The Rabbi’s Knight

Written by Michael J. Cooper
Review by Ilysa Magnus

It is 1290, at the twilight of the Crusades, when Jonathan St. Clair, Knight Templar, seeks out Rabbi Samuel of Baghdad. A confluence of events compels St. Clair, learned in his own right, to study the secrets of Kabbalah—the ancient, often impenetrable, Hebrew mystical interpretation of the Bible—rather than continuing his decades-long battle with Moslems. With an ancient scroll in hand bearing a cryptic inscription which St. Clair believes only Rabbi Samuel can decipher, he leaves Acre to seek out the aging teacher and to become his student. The goal: to journey to Jerusalem in order to unlock the secret of the Temple Mount. But Rabbi Samuel’s great nemesis, Rabbi Petit, also has a goal: to assassinate Samuel.

What follows is a well-plotted, action-packed epic, filled to the brim with memorable characters and forays into the kind of deep philosophical inquiry characterizing Kabbalah studies. We soon recognize that St. Clair and Rabbi Samuel are not simply embarking together on a physical journey but on one of profoundly spiritual significance in which they develop a sacred bond. Ultimately joining them on their path are young Isaac of Acre, once Petit’s student and William Wallace (yes, that William Wallace), young and wet behind the ears but nonetheless a worthy companion.

Cooper does a masterful job of building suspense and telling a riveting story. While there is a great deal here of historical significance—the fall of Acre, the role of the Templars, the warring Moslem factions—the conjoining of St. Clair and Samuel, two such disparate souls is, in and of itself, worth the read. Not coincidentally, it is Samuel and his Moslem “brother,” al-Hasani—again, so dramatically different in their religions, approaches and beliefs—who decipher the inscription. The message beyond this wonderful story is clear: with a common goal, all people of good faith can work together to find solutions.