Onesimus: A Novel of Christianity in the Roman Empire
From the publisher:
Based on a true story, Onesimus is the tale of a young, unhappy slave who lived during the first century Roman Empire. The world is a highly structured society of deities, slaves, masters, prostitutes, government corruption, soldiers—with little opportunity to move out of one’s role. But he has a plan to become free and make something of himself—until he is betrayed. His response leads him on a path of danger, deceit, and discovery until he comes into contact with a famous leader of a young new religion based on the Jewish faith. What he finds will test his will and his courage, and through it, Onesimus becomes part of one of the most charming stories in history.“…a fresh look at the Christian faith at its inception, through the eyes of a pagan slave… a fascinating story of love and betrayal, deception and revelation, and the search for integrity in a world of self-aggrandizement.”—John Sparks, Historical Fiction Review“McDowell’s depth of knowledge and research into the first-century Roman world and early Christianity made me feel like I’d gone back in time. The culture, the people, the food, and the beliefs were so engaging, I found myself arguing with the characters—many of whom are historical figures.”—Jane Elizabeth Thomas, author
Background to the novel:
The idea for _Onesimus_ came to me many years ago as I was finishing one of my masters’ degrees. J. B. Lightfoot, a scholar of the late 1800s, had written an extensive and detailed philological, historical, and literary analysis (in five volumes) of writings from the second century known as the “Apostolic Fathers.” The collection included a series of letters written by the bishop of Smyrna, Ignatius, who was arrested and being escorted to Rome for execution. His entourage of Roman soldiers stopped at various cities along the way, where they allowed him to meet with church leaders. After the meeting, on the next leg of his journey, he wrote letters back to those churches. One of the stops was in Ephesus, where Ignatius met, among others, a bishop named Onesimus. Lightfoot comments that the name “Onesimus” was a common slave name, and also the name of the slave at the center of Paul’s Letter to Philemon in the New Testament. The background of that letter was that slave named Onesimus had stolen something and run away from his master, Philemon, only to wind up with Paul in Rome. Paul wrote the letter to the master on behalf of Onesimus, who had been of great help to him in prison. Lightfoot noted that perhaps _that_ slave was the same one who became, many decades later, the bishop of Smyrna. If so, he wrote, it would make a great story.
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