Friday, July 21, 2006

Biblical Fiction

The genre of Biblical fiction is sometimes appealing to me, but sometimes a bit dangerous. I have to remind myself constantly, "This is fiction. Even if it features Bible characters or themes, it is not the Word of God."

I've just finished The Red Tent. Honestly, this book was not at all dangerous to me. It did feature Biblical characters, but they are not portrayed at all as the Bible does. In fact, there are some points in the story of the sons of Jacob, told from the viewpoint of Dinah, that completely contradict the story that the Bible tells. So, for me, this was a good thing, reminding me at every turn of the page, "It is indeed fiction." It didn't at all cause me to question the truth as presented in God's word, but it didn't confuse me either, by subconsciously adding facts to the real story presented. I was initially drawn in to the storytelling. The prose is rich and descriptive, "My heart is a ladle of sweet water, brimming over." "When the air was sweet with spring and the ewes heavy with lambs, my month arrived." (I also had to include this quote because there is much talk about women's cycles, which is the context of the Red Tent). "His ambition and his heart were at war, and his face showed the division in his soul."

The story of Jacob and his wives and children is interesting. The thing I love about Biblical fiction is the background and context of the culture that it gives me, which does enrich my study of the Word. Since I had just studied the real story in Genesis this year, I didn't worry as much about confusion. If you are reading a fictional account of a Bible story or character, I would recommend starting, and maybe ending, with the source, as a constant reminder of what is fact versus fiction.

Even though the first half of the book really captivated me, the story began to drag. In fact, until the very end, where it sort of picked up again, I lost interest in the characters and the plot. I could have lived without finishing it (although I can never let myself do that). So, I sit firmly astride the fence on a recommendation of this one. I think I'm glad I read it. Any other opinions out there?

Some works that I found dangerous were Francine Rivers', Lineage of Grace series. I really enjoyed these books. The descriptions of the customs and culture of the time were wonderful. But it did follow the basic theme of the Bible, and did point to God's redeeming work in the characters' lives (something which Anita Diamant left completely out of The Red Tent). It was hard to separate fact from fiction at times. The background of the characters was enhanced and embellished, because it is fiction. So, I had to remind myself of the real story, and try to absorb the culture into the context as I read the Bible, and yet not add those little embellishments into my memory of the story. I believe that I have read all of these, and Unveiled, about Tamar, and Unashamed, about Rahab were my two favorites.

Another of my favorites in this genre is Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes. This is the story of Mary and Joseph. I learned much about Jewish courtship and betrothment. Again, a little dangerous, but it's such a familiar story that my knowledge of the details wasn't compromised. This is a great book to read when you are pregnant. Mary becomes like a fellow sister sharing something with you (although hopefully none of you will give birth in a barn). There are two sequels to this book, and I did read them, but the first is the only one I've reread.

15 comments:

John Cowart said...

Hi Jennifer,

Just visiting your site via the link from Darlene's magazine regarding your post on filters.

My own post this morning involves my oldest daughter (also named Jennifer).

I've also been know to write a bit of biblical fiction and I find there is a great temptation for a writer to jazz things up a bit; that's something I struggle with daily: drama vs honesty.

I keep reminding myself that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Katrina said...

Good post, Jennifer. I don't read a ton of Biblical fiction, but I was thinking about this concept (the potential danger in Biblical fiction) regarding some kids' videos - such as Prince of Egypt. They can be great tools to teach kids, but we have to be careful to help them separate what we know is true from what the writers invented to "enhance" the story.

Thanks for your thoughts on The Red Tent, too. I haven't read it, but have considered it. But I struggle with books that drag - I guess I'm not very patient! So I may pass on this one.

Laura said...

I started to read Anne Rice's Biblical fiction story about Jesus as a boy (I cannot remember the title of the book) and it was really interesting but all very fiction. As was her explanation for where/how and with what books she used to base her story on. I only got through about 1/4 of it because it was due back at the library and I just didn't have a whole heart in it, but I'd be interested to hear how someone else that read it, thought of it.

I don't tend to read biblical fiction in the sense of those stories that are written about people in the Bible, but I do like Christian fiction, such as Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love (based on the book of Hosea) and some of Brock and Bodie Theone's series (especially the zion series - both of them).

lady laura said...

I had the same feelings when I read the Lineage of Grace books. I am now very leary of reading such books as I did find the embellishments and dramatic license confused my understanding of the Biblical story.

I have seen The Red Tent recommended SO many places. Thanks for sharing your experience of it.

Dianne said...

Interesting post. I've always enjoyed reading Biblical fiction. I don't think I've ever had a problem separating the fiction from the truth, perhaps because I've known the stories since I was little. I know when I read the Bible stories, I've often tried to imagine the scenario in greater detail, so I've always found another's take on the story interesting. Sometimes I even write little sketches based on biblical events.

I do think though, that lots of people must read these stories and take them as gospel. You're right, we must not let anything obscure the truth of these stories.

Jeannine said...

I tend to avoid reading biblical fiction. I have an overactive imagination as it is and I often fight against the tendency to speculate when reading historical narrative in Scripture anyway. I always wonder what people were thinking, how many girls did they have, and lots of personal details that God just didn't tell us.

Code Yellow Mom said...

I also really have to be careful with Biblical fiction, but I really liked Two From Galilee...

This is a great post because it made me think of my approach both to the Bible and to literature...

I almost picked up the Red Tent the other day, but didn't because I hadn't heard a whole lot about it...Thanks for sharing your experience!

Gina said...

I listened to the RED TENT on tape over a year ago. I must have gotten the unabridged version because it was fairy racey and raunchy at times.

I write Biblical fiction to glorify God. It's obvious with the RED TENT that the author was not a Bible believer. So I learned a lesson, just because it says Biblical fiction, doesn't mean the story will be in line with the Bible.

Thanks for sharing this post.

Rebekah said...

Jennifer,
Just wanted to pop in and say thanks for visiting my site. I'm glad we've connected and I'm sure I'll be lurking about these parts in the future!

e-Mom said...

A really timely post, because I just read about the Christy Awards (for Christian fiction) which were recently held in Denver. I admit I'm not a big fiction reader, but it was interesting to see "who got what."

I'm glad to know you're well-grounded in Scripture and keep everything straight! The Red Tent does sound interesting.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I've seen Biblical fiction in the shops, such as 'The Red Tent' and one about Mary Magdelene. We all know they are fiction. As long as we remember that, then it's fine some uninformed people take The Da Vinci Code as true.

Patti (Mazy) said...

I also read your post on reading to your children and thought of how much we have enjoyed the Jesse Bear books by Nancy Carlstrom. My big boy still enjoys listening in because they remind him of when we read them when he was little.

Tammy said...

I don't seem to gravitate towards Biblical fiction, but have always wanted to read "Two from Galilee."
Good thought-provoking post!

Lindsey @ Enjoythejourney said...

I'm a Francine Rivers fan too :)

I don't read a lot of biblical fiction but I do love those christian amish fiction books by Beverly Lewis.

bafisher said...

The Red Tent is NOT historical fiction. The author distorts history and the story as told in the Bible in a way that makes highly regarded characters despicable. Beastiality, fornication, paganism, cruelty, etc all seem to be the practices of individuals who were foundational to the roots of Judaism and highly regarded in Christianity. Even the God of Abraham has a Sumerian goddess as his consort, blasphemous. The author should have placed her story on Mars instead of flat out distorting and avoiding actual historical and cultural practices to create her fictitious world.