We can barely understand how shocking it would have been for the Roman citizens to see a high-born, rich Roman lady embrace a slave. The new way, Christianity, turned the world upside-down with rumours of a God who dies and lives again, with news of a strange new concept: agape, promises of forgiveness and a new start, and, most revolutionary of all, the declaration of a new king. Nowadays it can be hard for us to realise the excitement and implications of the whispered and shouted proclamation ‘Jesus is Lord’.
Phoebe, by Paula Gooder, brings some of this excitement to life, in a story of a ‘deaconess’, Phoebe, who brings a letter from Saint Paul to the converts on the edge of Rome. As the stories, letters, whispers and discussions circulate, the new Christians wrestle with the astounding new ideas they are hearing. How can they understand these ideas? How can they solve the huge difficulties of merging high-class Romans, women, servants, Jews, gentiles; the poor and the rich, the important and the over-looked, the slaves and their owners, into a loving, sharing community? How can they deal with the real fear of being excluded, and becoming destitute, enslaved, tortured or killed if they embraced this new way?
Read if you want to know more about the early history of Christianity in an exciting and informative tale. Phoebe herself is a sympathetic and interesting narrator, with a moving history that is gradually unfolded during the story.
Paula Gooder is a theologian, not a novelist, but has still produced an approachable, encouraging and readable novel, which gives a wonderful flavour of the danger and excitement, as well as the theological struggles, of the early years of Christianity. There are also lots of interesting notes as well, for those of us who would like more depth and background and historical settings/details.