Review Blog

Jul 21 2015

Bystanders by Valerie Volk

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Wakefield Press, 2015. ISBN 9781743053799
(Age: Senior secondary) Aptly named Bystanders, Biblical stories in this collection are told from the perspective of minor characters and witnesses to events. Some will be familiar to those with even an elementary Christian or general education, however I suspect that many will be completely unknown.
The author's detailed knowledge of and careful research into Biblical and historical events is clear from the text, however I fear that the complexity and obscurity of the tales will limit potential readership. The technique of recounting events through the eyes of individuals who are otherwise ignored is a good one, yet the book could not avoid becoming a compilation of impassioned monologues to an unknown listener.
The historical, geographic and cultural details are very interesting, however lineage and family relationships can be confusing. The messages conveyed will give cause for reflection and consideration of how fortunate we are to live in enlightened society. Power structures are evident in almost every depiction of ancient life and the modern reader will despair at the misery endured by most of the female characters. The harrowing lives of slaves is revealed whilst servants and concubines are seen to have been at the mercy of their masters. Even wives are shown to have been almost powerless to object to outright maltreatment by their husbands and women in general had no form of protest against bombastic dismissal of their views and desires by male relatives.
My recollection of the Old Testament stories having limited value due to cruelty, violence and blinkered intolerance of the religious views of others was not altered. Transitioning in the latter half to the New Testament was refreshing as Jesus' teachings such as notions of forgiveness, understanding and love for fellow human beings promise hope. This contrasts starkly with the vengeance of the Old Testament.
References and discussion notes are provided which may make this text useful for senior students undertaking Biblical study and analysis.
Rob Welsh

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