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 rocky, but because they have caves where people can hide from the civil and military authorities, many of the local Jews see them as a haven from the miseries of oppression. Ketzah lies in a fertile valley full of olive trees and flowers; the village takes its name from the ketzah plant, whose blue flowers yield seeds that are sold as food seasoning. This village is the home of the novel's main character, Daniel bar Jamin.
Capernaum, a real city of biblical Palestine, lies on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Its large dark stone houses are a marked contrast to the mud-roofed ones of Ketzah. Crowded, seemingly always full of life, Capernaum is the economic center of the area. Farmers of the region sell their wares in town; fishermen ply their trade on the shores of the Sea of Galilee beside Capernaum; and caravans carry in goods from much of the Roman world. In the novel, Bethsaida is not very distinguishable from Capernaum, although it is a smaller place and its houses do not seem as large and grand as those in Capernaum. Even so, its brief role in the novel is an important one. It is in Bethsaida that Daniel begins his spiritual transformation after hearing of miracles being worked by Jesus.
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...
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