Recently my publisher posted an announcement about my latest release, Judah’s Wife, on Facebook. Among the many positive comments were two which seemed to come from folks who seemed disgruntled with the entire idea. I wanted to address those opinions here, because Facebook has its limits.
One commenter said something to this effect: “If you want to read something accurate, stick to the Bible.”
Another took issue with the fact that my latest novel is based on the story of the Maccabees. The commenter said something like, “The book of Maccabees is a false book. It shouldn’t be in the Bible.”
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but I always want to correct misinformation. First, the books of Maccabees aren’t false books, and they are not in most Bibles, but that doesn’t mean they are not worth reading or studying. The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees are part of the Apocrypha, and those books never claim to be inspired Scripture. The Jews never considered them inspired, but they are historical accounts. Events prophesied by Daniel occurred in the Intertestamental Period and were described in the books of Maccabees (specifically, the atrocities committed by Antiochus Epiphanes), and events similar to those in Daniel’s prophecy will occur again in the last days (a pattern common in scripture and known as the Law of Double Reference). The book of Jude refers to the book of Enoch, another book of the Apocrypha, so the Jewish people certainly read them and were well-aware of them.
Why do novelists write the stories of the Bible and call them “fiction?” I can give you several reasons.
Bible is a big collection of books, and the biblical authors were not novelists. They wrote facts, events, and dates from their perspective as they were moved by the Spirit of God. When they recounted events, however, they tended to write sparely, rather like an artist who does a pencil sketch. They relied on nouns and verbs, using few adjective and sometimes using few names. Very rarely do they mention supporting characters, and even more rarely do they mention supporting women. We shouldn’t be surprised–they came from patriarchal societies.
What a trustworthy biblical novelist does is take the scripture and bring it to realistic life with layers of color and texture and sensory details. We research the historical time period and read dozens of works written in that time period whenever possible, so we can get a feel for how people actually wrote, lived, and spoke. When we encounter conflicting expert opinions, we choose the most logical. We consider human nature, which does not change. People still get angry, frustrated, and depressed. Even biblical characters make awful mistakes, and if the Bible doesn’t avoid recording them, why should a novelist? Most of all, we keep the scriptural account as our touchstone, taking care not to violate it. But the parts that spring from our imagination, we freely admit are fiction.
Part of being true to Scripture involves not always crafting the perfect ending. Not every biblical story has an “HEA” (happily ever after) conclusion. I know readers love them, but biblical stories are based on real life, and real life often leaves us sadder, but wiser . . . yet always filled with hope. Because our hope is found in God, who never changes or fails.
Why not forget fiction and read only the Bible? Because the human spirit resonates to STORY. When I was a little girl, before they had invented children’s church, I had to go into the adult service with my parents. As a four-, five-, and six-year-old, I tended to fidget and often put my head in my mother’s lap to sleep. But whenever the preacher said, “Reminds me of the time when . . . ” I sat up, all ears and wide awake. Why? Because those words signaled the beginning of a STORY, and I loved story. Nearly everyone does.
Jesus used stories to teach His followers–that’s what the parables were. Through the work of the Spirit, some people caught the true meaning of Jesus’ stories, and others didn’t.
Most of my stories–even the contemporary, non-biblically based novels–are parables. Like onions, there’s an outer layer and several inner layers, and readers will take from it what they were ready to receive. Some grasp the deeper meaning, others do not. But that’s okay. Their understanding depends on the Spirit.
So why read fiction based on biblical events?
- Because a trustworthy author will not violate Scripture.
- Because the fictional elements should be logical and based on historical facts.
- Because human nature is consistent over time. We often think our problems are unique, and we’re relieved to discover that we aren’t alone. Others have been in similar situations.
- Because historical fiction helps us better understand the culture and history of familiar story events.
- Because we learn from the lives of other people.
- Because God Himself recorded stories, and Jesus taught with them since humans are hard-wired to appreciate story. Who would know that better than the God who created us?
God gave us Scripture, and the doctrine of biblical sufficiency states that the Bible gives us all we need to know about God. But it does not give us all we want to know, and our quest for knowledge is a God-given gift. We yearn to know more, and well-written biblical, historical, and contemporary fiction can meet that need.
So don’t hesitate to open your heart and mind to a well-written biblical novel. You may be surprised to learn a truth you had never before considered.