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Israel My Beloved

by Kay Arthur
444 pages, Religion
Reviewed by Ariel_of_Narnia

Good history & food for thought; lots of distant violent and sexual content, sometimes disengaging.

Plot

Sarah had it all. A wealthy husband who loved her like no one else could and provided for her needs and far more. She wanted more on her own terms, so she left him, but as the events of unfolding history come crashing in on her, she realizes that she was in the wrong. Throughout the centuries, she hopes and waits for his return, this time remaining faithful in his absence.

Morality

All throughout the book, no matter the place or time, there are people who are moral and others that are not: wrong and right are very clearly defined. As the book covers years of history and multiple characters, here are a few examples:
At first, Sarah's view of everything, including her husband, is tainted by her adamantly selfish desires. She later repents of her ways after the destruction of Jerusalem and changes for the better. Her life becomes an example to others.
Two different young people disagree with their parents; one respects and honors his parents, while the other's arguments sometimes lead to outbursts, but these are resolved.
Friendship runs deep with these characters.

Spiritual Content

This book is full of Biblical meaning. Sarah is the embodiment of a rebellious Israel (or a wayward Christian) and her husband is rather a God-figure, right down to a "covenant mark in his hand". The identity of this character is a little fuzzy. Several times, it's clear that he is God. At other times though, he seems to be a separate entity (but not Christ; Jesus is a distantly-mentioned character of His own). Other obvious Biblical references are made. Jeremiah, Daniel, Nehemiah, and other Biblical characters feature, as do Biblical and historical events.
As with the morality, there are always faithful and unfaithful characters throughout this book, no matter the place and time.
Sarah (and others) questions her husband's words in light of what others say and rationalizes her decisions - these may well be the same questions and rationalizations that some readers have - and is led astray, even into idolatry. She later repents of her sins and, though she still has her doubts at times, she becomes and remains a steadfast follower of the Lord. She gets into theological discussions and embraces learning.
A young man is a fervent scholar of the Scriptures and Talmud. A little boy offers to teach a full-grown woman what he learns in Torah school. A mystical Jewish group meet and study, but a principal character is wary and for good reason.
A young Jewish woman expresses a desire to become a "converso", a convert to the Catholic faith, though she means to hold on to her Jewish faith in quiet. Her parents discuss this with her, giving her universally good advice about actions versus words, going directly to the Word of God as opposed to hearsay and what one's heart says.
Jewish-Christian tensions are mentioned and realized. The Moslems and their faith are also spoken of. Jew-Moslem tensions rise later. Some Nazi thinking is (anti-)religious in nature.
The last few chapters cover events mentioned in end-time prophesies. A man declares himself god and enters the temple. He is often compared to the devil and once to the Messiah. At the Second Coming, Jews who have not directly put their faith in Jesus (like Sarah, who does not know Him at all but has been a faithful follower of God as a true Jew) are included in the redeemed peoples.

Violence

Note that while a lot is mentioned here, a lot of it is given second-hand, rather than directly witnessed by a character. Most of it is non-graphic as well, but there is a lot going on at the same time.
During the siege of Jerusalem, people starve and even eat each other, as according to the Bible. This is repeated centuries later, this time accompanied by news of Zealots torturing and killing people whose homes had no food to raid.
The Babylonians attack, burning the city and killing people, including babies. Jerusalem is attacked a few more times, but the Babylonians and Titus' attack are the only ones elaborated on.
The Maccabean revolt, though here only given as a second-hand account, starts with bloodshed. The Bethlehem Massacre takes place, including a close look at the death of one baby, who is tossed up, roughly caught, and then run through. The Romans take deserting Jews, flog, and crucify them. They also rip bodies open in search of swallowed treasures. A character witnesses the beginnings of the destruction of the Temple, complete with the deaths of Zealots all around him. Weak survivors are quickly killed by Romans. A man is flayed and torn to death. Two men are knifed in their sleep; another nearly is. One or two necks are broken; a nose is also broken. A woman is pinned under debris and later dies. Another is spun by her hair and kneed in the back before a knife is plunged into her neck. Another is backhanded and knocked unconscious. She is later struck with a spear, drawing blood. A couple people are shot, some are struck, some are beaten, some are pushed around. A group of people kill each other to avoid being killed by a mob. Another mob comes after two characters, but no harm is done.
The Crusaders are brutal, piling heads, hands, and feet. Sarah is warned by a friendly party to flee; he also rescues her, though roughly, when she's attacked. There is mention of a little boy whose body would found stabbed and shaved; false witnesses add further injury to the story later on.
Jews are executed for crimes against other people and/or communion wafers (considered by Roman Catholics to be the actual body of Christ). Their property is raided, their synagogue burned, and resistant shopkeepers are beaten. Three SS officers are killed by a bomb. Two hundred fifty Jews are massacred afterward; the questioned Jews are tortured and either died or were brought out to hang.
A man wishes he could kill another, specifically to send him through the windshield of a jeep and seeing him spread-eagle on the pavement with his brains splattered all over the place.
Sarah remembers several times the son she'd offered to an idol, though it's not said outright till later in the book.
A man threatens to kill Sarah's family, then gouge out her eyes, rip out her tongue, and then flay her in front of the world.
Those that resist Messiah at His coming die a grisly, decomposing death.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Early on, Sarah has wine in her room. A man gets stone-drunk at Belshazzar's feast (to the point that he entirely misses Daniel's interpretation of the writing on the wall). Sarah and her friends casually drink during visits. A little boy asks Sarah for wine, but she gives him grape juice. A man drinks homemade beer. A woman smokes a cigarette.

Sexual Content

The book opens with a passage from Ezekiel 16, God's description of Israel's becoming a harlot.
Note that instances of intercourse are mentioned, but not described.
Sarah leaves her husband with no intention of returning. Her desire to mingle with people of other nations includes wanting to "sleep in their beds". She has a lover even before she leaves her husband. Her room is described as a "study in seduction" and set up for visitors. Dialogue and actions between Sarah and her lovers have sexual undertones. Her "friends" will go off in pairs or groups.
She has her gardeners trim trees into the shape of "the parts of a man's body", which supposedly help with her "intimate relations". Mentions of breasts (Biblical and non) and almost-mentions of male organs are made.
There is mention of both male and female prostitution in pagan temples. A lover imagines the (not detailed) "stimulus" he could provide her, including the sensual worship of Baal with its orgies, ritual "sacred marriages", and even child sacrifice (which apparently eventually took on a sensual nature). Later on, a man's manner is seductive, filled with small actions; Sarah resists him.
Sarah and other women are raped during the attacks on Jerusalem. She later bursts into a man's bedroom at night with full knowledge of the presence of another woman. Though not yet engaging in intercourse, the man (and likely the woman) are unclothed; the man stretches, "proud of his nakedness". Elsewhere, two women notice a young woman wearing a tight skirt that "barely covered her bottom".
A Gentile woman is pushed around in the street with a sign around her neck saying, "I slept with a Jew." Mention is made of Jewish women being snatched by German soldiers; while not "known sexually", they're still "made sport of". Sarah is referred to as a whore by a German.
On the opposite end of the scale, two young teens (fourteenish) are quickly attracted to each other in an innocent romance. Another young couple have an innocent romance; they rather like the touch of holding the other's hands. Though his attraction to her is at first physical, they grow to love each other beyond that. It's mentioned that he's waited long to "know his virgin bride".
"The Talmud commanded husbands to love their wives on Shabbat" and it's thrice mentioned that one woman looks forward to having her husband "fulfill this heavenly command".

Crude or Profane Language or Content

I don't recall language being an issue. Crude behavior tends to fall under "sexual content" and "violence".

Conclusion

This book functions as a history of Israel from the Babylonian Captivity all the way to the present day while also speaking to the modern Christian, all with a constant protagonist to lead us through the narrative. Questions are posed and answers, difficult situations arise and are overcome, frequently bringing up food for thought.
However, the violence and sexual content, while toned down, are high in concentration, so we urge caution.
In addition to this, this book isn't always the most engaging, being slow in places and almost amateurish at times. There were points at which I found myself suddenly thinking about details and technicalities I shouldn't be concerned about otherwise.

Fun Score: 2
Values Score: 3
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

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