galilee. Rosh claims that he and his band will rid Israel of the Romans. They will do so, he says, by intimidating, threatening, and often murdering any Roman who comes within striking distance. He believes in rule by fear, and this extends to those who live and work for him.
2. The Jews are waiting for the promised Messiah who will finally free them and rid Israel of Roman oppressors. In the beginning of the novel, Daniel fiercely believes that Rosh is this deliverer.
3. Rosh’s actions are all compelled by hate. He believes that freedom for the Jews will be accomplished by killing as many Romans as possible until they all give up and leave. He also believes that the ends justify the means. Rosh has his “army” steal what they need, even from fellow Jews, arguing that they should all be grateful and willing to support the “cause.” Jesus, by contrast, teaches a message of love and tolerance. He is humble and clean, unlike Rosh who is boisterous and filthy. Most startling to Daniel is that Jesus preaches a message of inclusion. Jesus says that all people, even the hated Romans, are children of God and have a place in his kingdom.
4. Rabbi Hezron believes that the Law will ultimately free Israel. “When the last Roman empire has vanished from the earth,” he argues, “the Law will still endure.” The rabbi does not believe in a violent uprising; he claims that all the insurgency has done is get innocent people killed. And, most galling to Daniel, he claims that the Jews actually have reason to be “grateful” to the Romans, whose money has built a “beautiful synagogue.”
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Questions and Answers: Chapters 6-10
1. Where do Joel and Malthace hide Daniel and for what purpose?
2. What is the significance of the biblical passage that begins chapter 7?
3. Why does Malthace argue that Rosh is not the leader the Jews have been expecting?
4. What is Daniel’s personal vendetta against the Romans?
5. How does Malthace convince Joel and Daniel to let her take the vow to fight for freedom?
6. According to Rosh, what is Daniel’s “fatal flaw”?
1. The twins hide Daniel in a small storage room that is accessible both inside and outside the house via a secret passageway. They do so to nurse him back to health after Daniel is injured as a result of disrespecting and resisting a Roman soldier.
2. The three friends interpret the lines from the Book of Enoch as a call to resistance and defiance. They believe that the promised Messiah will seek bloody vengeance for the people of Israel. Joel argues that the “men of old didn’t wait for God to win their battles for them. They rose up and fought, and God strengthened them.”
3. Although Daniel is convinced that Rosh is the man for whom they have waited, and Joel is becoming increasingly won over, Malthace does not believe that God would choose an outlaw to “bring in his kingdom.”
4. The Romans are responsible for the death of his father and uncle. Daniel’s uncle was taken to prison for failure to pay taxes. His father tried to rescue him. They were caught and crucified. His mother stood by the crosses for two days and nights while he died. She became ill due to the exposure and because of her grief. She too died a few weeks later. Daniel’s five-year-old sister, Leah, had somehow gotten away from a neighbor and witnessed her father hanging on the cross. The trauma of the event seems to have driven Leah mad; she screams in her sleep and refuses to leave the house. Daniel’s grandmother tries to care for the orphaned children but is too poor to do so. She is forced to sell Daniel into slavery to Amalek the blacksmith. Daniel blames all of these tragedies on the Romans.
5. Malthace argues that many women in the Bible have served God admirably. She cites Deborah and Queen Esther. Daniel resists, saying that the vow is “a man’s vow.” Joel solves the problem by saying that they “will make a new vow. The three of us together....
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Questions and Answers: Chapters 11-15
1. What does Daniel mean when he says that “the weakest one of them had defeated him”?
2. What is the only valuable object that Leah possessed? How is it symbolic?
3. How does Speare humanize the Roman soldier who comes to Daniel’s smithy?
4. Why do the village boys beat up Nathan?
5. What does Daniel give to Leah, and how does it affect her?
6. Why is the Good Samaritan parable important?
1. Leah, the weakest person Daniel knows, has compelled Daniel to leave his life on the mountain, where he felt free and enjoyed a life of action. By accepting responsibility of his sister, he has chosen a life that will tie him down to a job and caring for her needs.
2. The loom is the only object of value that Leah possesses. It symbolizes her worth and skill. Leah can make beautiful things from virtually nothing. The loom also proves the value of women’s work. Daniel is helpless to perform tasks that Leah can do with ease.
3. When the Roman solider comes to Daniel’s shop, Daniel sees that he is no older than Joel and himself. The Roman also acts politely, although Daniel, seething with hate, misinterprets why the soldier stands instead of taking a seat.
4. Nathan gets beaten up because his father works for the Roman tax collectors. To the Jews, there is virtually nothing worse, and Nathan receives the brute end of their disgust.
5. Daniel gives Leah a silver talent, payment for some of the work she has done on her loom. The money thrills Leah. Daniel realizes that she has never been materially compensated for her work. Leah proudly tucks the coin in her headdress and wears it constantly, even while she works. The money gives her pride in her job.
6. The Good Samaritan parable teaches that all people are capable of kindness and, most important, that the kingdom of God is inclusive of all people. This tenet will be the hardest for Daniel to accept and overcome.
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Questions and Answers: Chapters 16-21
1. What job does Rosh give Joel to do?
2. Why have the villagers become so disenchanted with Rosh?
3. What do the boys find and what, per Daniel’s instructions, do they do with it?
4. What finally causes Daniel to break from Rosh?
5. Who rescues Daniel, Joel, and the boys?
6. How does Daniel convince Joel to stay in school?
1. Rosh wants Joel to find out which rich people will be leaving their homes unguarded in order to attend a feast. He offers no help or advice to Daniel or Joel as to how to go about this task. With the help of Thacia, they decide on a plan. She will disguise herself as a boy and be seen in the village with Daniel, thus providing an alibi. For his part, Joel will pretend to be a fish merchant, peddling his wares to the homes of the wealthy and discovering via the gossip of the slaves who is planning to be away from home to attend the festivities.
2. The villagers have become disenchanted with Rosh because he has stolen from them, allegedly to support the “cause,” but his pillaging has gone on for years with no discernable benefit to those who have suffered losses. Daniel is forced to consider their point. He had envisioned more from Joel’s efforts other than “a wholesale looting of rich men’s houses.” He knows that no crop or sheep is safe from Rosh’s limitless appetite.
3. The boys find a catapult and surmise it will be used to try to oust Rosh and his men from their lair. The boys want to turn it against the Romans themselves, but Daniel points out that such a display would soon lead to their discovery. Furthermore, Daniel knows that any Roman death will lead to reprisals and the deaths of innocent people in Galilee. He orders the boys to disassemble the catapult and hide all the pieces.
4. Daniel breaks from Rosh when the “leader” refuses to do anything to help Joel, who has been imprisoned. Daniel naively expects that on hearing the news of Joel’s capture, Rosh will lead a band of men to free his friend. Instead, Rosh only says, “It is not my affair.” His apathy makes Daniel furious, and he reminds Rosh that Joel was only acting on his direct orders. None of it makes any difference to Rosh. Finally, Daniel sees how egomaniacal and self-serving this so-called leader is.
5. Samson is the one who rescues Joel and the...
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Questions and Answers: Chapters 22-24
1. What does Jesus ask in order for Daniel to follow him?
2. What startling news does Leah deliver to Daniel, and how does he react?
3. How does Simon define faith?
4. How does Daniel finally decide to follow Jesus?
5. How does Daniel demonstrate that he has truly accepted Jesus’ message of acceptance?
1. Jesus commands that Daniel relinquish his hatred. It is not enough for him to give up all his earthly possessions; in fact, those are of little consequence to Jesus. Instead, Daniel must replace his hate and intolerance with love and acceptance.
2. Leah tells her brother that the Roman soldier, Marcus, has been coming to visit her ever since last summer. There have been plenty of signs that Leah has had a suitor: care in herself and her appearance, the many small gifts that Daniel has misattributed to coming from Malthace, and most especially, her glowing spirit. Daniel dismisses all of these things and reacts violently, forbidding Leah to ever see Marcus again and even threatening to kill him.
3. Simon defines faith as a leap into the unknown. “God hides the future from men’s eyes,” he says. “We are forced to choose without knowing.”
4. Leah is nearing death, and Daniel reaches out in desperation. He remembers everything that Jesus has done: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, even raising the dead. Unlike Rosh, Jesus cares for each member of his flock. He comes to Daniel’s home and fills the house with his luminous presence. Daniel knows the answer to his most pressing question: “Was it possible that only love could bend the bow of bronze?” Having tried all other avenues, Daniel has never known anything else to work. He makes a great leap of faith. Although he does not know the future, he chooses without knowing the outcome. Daniel chooses Jesus.
5. Daniel invites the soldier into his home to say good-bye to Leah. This final act proves that Daniel has embraced Jesus’ message of acceptance for all.
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The Bronze Bow takes place 2,000 years ago in Palestine during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius and the time of Jesus Christ's ministry. The people of Palestine live under Roman rule; many regard the Romans as foreign military occupiers, although others take advantage of the new economic opportunities that the Roman Empire provides. The Romans do little to endear themselves to the Hebrew people of Palestine. Jews must always show deference to Roman soldiers: if food is demanded by the soldiers, then the Jews must provide it; if a Roman soldier needs help, then the Jews must drop whatever they are doing and immediately provide assistance. The Romans even enact a law requiring ordinary people to carry the soldiers' burdens during journeys, if the soldiers demand it. For those who profit from the opportunities the vast empire offers to merchants and civil servants, the burdens of military occupation seem less troublesome, but even many of those who prosper would prefer a truly Hebrew government. The novel's action focuses on those who seek to drive the Romans out of Palestine.
The Bronze Bow has four specific locales for the action: the mountains beyond the village of Ketzah, Ketzah itself, and the cities of Capernaum and Bethsaida. The mountains harbor the thieves and cutthroats who follow Rosh, who some hope will lead a successful revolt against the Romans and the puppet government run by King Herod. These mountains are dry, dusty, and...
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Speare's prose in The Bronze Bow has the fluidity, grace, and clarity that mark her other award-winning novels. The impressively researched story comes alive with images of everyday life in ancient Palestine; Speare subtly weaves these details into the action of the novel.
The title The Bronze Bow represents the central symbol of the novel. It is taken from the biblical Song of David as quoted in chapter 7: "God is my strong refuge, / and has made my way safe. / He made my feet like hinds' feet, / and set me secure on the heights. / He trains my hands for war, / so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze." Daniel misses the point of this quotation, remarking, "It couldn't really be bronze. The strongest man could not bend a bow of bronze." Joel, too, misses the point, suggesting that "Perhaps just the tips were metal." On the other hand, Malthace understands what is meant: "No. I think it was really bronze. I think David meant a bow that a man couldn't bend—that when God strengthens us we can do something that seems impossible." The image of the bronze bow recurs, even in a brooch that Daniel makes for Malthace. To him, the bronze bow is a symbol of war. It represents a promise from God to give his people strength to overcome their enemies. In this, Daniel is only half right, for the bronze bow actually represents him. Daniel is the unbending avenger, and though others mistake his stubborn hatred for strength of character, his difficulty in...
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Given the turmoil in the Middle East today, The Bronze Bow's depiction of military oppression in ancient Palestine could spark a discussion of the current Palestine situation, as well as a more general discussion about human rights. Even if the Romans did bring better sanitation, better roads, and wealth to a region that had been wracked by almost constant warfare, they also became the oppressors, and readers may want to address the major issues of oppression and the desire of people to be free.
The religious aspect of The Bronze Bow may be controversial. The novel is undeniably rooted in Christian theology, but its main concept is common to many religions and philosophies—that giving in to hatred is foolish. At the novel's end Daniel is not necessarily a converted believer in Christ; he is converted to Christ's way of thinking about love, hate, and life's priorities.
The depiction of Christ in the novel could possibly arouse controversy among readers. Speare's Jesus is a weary man, burdened with cares, not an untiring superhero who crushes evil wherever he finds it. Possessing great wisdom and an extraordinary understanding of human nature, he works miracles of physical and spiritual healing that present little challenge to the Roman overlords. Some readers may regard this down-to-earth depiction of Christ as irreverent, although Speare's intention is to explore Christ's appeal to his contemporaries.
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Topics for Discussion
1. Why does Daniel not know from the start that Rosh is devious?
2. Were any of Daniel's crimes justifiable? Why might freeing Samson be justifiable while robbing the old man is not?
3. Discuss the character strengths of Simon, who gives up his business in order to follow Jesus; Joel, a good student who knows much of Holy Scripture by heart; Malthace, who seems to know what is in the hearts of others; and Rosh, who is charismatic but cynical. Which of these characters is the wisest?
4. Who is more courageous, bold Daniel or bookish Joel?
5. Do people today still rationalize their bad deeds the same way that Daniel and Rosh do? Describe some of their rationalizations.
6. What do you think of the novel's ending? Does Daniel get off too easily for all the hurt he has caused? Is his change of heart too quick a shift from bitterness to openness to be convincing?
7. Why does Speare include the character of the kindly, lonely soldier who befriends Leah?
8. Why would Speare make her main character so flawed? Were you put off or made uncomfortable by Daniel's personality?
9. If most of the Jews want them to leave, why do the Romans stay in Palestine?
10. What purpose does Nathan's death serve in the development of the story?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. How accurate is the portrayal of everyday life for Daniel's era and place in The Bronze Bow? You may need to narrow this down and research a specific aspect of life depicted in the novel. For instance, you may want to focus only on religious customs or the way a smithy would have operated.
2. Find all the times the bronze bow is mentioned. Does it have different meanings in different places in the book? Does its meaning develop in a logical pattern, perhaps shifting from hate to love as Daniel changes?
3. Does Speare's depiction of Jesus match the depictions in the New Testament? Does it most closely match the portrayals in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John? Be sure to cite passages from the New Testament that either agree with or contradict passages in The Bronze Bow.
4. The idea that uncompromising hatred is foolish could easily be presented in a trite, even condescending manner, yet Speare makes it into a rich, well developed theme. How does she do this? By connecting it to her characterizations? By showing the results of such hatred? In other ways?
5. Why does Malthace not take an even more active role in the lives of Joel and Daniel than she does? What were the customs of her time and place that would have at least partly dictated what she could and could not do?
6. Research the city of Capernaum. What is its history? What made it important in Daniel's time? What were its...
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All of Speare's other novels feature graceful prose and her gift for vivid descriptions. Like The Bronze Bow, The Witch of Blackbird Pond won the Newbery Medal. It is an exciting and suspenseful novel about a girl, Katherine Tyler, learning to cope with being an outcast in the Puritan society of Colonial America. The book reflects Speare's careful research of the time and place. Also well researched is The Sign of the Beaver, which depicts the friendship between a Native American and a young white settler in eighteenth-century Maine.
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For Further Reference
Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Research, 1973. Summarizes her career and includes comments by Speare about her life and works.
Cosgrave, Mary Silvia. "Elizabeth George Speare—Newbery Award Winner." Library Journal 84 (April 15, 1959): 1291-1292. Biographical sketch of Speare's life.
Cross, Helen Reeder. "Elizabeth George Speare." In Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books: 1956-1965, edited by Lee Kingman. Boston: Horn Book, 1965. Cross reminisces about her acquaintance with Speare and provides background on Speare's life, noting that for Speare "home still comes first, writing second."
Fuller, Muriel, ed. More Junior Authors. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1963. Speare provides an autobiographical sketch, emphasizing her family life.
Speare, Elizabeth George. "Report of a Journey." In Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books: 1956-1965, edited by Lee Kingman. Boston: Horn Book, 1965. This is Speare's Newbery Medal acceptance speech. In it she discusses some of her concerns about writing The Bronze Bow and provides an account of how she developed the character Daniel.
Sutherland, Zena, and May Hill Arbuthnot. "Elizabeth George Speare." In Children and Books. 7th ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1986. Summarizes The Bronze Bow, emphasizing its dark themes.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Ballantine, W. G. 1891. Messianic prophecy. The Old and New Testament Student 12(5): 262-266.
Brewbaker, James M. 1984. So you think you know young adult literature. The English Journal 73(7): 58-59.
Byrne, Brendan. 2001. Interpreting Romans theologically in a post-“new perspective” perspective. The Harvard Theological Review 94(3): 227-241.
Hajjar, Lisa. 1998. Between a rock and a hard place: Arab women, liberal feminism and the Israeli state. Middle East Report 207(Summer): 27.
Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Kellner, Menachem. 1986. Messianic postures in Israel today. Modern Judaism 6(2): 197-209.
Lahav, Pnina. 1974. The status of women in Israel: Myth and reality. The American Journal of Comparative Law 22(1): 107-129.
Schodde, George H. 1897. Israel’s place in universal history. The Biblical World 10(4): 272-276.
Shachter, Jaqueline. 1975. Meet the author on video tape. The Elementary School Journal 75(7): 401-407.
Sharoni, Simona. 1998. The myth of gender equality and the limits of women’s political dissent in Israel. Middle East Report 207(Summer): 24-28.
Speare, Elizabeth George. 1957. Calico captive. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Speare, Elizabeth George. 1958. The witch of blackbird pond. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Speare, Elizabeth George. 1961. The bronze bow. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Thuente, Mary Helen. 1985. Beyond historical fiction: Speare’s “The witch of blackbird pond”. The English Journal 74(6): 50-55.
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