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I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
by Liam Robert Mullen
⋆ ⋆ ⋆
The verdict: A quick read, sparser than I’d hoped, serving a specific audience with an interest in biblical history.
I picked up The Scribe intrigued by its premise—a look at biblical history from a rarely told perspective. Mullen draws from the gospels and Acts to create plausible backstories for some of the Bible’s best-known characters, infusing some fictitious elements and extrabiblical traditions. While Mullen’s writing feels knowledgeable about the subject matter, some glaring anachronisms keep it from being truly immersive. Character thoughts refer to years as “BC” or “AD” even though the terms didn’t exist until centuries later, and the prose references some future events and includes modern vocabulary that took me out of the ancient mindset. Less nerdy readers might not have the same gripes. In terms of structure, the chapters are more like short vignettes involving different characters, making Mullen’s work more like a story collection than one continuous narrative. The behind-the-scenes musings about Christianity’s early days might spark thought or discussion; it’s to the story’s credit that I wanted more than I found.
Following Jesus’ crucifixion, Sanhedrin scribe Escobar faces an unexpected crisis of faith. In the wake of his own personal tragedy, Escobar is strangely moved by this rabbi on the cross, and he determines to learn more about Jesus. Years earlier, the young fisherman Simone loses his grandfather in a horrific accident but later earns the name Cephas, while meanwhile Roman Senator Cesari loses his wife in childbirth but learns from a Seer that his son will become the gospel writer Luke. Back in the present day, Escobar sees the resurrected Christ and receives a special mission. Interspersed with scenes of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Escobar goes to Ephesus with a changed heart, a city where he encounters Mary and the apostle John. Elsewhere, a now-adult Luke meets Paul on his own journey to Ephesus. As the scenes unfold, ripple effects stretch out to touch men and women across the Meditteranean world, culminating with a trial before Emperor Nero in Rome.
“The answer already lies in your heart, Escobar. You must cut all ties to the Sanhedrin or they will destroy you. You’ll destroy yourself by associating with them…listen closely to the words of men like Cephas. They have a steadfast message for the world.”
In contrast to the linear narrative of the gospels themselves, Mullen gives a layered perspective of the first-century Roman world. As a result, however, the timeline jumps around, and it’s challenging to find a single main character or conflict. The story has several developmental and proofreading issues and could benefit from professional editing. Several transitions feel choppy, and I wanted more development of the main characters. As a starting point, it’s an interesting take on a biblical origin story. All in all, The Scribe offers a quick, intriguing novella for those interested in biblical history.
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