Zacchaeus is one of many Bible characters whose story has been immortalized by a children’s song. And while Biblical fiction is a popular genre, I hadn’t seen any writers attempt to get into Zacchaeus’ character until I came across Canadian author Patty Froese Ntihemuka.
I received this book for review courtesy of the author; all opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
The story opens with Zacchaeus’ (fictional) sister-in-law:
Tzofit did not hate him. While she had never liked her husband, and that had been no secret to Yericho at large, she was quite certain that she did not hate him. Hate would be a sin. In fact, as she stood in the courtyard next to her cooking fire, the smoke stinging her eyes as she peered into the murky, bubbling pot, she could think of several things that she liked about him.
That opening captures Patty’s way of bringing alive what it would have been like to live in Yericho (or Jericho) in Jesus’ day. I felt like I could feel the dirt, smell the smoke, see the robes of each character. I enjoyed these concrete details that gave me deeper insight into each character, from Zacchaeus who likes fine linens and fancy foods to Benyamin, the zealot who lives in the poor part of town.
In Zacchaeus, he is clearly the despised tax collector we see in the Gospels. He is also very lonely; his role as an outcast in Yericho comes not only from his job, but also from his short stature. The people speculate that his mother’s sin must have caused his “defect.” Even his family prefers his older brother, Oshri, who is handsome and well-liked… until his death. Then Oshri’s parents must deal with his widow—and with the fact that no woman will want to marry Zacchaeus…
The Gospel Story
Zacchaeus’ story is told in the gospel of Luke:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. (19:1-4 CEB)
The only thing I didn’t like about Zacchaeus was all the characters. Each chapter is written from a different character’s point of view, yet halfway through the book we were still meeting new characters. I found myself getting confused, trying to remember who some characters were. I also felt like some of the characters didn’t have their stories resolved by the end of the book. However, the variety of people in the book did give a greater sense of the city and its character in the time of Jesus.
Zacchaeus was a fast, fun read that impressed me with Patty’s historical research and attention to detail. I enjoyed imagining with Patty what it would be like to be Zacchaeus and to meet Jesus when he walked the streets of Yericho.
Who is your favourite character in the Bible?