How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Transylvanian Sabbath-Keepers

This novel has undergone many, many changes, and it faces more in the future. But it stands strong, because it knows I can’t abandon it. Its characters call to me, begging me to save them from the impossible and deadly situation I left them in and see them safely to the end. Its setting likewise lures me to further explore its very real beauty and glory.

The idea came to me when I was about fourteen: four young people, two young men and two young women, are called to go on a journey to save their country. They are basically peasants, powerless by themselves, but used by God for this great task. Their goal: to collect three richly beautiful objects to present to the barbarian nation that threatens their country.

Originally the setting was an imaginary land. I wrote faithfully for a long time, began to lose interest, and decided to turn it into two books so that I could wrap it up to my satisfaction for a while: I hung the ending of the first book off a cliff, never wrote the second, and left to work on Six Cousins.

I had never been overly excited at developing the imaginary land, so it was easy for me to leave that behind, but I couldn’t forget about the characters - Jadine, her brother McAllister, and their friends Celestia and Galen. I loved them like they were my own brothers and sisters.

Then I discovered a piece of largely unknown history: the existence of Christians who kept the Sabbath and other Biblical festivals and laws, like me. I had thought this was a new thing that we were doing, that the last time believers in the Messiah had celebrated the Biblical festivals was in the first century C.E. But no - there were several small sects of Christianity throughout history that cut themselves off from the Catholic Church and returned to their Hebrew roots. The first one I heard about is called the Transylvanian Sabbath-Keepers, or Sabbatarians. It arose in the 16th and 17th centuries mainly among the Szekely ethnic group of Transylvania. Transylvanians had always been independent, the Szekely especially so, and the Reformation got to them early on, so they were ripe for something as radical as “Jewish” roots.

I was captivated. I learned all I could and then rewrote my story in this new context: A Sabbath-keeping community in Transylvania is persecuted by the local count, and in order to determine whether they are of God or not, the evil man forces four unlikely representatives to go on a journey to collect three items that he’s purchased - if they fail, which is what he’s counting on, he will proceed with the persecution. If they succeed, he will take it as a sign that God is with this people.

Much of the storyline remains from the original story; mainly I had to change the characters’ names into Hungarian names (i.e., Jadine = Yudit, McAllister = Matyas, Celestia = Bianka, and Galen = Gaspar) and the setting to the beautiful Transylvanian mountains, and put in delightful bits about the Sabbath-keepers’ beliefs and traditions.

But, I confess that I got stuck again, discouraged by the lack of historical information. This apparently wasn’t a very well-documented time or place. As a result, I am not sure what I’m going to do with this story - change the setting, dismiss historicity, or what-have-you - but one thing I know - Yudit, Matyas, Bianka, and Gaspar’s story will be told.


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