The Genesis of “A Man at Arms”
My niece Meredith was getting married. She asked me to be the officiant.
My first move was to page through The Book of Common Prayer, seeking appropriate Biblical passages. A few leapt out at once.
Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things …
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal …
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things …
I loved all these. I remembered them from childhood. I thought they were not just superb poetry but also spiritual precepts of the highest order. Then I realized (how could I have not known this?) that all these passages came from the same source—Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, the book in the New Testament known as 1 Corinthians.
Meredith got married. Two years passed. I forgot about this and never thought of it again.
Then one day I had a flash: “This letter of Paul’s was a real letter. It was really sent from the Apostle to the fledgling Christian community at Corinth in Greece. It was meant to fortify the beleaguered believers, who were under attack from all sides. The letter was intended to strengthen their faith in the face of life-and-death persecution and adversity.”
I thought, “What if the Romans tried to stop this letter?”
“Surely,” I said to myself, “the masters of the ancient world feared the rise of this new and revolutionary faith. In many ways, the Apostle Paul’s letter was the atomic bomb of its time. If its ideas were allowed to spread and take root, the result could be empire-wide insurrection and much more. Surely Rome and her invincible legions would stop at nothing to intercept this epistle and destroy it.”
Suddenly I had the germ of a story. But so much was still missing. What could come next?
A few years earlier I had written a nonfiction book called The Lion’s Gate. It was about the Six Day War, the 1967 Arab-Israeli clash whose centerpieces were the infantry struggle for Jerusalem and the air and tank battles of the Sinai desert. I spent nine weeks in Israel, interviewing pilots and tankers, recon scouts and infantry soldiers. By the time I was done, I felt like I knew Jerusalem, the coastal plain, and the Sinai desert by heart.
But other forces were pulling on my attention. Again I forgot about this and moved on. Then one day, musing about this potential new story, it hit me that I could use this Holy Land geography as the setting for an action chase story—Jerusalem, with its Antonia Fortress, garrisoned by the infamous Tenth Legion; Gaza and the coastal plain as the first places to which fugitives might escape; and the Sinai wilderness as a desolate and forbidding “land beyond the law,” across which our heroes (whoever they might be) could flee, pursued by Roman columns and cavalry and every other bad guy I could think of.
Now I had some action. The story was gaining momentum in my head.
More on this next week.