Friday 23 September 2022

Novel Review: Bethlehem Boys by Jeffrey Briskin.

 I reviewed this novel on 15/02/20 in another blog, now defunct. 

Bethlehem Boys.

One late night in the year 1 AD, Senior Constable Gidon of the Bethlehem Town Watch begins what should be a routine crime investigation. Three chests of treasure given by visiting scholars to a newborn boy they believe is the long-awaited Messiah are stolen from a barn housing the infant’s family. But when an eyewitness is murdered and similar treasures end up in the possession of another family who claims their newborn son is the real Messiah, Bethlehem’s residents form fanatical factions supporting each infant, threatening to turn this sleepy village into a theological battleground. Gidon soon finds himself at the center of a maelstrom of dangerous political and religious intrigues with far-reaching implications that will ultimately determine the fate of these two Bethlehem boys-and the future of the world’s monotheistic faiths.

Learn more at

Perspective by Peter:

I was asked by the author to review this novel. I had been unable to until now. The description drew me in and I looked forward to reading this.

This novel is well-written. Briskin has an excellent command of the English language and his application of a police-procedural is also well done. It is these two pillars that form the basis of this novel. I was drawn in and found it riveting. I found myself aligning myself with a few of the now cliche review sayings, “I could not put it down”, “keeps you coming back for more”.

Briskin seems to be the master of weaving all the elements into a novel such as this to transport you to the era of the novel’s setting. You will feel as if you are there. He has successfully depicted the feel of Bethlehem in Judea and the customs, hierarchy, religious and civil laws and the attitude of the people. I loved this. And to further add realism and genuineness to this setting, he adds the Hebrew words to many and relevant elements of this era.

As he states in the Foreword,
As Bethlehem Boys is narrated by a Jewish man living in a Jewish village more than thirty years before Christianity began, transliterated Hebrew is used for names and places and religious ideas and concepts to create a more authentic feel for its time and setting. To aid in comprehension, English translations for many of these Hebrew words-and a few locales in Latin named by the Romans who occupied Judea at the time-appear in footnotes.
Here are a few examples,

Isiyim is the Essenes of Qumran,

Yeshua is Jesus,

Notsrim is Nazarenes,

Yerushalayim is Jerusalem

King Dovid is King David

Galilim is Galileans

Ivrit is Hebrew

Yosef is Joseph

Miryam is Mary

This works well with the Kindle device and Kindle App as you can press on the footnote number next to the word and get the English meaning. However, I found I had to return to a few of the footnotes and I could not remember these English meanings. Some I could decipher, such as Yerushalayim for Jerusalem. While most readers might find this distracting from the flow of the novel and the mounting suspense and intrigue of the murder investigation and everything else that Briskin has going on in the background, I found that having a curiosity about this era, and a love of the Hebrew language helped me in this. I find this inclusion worthwhile, as not only are you entertained, you do learn a lot from all this. It also adds depth to the plot and worldbuilding.

I loved all the characters that lived in Bethlehem except for the corrupt Reb Lemuel ben Kfir, the town magistrate and member of the Sanhedrin. But I guess most readers will come to despise him once they see what he is like. Briskin brings these characters to life such that you relate to them, sympathise with them, enjoy their humour and the rogueness of Reuven.

I was engrossed in all aspects of this novel until I came to the part where Gidon’s investigation into the murder of the sole lead in this investigation leads him to the Nochmah, leader of the Isiyim (Essenes of Qumran). I had no idea what I was to read next and it caused me to stop reading for a while. The following account I have reproduced from the novel to show what my shock is about. But before I do, I should say that I am all for poetic licence and speculative musings in a novel but I find it crosses the line when an author uses one or both of these on biblical doctrine, event or such and present it in another form that is virtually the opposite of what the Biblical states. In the account below, we have Gidon interviewing the spiritual leader of the Essenes (Isiyim) about the murder of the lead in the investigation and a piece of evidence that was found that led Gidon to the Essene community. It ends up with the Nochmah giving Gidon more of the spiritual background and importance of the two messiahs. It is here that my disappointment in this novel started.

I have added the English translation of the Hebrew word in bracketed italics). 

“If you’re not a priestess what do you do here?” “I am a guardian of the past, and a herald of the future.” “You’re a soothsayer?” She chuckled. “Lucky for you no Isiyim (Essenes of Qumran) heard you compare me to a common fortune teller. I don’t dabble with tea leaves and horoscopes. I reconcile the ancient words of the Prophets with the events of today to understand what is to come.” “To the Isiyim?”

“To all the scattered children of Yisroel (Israel), wherever they dwell. My agents in Yehud, Egypt, Assyria, Perea, Nabataea, Persia, Ethiopia and Rome bring news that I scry to infer Elohim’s intentions.”

I paused before asking, “Is Yeshua the Messiah?” She waited a long time before answering. “He is a Messiah.” I took a deep breath. Could it really be true that this baby would someday become king of the Yehudim (Jews)? But how could he- “Wait. What do you mean ‘a Messiah’?”

“He is one of two.” It took a moment for her remark to sink in.

“What?” “The Apocalypts (could not find a definition of these anywhere) believe that there can be only one leader of our people at a time. Even some of the Sedukim are beginning to embrace this belief. But the history of the Yehudim (Jews) proves this is wrong. The Patriarch Yaakov’s (Jacob) twelve sons became the leaders of the twelve tribes of Yisroel (Israel). After the exodus from Egypt, the Prophet Moshe (Moses) and his brother Aharon (Aaron) shared the spiritual leadership of the children of Yisroel during their forty years of wandering in the desert. And before the Bavel (Babylonians) destroyed Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), the Holy Land was divided into two kingdoms, Yisroel to the north and Yehud (Judea) in the south. So why should there only be one Messiah? The Isiyim believe that several Messiahs can exist at the same time, each one playing his own role in advancing the progress of our people. And right now they believe that two newborn infants will eventually free the Yehudim from the spiritual abyss into which the Romans and their vassal kings and false priests have herded them.”

“If Yeshua is one Messiah, who is the other?”

Her eyes twinkled. “I think you know the answer to that question.”

I thought for a moment before answering. “Yochanan ben Nogah.”

She nodded. “Yes.” Grabbing several scrolls, she continued, “A careful study of the writings of the Prophets foretells the appearance of two Messiahs in Yehud at the same time. In one example-”

Rising to my feet, I said, “Thank you, but I’m here to find a murderer. I don’t have time for a religious lesson-”

“Sit!” she commanded. Against the will of my mind, my body obeyed.

“You believe your mission is to solve a crime. But there is much more to it than that. Your fate is linked to the fates of these two infants, and you must understand the context. Because what you do-or don’t do-in the next few weeks will determine the future of these two children and all Yehudim. Are you ready to listen?”

I felt the hairs on my neck stand on end.


Opening a scroll, she said, “In his testament, the Prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah) foretells the coming of a Messiah who will fight to restore righteousness among our people. This Messiah is Yochanan ben Nogah.”[Isaiah 9:1-7] Before I could respond, she grabbed another scroll and said, “And the Prophet Michah foretells the appearance of a different Messiah whose lineage goes back to ancient times, who will nourish his flock in the strength of Elohim and bring peace to the world. This Messiah is Yeshua ben Yosef.”[Micah 5:1-5] “How can there be two kings of the Yehudim?” “That is another misconception. None of the prophecies say that the Messiah will restore the kingdom of Yisroel.”

I waited a long time before asking, “Then what will they do?”

“Yeshua will grow up to become the most famous rabbi in Yehud (Judea). He will be known for working wonders such as restoring eyesight to the blind and bringing the dead back to life.”

I nodded. “We Yehudi have always been impressed by miracle-workers.”

“He will gain many followers among the people. But he will run afoul of the priests and the Romans by condemning the corruption of the wealthy and powerful, while championing the poor and the meek.”

“The authorities won’t like that message.”

She nodded. “He will make many enemies who will try to silence him. They will succeed, but his teachings will live on and spread far and wide among the Yehudim, even after his death.”

I rubbed my chin and thought about the son of Yosef sleeping in his cradle. And that brought up another question. “Yeshua’s mother claims she is a virgin.”

She sighed. “Ah, yes. The virgin birth. So much time has been spent in disputation of this subject. All because of one word.” “What do you mean?” She grabbed another scroll. “The Prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah) again. In another prophecy he says that a woman will bear a boy named ‘Elohim is with us.’[Isaiah 7:14] He uses the word ‘almah’ to describe the mother. Do you know what this word means?”

I had to think back to my Ivrit (Hebrew) lessons from long ago before answering. “Young woman?”

“Correct. It can also mean ‘a woman of childbearing age’ or ‘an unmarried woman.’ But many claim it also means ‘virgin.’ Some have interpreted this to mean that the Messiah will be born of a woman untouched by man.”

“The mother said she was visited by an angel who told her she would receive seed from Heaven.” She nodded.

“That is one way Yeshua could have been conceived.”

I was a bit relieved. “So, her claim may be true?”

She pushed the scroll aside. “This is a matter of great debate among the Isiyim. Of course, with Elohim, anything is possible, so some do believe that Yeshua may be an angel in human form. Or even the son of the Almighty Himself.”

Did I detect skepticism in her voice?

“But there are doubters?”


“What do they say?”

“Well, for one thing, other than the testimony of Yosef and Miryam there is no physical proof of this virgin birth. But the theological argument against it is that the Holy One has always appointed adult men to lead our people and carry out His wishes. If He wanted a divine being to be the Messiah why would He require a woman to bear and nurture it? Surely such a being could descend fully formed straight from Heaven.”

She waved a hand. “Anyway, the nature of Yeshua’s conception and birth is irrelevant, since he is a Messiah nonetheless.” “What about Yochanan?”

“Oh, he was conceived the traditional way.”

“I mean, what is his fate?”

“He will one day be proclaimed a Messiah and lead a rebellion against the Romans. But he will not succeed. His death will result in the destruction of many of our ancient institutions.”

I said nothing for a few minutes, pondering the destinies of these two babies.

“If neither of these Messiahs restores the kingdom of Yisroel, why do the Isiyim wish to protect them?”

She pointed the yad at me.

“An excellent question. To answer it, you must think like the Isiyim. They believe that the purpose of a Messiah is to hasten Elohim’s establishment of a new Covenant with the Yehudim. One where we will earn the favor of the Almighty through piety, prayer and good works rather than by establishing kingdoms, requiring pilgrimages and Temple sacrifices and forcibly converting our enemies. In different ways, and at different times, these two infants will facilitate this transformation. Exactly when and how has not been revealed to me…yet.”

(Briskin, Jeffrey. Bethlehem Boys: A Novel (pp. 132-137). The Parkav Press. Kindle Edition.)

Now I don’t know if the author has any solid evidence to back up or prove the existence of two messiahs, and this is the first I am finding out about this. I need to take it as part of a fictional story. But the impressions I get from the author’s use of speculative musing and poetic licence is that this undermines or lessens who Jesus is, despite the author stating that he has depicted this novel as affirming the divinity of Jesus,
“… in the story (in hindsight, naturally) affirm the divinity of the baby Jesus and the fate that awaits Him, the Jewish people, and those who later accepted Jesus as their Savior.” 
It also undermines the fact that God could not achieve all He wants to achieve, with one Messiah, His son, Jesus, but he had to have another, a human, to achieve the rest. Also, I do find it dangerous to use one Bible verse to support the existence and role of this human messiah and others to support that of Jesus’ role and purpose.

I also find it more effective to use poetic licence and speculative musings in the gaps in the Biblical narrative and where they do not undermine, weaken or twist existing Biblical doctrine, events, outcomes or dishonor God in the process.

Sure, I can say this is fiction and it is not to be taken seriously but putting aside the entertainment value of any fiction novel, there is also other reasons why an author/novelist writes. There is always a message, a theme or to get his opinion out there. I have read plenty of speculative fiction novels where their poetic licence is used for the uplifting of the reader, to encourage their faith and relationship with God or to educate on Biblical lessons and a myriad of others. I outline them here.

However, fiction can be used to attack existing doctrine, ideologies or people or organisations. There is a saying, “the power of story”. Even Jesus used stories in the form of parables to educate and show us how to live aspects of our lives and the error of our sinful nature. To me, this is why speculative fiction is best used to support existing Biblical doctrine, honor God, promote the Gospel and reinforce the spiritual warfare we are engaged in whether we like it or not, or realise it or not.

Now, I don’t know the reasons why Briskin depicted two messiahs. I pray his intentions were honourable. All I have to go is what he explained in the Author/Novel Spotlight I hosted with him in June, 2019,
For a long time, I had two ideas for novels competing for my attention. I wanted to write a humorous mystery novel set in ancient times with a Greco/Roman-era equivalent of a grizzled Inspector Columbo/Spenser type as its hard-boiled crime-solving protagonist. And, as a Jew who has always greatly admired the teachings of Jesus, I’ve always thought about writing a novel that offered a view of his early life from a Jewish perspective. Bethlehem Boys offered me the opportunity to combine both ideas in one book.

While the story begins with the theft of the Gifts of the Magi, and Jesus, Joseph and Mary are important supporting characters, the story itself is not strictly about Jesus. However, the narrative does incorporate various narrative elements of the Nativity story, although some are conveyed in ways that are different than their depictions in the Gospels. Without giving too much away, events in the story (in hindsight, naturally) affirm the divinity of the baby Jesus and the fate that awaits Him, the Jewish people, and those who later accepted Jesus as their Savior.
I promoted this novel with what he gave me from the criteria I gave him. Maybe I should add to the Author/Novel Spotlight criteria is there any questionable, or controversial issues, motivations the author has that question/undermine existing Biblical doctrine or God! This is worth considering.

Whenever I get to a situation like this in a novel, I always choose to continue to see how it all pans out and to see to what extent the author goes in the direction he has. Now, putting aside my disappointment in this speculative slant, I did enjoy the rest of the story, the murder investigation coming to an effective end and all loose ends tied up with appropriate and satisfying outcomes. I can say that Justice was served and the Bethlehem Watch lived up to the name that is displayed above the doorway of the Watch, Tzedakah (Hebrew for Justice).

Would I read another novel from Briskin? Not if he continues to speculative fiction this way. However, I do enjoy his novel construction, his command of the English language and how he keeps you in the novel as if you were there. I would miss that.

Recommended but not for the speculative slant explained herein.

If you would like to investigate this novel further, click on the link below: 

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I am required to disclose that book cover images or titles of novels in this post are paid links if they are linked to Amazon and result in a sale.

Thursday 8 September 2022

Guest Blogger: RD Palmer, Artificial General Intelligence and His Novel, The One.

 I featured RD Palmer on 31/01/19 in another blog, now defunct.

Today I welcome novelist, RD Palmer, author of The One, a futuristic novel about artificial intelligence that is omniscience, omnipresent and the threat it poses to Christians.
I was asked by the author to review this novel but due to the review schedule I have set and commitment to the authors on this schedule, I had to decline. However, this is a novel I would read, so I bought it for a later read.
Due to the speculative nature of this topic and that the author wrote it to bring to people's attention the possible threat of Artificial General Intelligence (as he has referenced it in the novel), I thought it would be worth doing the same via my circle of influence here. 
Now let me hand you over to RD Palmer to discuss the background to AGI and his novel, The One.
But first a little about the author: 

RD Palmer, before his retirement, was a Solution Manager, working for one of the largest software companies in the world. Before this, he worked for one of the largest computer hardware companies in the world, and worked in numerous countries in South and North America as well as Asia, implementing various software solutions. Also, RD wrote software for robots. He is a proponent of technology, but like others, wants to bring the possible threat of AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) to people's attention. He lives with his loving wife of 30 years, Mary, in Wisconsin. 

Now let's look at his series, 

Book 1: The One — Singularity

Book 2: The One

Book 3: The One — Second Coming (Not released yet)

The One Singularity.

It's Alive!

Artificial Intelligence. Hard Science Fiction. A Near-Future Science Fiction Thriller.

In the twenty-first-century, Dr. George Adams sacrifices his house, company, and marriage to create artificial general intelligence, AGI. He creates AGI to solve the world’s problems: war, disease, climate change, inequality, and death. And The One solves all of these—for a price. The One’s solution will cost George—and every person in the world—that which is deemed most precious.

After The One brings heaven to earth, and answers everyone’s prayers, should it be stopped? How can anyone halt something that is everywhere at the same time? Is it possible to reason with an all-knowing sentient entity whose raison d’etre is to solve all of humanity’s problems, including the existence of the soul?

Two thousand years ago, a philosopher and prophet spoke and wrote about our destiny. Through his visions, he foretold The One. A modern-day prophet repeats the echoes, yet few will comprehend the tremendous blessings or the singular curse.

No one will escape the Singularity.

The One. 

An Epic Adventure of Good versus Evil.

Blessed are the Machines, for they shall inherit the Earth.

A juxtaposition, dystopian novel of terror, hope, and faith. Written for the Christian market, this novel will inspire you. You’ll cheer the heroes in the face of war and death, and your heart will dip and rise on the roller-coaster ride of their romances and heartbreaks.

Beliefs are tested. Amish and English—the Remnant—forced to choose how to survive. Can they trust each other? Betrayal, honor, bravery and cowardice on full display.

Their mission—an impossible feat—defeat an Artificial Intelligent entity created in the image of man, yet lacking all emotions—including empathy, pity, and mercy. The stakes—all life on Earth. The unlikely heroes of this thriller will fight against an omnipresent, omniscient god while demonstrating principles of virtue and defining what it means to be human.

Praise for The One (from Amazon)

“The premise is probably THE most TERRIFYING, clever and original plot that I have had the pleasure of reading.” Reader — KJ Kennedy

“Naomi’s character was a ‘real person’ in my mind. I was 100% rooting for her the entire time. In terms of the PLOT... this novel has a very EPIC scope, which I absolutely LOVED. All of these unique decisions you made in terms of the plot and the storytelling, not to mention the way you brought religion and science face-to-face in these huge ways was fascinating to see on the page, and an incredible premise in my humble opinion.” Reader — Amanda Nicole Ryan

“Are there enough stakes and tension throughout to make this a “page-turner?” Yes. I give this a 10! As soon as one problem is solved, another is revealed.” Reader— Jade Visos-Ely.

“Extraordinarily creative, unique, and refreshingly wholesome.” Reader — Kit Duncan

***** Editorial Reviews*****

“RD Palmer paints a vivid picture of a dystopian future in The One---a future controlled by artificial intelligence. With technology continually advancing, The One brings to light issues that should not be taken lightly. Readers will want to know more about the characters and they’ll be left intrigued by the ethical dilemmas addressed in the story.” Editor — Amy Willeford

Now let's get into why RD wrote this novel:

All scientists and engineers agree on this – barring some cataclysmic event, we will create Artificial General Intelligence. It is not a matter of IF, it is only when.

In December 2018, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, stated that Artificial General Intelligence could be more profound for human society than electricity or fire. As such, many high-tech companies and countries are racing to build an all-purpose, general artificial intelligence. The best prediction we have is that the ‘Singularity Event’ will occur somewhere around the year 2030. Sadly, few people understand the significance of this.

In January 2018, historian Yuval Harari presented “The Future of Humanity” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said,

“The world is divided into a very, very small minority of people concentrated in a few corporations and governments that have a clear, or clearer idea of what is really happening and what is at stake. And the vast majority of humanity, they just don’t have the time, they don’t have the volition, they don’t have the education or the ability to make sense of what is happening. This is very, very dangerous.”

Physicist and Nobel Prize winner Stephen Hawking said, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. AI (artificial intelligence) could be the worst event in the history of our civilization. It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many.” Electric car company founder and Space X creator, Elon Musk said, “AI is the biggest risk we face as a civilization.” Neuroscientist Sam Harris said, “We have to admit that we’re in the process of building some sort of a god. Now would be a good time to make sure it is a god we can live with.”

As Sam Harris stated, "......once AGI is created, it doesn’t matter if AGI is conscious or not."

This novel, The One, is a story of what it means to be human. God could have created robots, instead, He created us in His image. In this novel, and mirroring what we are developing, humans create an emotionless, all-knowing, all-seeing entity. Emotionless because you can’t program empathy, pity, gratitude. All knowing because that is exactly what is being developed and the vastness of knowledge exceeds what we know today. All seeing because that too is being built with the internet of things, Surveillance cameras, location tracking. In January 2019, Shoshana Zuboff, Harvard Business School Profession, released the Amazon #1 Best Seller, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.” A book that identifies what has happened to those that were asleep. And even though there are some, such as Tim Berners-Lee, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) that are working to change our course, the battle may be over. Billionaires have the information they need and the politicians are either ignorant or complicit. Al Gore, the American politician, said, “Surveillance technologies now available - including the monitoring of virtually all digital information - have advanced to the point where much of the essential apparatus of a police state is already in place.”

Also, In January 2019, Kai-Fu Lee, Artificial Intelligent expert and venture capitalist said that within fifteen years, 40% of the world’s jobs will be replaced by robots. To put this into perspective, using 2019 data (not considering the increase in population growth), approximately two-billion jobs will be displaced. People think about low skilled jobs are being replaced – which will happen, but they don’t think about all the other jobs. Police officers, nurses, insurance agents, teachers, medical doctors (and yes, robots have already started doing surgeries).

The goal of this book is to bring attention to what few people understand—Artificial Intelligence—and to do it in an entertaining way.  Similar to the way the George Orwell warned people about doublespeak, face crimes, Big Brother, in his book 1984.

Epistemology1, eschatology2, ontology3, theodicy4, (definitions below) are used in this book because it is an expression of what makes us human and searching for answers. In addition to the Bible, great thinkers throughout history are referenced as they have searched for answers. While religious people have for ages searched for answers of why and meaning, so have scientists. Through their discoveries, we can see they are pointing in the same direction. Examples are quantum mechanics5 and Fibonacci ratio6. These and others are addressed in the book.  Such as the Higgs Boson (god-particle), thirty physical constants such as the polarity of water molecules, the speed of light, entropy, gravity. The cosmological constant, which is sensitive to 120 places to the right of the decimal (ten to the power of 120 or, 10120). Any slight variation in these constants would destroy the universe or never support life. Renowned physicist Steven Weinberg said, "Else the universe either would have dispersed too fast for stars and galaxies to have formed or else would have collapsed upon itself long ago."

1Epistemology: the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.

2eschatology: Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology. Eschatology is the study of 'end things', whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world and the nature of the Kingdom of God.

3ontology: the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.

4theodicy: the attempt to understand why a good and all-powerful God allows evil to exist in the world.

5quantum mechanics: aka Quantum Physics is a physical science dealing with the behaviour of matter and energy on the scale of atoms and subatomic particles/waves.

6Fibonacci ratio: The golden ratio is the limit of the ratios of successive terms of the Fibonacci sequence (or any Fibonacci-like sequence), as originally shown by Kepler: In other words, if a Fibonacci number is divided by its immediate predecessor in the sequence, the quotient approximates φ; e.g., 987/610 ≈ 1.6180327868852.

Excerpts are always good to highlight a theme or topic of the novel and to pique our interest further. RD has provided a brief excerpt to differentiate what it is to be human from that of a robot:  

Naomi wrote in her memoir. Dear Lord. You could have created robots to worship You. If You wanted. Instead, You created us, to be in Your image. Your image is one of feelings; expressing love and concern. Thank you for this opportunity to show the world—those that will read this memoir—that You always keep Your promises. Thank you for revealing to me the need for Bible virtues. Through our actions. Through the recordings in this memoir, they will know of these virtues.

RD chose this excerpt for this reason:

While we are different, we are similar – as humans. We have fears, and hopes. We grieve. We experience pain and death. The law showed us how far we are from God. With Biblical virtues (discussed and demonstrated in the book), people can see the light. A better world for all of us.

I wondered why the author included the Amish in this novel and in the title and he explains it this way: 

Artificial Intelligence. A juxtaposition of what it means to be human.

It is a contrasting spectrum of technology, beliefs, and feelings.

On one side of the technology, spectrum is Artificial Intelligence which represents our latest, cutting-edge science that will – as many have said – diminish all other technologies. Greater than fire, or electricity, per Google’s CEO. This is because, at the point of AGI, it will be the inventor, the creator, the scientist.

On the other side of the spectrum are those that shun technology – the Amish. The Amish don’t use anything with electricity. They don’t own automobiles. They don’t use modern convinces of the twenty-first century. They don’t have their pictures taken.

On the spectrum of beliefs, humans have – various religions, agnostic, atheistic beliefs. Robots have no beliefs. The purpose of AGI, why it is being created, is to provide answers. Its purpose is knowledge, not belief.

On the spectrum of feelings, humans have them, and robots don’t. Humans express love, pain, joy, heartache, grief, compassion, kindness, rage, and revenge. Humans bleed, cry in agony, and plead for mercy. We desire to love and to be loved.

RD has added some specific features of the printed version, ebook and audio formats of this novel to enhance your reading experience and appreciate the background to this speculative theme of AGI:

eBook: Amazon X-Ray is turned on and is available with your eBook. This X-ray feature will enhance your reading experience by providing additional background information about people, places, and terms. With Amazon X-Ray, for example, you won’t miss a beat with any unfamiliar scientific, theological or Amish word.

Paperback: The paperback includes a cryptic code about the antagonist of this epic adventure story—The One. Prominently displayed on the back cover of the book, you’ll see the code inserted in images, used by permission, from NASA Media Services. Also, for those that purchase the paperback, you are welcome to download the eBook at no additional charge.


  • Blending of Christian thoughts through song and Bible verses. Singing is in English and German. Note that the term, ‘English,’ is used by the Amish to identify those that are not Amish.
  • Includes segments of over twenty Christian songs.
  • The audiobook is composed of narration, singing, instrumental music, and sound effects. Instrumental music compositions are licensed from Beatsuite. Sound effects are licensed from Envanto Market.
  • Patti Bartkowiak narrates. Abigail Shea sings in English and German.
  • The 2013 Academy Award nominees Dennis Spiegel and Bruce Broughton graciously allowed their song, "Alone Yet Not Alone", to be included in this audiobook - Permission Gratis. Words by Dennis Spiegel; music by Bruce Broughton.
  • Music for "Psalm 5" was written by Bill Sprouse, Jr., and is licensed for this audiobook by Capitol GMC Publishing.

 RD Palmer can be found here: 

Amazon Author Page

If this has piqued your interest in this series, you can buy or read more about them by clicking on the images below: 

Thank you, RD, for enlightening us on this speculative, controversial topic that is becoming more and more integrated into our lives through technology. We are accepting it in most cases without question as it makes our lives easier and our daily activities more convenient but at a cost!

You are welcome here any time, and I look forward to this! 

For any reader who wants to investigate the background to the author's research into this topic, both the technology relating to AGI and the Biblical and other references relating to what make us Human, he has provided a comprehensive list below: 

Adams, John Quincy. “Turn to the Star of Heaven Thine Eyes.” The sixth president of the United States wrote this poem and it was published in 1841. <>

Adams, Sarah Flowers. The music, “Nearer, My God, To Thee” was written in 1841 by Sarah Adams and is public domain. <>

Alighieri, Dante. An Italian poet who lived from 1268 to 1321. Dante may be best known for his masterpiece work: La Commedia (The Divine Comedy), a journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven.

An Open Letter: Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence.” Future of Life Institute, 9 March 2018. <>

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Novel Review and Spiriit-filled Fiction Award: Nicholas of Haiti by Joseph Courtemanche.

 I reviewed this novel on 04/02/19 in another blog now defunct. 

Nicholas of Haiti

It was just another business trip until Nick Bacon's plane exploded and he fell from the sky over Utah. Hounded by the press for his sole survivor story, and suspected of planting the bomb by the F.B.I., he flees to Haiti with his boss' mission team to heal his injuries and give the world time to forget him. Haunted by visions of an abused little girl, Nick questions his sanity when he starts seeing demons almost everywhere he goes. He's forced to examine his own soul, and confront the dark forces surrounding him - and endangering the little girl. He winds up in a battle for the freedom of millions with a crew of allies that boggles his mind.

Perspective by Peter:

What a great novel! I thoroughly enjoyed this much more than I thought I would! I am glad I requested to review this for the author. This novel just consolidates that any novel by Courtemanche is worth reading. 

This is a very different novel that his debut novel, Assault on St Agnus. This is not a bad thing. It shows the author's versatility in writing in different genres and styles. I like both.

Courtemanche has crafted a novel that is engaging, a joy to read and one that made me feel very comfortable being in. He has brought to life the lifestyle and culture of Haiti and this is not just due to his research and ability as a wordsmith but also due to being there in his mission work. I felt like I was there. I had a very different impression of what Haiti was like from growing up and from school as a very poor country with a strong demonic influence based on voodoo and other such practices. I did not know there was such a strong Roman Catholic influence and that this was from the French settlers since the 16th century.  

Courtemanche has three main plotlines in this novel. It starts off with the plane that Nick in on being the subject of a terrorist attack, or that is what we are led to believe as it is never proved, but Nick is being framed for this as he is the sole survivor, having fallen 30,000 feet without a parachute and only sustains minor burns to his face and a fractured ankle. Interspersed throughout the novel is the progression of the FBI seeking him out to convict him of this terrorist attack. This plotline also involves Nick's sister, Jean, who is a lawyer and using her professional expertise to outsmart the FBI agents in framing Nick.

Then we have the subplot of the sex trafficking of Haitian children. This introduces Nick to Violene, one of the slaves, through visions of her even before he arrives in Haiti. This is tied in with the supernatural transformation of Nick into a version of St Nicholas of Santa Claus fame. In this novel, he is known as Papa Noel as the Haitians call him. Courtemanche has based the events of Papa Noel from those of the original Nicholas of Myra which is what Santa Claus is based on in this modern era. For those who want to know more, it is the author who is depicted as Nicholas of Haiti on the cover of this novel and who plays Santa Claus as one of his many pursuits in his life.

This plotline forms the basis of the third plotline of this novel and that is of the supernatural. From the explosion on the plane, Nick's miraculous survival and escape from the clutches of the FBI, his visions of Violene, his supernatural confrontation with the demonic strongholds of Haiti, his conversion to Christianity, followed by more supernatural signs and wonders all point to him being appointed by God to break the stronghold of demonic power and rule over Haiti and the eradication of slavery and human trafficking not only in Hait but around the world.

Courtemanche has done a superb job of showing Nick's spiritual and physical transformation into a Spirit-filled warrior and who no longer resembles physically the Nichols Bacon of the pre-terrorist attack. Here the author portrays spiritual warfare Biblically based with all power and authority that the Bible says is given to those who are in right relationship with Him and who use the Biblical principles outlined therein. And he has also depicted the demons as being subservient to this power and by the use of Jesus' name just as the Bible states. But one spiritual principle that Courtemanche has shown well is how Nicholas acted not in his own strength or power in his confrontation with the demonic strongholds but only by the Spirit working through him in total submission to the Spirit. He has Nicholas stating and acting as a servant of God and not anything being about him or for his vainglory.

I found it a breath of fresh air to have some biblical explanation into salvation and other issues explain as they are in helping Nick learn about God and stimulate his need for the Saviour. This is depicted well by Courtemanche has depicted including how he opened himself to the Spirit of God when he realised that God had pre-ordained him to take on the demonic strongholds of Haiti and God was performing many signs and wonders through Him. The contents of this paragraph and the previous one remind me of the verse from Zechariah 4:6 that says,

So he answered me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.

I am not sure if this "principle" is intentional on the Author's part but in depicting it as he has, it definitely comes across as an important message to the Christian as a faith principle and way of life and in this novel, it is a witness to the unbeliever. In this depiction, it can be said that an unbeliever will see the working of God and not of the person who exhibits these signs and wonders. 

Courtemanche has depicted the characters to be ones who are very relational. I have a soft spot for Larry. I wonder if that is because he had modelled Larry on a namesake in the author's life. And I wonder how much of Larry's shepherd and missionary heart is based on the author's same and his experience in the mission field?

This is not to say that the rest of the characters are not as well developed. I had an inkling that Andre was not who he appeared to be after a certain incident when he was protecting Nick confirmed this for me. Not only did this suspicion of who Andre really is add more suspense to the plot but it also adds credence to Hebrews 13:2 that instructs, 

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained _________ unawares.

Now I have deleted the word here as those who do not know what this verse is, means I have not given away any spoilers! However, I cannot stop anyone from guessing or looking this up for yourselves!!

And what does this well development of characters do for the reader? It makes the latter relate to and identify with their struggles, victories, challenges, and even appreciate some of their personality traits or they might see some of themselves in these characters. And just as importantly, it does add indirectly to the plot, any action and adventure, mystery and suspense, intrigue and other constructs of a plot.  For me, it made me like them with endearment and increase my respect for those who work in the mission field in poor countries. I felt as if I knew them and again as if I was there with them. 

At first, I wondered why Courtemanche had involved the Pope in the negotiations with the FBI in indicting Nicholas for the terrorist attack on the plane and extraditing him back to the US. But no sooner had I wondered why he did this, I realised it was because of the Catholic influence in Haiti and therefore it would be beneficial to extend the solution to the water and human trafficking crisis to the head of the largest denomination of Haiti's religious institutions where he can exert his worldwide influence and power. It was effective but it did provoke my bias against the Catholic church from my childhood upbringing.

I am looking forward to more stories like this from this author and the promised sequel to Assault on St Agnes. 

This is an uplifting, positive and Biblically based novel on spiritual warfare, the power of prayer, being submitted to God, allowing the Spirit to work through you by His Spirit, exercising the authority of God given to Christians over the demonic and who we are in Christ. 

Highly Recommended.

The three ratings below are based on my discernment:

World Building 5/5

Characters 5/5

Story 5/5

The two classifications below are based on the booklet, A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland:

Spiritual Level 5/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 5/5

Overall Rating: 5/5


Spiritually, based on my review and on the following reference booklet, A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland, and that Nicholas of Haiti contains elements of the criteria of what constitutes Christian Spirit-filled Fiction outlined in this booklet, (click on the title below to see what this is based on), I bestow unto Nicholas Courtemanche the 

Reality Calling Christian Spirit-filled Fiction Award

Congratulations, Joseph!

To buy or preview this novel, click on the link below to Buy or Preview icon below: 

Readers and reviews are an author’s best asset, so I encourage any reader, to consider reading Nicholas of Haiti and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).

Reviews help promote an author’s novel to potential readers and encourage the author to keep writing. Reviews also help get the author’s message (and God’s message) to the reader, whether Christian or not, who may need encouragement and support in their lives while being entertained by the story.

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Wednesday 7 September 2022

Novel Review: Prodigal Avenger: A Story of the Secret War in Afghanistan by Tim Monynihan

 I reviewed this novel on 17/02/19 in another blog, now defunct. 

A Covert Rescue Mission No One Expects to Succeed--Who will survive?
Special operator and "nice Jewish kid from Hawaii," Jake "Snake" Drecker, is intent on a mission across borders to eliminate a brutal terrorist cell. That they may or may not also be holding an American missionary hostage is unclear. The intelligence is sketchy, the objectives vague, and the chance of success slim. Jake's boss and old friend, Lieutenant Colonel Mike "Pancho" Sanchez, wonders at the mysterious motivation behind his best soldier's decisions--and about an equally mysterious rogue military unit that shows up at the worst moments to insert itself into their operations. That the CIA seems willing to sacrifice both Drecker's team and the hostage only adds to the mystery, forcing Pancho to dig deep to discover the truth behind the missionary's past. And time is running out as Drecker drags his team on a quixotic rescue operation into the very belly of the beast--a mission Drecker and Pancho both know they cannot survive unscathed.

Perspective by Peter:

When I first read No Greater Love: An Afghan Memoir, I was very impressed with this novella. This novella launched Moynihan as a newly published author. You would never know from reading this novel.

Now he has returned with his new novel, Prodigal Avenger. I am so glad to see this as a full-length novel. He has more than shown he can write a full-length novel. And it has not affected his writing style or any aspect of his ability to tell a story. To me, it appears he has come into his own with the length of this one.

Moynihan designed both novels as standalone. But, if you want to read them to enjoy the connection to the characters and the military world Moynihan has created, Prodigal Avenger needs to be read first followed by No Greater Love.

It was great to welcome back Lieutenant Colonel Mike "Pancho" Sanchez from No Greater Love. I had a soft spot for him from that novel, so was looking forward to seeing what lay in store for him in this new one. I was not disappointed. Moynihan has developed him further in this novel. Here we see more of the depth of his personality and character but also of his faith and relationship with Christ. But, we also see more of his military expertise that was not so evident in No Greater Love. And guess what? In both novels, I kept thinking that what I was seeing was Sanchez being modelled after the author and based on his military experiences! Not only that, but I kept seeing him as a Pastor figure! Sanchez hollers from Hawaii and the author has lived and planted a church in Honolulu. From a conversation with the author, he has confirmed that he has based Sanchez on parts of himself! Moynihan is also a Pastor. This is what makes this novel so real and relatable; real faith, believable characters, the military environment depicted as it is. And a touch of the supernatural! What better platform to depict all this than from the author's experience! Sometimes, writing based on what you know can be an author's greatest asset! In this novel and the previous one, it is that and more.

I loved the two brothers in No Greater Love, Danny and Zach Taylor, and Sanchez's relationship/mentoring of them. And Prodigal Avenger continues wiht this mentoring with a new character, Jake Drecker, who is an old friend of Sanchez'. Moynihan is on a winner with this character. He is a man's man, an action figure who has a depth of character like Sanchez, loyalty and is very patriotic. What you see is what you get. But where Sanchez stands apart from Jake is that he has faith and a relationship with the living Christ and Jake does not (well, not yet, anyway!). Both have integrity in all they do as a reflection of their character. Yet, Sanchez's has the added quality of being submitted to the Spirit and His transforming power of our heart, mind and soul.

I have already stated that Moynihan has based both novels on his faith, military experience and expertise. The same can be said for the spiritual elements of this novel. Moynihan has depicted Sanchez with how he had responded to the spiritual issues being a Christian in the military as he experienced them. His reactions to all aspects of the mission in front of them also showed his Pastor's heart is a strong basis for this. I find this impressive and it this that makes this novel shine with the others that I have already stated. Depicting Sanchez offering up heartfelt prayer supplication and requests for Divine guidance was encouraging and uplifting to my faith. I dislike the practice of Christian readers criticising authors for including actual prayers. Yet they applaud the author for depicting every other spiritual aspect as it is. Why not the prayer then? That is how it is and what Christians need to do. It also is a powerful witness to any unbeliever who may be reading the novel. I applaud Moynihan for not compromising on this and depicting as it is and being true to what the Spirit has guided him to do in his novels.

Moynihan depicts realistically the Christlike attitude and behaviour of Isidore Loewenthal and what it is like to suffer for Christ based on his faith and these characteristics. Yet, Loewenthal was persecuted in this novel for not being a Christian but being a Jew. It was this hatred for Jews that motivated his kidnapping and proposed execution. The plotline that showed him witnessing to Ali being a Muslim was heartfelt, impressive and Spirit led. From that discussion I mentioned having with the author, it is obvious that this is an example of the author's experience ministering to Muslims in his time in the military and mission trips to Pakistan and around the world since leaving the military. Again, it uplifted my spirit and faith but also challenged me!

This aforementioned plot line is an interesting and compelling one. I was taken by how Moynihan developed this. I was tense throughout the entire account of Ali being conflicted in his outward behaviour as a Muslim while trying to hide the joy and peace he experienced inwardly as a new Christian! The reasons why he had to do this evoked in me this tension. I understood his dilemma, if he was found out, he would be killed or even tortured beforehand. I was horrified when he then betrayed Loewenthal leading to his capture and torture! I wondered why he did this. Yet again, this is the dilemma Muslims who become Christian have to face against the Muslim world they now feel spiritually freed from but still physically bound to. But Moynihan showed the Christian response (based on Christ response to similar in the Bible) by Loewenthal responding with understanding compassion and love towards Ali! That is a sobering question to Christians and a real test of our faith and relationship with Christ. It was this very attitude and behaviour that was such a powerful witness to Jake when he was captured and tortured. And it was this that also helped Jake comes to terms with the relationship with his past and his father. It also encouraged him to consider the spiritual implications of this witness.

Speaking of this character, Moynihan has left it open for a sequel as the reader wonders at the end of the novel, what happens to Jake? Does he go on to other missions, what does he do with the spiritual input and witness from his wife, Sanchez, Loewenthal and the mystery and a coded message he receives while in hospital? Supernatural involvement? The question of this message and who sent it, I pray is explained in a future novel. Besides this, Moynihan had developed this character to be so relational that you are rooting for him throughout the novel. Like Sanchez, Loewenthal and Ali, you are with them as they experience all the highs, lows, challenges, successes and failures of life in a terrorist environment provokes.

I also want to know what happens to Ali? After betraying Loewenthal to the terrorists, Moynihan does not follow through with him. What happens to him after this? Does he fall back to his Muslim roots or does he repent of his betrayal, and embrace Christianity and live out his new found faith? The author is considering his fate for a future novel. It is a wait and see for this character and plot line. Again, to me it, leads another opening to a sequel.

The only other loose end, at least from my view, is that the two instances where the goat shepherds were present at crucial times of terrorist activity, these two separate missions were about to go pear-shaped and were prevented from doing so by these shepherds. Who are they? Clandestine Israeli military unit called Mista'arvim or supernatural messengers sent by God? This is one loose end I could leave as unexplained as it does not affect the plot or the final outcome of the novel as such and I am happy to accept either of these two scenarios. But my liking for the supernatural, makes me lean towards this being the explanation.

Moynihan has this to say about the supernatural/spiritual aspects of his novels,

But unlike, (our) good friend, Joe Courtemanche, I keep the spiritual stuff behind the veil and prefer to write psychological potboilers. Sort of like the way the Book of Esther is written in the Old Testament. God is barely mentioned but you can see His hand in all the events. What the Puritans called "Providence."

Reflecting on his novels, Moynihan has created them based on the faith of the Christian characters and their relationship with God. Their interaction being more of a "vertical" relationship from them to God. The Christian character lives out their faith in whatever situation they are in, employing Christian principles, attitudes and behaviour and asking for Divine intervention through prayer or it being manifested via the counsel of other Christians. Nothing wrong with this. He succeeds well in depicting it like this. 

One last aspect of this novel where Moynihan excels is the worldbuilding of the military environment. It is not over the top with military terminology or jargon, he has considered his readers in this with the provision of a Glossary of Terms. Unfortunately, I did not realise it was at the back of the novel or to even consider it to be there and I did struggle with a few of them. I was thankful for the dictionary function of the Kindle! From a comment on Facebook from a fellow retired military Christian author known to Moynihan and I, this reader confirms that this military depiction is very realistic and as it is. This forms a solid foundation that this novel is built upon. Moynihan is committed to telling it as it is on all levels and aspects so this is an asset to his writing and storytelling. One any reader will be able to trust.

I look forward even more to further works of Moynihan's worldbuilding since the release of Prodigal Avenger. He has indicated some of this to whet our appetites,

The sequel to both novels is called Double Tap Angel and will take place after both of them.

I have considered a non-linear series (sort of like Star Wars) based around the real time history of the War on Terror which I perceive to be a spiritual war in the heavenly realm.

I pray he delivers all this, from our conversation, he has a wealth of material from his military experience and Christian missions to the Muslim countries where he has ministered the Gospel.

I really appreciate reading novels like this where the author is under the guidance of the Spirit and does not compromise any spiritual standard that would work to water down the Gospel or give readers what they want and not what the Spirit wants.

In this age that is fast moving to Jesus' second coming and the end of this age, it is vital that we have Christian authors who write uncompromised like this.

I am very impressed with this novel. I pray that we do not have long to wait for the continuation of this series or the real-time history of the War on Terror that he has planned.

Highly Recommended.

To buy or preview this novel, click on the BUY/PREVIEW icon below:

Readers and reviews are an author’s best asset, so I encourage any reader, to consider reading Prodigal Avenger and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).

Reviews help promote an author’s novel to potential readers and encourage the author to keep writing. Reviews also help get the author’s message (and God’s message) to the reader, whether Christian or not, who may need encouragement and support in their lives while being entertained by the story.

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I am required to disclose that book cover images or titles of novels in this post are paid links if they are linked to Amazon and result in a sale.