Gamaliel

(creator: Frederick Ramsay)


Frederick Ramsay
Gamaliel was Rabban of the Sanhedrin in 28 CE, "the final arbiter of what was, and was not, an acceptable interpretation of the Law. In addition, and more to his liking, he trained young men in the art of disputation and reading the same Law. (One of his brightest pupils was a young man called Saul from Tarsus.) Because of these two undertakings, he found himself frequently in the company of the high priest. The two of them did not always agree on the nature and the enforcement of the Law and were frequently at odds." The high priest was Caiaphas.

Gamaliel was known to his friend, the healer Loukas, as "the solver of great mysteries". He had the sort of mind that "required answers to important questions irrespective of their origin. Sometimes he felt this trait a curse bestowed on him by a deity who enjoyed taunting him." His real expertise, he felt, "was in divining the mind of the Lord from dry and dusty ancient scrolls. He had little or no experience in sorting through the cluttered minds of humans." However, he was known to have one skill that was "unique to him. He could tell when someone lied; shaved the truth or just twisted it a bit." This made him a very discerning, as well as a surprisingly tough, detective.

He is derived from a real character who is mentioned in Acts 5: 38-39 where it is stated that he intervened on behalf of St Peter and other followers of Jesus.


Dr Frederick J Ramsay (c1936 - ) was born in Baltimore. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in Virginia and received his PhD from the University of Illinois. After his army service, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, where he taught Anatomy, Embryology and Histology and also studied theology. In 1971 he was ordained an Episcopal priest and went on to try his hand at a variety of vocations. At one time or another, he served as a Vice President for Public Affairs, worked as an insurance salesman, a tow man and line supervisor at Baltimore’s BWI airport, and community college instructor. Finally, he became a full-time clergyman. He is now retired from full-time ministry and writes fiction, including a series of crime novels featuring Sheriff Ike Schwarz, and Secrets featuring the Rev Blake Fisher. He lives in Surprise, Arizona with his wife, Susan.

The Eighth Veil (2012)
The Eighth Veil is set in the year 28 CE in Jerusalem during the feast of Tabernacles. A murdered servant girl is found in the palace of King Herod Antipas. The Prefect, Pontius Pilate, is in attendance. The populace is still buzzing over the brutal death of one of their Prophets, John, known familiarly as the Baptizer, and scandal is in the air, and Pilate wants no more trouble. So he turns to Gamaliel, the chief rabbi and head of the Sanhedrin, and coerces him to do the detective work. Gamaliel is a Talmudic scholar, not a sleuth, but even he is interested to discover that the girl may be more than the mere servant that everyone had assumed.


Helped by Loukas, the physician (who describes himself as "a Jew by birth but a skeptic by inclination"), the ever curious Gamaliel conducts many interviews (even including one with Salome!) and soon suspects that Antipas' foster brother, Menahem, knew much more than he was letting on. Meanwhile the figure of Jesus, the rabbi from Nazareth, with his ragged band of enthusiasts and his habit of annoying Caiaphas, the High Priest, moves enigmatically in the background. Caiaphas tries to seek Gamaliel's help in challenging his claims, but Gamaliel's advice is to let things be as time will tell: "If this man is a fraud, as you and I both believe, he will eventually blow away like sand in the desert."

The author has combined real people (such as Pontius Pilate) with ones that he has invented. Gamaliel himself was loosely based on a real rabbi who gets a brief mention in Acts 5 v38-39. But all the characters are convincingly portrayed, and Gamaliel himself comes alive as a real person of his time even if the way he stands up to Pontius Pilate, telling him that King Herod "is only slightly less trying than yourself, Prefect" does not seem too likely.

It's a fascinating setting and realistically described, even if the author explains that he "claims no expertise in the complexities of ancient history or religious thought. He is, first and foremost, a writer of fiction." But he has produced an entirely credible picture of life at the time, and manages to hold the interest throughout, even if the pace slows towards the end when there is too much conversation and not enough exciting action. All the explanations get very complicated and in the end even Gamaliel complains, "It's confusing to say the least". You can't blame him.

Holy Smoke (2013)
Holy Smoke is set in 29 CE in a Jerusalem that chafes under Roman rule. The Holy of Holies in the Temple is a place that no man may enter, save for the High Priest, and even then on the rarest of occasions. So when a corpse is found in this sacred place, not only badly burned but recently circumcised (probably after his death), the High Priest is certain that whoever he was, the blasphemer has been struck down by Ha Shem, their angry God. Rabban Gamaliel, the chief rabbi, is less sure, and, albeit reluctantly, sets out, with the assistance of his friend, the physician Loukas, to find the truth.


They uncover a tangled web of murder and intrigue that seems to have a connection with the sinister and secretive Ali bin Selah and the highly profitable import of the pain removing plant hul gil (opium), the careful use of which Loukas used to practise.

It makes an interesting story that once again holds the attention throughout. The background is convincingly presented and there are intriguing references to a wandering Hebrew teacher, Yeshua ben Josef (Jesus of Nazareth), who somehow seems different from the rest of the nation's "wandering band of self-proclaimed rabbis, prophets and would be messiahs". Caiaphas wants Gamaliel to investigate this "rabble rouser" but Gamaliel is not prepared to accuse Yeshua of breaking Shabbat law by healing a cripple for, as he points out, they would also have to blame the cripple for accepting help on Shabbat. He warns Caiaphas that he has allowed himself to become obsessed by Yeshua, and anyway he himself has to deal with "the more serious matter of the defilement in the Temple". But the Roman Prefect, one Pontius Pilate, also sends for him, and Gamaliel has to reassure him too that the "renegade rabbi" does not preach rebellion.

The story seems to be building up to an exciting climax as Gamaliel deliberately sets a trap by putting himself and the reluctant Loukas at risk by offering themseves as targets to the killer. "He is going to try (to kill us)," he tells Loukas, `"perhaps even succeed. That's why we will take our walk. He will act as soon as he possibly can." But in the next chapter we suddenly skip to the late afternoon after all the exciting action is over! We gather that the killer had been captured but we never get a clear description of what happened. This leaves the reader feeling rather cheated. A pity, because otherwise the book has much to recommend it.



The author has his own website.



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Holy Smoke cover
The cover seems to promise violent skulduggery - but describing exciting action is not the author's strong point, and the story's real strength is its convincing portrayal of life in and around the temple in Jerusalem in the time of Christ.
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