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A Book Review: Using Historical Fiction for Writing Prompts – The Bronze Bow
Young, aspiring writers learn a great deal by using historical fiction as writing prompts and incorporating multiple subjects into a unified study. For the demonstration, we will use the Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, who lived from 1908-1994. This book won the 1962 Newbery Medal.
Literature and Vocabulary: Students need to learn that historical fiction has a story that arose from the author’s imagination in a historical setting. For the Bronze Bow we need to know that a small town in Palestine near Capernaum during the lifetime of Christ forms the SETTING for the time and place of the story.
CHARACTERS in The Bronze Bow include: Daniel, his sister Leah; Joel and his twin Thacia, Joel and Thacia’s father, a prominent rabbi; Simon Horlivec (Luke 6:15), Rosh, Samson; Marcus, the young Roman soldier and Jesus. We know from the Bible that Jesus lived, and the story relates to this Jesus. Simon Horlivec, the disciple, followed Jesus in the Scriptures and in the story. Most of the other names occur frequently in Scripture or in general historical writings, but Speare probably used them simply because they fit the setting.
TITLE and THEME comes from Psalm 18:33-35: “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer and sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to war, that my arms may bend a bow of bronze. You also gave me the shield of your salvation, your right hand upheld me, your meekness made me great.”
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, ZEALOT as a noun means “a person who has strong feelings about something (such as religion or politics) and who wants others to share those feelings.
Further, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, a fanatic is: “A sect of Jews that originated with Judas the Gaul (Acts 5:37). God was the only king of Israel. They revolted against the Romans, but were soon dispersed and became a lawless band of mere bandits.’
Other subjects you can cover in this book include mathematics (talk about the distances between a village and Capernaum); Vocational education / History (research occupations of the time – blacksmith, rabbi); Science/Health (research treatments of the time), Art/Music (make a model of the area; research the music of the Jews of the time), and Physical Education (walk 3 miles to find out how long it would take to get from the village to Capernaum).
by Elizabeth George Speare
Elizabeth George Speare opens The Bronze Bow with our main character on a mountain with Rosh, a fanatic. When the Romans killed Daniel’s parents years ago, he decided to join a group of Zealots led by Rosh. This young man followed Rosh, believing that when the time was right, he would defeat the Romans. Throughout the book we see Daniel progress in understanding how the Jews could be freed from the Romans. Throughout the story, we follow Daniel as a follower of Rosh, a zealot in the mountain; as a resource for Rosh in the village and Daniel, as a follower of Christ, in the village.
Daniel meets Joel and Thacia as they explore a dangerous mountain area before their family moves to Capernaum. He warns them to stay away from the area. Joel recalls Daniel abandoning his blacksmithing apprenticeship in disgrace. Daniel firmly believes in Rosh’s mission to restore Israel to self-government without the Romans who killed Daniel’s parents. Joel also promises Rosh that when the time comes, he will use Rosh for a mission. After they left, Rosh sent Daniel on his first solo job to capture a slave who would eventually only answer to Daniel. Many did not like that Rosh stole and captured to allow them to launch an attack on Rosh which they felt was the right time.
We then learn that Daniel’s grandmother is dying and he has to return to the village to take care of his sister Leah. He never leaves his home and cannot stand visitors. Daniel is now free to return because the blacksmith he was apprenticed to has died. Simon, a zealot, also a blacksmith, wanted to follow Jesus, so he gave his shop and home to Daniel. This allowed Daniel to work and take care of Leah. Daniel and Joel have work to do for Rosh while still living in their respective homes. Thacia and the young men meet and form a pact using a verse from a psalm as their motto, “That my arms may bend a bow of bronze”, though they do not fully understand it. Thacia and Leah surprisingly become friends. Many sacrifices follow as Daniel continues to believe that under Rosh’s leadership the Israelites will drive out the Romans.
Daniel, Thacia and Joel find many opportunities to listen to the discourses of Jesus. At first it is difficult for them to understand what he is teaching. Finally, Daniel, Leah, Joel, and Thacia understand and recognize that the kingdom Jesus spoke of was spiritual, not physical. Jesus heals Leah physically and everyone spiritually. Ros didn’t know the answer, but Jesus did.
Elizabeth George Speare does a great job of drawing the reader into the story and setting. We see Daniel and others move from hatred to revenge and finally to reconciliation. Jesus changes lives.
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