Title: From the Dark to the Dawn: A Tale of Ancient Rome
Author: Alicia A. Willis
Major Themes: Early Church, Ancient Rome
Synopsis: Captured in battle and taken to Rome as a slave, the Briton Philip will not submit to his owner until he has an encounter with Christians and his life is dramatically changed.
When I came across From the Dark to the Dawn, I anticipated a great read. I read a few other books by Alicia Willis earlier this year, and thoroughly enjoyed them, and the way this book started out sounded great. She talked about how much research she had done, and I was quickly drawn into the story and inspired by Philip’s example of forgiveness and trusting in God when things were very hard. Then, I found myself quite disappointed.
Philip couldn’t believe what was happening. His people, the Iceni, were being slaughtered by the Romans their queen, Boudicca, had confidently led them against in battle. This was not supposed to happen! The next thing he knew, he and his father were captured and taken to Rome to be sold on the slave market. Marcus bought both of them, but Philip was determined not to submit. After being flogged, however, he found himself hiding in a bakery—and couldn’t believe his ears when Daniel told him about Christianity. Disgusted at first, he soon found himself strangely drawn to the new teachings.
Philip and his father, after becoming Christians, were soon embroiled in a battle of wills. The love, peace and forgiveness of Christ was pitted against the decadence of Marcus’s life as a rich Roman, and his worship of all the Roman gods. Who would win? The consequences of the struggle were horrific, but the results glorious!
From the Dark to the Dawn does an excellent job of making us feel what it was like to live with the threat of persecution hanging over the heads of the Christians in Rome during the reign of Nero. The examples of forgiveness after terrible crimes were committed was wonderful. However, I know from history that a Christian at that time would not have joined the Roman army and made a career as a Praetorian guard, as Marcus did. Yes, there were soldiers among the Christians, but it was men who had become believers after becoming a soldier. The early Christians took very seriously the words of Jesus to do harm to no man, to turn the other cheek. This was not the attitude of Marcus, even years after conversion. Also, at one point a Christian girl says, “I swear by all we hold sacred I am telling you the truth.” We know from history that the early Christians took very literally the words of Jesus when he said, “Swear not at all.” In another place, someone lies several times to turn the City Guard away from a gathering of Christians. Based on my understanding of the early Christian writings, this would not have happened, either. Because of these things, I can’t recommend this book, even though it gives such a vivid picture of life in ancient Rome. For the most part, the research used to write the story is solid—but the input of the early Christian writers was left out.
WARNING: Frequently, non-Christians swear by various gods. Also, see the last paragraph. A few times during the story, someone is whipped to death, once a man is stabbed, and the use of slave girls for men’s pleasure is alluded to at times.