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by Randall Ingermanson
Published by Zondervan, 2003
Highly recommended by: Greg Slade
The premise is that a couple from the present are trapped in first-century Judea as a result of a physics experiment which still had a few bugs in it. (I'm afraid I don't know the details, because I haven't read Transgression yet, and the physics don't really play a part in the current work.) Rivka was an archaeologist, and has read Josephus and other first century historical sources, so she knows that Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed in a few years. She knows the smart thing to do would be to run away so as not to get caught in the disaster. But she can't bear to stand by and let her friends die without warning them about what is certain to come. But in the first century, talking about the future is not simply a topic of speculation, but a life-and-death issue of religion. And, in a religious society, religious issues are also political issues.
Thus, the heart of this book is not about the technology or physics or how Rivka and Ari came to be trapped two thousand years in the past, but in the interactions between people: family, friends, enemies, and strangers. Ingermanson has put in a lot of research, and to my ear he portrays everyday life in the first century very realistically indeed. It is something of a cliché for Christian time-travel stories to put modern characters into the midst of a Biblical story. Unfortunately, all too frequently such stories portray the people of Biblical times as essentially modern people "dressed up in bathrobes." Ingermanson portrays the culture as being significantly different from modern Western culture, and he portrays Rivka as going through fairly serious culture shock. (You might find some of her actions somewhat illogical and her speeches somewhat shrill from time to time. However, losing perspective and balance are two very common symptoms of culture shock, so the way she is portrayed is quite realistic. Until you have spent time in a place where everything is done is ways different than you are used to, and going back to where things are done "right" is not an option, you might want to hold off on judging her too harshly.)
But this is not a book about culture shock. It deals with a whole range of issues: good and evil, and how to discern between the two, tolerance for diversity (or the lack of it), and how to cope with the consequences of sin. In fact, the book resonated very strongly with me because it deals with so many issues I have had to wrestle with in my assorted journeys to the mission field. This is what more Christian fiction should be like: not having a character repeat "the sinner's prayer" for the benefit of those who already believe anyway, but challenging Christians to think about tough issues that all of us have to face from time to time. Highly recommended.
This book acts as a sequel to Ingermanson's earlier work, Transgression (which Zondervan will be re-releasing), but it is also the first in a planned trilogy Ingermanson calls the "City of God" series. I can't wait.
I declare Randall Ingermanson's latest novel, Premonition a revelation of what he really is: a genius and a liar. This guy has apparently, in his other profession as a physicist, invented a time machine, traveled back to first-century Israel, and then written what basically amounts to a journal of his experience that he tries to pass off as mere fiction, thus guarding his secret technology. The nerve.
And the verve: Premonition brought that historical era, and the first-generation church, alive to me in a way no history book ever has. By way of comparison to another well-received time-travel novel, Premonition surpasses Michael Crichton's Timeline.
Contra Ingermanson's own recommendation in the "Author's Note" on p. 7, I do suggest you read the setup novel Transgression for the simple reason that you will have that much more appreciation for the characters and their plight. And oh, what a plight: imagine if you had traveled back to first-century Israel in a race to save the Apostle Paul from assassination, and the reward for your efforts is to be trapped there for the rest of your natural life. That's what has happened to archaeologist Rivka Meyers and physicist Ari Kazan.
Rivka, the driving character in this story, has some measure of knowledge about what's going to befall both Israel and segments of the early church but her archeological sources aren't always as accurate as they purport to be. So when she reveals some of her knowledge, will it prove her a prophetess or get her branded a witch? Ari, meanwhile, applies his physics knowledge to the engineering trade, but in addition to making technological marvels, he makes a few enemies. Both main characters especially the so-far-non-Christian Ari struggle in their understanding of God and of what His purpose might be in placing them in a "time zone" to which they don't naturally belong.
In addition to being a physicist and storyteller, Ingermanson might also be a historian or at least a top-notch researcher when it comes to preparing his novels. In Premonition he has woven together an astonishing tapestry of first-century detail, but not in the way of an intriguing carpet design you walk over and forget about. This is more like a patchwork quilt in which each square tells you something about the heritage of the one who made it, and in which you wrap yourself up as if making the heritage your own. Premonition's historical backdrop is fascinating not merely for its own sake but also for the way it affects Rivka, Ari, and their newfound Jewish friends.
The characters themselves, even the supporting lineup (some of whom are actual historical figures, including the delightful surprise that is Queen Berenike) are so well developed that you feel the impact of events and situations as if Ingermanson had written you into the plot and you had become friends (or enemies) of all these people. Two examples stand out to me. First, I shared the twentieth-century Rivka's frustration with a chauvinistic culture that regularly barred her self-expression and contribution as a female. When she felt like smacking some of these guys, I would happily have smacked the other cheek.
And, while I expected sterling adventure and character development from Ingermanson, what took me by surprise was the realization of the sheer Jewishness of the first generation of Christians. I'll never read Acts in quite the same way again. In this vein, a possibly unintended effect of Premonition is its impact on the modern Christian idea that if we could "just go back to being like the early church," we'd be a better church. Hardly. That's because, as this novel brilliantly illustrates, fallen human nature and ignorance existed in the church then as much as it exists in the church today. Every generation has a mountain of spiritual learning to climb, and the ancient Jerusalem Christians were trying something quite new.
Aside from the characters and history, Ingermanson entertains an intriguing question of both physics and logic: If you could travel into the past and interact with people of whatever era you visit, would you (a) change history, (b) contribute to history (such that it turns out the same as you always knew it to be), or (c) have no involvement whatsoever, as if you were an irrelevant stone around which the timestream inexorably flows? Personally I agree with Ingermanson's viewpoint.
Was there anything I didn't like about Premonition? I have only three minor quibbles: the Jewish terminology may have been slopped on a little thick; I wanted to know what was happening in the lives of the other Jerusalem apostles; and I don't necessarily buy all aspects of the reigning models of physics to which Ingermanson subscribes.
But those are just more irrelevant stones in the riverbed. Slip into Premonition's timestream and you'll be wondrously swept away. Andy Doerksen
Ever since I read Randy's first novel, Transgression (out of print temporarily, I hope), I've been looking forward to this sequel. It was worth the wait. By the way, it would be helpful to read Transgression, but it's not essential; this story stands on its own.
Is it a blessing or a curse to know the future? Can the past be changed by knowledge from the future, or does this knowledge only lead to the past happening as remembered? And what happens when the information isn't accurate or complete? Find out in Premonition!
The story picks up with not-so-newlyweds Ari and Rivka trapped in first-century Jersualem. They've managed to find a place to live, sharing a house with their friends, Baruch and Hana. They subsist on the generosity of others, since Ari the foreigner of unknown background is unemployable. But he soon finds a way to become useful thanks to his knowledge of physics! The plot thickens (I've always wanted to write that) when he quickly runs afoul of the Wrong Person.
Meanwhile, Rivka manages to become an apprentice midwife to a tough, but appealing woman named Marta. But she has to prove herself first, and does so without intending to. Her vindication comes in a most unexpected way.
Since Rivka comes from the Twentieth Century, it should be easy for her to head off disasters and benefit the residents of her new home. Her near-eidetic memory should help her "recall" events before they happen. But there's a problem: not all her sources are accurate. Josephus (a young man here) wrote of this era, but his reports are sometimes biased. This leads to flawed results that Rivka can't anticipate. She loses a lot of standing in the community when one of her prophecies comes true but subtly, not dramatically. As far as the people are concerned, she blew the opportunity. And they have long memories.
Premonition is strongly character driven. The plot is good, of course, but the personalities, interactions, and growth of the principal characters are what give the book its power. Baruch and Hana are the most prominent, but many others are living, breathing individuals as well. The spiritual struggles are convincing as a Messianic Jew (Rivka) tries to teach her formerly atheistic Jewish husband about Yeshua.
I liked Randy's depiction of Yaakov ben Joseph (James, the son of Joseph and brother of Jesus). While he isn't a central character, he dominates his every scene. He's different from my image of the author of the N.T. epistle. Randy pulls this off by having him radiate joy and love. When I mentally graft this James onto the persona of the author of the epistle, I see someone who's enthusiastically encouraging, not sternly admonishing. Inevitably, the last few chapters build to a conclusion that's emotionally gripping. Knowing what happens to this beloved church leader makes finishing hard, but seeing James living his faith only increases his stature.
Queen Berenike and her brother Agrippa are completely opposite to this. Randy handles the seamier side of their relationship tactfully, but without blunting their foulness and corruption. The two of them radiate pure evil. Hanan ben Hanan isn't much better. The difference is that he believes that he's doing God's work (more or less), while Berenike and Agrippa seem to wallow in their own wickedness.
Because of a tragic event in the Transgression, Baruch and Hana experience a terrible strain in their marriage. He must deal with one of the most difficult issues that a husband and father can endure. He must do this because of his social environment and in spite of where God is leading him. And she, as a First Century Jerusalem wife, must suffer because of his suffering. The last page of the novel is one of the most powerful depictions I've read of personal growth in a very long time. It's impossible to read this without being profoundly moved. (Any more would be a spoiler.)
Randy deserves mega-compliments on his research. His truncated bibliography lists 22 sources. He successfully brings a lot of historical characters into the story, and does so better than most who attempt this. Because of the depth of his locating information, there's a reality to this story that gives it a strong "you are there" feeling. He knows how to depict an ancient society in a way that makes it look as if he had been there. He's good. Bill Bader
Premonition is a great read, the characters are real, as are their trials. There is Rivka, a Christian who believes she knows God's (HaShem's) will and struggles with running ahead of God and not taking time to talk with Him before acting. She also struggles with the unfairness of being a woman in a man's world. Rivka is married to Ari, who has not accepted Christ because there is no scientific proof that Jesus was the Messiah. Furthermore, he questions why, if God does exist, He provides no answer to the problem of evil abounding. Why doesn't God intervene? Ari's best friend is Baruch, who struggles with how to obey Christ's command to love one's enemies. How can you love someone you don't love? Rivka's best friend is Hanah, who deeply loves both her husband and her son, and cannot comprehend why her husband does not love her son. I found it easy to relate to each of these characters' struggles and was pleased to see that Ingermanson didn't offer any easy solutions.
Since I was expecting hard science fiction as Ingermanson gave us in Oxygen and The Fifth Man, Premonition caught me completely off guard. This story was set in A.D. 57 and is only remotely science fiction, due to Ari and Rivka being trapped in the first century by an unexplained twenty-first century experiment that somehow went wrong. In the end however, although I was expecting a SF time travel story, I was not disappointed with what is more closely akin to a historical novel. Above all, Ingermanson has given us a definitely "Christian" novel without the sappy story line, easy solutions, or shallow characters found all to often in that genre. I highly recommend it. Bob Blackman
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