I received a paperback copy of Beneath the Tamarisk Tree from the author, Rob Seabrook on the understanding that I would write an honest review.
Beneath the Tamarisk Tree is a novel set in Jerusalem in the time when Jesus of Nazareth was living as a man. The story jumps between times in the life of the person known as ‘the penitent thief’, who was crucified alongside Jesus. Rob Seabrook has imagined the kind of life that might have led to the thief being executed for theft. He also explores what the promise Jesus made, ‘today you will be with me in paradise’( Luke 23:43) might look like. It is a gripping story, which I finished reading the day after I received it.
As I was reading, the descriptive passages reminded me of the world-building of CS Lewis and George Macdonald. There is also a slight similarity with The Shack by William P Young in the way the Holy Spirit (in heaven) is portrayed.
Some of the ideas in the book may not match the beliefs of every reader, but Rob Seabrook is aware of this and mentions it in ‘A Note from the Author’ which precedes the novel.
There are questions at the end, ideal for reading groups, who might read a chapter and then meet to discuss it. More questions are available on the author’s website.
It is a book I shall probably read again at some time. There are many layers to appreciate in it.
Beneath the Tamarisk Tree is published by Malcolm Down Publishing. ISBN 978-1-915046-01-7
Rob Seabrook is doing a giveaway from 1st to 15th February 2023, offering 5 copies of the book or eBook to new subscribers to his email newsletter. The link to a simple entry form is here.
Interview with Rob Seabrook
As I was reading Beneath The Tamarisk Tree a few questions came into my mind. The first one was answered in the story. It was, How did growing children on the streets of Jerusalem obtain clothes to wear? The second question was, Have you ever been to Jerusalem and the Holy Land?
So far I have not travelled to the Holy Land, but it is certainly on my bucket list. I actually started writing Beneath the Tamarisk Tree about 6 months before the first Covid lockdown, so by the time I realised it may have been useful to travel to see Jerusalem first hand, it became impossible. Having said that, the most useful would have been to visit Jerusalem in the first century, which was even more impossible!
So I had to rely on a lot of desk research, looking at maps and city plans, reading around the topic of what life in 1st century Judea may have been like. There was more information available on the Roman side of things, which helped with the scenes around the Crucifixion, but a lot less about the Jewish peoples. So I simply had to rely on my imagination to fill the gaps.
Your description of tamarisk trees is beautiful. Do any tamarisk trees grow in the UK? I can’t remember seeing one at Kew, but there are so many plants and trees there. Perhaps I haven’t visited in the flowering season.
Yes, they do. In fact I had a large one in the garden of the first house I bought in Oxfordshire. They also grow wild, especially along the south coast and in April and May you can often see the light pink fluffy flowers in full bloom. Since Beneath the Tamarisk Tree has been published, I have been given two saplings, which are both planted in my garden and are starting to flourish.
The penitent thief’s introduction to heaven was very gentle. Some people believe that purgatory comes before heaven. What do you think about that idea?
I spent quite a long time reading around the topic of eschatology – the theological study of what happens after we pass, our final destination and judgement. There are many theories, gleaned from some of the pointers that are contained in the Bible, and many people who will tell you that they know the answers.
The simple answer though is that we just don’t know, and won’t know until it happens to us and we get there. We simply have to trust in a loving, caring, kind and compassionate Father whose intention is not for us to suffer.
We know two things about the Penitent Thief – that he was a thief and that Jesus promised that he would be in Paradise. So in the story of Beneath the Tamarisk Tree, I wanted to paint the picture of the Penitent Thief going through a process from one condition to the other. From a thief to being rescued. This must have involved redemption, repentance, confession, healing, forgiveness, receiving the Holy Spirit … all the things that we as believers can enjoy. However, in the thief’s case it probably happened all in one incredible instantaneous moment, all at once. But that would not have made for a great story, so I took a little artistic licence to lengthen the process, to allow for a little more explanation as well as drama.
For anyone interested in looking deeper into the topic, I would recommend further reading from some superb academic experts, like NT Wright, or the likes of Randy Alcorn whose book “Heaven” is a very accessible but thorough study.
I know very little about you, except that you have reviewed some of the same books as I have. Can you tell me and my readers a little about your faith journey, please?
I grew up in a very loving, but not a Christian, home. My teenage years were spent at a boarding school which involved Chapel services three or four times per week, which I always found quite a dry experience. But something must have gone in even if I did not realise it at the time.
When at University I was going out with a young lady who began to re-discover her faith, hanging out with Christian friends and attending the Christian Union and a local church in Oxford (St Aldates). So I had two choices really!
In fact, I started going along with her to meetings, meeting Christians and finding it increasingly of interest and relevance. After some procrastinating I made a commitment, and of course ended up marrying that special lady!
Since then we have been actively involved in local churches wherever we have lived, and our family have been always blessed by the church community.
A few years ago we felt called to extend our family by fostering children, which has opened up our lives and our home to support others. The reason for mentioning this is twofold – firstly, it is incredibly challenging to our faith, testing patience and needing every ounce of spiritual support going. Secondly it proved helpful when writing Beneath the Tamarisk Tree, as it gave me significant insight into the sort of behaviours displayed by traumatised children.
Thank you, Rob. That is all very informative. Are you working on a second book?
I am working on another novel, although it is a little different, moving away from the Biblical fiction genre. I am just starting on a story that will look to highlight the wonders there are in creation, through the eyes of a young man who is fascinated by the natural world. He may not be looking for meaning or seeking the Creator, but he finds it through encounters with some older and wiser people who show him there is more in creation than he first imagined. I am just at the point now of having completed much of the research and background reading, and am about to embark on the writing … the thought of starting it is quite daunting though!
That sounds like a book I’d enjoy reading.
Other posts about Beneath the Tamarisk Tree
Rob Seabrook has been interviewed by Matt McChlery in a podcast.