The KINGDOM AND THE CROWN is an ambitious work that contrasts sharply with most LDS fiction. Instead of finding nuggets of enlightenment as a bonus to an entertaining story, Lund tends to give us an entertaining story as a bonus to a doctrinal treatise. Fishers of Men set the stage and Come Unto Me is the highly rewarding second installment in the series.
As the first volume roughly covered the first year of Christ’s ministry, the second book delves more into the second year with an emphasis on the price of conversion. It moves away from the miracles to the teachings of Jesus. Along with a rich, meaty look at the Savior’s ministry and teachings comes an exciting adventure story. This volume also explores the concepts of loyalty and honor.
A series of this magnitude has far more characters than can be mentioned in a brief review, but basically there are five groupings of characters. Central to the story is the family and friends of David ben Joseph, a prominent merchant of Capernaum; the household of Mordechai ben Uzziel of Jerusalem; Jesus of Nazareth and the people mentioned in the New Testament account of Jesus’ life; a few Romans, primarily Tribune Marcus Quadratus Didius, Sextus Rubrius, and Pontius Pilate. There is also a vicious robber gang headed by Moshe ben Ya’abin.
The fictional story is both a romance and an adventure. This second book in the series opens with the emotional turmoil David ben Joseph’s son Simeon faces as he struggles with his guilt over the death of Daniel, younger brother of his second-in-command, Yehuda, and Yehuda’s capture by the Romans which occurred in volume one. Simeon devises several plans for freeing Yehuda and two others captured with him in the disastrous battle at the Joknean Pass. He is double-crossed by Tribune Marcus Didius, who accepts the gold Simeon offers as ransom, then takes him prisoner.
Miriam, daughter of Sadducee Mordechai ben Uzziel of the Great Council, after a great deal of fasting and praying for Simeon’s release, presents a plan first to her father, then to Marcus and Pilate, that results in a conditional release for Simeon and his three men. Since Mordechai was the person responsible for arranging the trap at the Joknean Pass to destroy both Simeon’s Zealot band and the robber band of Ya’abin, he and his daughter are in great danger from Ya’abin. Still it is only after he learns of the part his daughter played in preventing the complete annihilation of these two bands, that Mordechai supports her plan to send Simeon and his men after Ya’abin in exchange for their freedom, then whisks her and himself off to Rome where they will be safe from the robber’s retribution.
Miriam’s time of exile is spent discovering the nuances of the fascinating city with her servant/friend Livia, searching for Livia’s brother, and becoming better acquainted with Marcus and his family. Though she enjoys Rome and likes Marcus’s family a great deal, her heart remains in her own country and she longs to return. Simeon remains in her thoughts far more than she will admit even to Livia.
Each of the major character’s trust is stretched to the limit and betrayals by Marcus and Mordechai bring imprisonment to others, which in turn deeply tries both Miriam and Simeon’s faith. Not only is each person’s loyalty to each other, to their people, and in Miriam and Simeon’s case to Jesus, tested, but there are questions asked concerning to whom and when does a person owe loyalty.
From rejecting Jesus outright at the beginning to slowing turning to him as he seeks answers in his troubled life, Simeon changes from Zealot to disciple of Christ. This change puts him at odds with his own men and turns his life upside down. Miriam and Livia’s conversion occurs more quietly and much more quickly, but also secretly. Simeon’s family rejoices in his acceptance of Jesus as the messiah, while the two young women must keep their conversion a secret from Miriam’s father.
Come Unto Me is filled with an exciting tale of hidden agendas, betrayals, life-threatening peril, a game of desert cat-and-mouse, and awakening romance, but the strongest element of the story is Simeon and Miriam’s gradual move from curiosity about the man called Jesus to complete commitment to the Savior’s invitation to “Come unto me.”
This second book in the series at first focuses on the miracles performed by Jesus during this early period of his ministry, then moves on to the parables and His teachings. The parables are discussed at great length by his followers and it is through their various viewpoints that the reader has a chance to analyze and explore the concepts behind the seemingly simple stories. At times the parables slow the fictional story to a crawl and are an almost annoying interruption, but then as the story continues the reader discovers the parables mirror or foreshadow developments in Lund’s characters’ lives.
This book also introduces the fears of the Sadducees and Pharisees who see Jesus as a threat to their power and position within Jewish society. It also begins to point out the growing uneasiness of the roman rulers as they watch Jesus’ popularity grow and his band of followers increase to what they consider threatening proportions.
Because Lund takes the time to carefully explain both Jewish and Roman customs of the period, slows down the story to allow his characters to discuss Jesus’ teachings at length, and interrupts the story with long, detailed footnotes at the end of each chapter, some will find reading this work tedious. Those who use the story as a vehicle to stroll through the New Testament, gaining a glimpse of the dusty roads and rolling hills of biblical history, and who choose to place themselves at the Master’s feet with the ben David family will enjoy a remarkable spiritual experience.
Come Unto Me is not without flaws, but it is possibly Brother Lund’s best writing so far. His previous series sometimes reminded me of a Spiritual Living teacher I once had who was blind. She couldn’t see her manual, the class, or visual aids, but instead of being a terrible teacher, the power of her testimony communicated the truths she taught. As the series progressed, Lund’s skill as a writer progressed, too. Finally, with this series, Lund emerges not only as a master researcher and strong spiritual voice, but he is a talented writer, too.
Though the fictional tale Lund has invented is captivating and well worth the time required to read or listen to the story, the insights gained from the parallel story of the Savior’s ministry are beyond value. He allows the reader to see the human side of Jesus, but never erases his Godhood. His apostles and those who people the pages of the New Testament become warm and real, but do not step out of character. Perhaps most significant, is the subtle way Lund leads the reader to join his characters as they ponder the words of the Savior and reach an understanding of his or her own.
The only thing I truly do not like about Gerald Lund’s Kingdom and the Crown series is that I have to wait almost a whole year for the next volume.