A few years ago someone recommended I read a novel by Ted Dekker. I forget which one it was but I couldn’t finish it. Then a month ago someone suggested I read his latest book, AD 30, and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a masterpiece!
AD 30 is exactly the sort of book I wish I was good enough to write. It’s an historical novel that follows the trials and travels of an outcast woman as she seeks to save the very people who have rejected her. It’s a gutsy book because one of the characters in it is Jesus, or Yeshua in this story, and anytime you write fiction about the Lord you run a risk of upsetting readers. But Dekker pulls it off with ease.
Maviah, the Bedouin woman at the heart of the story, is at the very bottom of the ladder. She’s an illegitimate daughter, a slave, and a foreigner. She’s despised and abused by powerful people wherever she goes. In short, she is exactly the sort of person Jesus came for (see Luke 4:18).
AD 30 works at many levels. It provides a rich insight into cultures that existed on the borders of Jewish society at the time of Christ. It’s peopled with characters we know – Herod, Nicodemus, Stephen – along with other notable historical figures. It’s full of brilliant “what if?” scenarios such as what if you happened to be in a boat on Lake Galilee when Jesus stilled the storm?
But the best thing about AD 30 is that it’s a story of radical grace and transformation. It’s a tale of how the love of our heavenly Father can elevate the lowest of the low.
In some ways AD 30 is a clever, if fictitious, complement to the gospel accounts. If Matthew, Mark, Luke and John give us the high points of Christ’s life and ministry, Dekker gives us the imagined scenes that might have gone on in the background.
The woman who touched the hem of Christ’s garment, for instance, is given a name and a backstory. Sure, it’s all made up, but the magic of AD 30 is in putting us in the crowd when the miracle took place. Dekker makes the words of the Bible come alive. By giving us the smells and sounds of the Galilean countryside, he adds detail to the lightly-sketched scenes of the gospels.
Then there is the whole Bedouin aspect to the story which I found intriguing. In one memorable scene Maviah and her companions are shown generous hospitality by members of an enemy tribe. When the fickle politics of the moment intersect the ancient rules governing honor, the outcome is fascinating.
I hope they make this novel into a movie. If they do then I will look for the scene where Maviah the outcast meets the Lord of grace. Their first encounter is subtly done – there are no dramatic fireworks – but the effect on Maviah is as life-changing as you’d expect.
There are only two things in this book I didn’t like. In the opening chapters something awful happens to Maviah’s child. It’s essential to the story but this father found it hard to read. There is evil in this world and Dekker portrays it well. You feel Maviah’s pain and it is gut-wrenching. (Yet it’s mild by Dekker’s standards. If his other recent novel Outlaw scores a nine out of ten for vicarious pain inflicted on the reader, AD 30 rates a six.)
The other thing I didn’t like about the story is that I have to wait until later this year, when the sequel AD 33 comes out, to find out what happens to Maviah. However, if that book is as good as this one, it will be worth the wait.