(Photo is of an the synagogue discovered in Sardis in the late 20th century.)
This is one of those historical events that defined my plot. Herodotus records that when the army was ready to leave Sardis after wintering there, day turned to night. It was mid-morning, a clear, sunny day. No clouds, no eclipse. (And the Persians knew plenty about natural phenomena, remember.) Just blackness, dark as midnight, which lasted until the next morning.
Naturally, this flipped everyone out. Xerxes called the magi, who decided it was a good omen. (Riiiiiight.) Since Persia was represented by the night and Greece by the sun, this was the god’s promise of victory—night overtaking day. (Riiiiiight.)
Well, Xerxes put his weight behind that interpretation, but no one else seemed inclined to buy it. Can’t blame them.
As I was culling through the mass of information Herodotus gives and deciding what to include and what to leave out, this struck me as too crucial to ignore. I mean, yes, it’s the kind of thing we moderns wave off as ridiculous and completely fictional. But what if it wasn’t? What could have caused it?
I decided early on that I wanted to explain all these supernatural phenomena that Herodotus records through the prayers and devotion of loyal Jews, and so the one God. But this one . . . the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t see God doing this. Not that he couldn’t, mind you, but it wasn’t clicking up right in my mind.
So I thought, “Okay, what if it wasn’t God? What if it was the enemy of God?” And suddenly I had a turning point for my book.