Elizabeth George Speare's The Bronze Bow takes place in Galilee, Israel, during the time of Jesus. Eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin has endured a life of unbelievable hardships. At the tender age of eight, Daniel witnesses his father’s and uncle’s crucifixion by Roman soldiers. His mother also dies shortly thereafter. Daniel’s younger sister, Leah, is so traumatized by their deaths that she appears to lose her mind. Daniel’s grandmother, poor and elderly, is unable to support the children, so she is forced to sell Daniel to the town’s blacksmith, Amalek.

Daniel works for Amalek for five years but then escapes. He flees to the hills above Galilee and becomes a member of a rebel group led by the zealot Rosh. Rosh despises the Romans who occupy Israel. It is his mission to drive them all from the land.

Daniel too is consumed by hatred of the Romans. He makes it his mission to kill as many as he can in order to avenge his parents’ deaths and to pay them back for the havoc they have wreaked on his country.

The longer he spends with Rosh, the more Daniel’s hatred grows. But he begins to hear about a man who has a different message, a message of love and tolerance. However, Daniel faces a long battle before he can give up his vow of hatred. He even puts his friends as well as his sister in danger. It seems that he will destroy them all in his single-minded pursuit for justice, but gradually, the words and actions of Jesus help Daniel understand that only love has the strength to “bend the bow of bronze.”

Extended Summary

The Bronze Bow is set in Roman-occupied Israel during the time of Jesus. Eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin is living in the hills above Galilee. He has been there for five years, having escaped a life of slavery.

Daniel, however, also had other reasons for fleeing his home. At the age of eight, he witnesses the execution of his father and uncle by the Roman forces. His uncle’s original crime had been failure to pay taxes. Instead of saving money, Daniel’s uncle impetuously buys his wife a gold shawl for the naming ceremony of their first child. He intends to do extra work to make up the loss before the due date, but the tax collectors arrive early. He is arrested and destined for a short life of hard labor in the quarries. Daniel’s aunt nearly goes insane.

Moved to help them both, Daniel’s father and some friends plan to free the uncle as the troops lead their prisoners to the quarries. They attack, but all are captured. The punishment for the rebellion is crucifixion.

Daniel’s mother is inconsolable. She stays by the crosses for two days and nights to be near her husband. As a result, she contracts a deadly illness. She too dies a few weeks later.

But the tragedy does not stop there. Daniel’s sister, Leah, just five years old at the time, is so traumatized that she appears to lose her mind. Although it may appear obvious to modern readers that her condition is caused by the horror of losing her parents, the explanation for her subsequent odd behavior is that Leah is possessed by demons.

Care of the children falls to their aging grandmother. She tries to support Daniel and Leah, but she is little more than a peasant. Financial hardship forces the grandmother to sell Daniel to the local blacksmith, Amalek, for a period of ten years.

After the third year of his slavery, Daniel has had enough. Hatred for the Romans consumes him. He thinks of nothing but his desire to avenge his parents and to see his country free of Roman rule. He makes a solemn vow to God that he will fight until this is accomplished or until he dies.

In the mountains, Daniel meets a radical rebel leader, Rosh. Rosh too is fueled by hatred of the Romans. He leads a ragtag group that attack and usually kill any Roman who crosses their path. Rosh teaches Daniel that stealing is acceptable, even from fellow Jews, arguing that support for the rebel fighters is necessary and that no true Jew would resent the loss of a sheep or a few dollars if it helps support the cause.

To young Daniel, Rosh is just the sort of leader Israel has been waiting for: one who actively tries to oust the Romans instead of passively sitting by. Daniel is more than glad to contribute to the rebellion. He hones both his smithy skills and his hatred, sharpening them to lethal force every day that he spends serving Rosh.

Although Daniel shares with his rebel clan the bond of hatred, he feels alone. But one day, while out on watch on the mountain, Daniel spies two young people, a boy and a girl. Longing for contact, Daniel comes out from hiding, and the three teenagers meet face to face.

Daniel knows the pair—Joel bar Hezron and his sister, Malthace—from the synagogue school. Joel is excited to learn that Daniel is one of Rosh’s men....

(The entire section is 1351 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Bronze Bow's richly developed characters and universal themes make it one of the most extraordinary books ever written for young...

(The entire section is 113 words.)