By: Lin Wilder
Publisher: Wilder Books
Publication Date: February 2020
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review date: April 5, 2020
The early, pre-Biblical experiences of Saul of Tarsus, known to most as St. Paul the Apostle, is brought to light here in this “novel of the ancient world” by award-winning author Lin Wilder.
Much of Wilder’s book is set in the prison where Paul is awaiting execution by the Romans. There, his guard Aurelius, who has been purposely tormenting him, is astonished when Paul speaks to him, revealing intuitive knowledge of the guard’s own inner torments. Then Aurelius gladly takes on the task of recording what will be Paul’s last “book” – an autobiography.
As the only son of a pious Jewish family, Saul recounts, he went to Jerusalem at age 12 to study with the scholar Gamaliel. There he distinguished himself by his extensive knowledge of scripture, and became friends with several boys including one named Stephen. Once his six-year education was done, Saul married and soon he and his wife Hannah had a young son and another on the way. It is at this point that an earthquake kills them all while Saul is away from home on business. But his scholarship has gained him a position with the Sanhedrin. From that perspective Saul learns of the execution of “yet another pretender” to the role of Messiah, a man named Jesus. Later, conforming to customary beliefs, he votes in favor of stoning his old friend Stephen, a convert to the newly burgeoning religion based around Jesus’ teachings. Still later, on his way to persecute yet more followers, he is confronted and blinded by a vision of that same Jesus and becomes his faithful missionary. Aurelius diligently records Paul’s vivid memories and stays with him constantly until he is taken away to be beheaded.
Since very little is known about Saul before his Christian conversion, Wilder, who also writes mystery novels, has looked for clues wherever available to reconstruct the scenes of his early years. She bases his marriage, for example, on Judaic custom that suggests that young people were expected to wed by age 18. One of the more emotive passages in the book involves Paul’s explanation to Aurelius that he not only does not need to be celibate (despite Paul’s writings urging that state on religious aspirants), but he should marry in order to experience the many aspects of God’s love. Avowing that the idea for her book came almost like a command, Wilder states that writing it was “a distinct privilege.” She conveys very skillfully the conflict between the hate that festers in Saul’s Jewish heart toward the sacrilegious followers of Christ and the doubt that he feels after witnessing Peter performing an undeniable healing. She depicts Paul in his last days having learned to forgive, even to forgive himself, offering a shining model to Aurelius of what a Christ-centered life would offer.
Quill says: My Name Is Saul will find a fascinated audience, both among Wilder’s regular fan base looking for another well-crafted mystery, and for a new audience drawn by the title with its promise of respectful religious speculation and illumination.
For more information on My Name Is Saul: A Novel of the Ancient World, please visit the author's website at: www.linwilder.com