Fire in the Zurich Hills



Book: Fire in the Zurich Hills

Author: Joseph Stoll

Publisher: Pathway, republished in 2010

ASIN: B0006CHAUA Hardcover

ASIN: B004YRDI54 Paperback

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Teens and adults

Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Stoll, Joseph.  Fire in the Zurich Hills (published in 1973 by Pathway Publishing Corporation, Aylmer, Ontario, Canada).  It is 1525 and young Marx Boshart is a grape farmer who lives at the village of Zollikon in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland, with Regula, his wife of three months.  Others who live nearby include his wife’s brother-in-law Fridli Schumacher, his father-in-law Rudi Thomann, his father Joder Boshart, his hired assistant Valentin Gredig, and his gray-bearded grandfather Jacob Hottinger.   Marx attends the village church but is not much interested in religion until he hears the preaching of the Anabaptist leaders Conrad Grebel, acknowledged as the founder of the Swiss Brethren, Felix Manz, Johann Brotli, Wilhelm Reublin, and Georg Blaurock.  Their biggest complaint with the state church, controlled by Ulrich Zwingli, is over baptism.  Zwingli, who originally opposed infant baptism, is now demanding that babies be baptized, whereas the others teach that baptism is only for believers.

Marx, along with many others in Zollikon, is convinced by the Anabaptists, and, against the wishes of his own father, he and Regula are “rebaptized.”  Later, he and Grandfather Hottinger are chosen as leaders of the new church.  However, persecution raises its ugly head.  Many, including Marx, are imprisoned.  Eventually, Grebel, Manz, Blaurock, and Brotli are martyred.  Marx’s father-in-law falls away from the faith.  Then, Marx and Regula have a little son, Conrad.  Will the baby be baptized?  What will Marx do?  And what will happen to him and his fellow believers?  Fire in the Zurich Hills is historical fiction based on the true story of the first Anabaptists in Zurich, Switzerland.  Author Joseph Stoll used Swiss court records and other primary source documents to be able to describe authentically what happened.  The Preface notes that there are more than seventy characters in the book, and all but one, baby Conrad, are actual historical figures.

I am not an Anabaptist, and I have some theological disagreements with the Anabaptists, but I do understand their desire to have a church which follows the teachings of Scripture rather than the doctrines of men.  Also I can appreciate their courage to stand up for their beliefs.   It is interesting that the “rebaptism” practiced in Zollikon consisted of sprinkling and pouring water on people’s heads instead of immersion.  Even though he was a Protestant “reformer,” Ulrich Zwingli became as much of an oppressor as the Roman Catholic Church which he opposed.  This book does not have a happy ending, but there are a couple of important lessons that may be learned from the story.  First, we can see the tragic results of religious intolerance.  And second, we are made to appreciate the religious freedom that we enjoy in this country.  Stoll has written a companion book, The Drummer’s Wife, about the Anabaptists in the Netherlands.

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