Published by Covenant Communication, Inc.,
629 pages, $24.95
Reviewed by Jennie Hansen
Gerald Lund should probably be credited with starting the demand for the spate of LDS historical series that have enlightened and entertained LDS fiction readers during the past decade. Vast numbers of readers have gained insight through these novels into various historical periods as they relate to the gospel and to God’s dealings with his children. Through reading these carefully researched and crafted series, testimonies have been strengthened and many people have gained a heightened awareness of the past and the part past events have played in shaping today’s world. One author and one series that rises to the top of an impressive selection of these first rate series is David G. Woolley with his Promised Land series, based on the Book of Mormon.
The first two books in this series delve into the political and social drama that led to the Prophet Lehi abandoning his wealth and property in Jerusalem to begin a tortuous journey to a new land. In the absence of a Book of Lehi, it is necessary to search out the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekial in the Old Testament to gain a grasp of this tumultuous period of history and discover the roots of The Book of Mormon. In addition to the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon itself, Woolley also used the writings of Hugh W. Nibley and the Lakhish Letters quite extensively as he researched the historical events of the period.
Volume one, Pillar of Fire was a compelling introduction to this series. Volume two, Power of Deliverance, is a breath-taking continuation of the events leading up to Lehi and his family’s exodus from Jerusalem six hundred years before the birth of the promised Messiah. This well-researched saga is not for the pseudo-intellectual or shallow reader, but will likely cause the serious reader, historical scholar, and spiritual seeker as well as those who are looking for clean entertainment to re-read the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon and consult the Old Testament to take a second look at the political and social climate of that period of history when Babylon ruled the vassal state of Judah and King Zedekiah sat on the throne of the squabbling, spiritually bankrupt descendants of the people God once delivered out of Egypt. This time period is currently under discussion in Gospel Doctrine classes and astute readers may spot some details in Woolley’s book that seems at first glance in variance with the events recorded in the Old Testament. A careful reading of Woolley’s footnotes clears up most of those seeming discrepancies, such as whether or not Jeremiah was married and might have had a son.
Brother Woolley bases this second book on the prophetic allegory of the olive tree where the master of a vineyard saves a choice olive tree by cutting off branches and hiding them in the far corners of the vineyard as grafts among the wild olive trees. He compares this to the faithful few the Lord chooses to preserve unto himself before Jerusalem is destroyed by carrying healthy branches off to diverse places where they can grow strong once more. “The tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he has chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance. (1 Nephi 1:20)” The title of this volume is, of course, derived from this scripture. It is interesting to note that the first chapter of Jeremiah ends with almost the same words, “for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.”
The Power of Deliverance picks up where Pillar of Fire left off with Captain Laban conspiring to silence the prophet Uriah and eliminate the royal family as part of a political plot to obtain the throne of Judah for himself. Captain Laban and the Elders in the Jerusalem City Council led by Zadock, the First Elder, build political power through lies, involved plots, intimidation, and murder.
The Rekhabites, men and women who believe in the promised Messiah, resort to their own subterfuge and secrets in order to survive the persecution inflicted on them. They prove their commitment as they work tirelessly in their effort to free Uriah.
The fictional family of Jonathan the Blacksmith is torn apart by conflicting loyalties. The father, Jonathan, tries to avoid political conflict by ordering his family to have nothing to do with the Rehabites or the prophets. He isn’t a political man, but he sees obedience to Zadock and Laban as a means of being allowed to own his own shop and to support his family. He accepts appointment to the Council and blindly does as he is told and expects his family to follow his orders in the same blindly obedient manner.
Jonathan’s wife Ruth is a weaver and an intelligent woman who befriends the queen and through association with her gains a testimony of the Messiah and gains a desire to be baptized. She struggles to reconcile her beliefs with her husband’s commands and the differing values her children choose.
Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, loves Zoram, Captain Laban’s scribe. She will go to any length to be with the man she loves and even steals ore from her father in order to provide Zoram with the plates he needs for some records he is working on.
Aaron is the oldest son who has lost the woman he loves in a suspicious fire. He works for his father and is also devoted to Lehi and his family. Through the miraculous healing of his burned feet he has developed a testimony of the teachings of the prophets and has a strong desire to be baptized. He is commissioned by Sariah to make a steel bow for Nephi, a project Captain Laban learns of and the bow becomes something Laban is determined to possess.
Daniel, the second son, has turned his back on the family to become a soldier. He idolizes Laban and will do anything to prove his loyalty to the Captain. He becomes increasingly rough, crude, and void of conscience. He spies on his own family, steals from his brother, and accepts Laban’s orders to kill those who get in his way.
Two younger children, Sarah and Joshua, complete the Blacksmith’s family. This family along with the family of Josiah the Potter and Queen Miriam and her son Mulek make up the nucleus of the fictional characters in this novel and it is through their eyes that the reader primarily sees the events surrounding the historically based characters.
Woolley has done an outstanding job of developing character, but has not neglected plot to do so. Background is skillfully woven into the story in a way that brings the day-to-day trappings of life into vivid focus without tiring the reader with endless descriptive paragraphs.
A book this size is a daunting undertaking for many readers, but it is well worth the time commitment.
It flows smoothly and the drama and intrigue keep the pages turning rapidly. The historical information serves to introduce the Book of Mormon and place it in historical perspective as Lund did with his series on Church history. The epilogue is a twelve page jump to an archeological dig that took place in 1935 which uncovered a military fort near Jerusalem that plays a prominent role in Power of Deliverance and which resulted in the discovery of eighteen letters to the ancient post commander. These letters are known as the Lakhish Letters and are the only written Hebrew record outside of the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament that dates to about 600 B.C. when Lehi and his family left Jerusalem. The epilogue is followed by almost forty pages of notes and references which are fascinating reading in their own right.
The first two books in this series establish the historical background that led to Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem and whet the reader’s appetite for the rest of the story. It’s time to move on to that epic journey now, and it is hoped that readers will not have to wait another two years for the next installment.