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Review: Trunk of Scrolls by Darlene Bocek

While there are many novels about Reformation times, and many church history biographies throughout the ages, we have come across very little fiction about early church history and even less about the creeds.  However, Darlene Bocek’s novel Trunk of Scrolls  covers the time after 526 AD, after the council of Chalcedon and during the continuing debates about who Jesus actually is—only God or both God and man.  If you wonder whether this is important, yes, it absolutely is.   As Marcellus’s Aunt Sophia told him, knowing who Jesus is identifies the very God you worship.

Despite all this, Trunk of Scrolls is not a dusty description of doctrine but a gripping and suspense-filled novel of Byzantine times.

One terrible day in 526, Marcellus and his cousins saw their city of Antioch writhe and crumble as an earthquake devastated their lives. Not that Marcellus hadn’t already been devastated that terrible day when his cousin Byziana was betrothed to Captain Belisarius, the up and coming young soldier.  But this was horror unending, as the young people dragged survivors from the rubble, saving only a few.

Why had God send such trouble?  Was it because of the raging debate about the nature of Christ?  Were they abandoned by God?  Why did he allow such horror and so much evil?  Was there even an answer to these questions?  Aunt Sophia, and Marcellus, too, found help in the secret trunk of scrolls, those precious letters and gospels.  Often they read them—the letter to the Colossians, Aunt Sophia’s favorite, and also the rest of the twenty-one sacred scrolls—but they did not talk much about them because scrolls were being confiscated to be put into monastaries.

Soon afterward Aunt Sophia died from earthquake wounds, Uncle Gaius Justus was gone, intrigue and sadness were everywhere, and cousin Byziana decided they needed to travel to Constantinople where her father and Belisarius lived.  They would take the precious trunk of scrolls, of course.  And of course Marcellus could not let her and her siblings travel alone.  Needless to say, tragedy struck and it hounded Marcellus from Gothland to Antioch, and from Antioch to Constantinople.  But the scrolls were always in his mind and so was sweet Byziana, the betrothed of another man….

This fast-paced story is set against the backdrop of the two great Antiochan earthquakes and the dreadful revolt in Constantinople.  We see the beginnings of relic worship and of the removal of Scriptures from ordinary believers, and we witness the personal impact of the conflict about Jesus’ identity.  Bocek’s characters make us care about all of these things, and more, as they struggle with truth and with life, learning to find inspiration in the scrolls.

I found this to be an inspiring novel, full of substance and emotion.  Yet it is also very intense, with graphic descriptions of suffering (a movie would be rated R) and deep spiritual struggles.   We know that such intense suffering exists wherever there are natural disasters, revolts, and evil, and Jesus has come to this world to die for us, destroy the devil’s work, and, eventually, wipe all tears from our eyes.  Even so, I am not certain I will give this book to my teen daughters; is it right to put tears into eyes that are barely free of them?  However, my teens are sensitive; many other young people will be able to manage the distressing material quite well especially since some of it is presented in such a subtle way that not everyone will even notice.

Thus, if your teens are not too empathetic, Trunk of Scrolls could be an excellent book to accompany history, church history, and Bible studies.  It would go well with Veritas’s Omnibus 2 and Omnibus 5, and I am sure it would supplement other literature-based programs such as Truth Quest, Tapestry of Grace, and Sonlight as well.  If I decide to use it with my girls, we would begin after our autumn studies of Reformation times, supplementing Brandy’s outline for reading two church fathers, Eusebius and Athanasius.   Darlene Bocek has prepared a thorough free study guide as well as a list of links to background information, and the book includes a helpful timeline.

Trunk of Scrolls is not only for homeschoolers; it is also wonderful novel for any adult who wishes to understand history, theology, and the Bible.  The tragedies of these times lead naturally to a valuable exploration of suffering, God’s sovereignty, and the incarnation, as well as a renewed appreciation for the Word of God.

I find it incredible that this is a first novel.  The characters are well-drawn and easy to identify with, the plot is complicated and gripping, and the settings evocative.  Even the themes, though heavy, fit into the story well.  Also, an amazing amount of research went into this book.  Unfortunately, there is some awkwardness in language and structure, and a good editor could make a significant improvement.

Be that as it may, I recommend Trunk of Scrolls for adults and some older teens as a gripping novel, an introduction to early church history, and a devotional dealing with suffering and the incarnation.

Earlier I reviewed Athanisius by Simonetta Carr, about ancient attempts to understand who Jesus Christ really is, which discusses the struggle mentioned in Trunk of Scrolls.

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Disclosure:  I received a review copy of Trunk of Scrolls from Darlene Bocek.  As always, I am not compensated for sharing my honest opinions.

This article may be linked to 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Finishing Strong , Raising Homemakers, Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

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