The Last Ember by Daniel Levin
Reviewed by Fran Lewis, Author
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 and Christianity. One group wants to find out that a specific artifact belongs: 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 or carbineer 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-al-din who will stop at nothing and answers to no one.
This brings me to my review of The Last Ember by Daniel Levin. Jonathan Marcus is an antiquities lawyer working for a major firm. He is called to Rome to present evidence to the contrary that the two pieces of a map that have been found belong to the client his firm is representing and not to the Italian Museum.
What are they looking for and what is the reason for the illegal excavations will certainly surprise you and illuminate the meaning of the words found on the artifact when Jonathan looked at the 2 fragments of the map more closely: Titus’s Error. It all started with 2 stone fragments that were supposedly one to the Capitoline Museum. The Italian Cultural Museum stated that they were stolen and need to be returned. In the mix a preservationist who is investigating an illegal excavation in Jerusalem near the Temple Mount.
Flavius Josephus was a Jewish general who defended Jerusalem and was caught by the Romans. He handed over information to help them get through Jerusalem’s city walls. The question is whether he was a political realist or a murderous traitor.
These two fragments of the Forma Urbis cover the area of the Colosseum. Bumping into an old friend who is an expert in the Kabala, he soon learns from him that the inscription is from the Hebrew is a riddle. What do the daughter of the kind of Judaea, Aliterius as Jewish state satirist, Epaphroditus a published author and others have in common? What do sacred trees have to do with the illustration that they found? The last drawings found referred to a pagan image. Worshipping trees was a pagan ritual but that was not what they were all searching and looking for. Early monotheists altered the image of clay trees to look like a lamp with seven branches. If you read the Book of Exodus you will learn that what they were looking for was a menorah. The relief under the Colosseum is a direct reference to the menorah of the Temple’s inner sanctuary called the Tabernacle. They are all looking for the Tabernacle Menorah, which is the sacred lamp itself, which was fashioned by King Herod in 8 feet of sold gold and remained lit in the inner sanctum of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Here is where it gets really interesting. The Roman historian Procopius reported that Romans carried the menorah shoulder high through the streets of Rome. Next, one of their generals presents the menorah to a court in Constantinople. However, every city that possessed this sacred lamp has been left in ruins. First Jerusalem, Rome then Carthage were burnt to the ground. What does Flavius Josephus have to do with all of this? The picture shows the menorah but the dimensions are wrong and what they realize is that Titus did not have the real one. The Romans stole a fake and the menorah on the Arch of Titus is a copy? But how? The menorah stolen from Jerusalem over 2000 years ago was not the original in the first place and that was Titus mistake as referred to on the 2 fragments that Jonathan carefully inspected and his firm told him to forget he ever saw.
Salah ad-Din is digging under the Temple Mount in to find this menorah and extinguish its light or flame. Flavius Josephus had the real menorah all along and he was able to escape with it through a hidden gate carrying the ember. The last flame on the menorah’s westernmost branch. This lamp needed to be relit continually and never to burn out. The flame was an eternal flame that had special significance. Josephus was after the fire. The flame of the menorah is a perpetual fire and part of our modern traditions in our synagogues, churches and many other houses of worship to keep the sanctuary’s ark lit at all times. If one destroys the menorah than you destroy a people whose lineage and is a symbol of the eternal promise that “ Abrahams’ descendants would number like the stars of heaven and sands on the seashore.” Their bloodline would be eternal like the flame.
In all of this is another faction called the Waqf Authority, which is a Muslim Organization, which has been in charge of the Temple Mount with the same goal, to find and get the menorah and then destroy it? Their goal: erase the ancient history of Israel and destroy the Jewish people.
The author even deals with the strife and conflicts between Israel and the Muslim authorities regarding the excavations in the Temple Mount area. If the past can be erased so can Israel’s claim the land and to 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?