REVIEW OF: The Soldier Who Killed a King
SUB-TITLE: A True Retelling of the Passion
PUBLISHER: Kregel Publishing, 2017, 285 pages
CLASSIFICATION: Historical Christian fiction
AUTHOR: David Kitz
BY: Wilf Wight, Director, (retired)
Eastern Ontario District
Canadian Bible Society
Maybe it is because I am left-handed, or maybe it demonstrates impatience, but when I first pick up any book, I invariably flip to the concluding pages. Call me a cheater if you will, but I am looking for a conclusion worthy of the time required to read the book! When I turned to the back of The Soldier Who Killed a King, the concluding pages of this story accomplished what every well-written book should do. The author reached back into the plot for a brief review and then projected the reader toward the future. In this case, the plot obviously had elements of violence and suffering which were being transformed through forgiveness and healing. And the future held promise of hope and excitement.
My attention next is concentrated on the first couple of chapters. Has the author grasped my attention in the opening paragraphs? Was sufficient detail given to introduce the plot, while only hinting at more intrigue to follow? Were the characters being carefully introduced in a way that begged my investigation? Yes, the author passed the basic tests. He had been successful in reaching out to me and I wanted to read this book!
Our western world has had major exposure to the Christian Gospel and most readers know at least something of what has come to be known as Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. However, the Bible makes only passing reference to two of the main characters in the story, the Centurion (military officer) who carried out the crucifixion and Barabbas (the convicted murderer) released by the authorities. The author seizes upon this opportunity to give them personalities, develop their thoughts and articulate their opinions. This proved to be a clever and effective tool to experience the unfolding of the drama in a fresh perspective.
For readers who have the mistaken idea that the biblical account is far removed from reality, here is fiction that will help them discover truth. As the author effectively paints the picture of the process of first century justice, political influence and compromise become realities. We cringe as the sentence is carried out by the most cruel and violent method. This is the most gripping account of the crucifixion that I have ever read! One could almost hear the hammer fall, feel the pain, sense the dishonor and share the guilt of that scene. After reading the description of the crucifixion of the first two victims, I hesitated, in fact halted. I was not sure if I wanted to tackle the third one—that of the Christ. And yet, despite the graphic description of this horrible experience, the author accomplished his goal without resorting to gross descriptions of the mangled human body.
We are confronted with the enigma of the Christ. He is the one who has demonstrated miraculous power to heal the lame and restore sight to the blind. He is the one who gently took children on his knee to teach them. Yet he set aside the exercise of his powers to submit to the terror of the Cross. The terrorist, Barabbas, was released—set free from prison and back into society—as the peoples’ alternative choice. And the sentence was carried out under Pilate’s orders by the Soldier. Through the eyes of these two characters we see another perspective, which does not usually come to the mind of the worshiper during Passion Week.
One device the author uses effectively is the introduction of each chapter with a day and time orientation. In this way the unfolding of the drama is situated on the calendar. Those who know the biblical account realize that Friday is coming but that is not the end of the story because Easter Sunday will be the revelation of the resurrected Christ.
As we approach the chapter dealing with Easter Sunday, the reader is rewarded with the hope and excitement of an amazing new day. The darkness of the crucifixion is not forgotten but rather dims in the light of the resurrection. The despair of death is replaced by the hope of new life. The willing submission of Jesus, the Donkey King, to the soldiers is now recast as the power of the One who can forgive and restore.
The concluding pages of the story bring us to a climax, so well-crafted and tensioned that I dare not give it away.
The epilogue provides further details of the main characters of the plot, gleaned from historical research. The endnotes reference biblical and other texts, which document the main course of events. The author has done his homework. His account of these events is well researched and credible.