A Book Review: Using Historical Fiction for Writing Prompts – The Bronze Bow

Young, budding writers learn much from using historical fiction as writing prompts and incorporating many subjects forming a unit study. To demonstrate we will use The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare who lived form 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 an historical setting. For The Bronze Bow, we need to know that a small town in Palestine near Capernaum during the life 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 sister Thacia, Joel and Thacia’s father, an important Rabbi; Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15), Rosh, Samson; Marcus, the young Roman soldier and Jesus. According to the Bible, we know that Jesus lived and the story refers to that Jesus. Simon the Zealot, a disciple, followed Jesus in the Scriptures and in the story. Most of the other names occur often in Scriptures or in general historical writings, but Speare probably just used them because they fit the setting.

TITLE and THEME comes from, Psalm 18:33-35, “He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great.”

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary ZEALOT, a noun, means, “a person who has strong feelings about something (such as religion or politics) and who wants other people to have those feelings.”

Further, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary a zealot is, “A sect of Jews which originated with Judas the Gaulonite (Acts 5:37). They refused to pay tribute to the Romans, on the ground that this was a violation of the principle that God was the only king of Israel. They rebelled against the Romans, but were soon scattered, and became a lawless band of mere brigands.”

Other subjects one can address with this book include math (talk about distances between the village and Capernaum); Occupational Education / History (explore about the occupations of the time – blacksmith, rabbi); Science / Health (explore healing practices of the time), Art / Music (make a model of the area; explore the music of the Jews of that time) and Physical Education (walk 3 miles to see how long it would take to get from the village to Capernaum).

The Bronze Bow

by Elizabeth George Speare

Elizabeth George Speare opens The Bronze Bow with our main character on the mountain with Rosh, a zealot. When the Romans killed Daniel’s parents years earlier, he determined to join a band of Zealots under the leadership of Rosh. This young man followed Rosh believing that when the time was right, they would defeat the Romans. Throughout the book we see how Daniel progresses in his understanding of how the Jews would be free of the Romans. During the story, we follow Daniel, as a follower of Rosh, the 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 while they explore the dangerous mountain area before their family moves to Capernaum. He warns them to stay away from this area. Joel remembers that Daniel had left his blacksmith apprenticeship in disgrace. Daniel firmly believes in Rosh’s mission to restore Israel to self-government without the Romans who had killed Daniel’s parents. Also, Joel promises Rosh that when the time came he would avail himself to Rosh for the mission. After they had gone, Rosh sent Daniel on his first solo job to capture a slave who in the end would only respond to Daniel. Many did not like that Rosh stole and captured to enable them to mount the attack at the Rosh considered the right time.

We then learn that Daniel’s grandmother dies and that he must return to the village to care for his sister, Leah. She never leaves her home and cannot tolerate visitors. Daniel can now freely return because the blacksmith with whom he had apprenticed had died. Simon, the Zealot, also a blacksmith, wanted to follow Jesus so he gave his shop and home to Daniel. That allowed Daniel to work and care for Leah. Daniel and Joel both have jobs to do for Rosh while still living in their respective homes. Thacia and the young men meet together and make a pact using the verse from Psalm as their motto, “So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” even though they did not fully understand it. Surprisingly, Thacia and Leah become friends. Much sacrifice ensues as Daniel continues to believe that under Rosh’s leadership the Israelites will expel the Romans.

Daniel, Thacia and Joel find many opportunities to listen to Jesus speak. At first it is hard for them to understand what he teaches. Finally, Daniel, Leah, Joel and Thacia, understand and recognize that the kingdom of which Jesus spoke was spiritual, not physical. Jesus heals Leah physically and all of them spiritually. Rosh did not have the answer, but Jesus did.

Elizabeth George Speare does an excellent job of putting the reader into the story and setting. We see how Daniel and others progress from hatred to revenge and finally to reconciliation. Jesus changes lives.

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