Synopsis: Onesimus is a slave. Eirene is a rich merchant’s daughter. Onesimus longs to gain his freedom and Eirene’s love. However, he doesn’t realize where true freedom lies. He wants nothing to do with Jesus Christ. His master, Philemon, may follow the teachings of the Christ and his apostle Paul… but Onesimus has other plans.
A slave slaps another. Mention of someone killed by a boar, and of persecuted Christians. Talk of branding slaves; Onesimus is beaten with rods. After an earthquake, Eirene’s father is crushed by a building, and others sustain injury. Archippus is crippled after being trampled by a mob. Onesimus becomes a gladiator, and the battles in the arena are described. He’s wounded when he escapes the arena.
Onesimus and Eirene love each other.
Wine is drunk throughout; someone drugs Onesimus’ drink to steal his money.
As a slave, Onesimus rebels against authority- if not out loud, in his attitude, thoughts and demeanour. Both he and his mother gradually steal money and jewels from their master, and later Onesimus runs away. Later on, he returns to ask forgiveness and accept any punishment.
The words gods and goddesses are frequently thrown around and not all of them are sincere.
Various cultures/religions interact- this is a Christian story of love and forgiveness, but we come in contact with Roman and Greek deities and mythology etc. Mention of orgies, and ‘worship’ at temples, with hideous idols, and a variety of different deities throughout the book. To Onesimus, it seemed evil and oppressive.
Stories are told of Jesus and his disciples, and of people believing in an invisible God, Paul befriends Onesimus, and through his testimony, Onesimus comes to face his actions and softens his heart- he hears the message of Christ throughout the book but rejects it until the end.
Overall feel: A story about a hard-hearted boy, laden heavy with guilt, hatred and social barriers who faces various consequences for his actions. He comes to terms with his mistakes. he seeks forgiveness, he learns to love and in loving, find freedom. Elements of Roman worship and arenas are found in the book, but overall the story is one of finding true forgiveness and freedom in God.