Logos by John Neeleman is a historical novel that embeds the reader in the daily lives of people living in Jerusalem, part of the Roman Empire during the first century AD. The focus of the story of the origin of Christianity is on the drive toward power of privileged ruling and intellectual classes of Romans, Jews, and others. The politicians, military, scholars, and religious had exclusive access to and control of information. They were the keepers of this vital resource and were passionate about using it to establish ways of life controlling social, economic, political, and religious behavior. The leaders believed that governance requires a logos, principles and knowledge of human existence that are required for a genuine understanding and acceptance by all members of society.
The ancient Greeks established a logos that represented an understanding of the need for living order based on a system of legends, a mythology. The Jews had established a logos that was developed by ancient Hebrews that described one transcendent God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses and Hebrew prophets. The logos developed by Jews was self-contained, geographically centered in Jerusalem, and carefully described in sacred scrolls. The tradition of Moses and the Ten Commandments was a starting point for conscious conformity of Jews to a simple and direct logos. The Roman leaders realized that a logos must apply not only to the privileged classes, but must be presented to the masses in a way that justified the leaders’ territorial and societal control. In the Roman Empire, daily living rewards and punishments and the sacrifice of lives and treasure in war should be immediately understandable and justified for all, including the undereducated lower classes.
In this novel, Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was a triumph in secular strength and dominance over the Jewish logos. In order for Christianity to develop, documents were needed describing a logos involving a single god and a single set of rules for people to understand in which all people have personal freedom within limits. Under the rule of the Romans, a Gospel was needed that would allow people to conform to secular rules and maintain a sense of divinely given individual free will. It seemed that in order to maintain a stable logos, a combination of Christian principles and understanding offering a fundamental separation of state and church was required.
The story of the novel involves the thoughts and actions of the wandering Jew, Jacob as he lived and traveled in and around Jerusalem and ultimately Rome. His mother, Helen, was a Jew whose people were scholars, Lawyers, judges, mayors, and philosophers. She was well-educated and spoke Greek and Latin and rarely spoke Hebrew except with her husband. Jacob’s father was a carpenter and a priest who spoke only Hebrew and Aramaic. His people were tradesmen and priests concentrated in Jerusalem who had built and maintained the Holy Temple. Through the influence of his mother, Jacob was given a classical education in Greek, Latin, and Mathematics by Marcus, a Jew with the finest and most extensive library in Jerusalem. Through the influence of his father, a renowned Jerusalem Temple builder, Jacob learned the building trade through an apprenticeship.
Jacob’s unique education, training, and privileged social status allowed him to associate with the leaders of government, commerce, and religion. He travels throughout the Middle East experiencing and learning from the people living under Roman rule, and the relatively small groups of people who had found a separate peace in remote areas outside of the mainstream of commerce, war, and religion. Jacob was accepted as an intelligent and usually non-threatening observer of many of the government, military, and religious leaders of his time. Was Jacob the one chosen by man and God to write a unifying logos of Christianity? Did many years of study, sacrifice, travel, connections, and interactions with both secular and religious leaders qualify him to write a uniquely Christian Gospel?
Logos is a challenge to read because of the rich detail of the history of the First Century AD. The reader travels with Jacob driven by a search for a unifying philosophy, a logos, that would appeal to a broad range of people from the ruling classes and the undereducated masses. The novel certainly made me consider the importance of a universal unifying logos in our current international state of affairs.