Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from the Publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a review, and the words below are my own.
When we read the crucifixion accounts in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we come across the previously unknown, yet now important, figure of Simon of Cyrene. Who was Simon? What was he doing there, so far from home? We know from his Hebrew name that he was Jewish, so it was possible that he was in Jerusalem for the Passover, but nothing else except that he was from a community in northern Africa. R. William Bennett sets out to imagine this man’s life and how he came to be known for thousands of years after.
Bennett’s Simon is not particularly religious. He keeps the Laws only to keep his wife happy, but doesn’t see a personal need to obey them while away from home. He’s not a man to turn down ham or shellfish stew, for example. He’s a practical man, who thrives on business, so he pays more attention to Roman laws that could benefit or hinder his business. Does he feel bad when he sees the innkeeper deny the young couple at the door? Yes and no; sure she’s obviously pregnant, but he was there first and he’s tired. The publisher’s overview tells the rest of the story.
This Simon never meets Jesus until that day in Jerusalem, but he comes to believe before then because of what he hears. In this sense, the tale is an allegory: in 2019, we believe through the words of the gospels and not because we meet Jesus face to face. Many of us are not particularly religious, but we think of ourselves as good people because we keep the civil laws. I understand what Bennett was trying to do but I wonder about his intended audience. Would a non-believer come to believe and accept through his story? Or is the Christian community being encouraged to do more?
I would’ve preferred a more in-depth novel. The time between Jesus’ birth and crucifixion goes almost too quickly. I would’ve liked more on Simon’s business, his family, his community, how he handled the religious and cultural aspects of his son’s marriage, and what might have happened when his keeping of Roman law contradicted his wife’s steadfastness to Jewish law, etc. Because of my reading preferences, the result is a novella which didn’t satisfy this reader.
Publisher: Shadow Mountain Publishing
Publication Date: 08 October 2019