33 AD The Robe

Though this book was written in 1942, it's such excellent historical fiction that I'm placing it in the Ancient reading list.

Now I have the opportunity to gush effusively about my favorite book of all time.  I read it every Christmas.

Lloyd C. Douglas was a minister for many years before he began writing.  The Robe was published in 1942, when he was sixty-five years old.  He had already become a popular author, and received many fan letters.  One letter, from a lady in Ohio named Hazel McCann, asked him what he thought had happened to Christ’s robe after the crucifixion.  He began writing this book, sending her each chapter after it was finished.  He did eventually meet her, and dedicated the novel to her.

The Robe tells the story of Marcellus Gallio, a Roman Tribune.  He is a wonderfully-drawn character, complex and admirable.  This book is an incredibly detailed look at life during the Roman Empire, including the politics and the society of several different areas and cultures.  All of the characters are well-done and believable.  We meet the Roman Emperor Tiberius at the end of his life, and after he dies, Emperor Caligula.  We also meet Peter the Apostle, Stephen who was stoned, and several other disciples of Christ, and of course, many fictional characters, like Marcellus and his family and friends.

Marcellus, through his contempt of some highly-placed but immoral and unjust officials in the Roman Empire, ends up being sent to command the Roman fort at Minoa.  His slave, Demetrius, accompanies him.  It is a degrading command, but Marcellus makes the best of it.  He meets Paulus there, who is not exactly admirable, but proves to be a good friend to Marcellus.  Marcellus’ friends back in Rome try for permission from the Emperor for his release of this command, and they succeed, but not before Marcellus has the unenviable job of putting three criminals to death by crucifixion.  During the well-known gambling of the Roman soldiers, Marcellus wins the Galilean’s robe, and it changes his life.

There was a movie made in 1953, and it is good, albeit dated, but it strays far from the novel.  It covers most of the bases, but in such a way as to not fully communicate the feeling present in the novel.  And my personal grievance; Marcellus’ character is quite a bit altered.  At one point in the movie, Marcellus says, “Maybe there will be amusement in being a man of honor.”  In the book, Marcellus was always a man of honor, but this far from makes him a boring character that does not grow and change.  Another huge difference is the relationship between Marcellus and his slave, Demetrius.  In the book, they are all but best friends.  The one thing that comes between them is the slavery issue, but overall, they are both very loyal friends to each other.  In the movie they are thrown together, but they hardly know each other until later on.

I highly recommend this book.  If you chose to read any of the books I recommend, I would say read this one.  There is so much about human nature, history, the beginnings of Christianity, and personal faith and testimony, told through intriguing and deep characters who have all sorts of adventures.  When reading this book, I feel as if I am walking alongside Marcellus, seeing, hearing, and feeling everything just as he does, and it is an amazing journey.