The best spiritual quests set in Antiquity

Vince Rockston Author Of Aquila: Can Silvanus Escape That God?
By Vince Rockston

The Books I Picked & Why

Ben-Hur

By Lew Wallace

Book cover of Ben-Hur

Why this book?

The glamour and excitement of the films distract somewhat from this book’s true message. A young Jewish prince named Judah Ben-Hur longs for a Jewish king to vanquish Rome, but suffers injustice through no fault of his own and is brutally enslaved. After perilous experiences on land and sea, he returns to Jerusalem and witnesses the last days of Jesus’s life: healing of outcasts, gracious forgiveness, and a mercilessly cruel death. Ben-Hur finally comes to faith in this divine anti-hero.

The historic, geographic, and cultural detail in this long book is stunning, as are the realistically portrayed characters and the romantic side story. But it is the spiritual message that impressed me most: a downtrodden slave finally chooses to follow Jesus rather than pursue worldly riches and fame. He experiences redemption, learns to forgive, and starts a new life.


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The Land of Angels

By Fay Sampson

Book cover of The Land of Angels

Why this book?

Sensitively written with a solid basis in history, we meet – and in some cases come to love – Queen Bertha, Pope Gregory, Archbishop Augustine, and other key players. The hopes and fears that drive Augustine on his challenging mission to convert England and to bring the old-school Christian Britons in Wales back into the fold of the Roman Church, are vividly portrayed. We also encounter the harsh reality of life in the primitive, war-torn, pagan Land of Angels.

This book taught me a lot about a significant period in the history of Britain and inspired me to reflect on the prevailing incompatible Christian perspectives.


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Citadel of God: A Novel about Saint Benedict

By Louis de Wohl

Book cover of Citadel of God: A Novel about Saint Benedict

Why this book?

This is primarily a novel about the life of Saint Benedict. Several minor miracles occur through his acts of faith; he becomes convinced that he is to establish an alternative society in the form of a chain of monasteries – Citadels of God; he despises the rampant political intrigues and the lures of worldly success; and he has a significant influence on several important historical characters. Secondary plots somewhat distract from the main theme.

This book gave me very helpful insights into the political and religious life in the Roman Empire in the first half of the sixth century and paints a very impressive picture of the saint and his passion to serve God wholeheartedly.


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To Forestall the Darkness: A Novel of Ancient Rome, AD 589

By Vann Turner

Book cover of To Forestall the Darkness: A Novel of Ancient Rome, AD 589

Why this book?

This book is set in Italy at the end of the 6th century. It is a vivid account of an engineer who struggles to survive in a largely devastated country and longs to revive the former advanced Roman technology. It depicts a cruel world: old Romans attacked by Lombards, and merciless clashes between Pagans, Arian, and Catholic Christians. Of great interest to me were the personal interactions of both leaders and ordinary people.

Although, for my taste, it included an unnecessary preoccupation with violence and sex, the vivid cultural and factual detail provided me with much background information and food for thought. The characters are well developed and the story exciting.


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The Healing

By Joy Margetts

Book cover of The Healing

Why this book?

Philip de Braose, a despondent French mercenary who has lost his desire to live, is found half-dead and subsequently befriended by Hywel, a Cistercian monk. This moving tale explores the spiritual journey of an initially hopeless soul.

Margetts recounts engaging details of their travels, such as Hywel’s seasickness as they sail from Bordeaux to Bristol, and Philip’s soul-searching as he becomes aware of his own arrogant, selfish attitudes. We also gain a realistic impression of the modest living conditions and spiritual aspirations prevailing in thirteenth-century Cistercian monasteries.

This book has a deeply Christian message, with many Biblical references. As such, it speaks to readers who may be finding it difficult to trust God as they struggle with past wounds and failures. The dénouement at the end is unexpected, but both life-asserting and encouraging.


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