Genre: Historical/Biblical Fiction
Series: The Restoration Chronicles Book #1
Return to Me focuses on the return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, and the rebuilding of the temple. It is at this time in Jewish history that the faith is restored, liturgy is developed, and a structure is put into place in order to help the people return spiritually to God just as they have spiritually. Austin’s story demonstrates this in part, but not with accurate supplementing detail.
For instance, she portrays the Men of the Great Assembly as a functioning entity prior to the return, and also mentions the building of a fence around the Torah, but both are not formed until after the return. Rather they are introduced during the rebuilding process as the Jewish people demonstrate the renewal/re-dedication of the covenant. While there was a faithful remnant during the exile, it is very unlikely that serious devotion to Torah was being practiced (and especially not in formal yeshivas). Austin also describes other aspects of Modern Judaism that also would have been out of place at this time (e.g. the practice of kindling the sabbath lights comes from the Middle Ages).
To an extent, it may be positive that the Judaism described reflects modern rather than ancient practices. It is beneficial for the church to recognize modern Jewish culture, and in a way, brings the modern reader into the story (which is thematically very relevant for today). However, I am pursuing an M.Div. in Messianic Judaism, and had just finished a course in the history and practice of Jewish liturgy when I began reading this book. Due to my growing knowledge of Jewish history and culture, I was so distracted by the lack of historical accuracy within Austin’s presentation of postexilic Judaism that I could not relax and enjoy the story. It is too bad, because I love this kind of historical/biblical fiction, and especially love the second temple period.
Readers who are looking to understand the broad strokes of biblical history, and are less concerned with accuracy in the details, will likely enjoy this book. The characters are well-developed, the story flows well, the writing style is enjoyable, and there are moments of (I believe) divinely inspired insight. I would read another book from Lynn Austin; but this one I just could not enjoy properly.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House.