“I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.”
These words, written by the apostle Paul to a first-century Christian named Philemon, are tantalizingly brief. Indeed, Paul’s epistle to Philemon is one of the shortest books in the entire Bible. While it’s direct enough in its way, it certainly leaves plenty to the imagination.
A Week in the Life of a Slave is a vivid imagining of that story. From the pen of an accomplished New Testament scholar, the narrative follows the slave Onesimus from his arrival in Ephesus, where the apostle Paul is imprisoned, and fleshes out the lived context of that time and place, supplemented by numerous sidebars and historical images. John Byron’s historical fiction is at once a social and theological critique of slavery in the Roman Empire and a gripping adventure story, set against the exotic backdrop of first-century Ephesus.
The Formal Stuff:
Thank you to IVP for my complimentary electronic copy of A Week in the Life of a Slave.
After a review of a previous book in the series, in which I commented about problematic formatting, IVP offered me an electronic copy of the next title.
What was it like to be a slave in Roman times? What was it like to be a slave or slave owner in a Christian home during that time? These are questions that John Byron attempts to answer in A Week in the Life of a Slave. This new book, mostly fiction with sidebars of facts and the author’s opinions, is based upon Paul’s letters to the Colossians and Philemon in the New Testament. The letter to Philemon is an oddity; it’s a personal letter written by Paul about a runaway slave named Onesimus who had run away from his master. Byron’s book speculates as to how this letter came to be, along with his opinion that Paul was actually in prison in Ephesus at the time he wrote it.
The story itself is fairly straightforward. It covers Paul’s interactions with the runaway, and also includes a storyline about whether or not slaves should attend meetings of the early church and eat besides their masters. That was a controversial issue at the time: when Paul spoke of being brothers and sisters in Christ, did he also mean slaves being on the same level as their masters? While slavery in Roman times was much different to the form of slavery we’re familiar with in this country’s sad history, Byron is careful to note that this doesn’t mean it was better. Slavery is slavery, no matter where it happens or when it happens.
A Week in the Life of a Slave is easy to read and digest. The factual sections do intersect the narrative, so I’d recommend reading in paper form, when you can place a finger or a bookmark wherever you come across these sections and return to them at a more suitable moment. But then, I’m still a lover of the traditional book and have never quite mastered the skill of skipping back and forth while reading on a screen. Regardless of which format you go for, however, you’ll enjoy this informative component of the A Week in the Life series of which this is part.
Have you read A Week in the Life of a Slave? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.
Publication Date: 02 July 2019
Page Count: 168