Media Review: I am reflecting on some of the books and media I have reviewed as part of my research into the various views of the life and times of Jesus and his followers.
Daughter of Cana
Author: Angela Hunt, best selling Christian author with over five million copies of her books sold
Published by Bethany House Publishers, 2020
Genre: Biblical fiction; Historical Romance
371 pages + Q&A section = 384 pages
Daughter of Cana is Book one of the Jerusalem Road series and features the fictional character Tasmin, who is imagined to be the twin sister of Thomas the apostle.
Thomas and Tasmin are hired to cater the wedding in Cana, after which Thomas decides to follow Jesus. Tasmin feels incomplete without her twin brother and her main goal is to get Thomas to stop following Jesus and return home to her. She joins forces with Jude, who wants to convince his brother Jesus to stop teaching and return home.
As the book opens, Tasmin is fiercely independent, runs a business, and has been educated in the scriptures. The novel shows Tasmin and Jude travelling together, usually just a few steps behind Jesus and his group, not knowing the other followers very well. It is surprising that Tasmin is free to travel for several weeks at a time, leaving her ailing father, her date farm, and her catering business. It is unusual at that time for a woman to imagine she has the freedom of choice to remain single, to adopt a child while single, and to travel alone with a man, whether betrothed to him or not. Tasmin initially shows independence and leadership, challenging the expectation to get married, and challenging her brother's decisions,
Tasmin and her twin brother share a secret childhood event that gives them an unusual bond and that she believes is a barrier from them ever marrying. Partway through the book, Tasmin's understanding of this event is resolved easily and the barrier to marriage is also resolved easily and she becomes betrothed. Tasmin's goals change from bringing her brother home and staying single, to hearing reports of what Jesus is doing and coming to an understanding of who Jesus is.
While Tasmin starts out independent, the novel does not attempt to expand the traditional role of women. Tasmin teaches her insights about the kingdom of heaven to Jude but her words are not taken seriously. The women patrons of Jesus are portrayed as giving minor support, serving water and bread, or providing donkeys. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus are both presented as men. The book concludes with Tasmin happy to submit to all expectations to be a supportive wife, abandoning her business and becoming a helpmate to her husband. Tasmin moves from feeling incomplete without her twin to feeling her life is made complete in Christ. The novel has a predictable conclusion, ending with a wedding and faith in Jesus, but that is consistent with the many books in the genres of romance and Christian fiction.
I was interested in some of the research and interpretations that were presented in this book. For example, the novel hypothesizes that Jesus' brothers remained unbelievers until after the resurrection because Mary has kept it a secret from them that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This allows Tasmin and Jude to witness some miracles but remain skeptical of Jesus. Another issue faced is that the Gospel of John places the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and Matthew places it just after Jesus’ triumphal entry. The novel resolves this issue by having Jesus overturn the money changer’s tables twice.
Another issue is that the synoptic gospels say it is the Passover meal on the night before Jesus died (Thursday), while the gospel of John has priests killing lambs for the Passover meal on the same night Jesus died (Friday). The novel addresses this issue by suggesting that the meal the disciples had on the night before Jesus died was not a Passover meal, but was a Galilean ritual 'last supper' celebrating the first born who survived the final plague in Egypt. In addition, the novel hypothesizes that, like Jonah was in the whale for three nights, Jesus' was in hell for three nights. Since he rose on Sunday morning, the novel suggests that Jesus may have died on a Thursday evening instead of a Friday evening.
The cross is called an execution stake to avoid offending Jews or others who may have seen the cross used to force them to convert to Christianity. The novel presents Salome, the mother of James and John, as the sister of Jesus’ mother. This is tradition is based on John 19:25: “near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." It is not a fact, since it is uncertain if the phrase “his mother’s sister” is describing Mary the wife of Clopas, or referring to Salome as an unnamed sister of Jesus’ mother. There is no other biblical or historical indication to confirm Salome as Mary's sister or James and John as Jesus' cousins. There is historical information to confirm Mary, the wife of Clopas is the sister-in-law of Jesus's mother since Joseph and Clopas were brothers. Catholic tradition places Mary of Clopas as the step-sister of Jesus's mother. Catholic history shows St. Anne had a daughter from each of three husbands: Mary (mother of Jesus), Mary (daughter of Clopas), and Mary Salome (wife of Zebedee).
Themes: Jesus doing miracles and healing; Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; Jesus and the sign of Jonah, a prophet from Galilee.
Pros: This is an engaging read, written by a wonderful writer who has extensive knowledge of Bible times and Jewish traditions. Angela Hunt is a Christian author of more than 150 works. I like it that the disciples are portrayed as real people with questions and that several of them are shown to likely got married. The Q&A section at the back helped to explain some of her assumptions and to separate fiction from facts.
Cons: It was difficult for me to empathize with Tasmin’s main goal of bringing her brother home so that they can live together as twin siblings without ever getting married. Tasmin seems unbelievably counterculture in her freedom to travel, speak, and make choices, yet the novel misses the opportunity to move women out of traditional roles and speak to the freedom Jesus brought for women. The book uses some Hebrew language and terms that were unknown and had no meaning to me.