The Apostle's Sister: Book Review
I truly enjoyed this biblical fiction set in the time leading up to and during the Acts of the Apostles.
Author: Angela Hunt
Publisher: BETHANY HOUSE
Published June 7 2022
I loved how the author developed the character of Aya, Paul's sister, who is unnamed in the Bible's only reference to her (Acts 23:16).
Aya lived in the shadow of her brilliant, dominant, brother and she was left feeling unimportant. Her actions and friendships were restricted by Jewish laws and customs. Her God-given gift of music was sidelined by the expectations - the command - to get married and have children.
I learned so much about the culture and atmosphere of the times, the onerous burdens of the Jewish laws and oral traditions as well as the tension and pressures on the Roman overseers. The novel does a wonderful portrayal of the disputes between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The characters and culture were extremely well described.
Aya suffers as she faces many financial and emotional struggles and she is prohibited from doing music or socializing with Romans or Gentiles.
Saul's character is well developed as well, and I was interested to imagine him married - partly in obedience to his parents and partly as a requirement to be a member of the Sanhedrin.
Paul is single-minded and passionately obsessed with studying and obeying the law and does not seem to be able to hold a passion for both his profession and his wife at the same time. He struggles with showing healthy affection towards her and realizes his mistake after she dies in childbirth.
Paul's decision to abandon the Sanhedrin and preach about the Way gives him a new passionate obsession. In his single-minded focus, he does not realize his decision to reject the Sanhedrin will add to his sister's difficulties. After Paul defects, the Jewish community ends his sister's ability to participate in the music choir and many of them cease to speak to her.
Aya is largely alone in her struggles as her brother continues to oppose authorities in Jerusalem and is away most of the time spreading the Good News in faraway lands. She is only able to financially survive because her gift of music allows her to teach students and perform professionally. However, having a profession aggravates her exclusion from the Jewish community.
Nevertheless, Aya continues to study, pray, sing and worship, obeying the law and seeking God. As others come to follow The Way, she debates with them and they smugly tell her that she will understand if God reveals it to her and that they'll pray to God to open her heart.
As in many families, despite Paul's lack of concern for Aya, she remained loyal to her brother. I loved that Aya heard a prophecy about herself and that she miraculously saw Jesus and felt his presence. Since Aya lived in Paul's shadow, it was nice that Paul wasn't the only one who saw Jesus!
This was a wonderful biblical fiction novel and I highly recommend it. There are a few minor points that bothered me.
As a person with past struggles with infertility, it bothers me that the novel follows the old Jewish and Christian tradition that God's first commandment was to be fruitful and multiply.
In fact, Genesis 1:28 states God blesses Adam and Eve and allows them to procreate, to share God's creative nature. As if having a physical illness was not enough, portraying this verse as a command heaps guilt upon an infertile couple. I hope that today's Christians will read this as permission to have children, and a blessing, not a commandment.
The novel misses the opportunity to connect the plot of a woman with a profession to an affirmation of women flourishing in roles other than wife and mother. While Aya is portrayed as driven in her music and told to abandon it, she would have starved without her music career. The plot shows Aya flourishing when she uses her God-given gifts, and that her gift allows her to survive financially as a widow. Discounting the importance of her work may bother me due to my 30 years as a financial advisor. The novel ends with Aya saying she was more fulfilled in her roles as wife and mother than in her profession. This seemed a bit out of character, possibly added simply to please today's evangelical leaders who teach a woman will flourish best as a wife and mother. While the words say wife and mother are God's best roles for women, the plot demonstrates how essential it is for a woman to have a profession and use her gifts and talents. A person can flourish in many roles in their lifetime.
The novel promotes the Calvinist doctrine of the elect (where God predestined only some people to receive salvation). After Aya has a personal experience with Jesus and comes to believe in the Way, she apologizes to her son and brother and blames herself for taking so long to come around. Paul attempts to comfort her by saying that no one can come to God unless God opens their hearts. I would not be comforted to be told that God had prevented me from receiving God's peace or strength if I had suffered and prayed as Aya did. All her life, Aya actively seeks God, reads and interprets Scriptures and obeys the teachings. The words credit the doctrine of the elect while the plot demonstrates how Aya's eyes were opened when she studied the Scripture and prayed.
I believe God wants all of us to have fellowship with our Creator, that God seeks us out as a woman seeks for a lost coin, and Jesus's sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to save all people.
As an ecumenical Christian, I work for cooperation among believers with a range of views. Together, Christians can celebrate our shared belief that God loves the world so much that God became flesh and dwelt among us in the form of Jesus, and anyone who believes in Jesus will have everlasting life.
(John 1:14, John 3:16)
My objective review is based on a complimentary 'advance reader copy'.