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Wrestler of Philippi

by Fannie E. Newberry
317 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Jeanne

Sweet and clean, but somewhat lacking in depth and power.

Plot

Salome has lost her amulet. Thus begins the chain of events that tear apart the little Philippian family of Salome and her brother, Hector, twice champion of the Olympic Games. The story follows both them as they are separated and their younger brother, Herklas, who disappeared from Philippi some months before the beginning of the tale. Each one encounters the despised sect of the Christians, and each in their different way comes to see that these people are something more than what the world claims they are.

Morality

Hector faces the most moral difficulties, for he goes to Rome as a centurion and is caught in the deceit and intrigue of Nero's court. He is at one point called upon to bring about the murder of Nero's mother, and he struggles with whether or not to do it. Salome is also faced with the choice of taking part in a pagan celebration in order to earn money.

Right and wrong are clearly delineated. Forgiveness is one of the clearest themes. At one point a woman does admonish a man, which is not strictly Biblical.

Spiritual Content

This is a tale of the early Church, and is strongly spiritual. The Christians are portrayed as light against the blackness of the world; indeed, the characters are sometimes so good and radiant that it detracts from the believability of the story. Several of the accounts in Acts occur during the course of the story and are handled well; the girl from Acts who was possessed by an evil spirit is a main character.

The pagan festivals, prayers, rituals, etc., all show up and there are discussions between believing and unbelieving characters about their different beliefs.

Violence

Salome is knocked unconscious and Hector is imprisoned. The stoning of Stephen is recounted as from an eye witness. Nero intends to murder his mother (which he eventually does). The possibility of Christians being killed in the arena is a major plot point.

Drug and Alcohol Content

One unbelieving character is a drunkard (which is not condoned).

Sexual Content

The licentiousness of Rome and Nero's court is mentioned. All the romances in the novel are chaste and practically nonexistent.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Unbelievers swear by the gods.

Conclusion

"The Wrestler of Philippi" does an excellent job of incorporating the accounts of Acts into a novel, and I enjoyed how Ms. Newberry wove together the threads of all her different characters by the end. The climax in the arena was also well done. The faith of the early Christians is uplifting, although at some times they seem so perfect and lacking the "indwelling sin" which Paul talks about that the story seemed lacking in power. Also, there seems to be either a belief that all people will be saved (which I doubt was what the authoress intended to get across) or that if you pray enough, God is sure to answer in the way you wish. I do not believe that this is what Ms. Newberry intended, but the side story of the Christian Elizabeth and her unbelieving husband seemed to imply that. Thus, while it was an enjoyable story and was more theologically sound than The Robe, yet it did not reach the power and beauty of Ben-Hur.

Fun Score: 3.5
Values Score: 4
Written for Age: 13+

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