Richard L Black
Maximus has never known peace. In command of one of Rome’s finest legions, he and his closest friend, Androcles, have fought side by side to uphold the glory of the empire.
But at the end of a long and bloody campaign, Maximus begins to question his purpose, his past, and the gods he has been taught to believe in.
When word reaches Rome of a man named Jesus who is causing a stir in faraway Judaea, Maximus and Androcles are sent, disguised as Jews, to ascertain the truth of the situation: Is this Jesus merely a radical preacher, or is he instigating a revolution against Rome?
As Maximus immerses himself in Jewish culture, he must confront questions that could change his life: Is it possible this carpenter from Nazareth is the Son of God? Is it possible for a man of war to live a life of peace?
When I read the synopsis for Maximus, my first thoughts were of the classic novel that I have read and has been memorialized in celluloid, The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas. I remember this story of the roman soldier and his discovery of “the Christ”. Maximus, is of much the same premise, but instead of a tribune, this time the Roman soldier is none other than a decorated General, who has come to investigate the rumors and stories of this Jesus of Galilee who some claim to be the Messiah, and a pretender to the throne of Judea.
The great general of the Roman army, who has led a legion of war hardened men, has three short weeks to transform himself and his commander (and best friend) into passable Jewish merchants, so that they can go into the back country of Judea and mingle with the crowds without raising eyebrows and learn more about this “upstart”.
Through the cover of bringing the two “converts” up to speed, Ezra (the Jewish merchant and Rabbi) provides them with a brief history of the Jewish people, from creation to the claims of Jesus of Nazareth being of the linage of the House of David.
I enjoyed how Mr. Black worked the two “Roman Jews” into the very fabric of the last few weeks of Jesus’ ministry. Because of Maximus’ position of reporting to Pilate on Jesus, he found himself in Pilate’s presence at critical times when the Sanhedrin leadership was pushing for Jesus’ arrest and death. Watching both men struggle with their inner demons and at the same time, the discovery and wonderment of the Jewish Jehovah was interesting. These sections were thoughtful and well written, especially the scene where Maximus comes to grip with his own acceptance of God. The theological message was well presented between the folds of action, as the two men sought answers to who Jesus was, for both the Roman Empire, and finally for themselves.
My only drawback and the only issue I have with this book is that I feel that in the zeal to present his theological message, though a very good and sound one, Mr. Black dropped the ball in other areas of import. The storyline is an excellent one. The love story, within the story is delightful. But, I felt there were shortcuts taken on researching the historical aspects of the novel. I feel that with a little more work, this good novel could become a great novel. All the parts are here. There are just some areas that need to be corrected, filled out, and finished.
Because of this, it has been difficult to rate this novel. If I were to rate it on the story and what Mr. Black did with it, I would give it a good 4.5 stars for the story. But in the area of application of research and demonstration of knowledge historical and cultural subject matter, I would rate the novel with 3 stars for technical issues.
Hello Richard, thank you for coming by Shade Tree Book Reviews. It was interesting that you worked the story of the final days of Christ from both a Jewish sideliner’s point of view and from a Roman’s point of view.
How were you able to resolve the issue of such divergent thought and philosophy of these two cultures to come to such a cohesive work?
First of all let me explain that I wanted to make sure that the story portrayed within the pages of Maximus was true to events within the KJV New Testament. I have read the New Testament many times and am familiar with the stories and the attitudes of the various peoples represented within its pages. The Jewish perspective was easy. We have many examples in the NT of disciples and non-disciples perspective. Not all non-disciples were “anti” Jesus of Nazareth; they simply didn’t “hear the voice” or comprehend the message or the messenger. The detractors were also portrayed many times in the New Testament. They were described as vehement in their persecution and zeal to find a crack in the armor of Jesus. Their poisonous attitude was spawned from jealously, guilt, ignorance and fear. There were even those that believed His message but were unwilling to make the sacrifice necessary to commit to discipleship – e.g. Nicodemus, and the wealthy young lawyer.
The question of gentiles (non-Jews) is less defined. I did what I suppose most authors do, I closed my eyes and asked the question – If I were there and knew nothing of this Nazarene, or of God for that matter, simply stumbled across Jesus of Nazareth and observed his actions, what would I think? What would I do? How would I feel? Would I be sympathetic or apathetic? I had to take a step back from my own knowledge and belief and ask myself – what if this were me?
Maximus was in that place that a lot of men find themselves; dissatisfied with his life and current situation. But he was humble and receptive to new ideas and looking for change, so Jesus’ message and example hit a chord deep within him. Also, the family of Jershon and the mentorship of Ezra had an illuminating affect on him. He had no idea when he accepted the assignment from Emperor Tiberius and boarded the Egyptian ship to Judea what he would encounter, but he put himself in a position to receive inspiration. Many of us want change in our lives but are unwilling to take the risk of abandoning our preconceptions and pride and opening our hearts and minds to real lasting change and then committing to the work and sacrifice that change may demand from us. Maximus found himself in the “Bermuda Triangle” of life changing opportunity and committed to the change.
How did you come up with the idea for an undercover Roman soldier investigating the supposed Christ in Judea?
The word “undercover” has a contemporary feel to it. There were certainly spies mentioned in the Bible. Moses sent “spies” into the Promised Land before sending the children of Israel to inhabit it. There were Roman and Roman conscripts throughout Judea at the time of Christ. But my thinking was that a Roman soldier would have less access and not be able to get as close to the center of the storm as a simple Jew would. Maximus and Androcles by virtue of their disguise were able to have unprecedented and equal access to these events without raising suspicion – it seemed logical to have them pose as common Jews and add a deeper dimension of discovery to their mission.
Do you plan on a sequel to this story? A continuing story of the early church?
Hopefully the book, like a good rock-concert, ends with the concert-goers/readers clamoring for more – at least this is my hope. My own wife when she read the ending said, “That was abrupt.” But in my heart it was time to end the story with a “hopeful” conclusion. There are a thousand questions the reader could ask and it lends itself to a second book. I have begun to jot down thoughts, as they come to me, about that story. But it all really depends on the success of Maximus.
Tell us a little about yourself. What are some of the things you enjoy doing for fun?
I love good books and good movies. I love seeing at the end of a movie the tagline – Based on the Novel by —–. I love to travel and I love the ocean. I grew up in San Diego. The ocean invigorates me. It inspires me. It heals me. It makes me think bigger thoughts. It makes me want to throw off my self-imposed limits of thinking and accomplishment. It makes me want to be better, grow, succeed, reach-out, expand, create. I am a creative hands-on person. I really shouldn’t be in sales; I should be a carpenter or an auto-mechanic. I love working on cars with my four sons. It is the highlight of my Saturdays during the summer – diving into some broken car. I’ve recently enjoyed building bookcases and furniture for my children and myself. Of course, who can deny the joy I receive from being with my 3 grandchildren – that truly is a glimpse of Heaven.
What types of books do you enjoy readings? Who are your favorite authors?
Historical Fiction. I cut my teeth on Michener, Wouk and Clavell. I also like Michael Crichton, I wish he were still with us. I like the way he makes you think. Crichton had an incredible gift of imaginative storytelling. I like to walk away from a book having learned something. It is my hope that readers will walk away from Maximus having learned something. That would be very gratifying to have someone say that about the book.
I also read a lot of non-fiction, particularly about World War ll and Wall Street; disparate subjects for sure.
Richard, thank you for stopping by Shade Tree Book Reviews and Blog and spending some time with us today. We wish you and Maximus the best in the coming days as your novel is discovered by our readers.
Richard L. Black is a writer with a background in the software industry who has worked closely with Department of Defense and intelligence community, an experience which informs his writing style which shows a flair for undercover mystery and intrigue. A native of San Diego, he now lives with his family in the Southwest and is an avid car enthusiast and guitar player. This is his debut novel.
I received a reading copy of Maximus from Net Galley in exchange for a fair review of this book.