The Centurion’s Wife by Janette Oke and Davis Bunn is set in Israel immediately after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Leah is the niece of Pilate, but due to a financial disaster in her family, she becomes a servant to Pilate’s wife, Procula, until a marriage can be arranged for her. Leah does not want to marry, but her pleadings avail little. Procula had had troubling dreams about Jesus during His trial which continue to plague her, and she sends Leah out to try to find the disciples of Christ and learn what she can about whether revolt is planned among them. She befriends some of the women who followed Christ and is drawn to them while at the same time she is increasingly troubled about her impending arranged marriage.
Pilate had thought he appeased the Jews by giving them the crucifixion of Christ which they had clamored for, but now with the news that Jesus’ grave is open and His body missing, Pilate is concerned that His followers are planning a revolt. One of his centurions, Alban, has a good relationship with the Jews in his area, so Pilate sends him to learn what is going on and to ferret out any information he can. Alban is the centurion whose servant Jesus healed and whose faith Jesus praised, yet in this story it is thought that the faith that his servant could be healed was not quite yet saving faith. Alban sets out first of all to find the soldiers assigned to guard Jesus’ tomb: something doesn’t quite add up, because if the disciples had broken into the tomb and stolen Jesus’ body, the soldiers on guard would have been killed for letting that happen. But they are alive, and Alban wants to hear their side of the story.
What Alban and Leah both find separately has profound implications for their future.
I have to admit I approach Biblically-based fiction somewhat warily. It has to be understood that the events and personalities beyond what the Bible delineates are products of the authors’ imaginations, and sometimes an author’s characterization can ring not quite true with one’s own summations. But I have read all of Janette Oke’s books and many of Davis Bunn’s, and I felt they wouldn’t go too far afield. I just happened to pick this book up just after Easter, the same time setting as the book, and it brought to mind what that time must have been like. Pilate thought he had closed a chapter in regard to Jesus but now finds he may have more trouble than before; the disciples are convinced at this point that Jesus has risen and they are waiting, at His command, but they don’t know what is next; other people don’t know what to make of the events. It’s easy to imagine the incredulity many experienced upon first hearing that Jesus is not just missing, but resurrected, yet for several reasons they can’t just dismiss the possibility.
It took me several chapters to really connect with the characters, but I can’t put my finger on exactly why: perhaps it was just that initial confusion and unrest conveyed by the times carrying over into my perceptions. But I did feel more drawn in as the story progressed. I enjoyed “meeting” some of the early disciples: my favorite was Martha. I felt her personality was the most well-developed and realistic. Every church kitchen has a lady like her: bustling, efficient, matter-of-fact, perhaps a little too blunt, yet she had learned well the lesson Christ taught her. Mary Magdalene seemed the least well-developed and almost a little too other-worldly to me.
Overall I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the next in the series.