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.