The Last Ember by Daniel Levin


The Last Ember by Daniel Levin

The Menorah, the seven-branched lamp stand, which is the prominent symbol in post-Jewish tradition, is at the base of the mystery of this thriller by Daniel Levin. The Menorah, also referred to as the “golden lamp stand” or “candlestick,” stood at the left side of the holy place. The Menorah, as the one at the center of the mystery and intrigue in this book was hammered out of one piece of pure gold. The lamp stand had a central branch from which three branches extended from each side, forming a total of 7 branches. Seven branches holding olive oil and wicks stood on the top of the branches. The priests told to make sure that these lamps burned continuously and that their flame was never extinguished. But, what would happen if the mission or goal of one group of people were to obliterate the lamp and extinguish its flame.

Imagine what would happen if there was someone who had the power to obliterate all of the records, information and history of a group of people. What would happen if everything about these people and contribution to history, culture, economy and more were totally wiped out? What would happen if at the center of this were several different groups each with their own private agenda. One group wants to erase any information or trace of Judaism. One group wants to find out that a specific artifact belongs to: the Italian Government or a local antiquities dealer. Another group wants to discredit the expert witness for the Italian government and return the map to their client.

Beneath the Coliseum in Rome there are many who are excavating the ruins to find a specific artifact. One is a man so dangerous that he would do anything, including murder to get at these ruins and find what he is looking for. Another is a corrupt police officer that is working with the investigating officer to supposedly find out who is doing these illegal excavations beneath the Coliseum and destroying what remains below. One group is very methodical and the other totally destructive. One is lead by a police office that wants answers. The other is lead by a man called Salah-ad-din who will stop at nothing and answers to no one.

The Lord commanded Moses to have the Israelites bring him clear oil of pressed olives in order to light the menorah. Aaron was told to make sure that he the lamp and kept the flame burning. It was a source of light in the Holy Place. Without it the priests would have to live and work in the dark.

This novel and its events take place in one day. The events revert back and forth between Rome and Jerusalem. Jonathan Marcus a former classics scholar and now attorney, has returned to Rome in order to consult on a case regarding an artifact of questionable origin and ownership. At the center of the dispute are two stone fragments that were anonymously donated to the Capitoline Museum. The Italian Cultural Museum does not agree that it should be returned to this donor claiming that it was stolen should be returned to them. But, upon closer inspection of this fragments Jonathan finds a clue on this artifact, which no one else noticed and which his firm tells him to forget he ever found. Facing him in court is his legal opponent and star witness for the museum, Dr. Emili Travia, who wants this artifact returned to the museum and states that she has seen it before and will present evidence as to its proper ownership and origin. But, a skillful attorney in Jonathan’s firm soon helps to discredit her and then the games begin.

Someone is performing illegal excavations in Jerusalem near the Temple Mount. The two fragments of the Forma Urbis the artifact in question are the reason why everyone is searching for one particular thing.

Let’s start at the beginning or in the past and work our way to the present. Flavius Josephus was a Jewish general who defended Jerusalem and was caught by the Romans. He was a member of the aristocracy of the Jews, turned to the side of the Roman Empire in the great Jewish revolt. He then spent the remainder of his life in or near Rome as an advisor and historian to 3 emperors, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. For many centuries his works were widely read in Europe. But, just whose side was he on and what part does he play in our mystery?  Was he a political realist or a murderous traitor?

Jonathan and Emili along with his friend Chandler team up to find the answers to who this artifact belongs to and why there are illegal excavations being done near the Temple Mount and underneath the Colisseum where the arena of the gladiators used to be. Added into the mix is what they are looking for and the inscription that Jonathan found on the fragments: Error Titus: meaning that Titus made some type of mistake and it was somehow related to what they are all searching and looking for which is the Tabernacle Menorah.

Flavius Josephus was a first century figure and denied Titus ordered the burning of the temple in Jerusalem. It was Emperor Vespasian, his father that actually initiated the invasion of Judea, got the throne, and gave Josephus Roman citizenship. He was not only one of the major informants on biblical history, but early Christian history too; He refers to Jesus, John the Baptist and Jesus’ brother James. But, his part was even greater in this mystery. Jonathan finds another piece of evidence and realizes that there is one line that no one has seen or read that will help him find the answer to where this Menorah might be, why it is being sought, and who was the one who really stole it and it present location.

Jonathan, who is the first to see this message since ancient times, becomes determined to solve his own theory and where this artifact might be. Despite being told not to pursue the truth, and that “the truth is not his client,” he will not stop until he unravels this mystery and more.

On the opposite side is a man who is so dangerous that if he finds the Menorah he will destroy it and its eternal flame. Selah-ad-din is digging under the Temple Mount with the help of a professor and the aide of a corrupt police officer, to find the menorah, extinguish its light and obliterate the or erase any information or trace of Judaism and Christianity.

Here is where it gets more complicated and more interesting. Every city that housed this Menorah was burnt to the ground. First, Jerusalem, next Rome and finally Carthage, What does Flavius Josephus have to do with this and why is he at the center of this controversy as to how it was really stolen? The menorah was stolen from Jerusalem, as the author writes, over 2000 years ago. But, Titus thought that he had the real menorah, and the Romans thought that they had the real one when they carried it high on their shoulders to Constantinople. But, it was Flavius Josephus, as Jonathan learned from a message he found, that escaped through a hidden gate in the Colisseum and stole the real Menorah. Significance” the flame was an eternal flame that must never be extinguished. The perpetual fire is part of our modern traditions in our synagogues, churches and many other houses of worship that have flames kept over their sanctuary’s arks lit at all times. If one destroys the menorah than you destroy a people whose lineage will be erased. Abraham’s descendants were promised by having this eternal flame lit that they would multiply in “number like the stars in heaven and the sands on the seashore.” Their bloodline would be eternal like the flame and if extinguished like a match to the last burning ember as in our novel’s title.

Added to this we have a police officer trying to solve a murder related to this theft. A Muslim organization, Waqf Authority, which has been in charge of the Temple Mount and whose goal might be to find the Menorah, but their aim is to erase the ancient history of Israel and destroy the Jewish people.

The author even tells of the strife and conflicts between Israel and the Muslim authorities related to the excavations in the Temple Mount. If the past can be erased so can Israel’s claim to the land and to its existence be questioned and erased too.

Even more complex is a corpse that was found by the police in an abandoned warehouse. Along with the body they found some old manuscripts related to Flavius Josephus. Comandandte Profeta dealt with recovering stolen antiquities. As he looked through the documents or parchments he saw orange, luminescent coils from an old space heater in a dented steel box and realized that something was not right. The documents were doused with a heat source and would explode. Before leaving the warehouse he did manage to get a fingerprint of the hand and a lock of the hair in order to try and identify the body.

Looking at the picture of the body and the warehouse he realizes that Professor Cianari was involved in some way and took the pictures. The location was the gladiator’s barracks, which was where the explosion had taken place.

This novel takes place in the course of one day and reverts back and forth between Emili and Jonathan and Chandler, to the police and of course Salah-ad-din and don’t forget the corrupt police officer who trying to them off the scent.

Illegal excavations, renovations in along the eastern wing of Saint Per’s in Chains church and this novel breathes intrigue, murder, suspense and a lot of history for the reader to understand and follow. What do the Maccabees have to do with this church and the Tabernacle Menorah and how does everything intertwine; you will have to read and find that out for yourself. Plus where does Josephus fit into the Maccabean heritage?

With the help of a Holocaust survivor, a General in the Israelis government, the nuns of Sisters of Convent, and many others, Jonathan and Emili search for answers as to the reasons behind the excavations, the location of the menorah and what is happening and lies below the Temple Mount.

How would they get through the hidden gate? How many lives will be lost? Just what would you consider not only terrorist attacks against people, but what about ancient and sacred places too. Archeological terrorism is just as evil and horrific as killing and threatening the lives of people.

In order to protect the flame and get it out of Jerusalem safely the menorah had to be placed in exile. As the clues come together and the police learn whose body they found in the warehouse and everything will soon come into place. Where do they think this menorah is? Who is Salah-ad-Din and what happens next will surprise you. Who can Jonathan and Emili trust? Not who they think!

One holocaust survivor determined to bring home what belongs to Israel. One woman who would make that come true, but at what cost and how. This menorah’s flame with its golden branches will be lit for all eternity and never be extinguished.

Let’s hope the author brings Jonathan and Emily back in his next novel.

Fran Lewis: Reviewer

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