One of the prevalent themes in Speare’s novel is the effect of hate. In the beginning and throughout most of the novel, eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin is motivated solely by his consuming hatred for the Romans who have killed his father and his uncle. He also blames the Romans for his mother’s death, for his own enslavement, for his sister’s madness, and for the eventual death of his grandmother. Daniel’s hate is so strong that he makes a solemn vow to God to avenge his parents for as long as he lives.
Daniel’s hate has begun to make him as ruthless and cold as those to whom he directs his hatred. Having lost his parents, Daniel feels he can count on only his hate. It feeds his every decision. His hate has separated him from the only remaining relatives he has, his sister and his grandmother. His hate has led him to steal, even from fellow Jews.
When Daniel meets Rosh, the rebel leader, he finds a kindred spirit to share his gnawing hatred. Rosh appears to Daniel to be the leader for whom the Israelites have waited. He takes action, lives for nothing but the “cause,” and for Rosh, the ends always justify the means. But as the novel progresses, Rosh’s hatred becomes more and more obviously self-serving. The physical descriptions of Rosh magnify the blackness that pervades his soul: he has “gnarled hands” and eyes that “looked like bits of polished basalt.” To get what he wants, Rosh does not care whom he hurts.
In this novel, hate eats a person from the inside out. The effects of Rosh’s hatred are isolation and an all-consuming self-interest that blinds him to the needs and feelings of anyone but himself. For example, Rosh sends Daniel to fix his sword but gives him no money or food for his journey. He expects that Daniel will steal what he needs for the repair from his former friend, Simon. Rosh regularly has sheep stolen from Jewish residents and orders the plunder of their crops. He claims that those stolen from should be grateful to donate to the cause and that “no real Jew” would begrudge the leader and his men of sustenance. Hatred has warped Rosh’s soul and distorted any original values he may have possessed.
Jesus tells Daniel that “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword,” and this maxim proves true as Daniel witnesses firsthand the pain of those around him. Daniel’s hatred of the Romans causes him literally to lose two friends to the sword, Nathan and Samson. Furthermore, Daniel shares responsibility for Joel’s imprisonment, having encouraged and facilitated the ruse that allows the robbing of the rich under Rosh’s command. His hatred plunges his sister back into depression and despair. Far from liberating his people or avenging his family, hatred has brought nothing but additional grief and pain into Daniel’s life.
Rosh’s and Daniel’s life of hate are contrasted with Jesus’ life of love. Jesus exemplifies love and its power from the very first time he appears; the light of love radiates from his being. Jesus proves his love for his followers, and for all people, by ministering not only to their spiritual needs but also to their bodily requirements.
Several characters mirror Jesus’ love. First there is Malthace. Although it is her brother who is the rabbi-in-training, Thacia is the one who seems to have a more innate or pure understanding of God’s love. She obeys Jesus’ directive to care for the sick, feed the hungry, and above all, to love one another as God does. When Daniel appears injured on her doorstep, Malthace puts aside her family’s prejudices and even her fear for her brother (who is considering leaving the safety of the priesthood for the dangerous life of rebellion) and lovingly ministers to Daniel’s body and spirit. Malthace also exemplifies love by her tender ministrations to Daniel’s sister, Leah. She respects the younger girls’ fear of the outside world and orchestrates the compromise that will allow Leah to move to her new home and keep her dignity. She does not patronize Leah but allows the girl’s true personality to shine. Her love for Leah slowly brings the traumatized young woman back from the edge of insanity and into a world infused with love.
Simon the Zealot, Daniel’s former colleague, is the other major character who is motivated by love. Simon has left everything he has known to follow Jesus. And like Jesus, Simon does not beg or demand that others join him in following God’s love. All people must be free to choose grace on their own. Like Jesus, Simon leads by example. He waits for Daniel to see the power of God’s love...
(The entire section is 1908 words.)