There’s an old saying that some people take a good story and make it better. It usually refers to those who exaggerate in order to make a story bigger than the real events warrant or to portray themselves as heroes. Admittedly the saying often comes to mind when I read historical or scripturally based novels, but with The Cross Bearer by E. James Harrison I found myself deeply absorbed and enjoying the story. The author makes no pretense that the story really happened beyond the fact that a man named Simon of Cyrene was compelled by the Roman soldiers to carry the heavy cross timbers to which Jesus was to be nailed. Nothing more is known of Simon; why he was in Jerusalem, was he young or old, or did he have family or friends who accompanied him.
In Harrison’s story Simon is a man in his sixties who has been crippled since he was a child. He has a wife whom he deeply loves, but who is also crippled due to a severe form of arthritis. His two sons are successful businessmen who care about him and their mother They are also loved by a nephew, a giant of a man, whom they partially raised. Simon has always dreamed of going to Jerusalem for the Passover, but between his handicap and his responsibilities to his work and his family, it hasn’t been possible Finally with his children raised and old age creeping near, he makes up his mind to go. His sons are unable to accompany him, but they make arrangements for their parents’ travel and for their cousin, Aaron, to accompany them. The journey is long and dangerous, filled with storms, thieves, and physical limitations. There are stories too of a mysterious man called Jesus who might be the long awaited Messiah or a clever charlatan who is a danger to Israelites and Romans alike.
The characters in this story are an interesting cross section of humanity. Simon is a man of inner strength and commitment to those people and concepts he believes in. He has been hurt by insensitive contacts who call him a cripple and who dismiss him because of his handicap. His wife, Chedva, deals with excruciating pain with each step she takes and struggles with pain in her other joints as well. Still, she is willing to undertake the difficult journey because it is important to Simon. She shows her loving, kind nature in numerous ways. Aaron is not only strong physically, but shows his love and gratitude to Simon and Chedva with his actions. His greatest weakness is that he is too trusting. Due to his immense size, he’s had little experience with anyone attempting to cheat him. Meshulam, a man who is first encountered in Cyrene, then on board the ship, and again as they travel from the port city of Tyre to Jerusalem is probably the most complicated character in the story. Even minor secondary characters are portrayed well both by their dialog and their actions.
The plot is handled well and contains action and surprises even though the reader knows the conclusion from the beginning. There are a few points that could have strengthened the story such as the ship’s captain playing a stronger role and seeing more of the relationship between Aaron and the woman he meets in Tyre. The story is brutally realistic in places which may offend some readers who are uncomfortable with violence.
- James Harrison was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. He holds degrees in creative writing and public relations. He has written magazine articles, newsletters, advertisements, and commercials. He and his wife have two daughters and four grandchildren.
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The Cross Bearer by E. James Harrison, published by Covenant Communications, 190 pages, soft cover $14.99, Also available on CD and for e-book readers.