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Newell and Hamblin, "The Book of Malchus" (reviewed by Tim Ballard) Options · View
Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2011 12:56:20 AM

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Title: The Book of Malchus
Authors: Neil K. Newell and William J. Hamblin
Publisher: Deseret Book
Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 336
Binding: softcover
ISBN13: 978-1-60641-833-8
Price: $19.99

Reviewed by Tim Ballard for the Association for Mormon Letters

Not long ago, I climbed to the very top of my peaked roof to fetch a Frisbee tossed there compliments of my nine-year-old son. As I stood looking into my backyard I found myself a bit stunned. Some areas of the lawn and garden looked impressive. Other areas (honestly, most areas) needed some attention. I had not noticed this from the ground level. The new perspective had a motivating force propelling me to want to break out the shovel and weed eater. I realized that my everyday viewpoint had turned myopic, complacent. Would this principle perhaps apply to the gospel as well? For example, we all know the missionary presentation of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The first book—our first witness—arrived from Judea, from Jerusalem, from the Old World. Our second book—our second witness—arrived from the New World. The only real scriptural event (apart from the Nephites’ initial arrival) bridging these two worlds is the Savior’s visit, from the Old World to the New.

But what if we could see this picture from an entirely different viewpoint? What if the first book (the Bible)—even the first witness—became the second (became the “other testament”); and what if the second witness (the Book of Mormon) became the first? What if we looked at Jesus of Nazareth, not through the eyes of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but through the eyes of one contemporary of the Savior who lived outside of the Hebrew nation? What would it be like to enter Jerusalem as a foreigner, and meet Pilate, meet this new Christian sect, and look into the eyes of the mortal Lord? While all this is going on, what was happening in the New World? What if someone from the Old World had traveled there and back? What if a man had lived among Lehi’s posterity, a firsthand witness of the events being recorded in that sacred Nephite record, and then traveled back to the Old World, also witnessing the creation of the New Testament? All of this would provide a powerful alternative dimension to the scriptural stories we cherish. And this is precisely what the historical-fiction work entitled "The Book of Malchus" masterfully does!

The narrative begins in AD 410. Lucius Crecentius, a prominent pagan philosopher, and a powerful Roman citizen of Carthage, is witnessing the total destruction of his beloved country. Rome has fallen. Lucius struggles deeply to make sense of the tragedy, and in the process loses faith in all he had held dear. Then, in a strange twist of fate, a powerful book falls into his hands. It is a book written by one of his forefathers. By a man who traveled the seas. A man who found more than he ever imaged he could find. A man who discovered the greatest gift available to mankind. A man who knew and walked with the Messiah—not only on one continent, but on two. This man was Malchus.

The power in this story is in its presentation of very real events and very real issues—events and issues that we, the readers, have most likely pondered greatly and struggled with at least minimally. This book asks difficult questions: How can I know the gospel is true? Why should I believe in a religion whose people and leaders I often disagree with? Why does God allow suffering if he loves us? Indeed, we are asked to challenge the very core of our faith. We are also provided with the answer to it all—the key to our salvation.

Apart from the spirituality offered by this book, it is also very fascinating from a historical point of view. This is, no doubt, historical fiction at its finest. Unlike so many other historical fiction pieces, the authors are able to maintain the highest quality of both storytelling and history. The authors are, after all, highly qualified. Neil Newell is a master of the written word—a professional creative writer, and William Hamblin is a true scholar of ancient and Near East studies. Following every chapter are endnotes--historical references that provide us the facts behind the fiction. These endnotes offer enough fact to ensure us that we are not only being pleasantly entertained by the storyteller, but that we are also learning history from the scholar. I was especially fascinated by the references to real people of history, people who are introduced to us in the narrative and who have some sort of relationship with the fictional protagonists. I also loved learning about things I always wanted to know more about—things like the character and kingdom of Herod the Great, the political position of Pontius Pilate, temple rites, the origin of post-apostolic doctrine, Lamanite culture, the possible origins of the Mulekites, Book of Mormon timelines, and the list goes on and on.

That this story takes the reader into three separate cultures and into two distinct time periods may seem daunting. To the contrary, however, the authors bring us along easily and seamlessly. They do this by applying, throughout the entirety of the narrative, precious truths that speak to our souls. Many of these truths are presented through humorous encounters, death-defying acts, romantic interludes, and twists and turns in the plot that leave the reader stunned and often times emotional (I’ll admit, I had to wipe a few tears from my eyes).

In all, the combination of history and entertainment make it a great book. But what make it exceptional is its ability to take us, the readers, to a proverbial rooftop and ask us to peek into the backyard garden—to peek into our own souls. As you read and ponder, you might just feel compelled to get out that old shovel.

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