Transported two thousand years into the past, readers are introduced to Antipas, a Roman civic leader who has encountered the writings of the biblical author Luke. Luke's history sparks Antipas's interest, and they begin corresponding. As Antipas tells Luke of his reactions to the writing and of his meetings with local Christians, it becomes evident that he is changing his mind about them and Jesus. Finally, a gladiatorial contest in Pergamum forces difficult decisions on the local Christians and on Antipas. While the account is fictional, the author is a respected biblical scholar who weaves into this fascinating scenario reliable historical information. Bruce Longenecker is able to mix fact and fiction and paint an interesting and valuable study of the New Testament world and early Christianity. Readers are invited to view Jesus and the early church from a fresh perspective, as his first followers are brought to life. More reliable than typical historical fiction and far more interest.
It is largely fictitious – I know – but it’s still a moving story about the gradual conversion of a Roman nobleman with a gripping conclusion to his story as one who imitates Jesus. I am not an emotional man (my wife calls me the world’s only living heart donour!), in fact the last time I cried was when Queensland lost the 1994 State of Origin series – but with a glass of cab sav in hand I read Pergamum in one afternoon and I wept a few tears for Antipas’ bravery and self-sacrifice.
I begin to think that more NT scholars should novels like this. Not only a good story, but a good introduction for students to learn how Luke-Acts may have been received in a Greco-Roman context.
Buy it, read it – and keep the kleenex close by.