After being thrown to lions in a Roman arena, Hadassah's life is miraculously spared by a young physician named Alexander. Though the doctor nurses her back to health, Hadassah has deep scars on her face and body from the lions' attacks, so she wears veils to cover the scars. Hadassah begins helping Alexander with his medical practice, and because she ministers to both people's bodies and soul, she quickly becomes known as Rapha, a Hebrew word for healer. In the meantime, Marcus Valerian believes Hadassah has been dead for a year, and he is troubled by the memories of her faith in God that led to her death. Searching for answers, Marcus leaves Ephesus on a trip to Hadassah's homeland of Judea. Back in Ephesus, Julia Valerian faces a terminal illness, and when Julia calls for Alexander and his infamous Rapha, Hadassah finds herself back in the Valerian household. Without revealing her true identity, Hadassah feels called to return to her former mistress, and she offers to serve Julia until her death. Eventually, Marcus returns home from his travels as a new believer in Christ, and now Hadassah must decide whether or not she will reveal her identity — and her scars — to the man she loves.
The message of forgiveness is central to the novel. While Hadassah could be angry about her scars, she believes in God's faithfulness and forgives Julia Valerian for sending her to the lions, even humbly serving Julia in her illness. Hadassah shares her faith with all of Alexander's patients, and she gives God glory for any physical or spiritual healing that results. Phoebe Valerian, a new Christian, also shares the love of Christ by tirelessly providing for the poor and needy of Ephesus. When Phoebe is eventually struck with paralysis, she prays earnestly for the salvation of her children. As an answer to Hadassah and Phoebe's prayers, Marcus meets Christ on his journey to Judea through the Bible stories of a Jewish family and the realization that his soul yearns for God above all else.
Before trusting in Christ, Marcus claims that Rome "shows the world that life is what man makes of it" and believes that the Roman Empire has ultimate authority. Julia Valerian consistently rebels against authority and longs to regain control of her own life, stating that no one has the right to tell her what to do. Hadassah, on the other hand, believes that God has ultimate authority, and she refuses to accept any praise for herself, instead directing others to turn to the Lord. When Hadassah feels God asking her to return as a servant to Julia Valerian, she humbly submits to the call and tirelessly serves her dying mistress.
Other Belief Systems
The belief in Greek and Roman gods and goddesses can be seen throughout the book. Marcus' friend Antigonus worships Fortuna, the god of fortune, while the entire city of Ephesus devotes itself to the Greek god Artemis and his temple, the Artemision. Julia visits the temple of the god Asklepios and pays a fee to bathe in the healing waters, trying to rid herself of illness. Calabah tells Julia that she is her own god and must not be trying hard enough, or she would simply heal herself. Julia recants by saying she has been to every temple and prayed to every god possible. Judaism is also explained in the book, and some of the Jewish characters face the choice of going against their Jewish faith to accept Christ as the Messiah. Finally, an Arab man who works with Alexander and Hadassah worships Siva.
The word whore appears once and harlot appears twice, while profanity is implied but not stated in other instances. D--nable is used once. Drunkenness is depicted in several scenes, and during one drunken stupor, Julia hurls insults and accusations at other characters.
In the Roman arena, lions kill and eat people for sport, including a little girl. The practice of vivisection, or medically operating on barely living people, is described, and a doctor recommends euthanasia when Phoebe suffers a stroke and ends up with paralysis. When Hadassah's friend Rashid suspects that Marcus had a part in Hadassah's being thrown to the lions, he attacks Marcus in the street as a threat and punishment. Marcus also is robbed, stripped and left for dead on the side of the road on his way to Judea.
The sensuality of Roman culture is accurately depicted when Antigonus kisses a dancing girl and then tries to forcibly make love to her. There are several references to nakedness, promiscuity and temple prostitution. Homosexuality is implied when Calabah kisses Julia on the mouth, and Julia claims that Calabah is her lover. The word "catamite" appears, in reference to one young boy who was formerly the lover of an older man. Abortion is mentioned when Alexander thinks he must kill a baby in order to save the mother's life, but Hadassah's intervention spares the operation and the baby is born healthy and alive.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why is Marcus angry and confused?
Who does he believe caused Hadassah's death?
Is he correct in blaming God?
- What does Marcus learn about the reason for Hadassah's suffering?
Does any eternal good come out of the hardships Hadassah and Marcus face?
How has God worked out your hardships for your or someone else's good?
- Which characters must forgive someone who has grievously wronged them?
What did Hadassah do after forgiving Julia?
Who did Prometheus forgive?
Who must Marcus forgive for sending Hadassah to her death?
- What do you find most difficult about forgiving others?
What does each character find difficult about forgiving others?
What is each character's reward for forgiving the person who has wronged them?
What is your reward?
Francine Rivers is the winner of the Rita Award, the Christy Award, the Holt Medallion in honor of literary talent, and the ECPA Gold Medallion. She has been inducted into the Romance Writers' of America Hall of Fame. An Echo in the Darkness is a bestseller.
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