The Gates of Zion is one in an ongoing series of Bodie Thoene’s Zion Chronicles.” It is published by Bethany House Publishers, 6820 Auto Club Road, Minneapolis, MN 55438. Copyright, 1986. Also available through B. Dalton and Walden Book Stores. Paperback. 369 pp.
Who writes historical novels these days? Are they sensationalists, who figure history needs more hype to sell or are they purveyors of politics, who disguise propaganda with a clever plot?
While any number of hidden agendas might be present, there is another possibility. An historic novel might just be the work of a person who cares enough to say what they think but is honest enough to do so in a format which does not claim the same authority as a textbook or biography. This seems to be the case in Bodie Thoene’s The Gates of Zion, the first of a series of historical novels in which the birth pangs of Israel are depicted.
Thoene’s bias is obvious. She is unabashedly pro-Israel. Some might think Bodie Thoene a stranger to Judaism because she claims Jesus as her Messiah, but her father is Jewish and her heart is inextricably tied to the Jewish nation and the people of Israel. The book’s less historic, more “novel” aspects of adventure and romance play second fiddle to the author’s passionate portrayal of the Jewish struggle to survive. The story opens with a brief dramatic prologue set in Qumran, 68 C.E.?Ç”the Dead Sea Scrolls are being hidden.
The writer then catapults us almost two millennia to November of 1947, and the words of Ben Gurion about the Promised Land. What follows is a web of plots including the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and events leading to the establishment of Israel’s statehood. In the midst of it all, Thoene introduces us to heroes and villains whom we alternately admire and fear for the remainder of the book.
The heroines are Ellie, a non-Jewish American photographer and Rachel, a European Jewish “survivor” of Nazi Germany who doesn’t really seem to have survived at all. Ellie finds purpose in helping the Hagganah prepare to defend the city of Jerusalem after the Partition Act. Rachel hopes to be reunited with her grandfather in Jerusalem or with the dead of the concentration camps, for the stigma of her survival is, in her eyes, unforgivable.
Among the heroes are an Israeli archaeologist/Hagganah member, Moshe, and an American flight pilot, David. Moshe would be happy to be left to the study of ancient pottery and scrolls, but his purpose and commitment dictate a different kind of life. David is the seemingly reckless, self-centered character who cares more than he seems to, first for Ellie, and then for the people with whom she has involved herself.
The risks these four take for one another and for the newly emerging state of Israel make for an action-packed novel. Thoene does not take the reader through the actual birth of the state of Israel, but she describes some of the labor pains. She focuses mainly on Jerusalem, and the responses to the Partition Act by the British, Arabs, and Jews. Then too, Thoene provides welcome relief from the seriousness of her subject matter with humor which emerges unexpectedly.
Throughout, the author paints a very sympathetic portrait of the Hagganah and exposes some of the cruelty and deception of Arab terrorism. To her credit, she manages to do so without communicating a slant found in some such literature the reader is never made to feel “the only good Arab is a dead Arab.” Also, her belief in Jesus does surface from time to time, but in a way which is neither sanctimonious and out of place nor so “subtle” as to be considered sneaky.
Those who are interested in Israel and who enjoy sub-plots of adventure and romance should consider adding The Gates of Zion to their list of books to read.
Bodie Thoene has been writing novels and screenplays for years. (She authored the best-selling novel The Fall Guy which became a popular TV series.) The Gates of Zion was written after in-depth interviews with people who lived through many of the events described.