Jerusalem Vigil
By Bodie and Brock Thoene
Viking, 292 pp.

Thunder From Jerusalem
By Bodie and Brock Thoene
Viking, 312 pp.

More blood has been spilled to capture Jerusalem than any other city in world history. A good deal of ink has been spilled in the process, too. One recent addition to the literary library on Jerusalem is a fast-paced, but biased, historical fiction series by Christian novelists Brock and Bodie Thoene.

The Thoenes are masters of the craft of historical fiction, and it is little wonder: She has a doctorate in creative writing, he has one in history, and they have written more than 30 novels between them. They make a terrific team, choosing momentous events in history (here, the May 1948 battle for control of Jerusalem) and fleshing them out with dynamic characters and relationships. The Thoenes have delighted readers with earlier best-selling series, "The Zion Chronicles" and "The Zion Covenant," which dealt with Jews during the Holocaust.

In the "Zion Legacy" series, we meet Lori Kalner, a grieving young woman who spent most of the war in London and lost her toddler in the Blitz. When the novel opens, she has just arrived in Jerusalem with her husband, Jacob, who is committed to creating a new Jewish state, a cause that Lori initially resents. She learns a great deal from the tranquil Holocaust survivor Rachel Sachar, who labors alongside Lori nursing Israel's wounded. Rachel's husband, Moshe, who planned--and survived--the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, is the star of the ragtag Jewish military. These two couples form the core of the Thoenes' cast of Jewish characters, who are generally well-drawn, if presented a bit idyllically. The authors do a fine job of revealing tensions within the Jewish community, showing, for example, how ultra-Orthodox Jews opposed the establishment of a Jewish state.

A great strength of the books is that the Thoenes are not afraid to tackle tough issues. The characters boldly confront basic questions of theodicy (why does God allow horrid things to happen to good people?) and human nature. And the plots are occasionally quite surprising--or as surprising as they can be when we all know the outcome of the war.

But there are some problems in the narrative. The Thoenes' Jews are like Christians who wear tefillin, eat challah, and observe the Jewish holidays. They are unrealistically familiar with the teachings of Yeshua, or Jesus. Even Moshe--who is a self-described secular Jew!--understands immediately that a particular Torah reference alludes to the dove that descends at Jesus' baptism. (When would he have studied the New Testament?) Moshe's grandfather-in-law, a wise rabbi, points to the Nazarene as "the Anointed One" who "has atoned for" human sin. And always, the characters are shadowed by a mysterious gardener--a gentle healer with wounds in his hands, a crown of thorns on his head, and a particular love for children.

If the Thoenes' Jews are cloaked in idealized Christian sensibilities, their Muslim characters are one-dimensionally evil. Without exception, the adult men are portrayed with every anti-Arab stereotype conceivable. They are violent, bloodthirsty mercenaries who proudly display, as trophies, the ears of Jewish children they have murdered. They are liars and polygamists. They are hyper-sexual rapists who violate young Jewish girls, then kill them in cold blood. They are religious fanatics who cite Allah's will to suit their own greed and ambition. And to top it off, their leaders were Nazi sympathizers and collaborators during World War II--one even boasts of having a lampshade made from Jewish skin.

The Muslim characters are vilified not because they were so unilaterally evil--the Thoenes' meticulous care with historical accuracy breaks down here--but because they are not part of The Story. The biblical story, that is. These are Christian novels about the fulfillment of ancient prophecy through the establishment of a Jewish nation. "We Jews were chosen to belong to the eternal God," explains the sagacious rabbi early on. "What is written in the Book is what comes to pass." What is not written, anywhere in the Book, is what should happen if another people come to occupy the earth's most sacred real estate.

The Thoenes have publicly defended the accuracy of their Arab characters on the "Jerusalem Vigil" page of Amazon.com. They insist that "Moslem religious extremists had been trained in terrorism by Germany's SS" and state that although "it would be politically correct for us to attempt to sugarcoat the undisguised evil of Israel's early enemies...we did not distort history to accord with today's political perceptions of Israel." But in a list of nearly a dozen books that helped them in their series research, not one was written by a Muslim. Surely these fine authors could consult a few Muslim perspectives on the tumultuous events of 1948. One hopes that the next installment, "Jerusalem's Heart," due out in March 2001, will offer a more balanced perspective, making this otherwise thoughtful and well-written series more true to the complexities of history.

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