Akiba by Marcus Lehmann

Akiba, Shepherd to his People

Boy meets boss’s daughter.
They marry.

Not a cliche: 20 year old rich Jewish girl in Ye Olden Roman Empire decides to marry 40 year old unlearned man, Daddy’s chief shepherd, based on their conversations and her conviction that he could really make something of himself if only he got an education. Daddy wants Rachel to marry another rich man, who is popular with the Roman overlords and might even meet the Emperor of Rome one day.

Her father disowns her, of course. Rachel and Akiba live in poverty, and he works to put old bread on the table. After a few years of learning the alphabet – at age 40! – and learning elementary school level knowledge, (and a kid or two) Akiba heads off to the great academy ‘way out there’ to fulfill his marriage vow of becoming a scholar.

Akiva, leader of 24,000 students

He comes home 12 years later with 24,000 students at his back, ready to open his own academy where Rachel lives. Wow. Talk about your late bloomers. Soon after, he reconciles with his rich father in law, marries off his daughter in a lavish wedding, happiness all around. Daughter ends up divorced, Rachel dies, Akiba remarries – to the Roman governor’s ex-wife who divorced him and converted to Judaism. Oh, the governor did not like that.

Akiba lives to be about 120 years old. He is an academy head, a community leader, an ambassador to various Roman Emperors – and I like the thumbnail sketches of all the Emperors from Vespasian to Hadrian. Rome went through a lot of Emperors in a short time, didn’t they?

Then Judea had enough of Roman rule, and Bar Kozba (man of the city Kozba) started a rebellion. The aged Rabbi Akiba acclaimed him as the Messiah and renamed him Bar Kochba “Son of a Star” . What a difference one changed letter can make! (PS, Jesus of Nazareth had not yet been born. Roman tyranny seemed to be a ripe breeding ground for redeemer messiahs.) Bar Kochba was effectively King of Judea, minted his own coins, and paid not a dinar of tribute to Rome.

Dominoes – if one province rebels, will it take long before the other provinces follow? Emperor Hadrian (of Hadrian’s Wall fame in Britain) brought General Sextus Julius Severus out of Britain over to Jduea in order to put down the rebellion… it took a few years.

Then there are reprisals. The Roman governor is very happy to lay down the iron lash of hte law, and offer his ex-wife a reprieve if only she will marry him again. She kills herself. And then Akiba dies horribly, and the Roman governor gloats. Sad. But the author points out a happy ending: more fell, no one remembers the governor, but Akiba’s teachings were recorded and are still learned in Yeshivas today.

Liked: the thumbnails of the Emperors and the generals, that’s a lot more history than most historical fiction puts in. Al
Not liked: I had forgotten how so much historical fiction written more htan 50 years ago takes so long to get started. The first 2 chapters were slow going, but I really thought I would like the story, and I did.

View all my reviews

marc lehmannAkiba was a historical personage, the book is ‘history with conversation’ so is it history or historical fiction? The author lived and died before I was ever born: 1831 – 1890. Weird.  The picture on the side is a little reminder that not everyone uses the Christian system of numbering the years.



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