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Book Review -Triumph, by E.K .Gann

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.


Book Review –The Triumph by Ernest K Gann

This historical novel published in 1986, is a fascinating story set in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian (A.D.70-79). It opens with the mass suicide of the Jewish sect at Masada and ends with the “Triumph” that was planned to celebrate the reign of Vespasian and which eventually became his funeral celebration. It is interesting to meet some of the characters that we are familiar with like Plutarch, Titus the Roman General who captured Jerusalem, Paul of Tarsus, and Josephus the historian. The early Christian movement in Rome is also mentioned and has an influence on some of the characters, including a Roman Centurion. His story seems to hint at the Centurion Cornelius, as recorded in Acts 10. But the story is a love story of the General Flavius Silva Nonius Bassus and Dominitia, the daughter of Vespasian. What I found very interesting was the similarity between the Roman World as it moved into a state of moral decline, greed and corruption, and what seems like a mirror image of today’s world. The book sent me back to reviewing my copy of “Josephus” and also Gibbon’s “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire”. The author obviously did a lot of research and so while some of the characters are fictitious, many come straight out of the history of this interesting time. What became apparent as I read this book is how amazing it is how history has a way of repeating itself!

The Roman Triumph was a parade that was held in the streets of Rome to honor the victorious General and his Legion for winning a great battle. In the book of 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 the Apostle Paul draws on the vision of a Roman “Triumph” to describe the way Christ leads his followers to victory. In the Roman triumph the victorious leader enters the city on a white horse and behind him comes a procession comprising of the soldiers, the religious leaders carrying sweet smelling incense, and the captives who would soon face death in the Roman arenas. So to some of those present the smell of the incense was the smell of death and to others the smell of life. Paul was a master of drawing images from the real world that he and his readers knew, and then applying them to the message of Christ.

It is interesting that John in the book of Revelation (19:11-16), describes Jesus as riding on a white horse leading the heavenly host into battle, and his name is “Faithful and True” (NIV translation – used with permission). Other images from the ancient Roman and Greek world that Paul uses are drawn from the Greek athletic games. So he compares the Christian life to a race (! Corinthians 9:24 - "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a wayas to get the prize")) and describes his own battle with sin as a boxer training for a fight. (1 Corinthians 9:26 - "I do not fight like a man beating the air.")

But the amazing picture that comes out of Gann’s book is of a Roman world that is very similar to our world today. The city of Rome was overcrowded and lacked the basic necessities that are lacking for so many in this world. Overcrowding and slums were the order of the day. There was an enormous gap between the rich business population and government officials and the ordinary people (plebs). Corruption was rife and positions were sold and bought by those with money. Many nationalities came to Rome and homophobic and racial attitudes prevailed. Violence and danger filled the crowded streets.

For the rich, the Roman theatres and arenas provided entertainment. Here gambling on the chariot races was prevalent and human and animal life was cheap. A lavish lifestyle was enjoyed by the haves and misery by the have nots. Sexual immorality was a way of life and prostitution easily available. This sounds so like our present world that it is obvious that as the Roman Empire fell the present world is heading for a fall, as humans seem to be destroying true values and greed takes over.

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Barclay W – Commentary on 2 Corinthians

Gann Ernest K. – Triumph. Hodder and Stoughton. 1986

The Works of Josephus.- Ward and Lock

Gibbon; Rise and fall of the Roman Empire.- World Books

Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973,1978,1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.

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