Lynn Austin. Among the Gods. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2006.
Among the Gods is the fifth and final book of Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series, which focuses on the reigns of kings Hezekiah and Manasseh of Judah. See here, here, here, and here for my blog posts about the first four books of the series. You may want to take a look at that last post to get background information for this post.
Wicked King Manasseh is ruling Judah with his adviser, the occultist and pagan-oriented Zerah. Meanwhile, Manasseh’s brother Amariah, the priests and Levites, the family of King Hezekiah’s adviser Eliakim (whom Manasseh executed), the family of Eliakim’s servants, and Hadad the grandson of Hezekiah’s Egyptian adviser Shebna all live in Elephantine, Egypt.
Joshua, a son of Eliakim, hates Manasseh for executing his father and desperately wants revenge. Joshua tells his sister Dinah, who had been a concubine of Manasseh, to marry Amariah, Manasseh’s brother. That would be a way for Amariah to challenge Manasseh for the throne of Judah. But there are problems with Joshua’s request. For one, Hadad and Dinah are in love with each other. Second, Amariah is not politically-motivated. Amariah is more of an artistic type, and Joshua is the one whom the community sees as the real leader.
Amariah and Dinah marry, and Hadad wants revenge. He goes to King Manasseh in Judah, spends some time in one of Manasseh’s torture chambers, and then develops a plot with Manasseh to defeat Manasseh’s enemy Joshua. Essentially, Hadad would go back to Elephantine and convince Joshua and the others to assassinate Manasseh in a procession. The thing is, Manasseh would not really be in that procession, and Manasseh’s forces would come out and destroy Joshua and Joshua’s men. Hadad convinces Joshua easily, since Joshua is enraged with Manasseh.
Amariah and Joshua’s servant Miriam piece together that Hadad is deceiving them, and Miriam, who is in love with Joshua and has risked her life for him, runs off to warn Joshua. In the course of all this, Hadad gets killed, some of Joshua’s men die, Manasseh’s general defects to Elephantine out of admiration for Manasseh’s predecessor (the righteous King Hezekiah), and Miriam falls down a precipice and becomes crippled. Joshua, who had earlier been oblivious to Miriam’s love for him, comes to love Miriam.
Both sides’ plots failed. Later, Manasseh in Judah is approached by the Assyrians. Zerah advises Manasseh to become a tributary to the Assyrians, since the Assyrians are known for their brutality, but Manasseh is reluctant to do this, for he remembers the story of how Assyrian soldiers were destroyed when they tried to invade Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah. Manasseh agrees to become a tributary to the Assyrians, however, and he kills the Judahites who protest against his decision.
The Elephantine community is approached by a brother of the Assyrian king, who is trying to start a revolt against the king of Assyria. The revolt fails, and the Assyrians get Manasseh mixed up with Amariah, who tried to participate in the revolt, because both were Davidids from Judah. The Assyrians take Manasseh and Zerah to Babylon and throw them into prison. Zerah dies in prison as he curses his gods. Manasseh tries to hold on to hope, but he remembers how he as king unjustly executed people, and he contrasts Zerah’s final moments with the final moments years before of Eliakim, who told Manasseh that he forgave him before going to his death. Manasseh spends a lot of nights in prison, wondering if he will live or die and eating barely edible food. Manasseh repents before God, and that gives him some peace, even though he is still willing to pay for his sins by staying in the dreary prison. Manasseh is released, though.
With Manasseh being in Babylon, Amariah and the other Jews in the Elephantine learn that there is a power vacuum in Judah, and Amariah, Joshua, and others go to Judah so Amariah can rule until Manasseh’s son Amon is old enough to become king. Joshua is elated because he thinks that Manasseh died horribly at the hands of the Assyrians, but he is upset when he hears that Manasseh is returning to Judah. Amariah and Joshua stick around to see Manasseh, and they are shocked to see that Manasseh looks old and thin. They are even more shocked when Manasseh recites the Shema and repudiates idolatry. Joshua is not convinced that Manasseh has changed, and, even if he acknowledges the possibility that Manasseh did change, he still believes that Manasseh should be punished for his sins. Joshua needs to learn to forgive, for his resentment is alienating him from God. Something that encourages him to forgive is his experiences with his step-son, Nathan, whom Joshua chose to love even though Nathan was not loving Joshua back. Joshua gains insight into the love of God as he reflects back on this experience.
The book had some powerful scenes. The scene in which Amariah and Dinah resolve to be themselves around each other was moving, for they developed a quiet kind of love, even though neither initially wanted to marry the other. Manasseh’s experiences in prison were also poignant, for Lynn Austin captured the hopelessness and abject condition that one could confront there. Another scene that comes to my mind is when Joshua is talking with his brother Jerimoth about his problems with Nathan, Joshua’s step-son. Jerimoth had adopted Nathan’s brother Mattan, and Jerimoth’s family was happy. Joshua wonders if Nathan would be happier in Jerimoth’s family, but Jerimoth tells Joshua that God brought together Joshua and Nathan for a reason: both had their share of resentment, and they could understand each other.
The book also had profound character development. Amariah comes to assume his role as leader rather than running away from it. And Nathan and Joshua both learn love and forgiveness.
The book did not have as much wrestling with Scripture as did the previous books in the series, with the exception of Joshua’s attempts to justify his plans and his rage with Scripture. In addition, the book seems to place evangelical Christian ideas into the mouths of some of the characters (i.e., God living in a person’s heart, or something to that effect), when I am not entirely convinced that people in the days of the Hebrew Bible had such ideas. Still, the book had good lessons about love and forgiveness. I could identify with Joshua’s resentment—-I resent snubs, but how could one forgive a man who killed his father? But Joshua’s resentment was eating him up and was alienating him from God, in the sense that Joshua blamed God rather than trusting him when plots against Manasseh failed.
Some may think that I gave away too much about this book. Maybe I did, but reading my write-up is a different experience from reading the book itself. It’s like the difference between me telling you about the steak, and you eating and enjoying the steak yourself.