Biblical Historical Fiction

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

  • Matthew 2:16-18

“Bet Guvrin, 20 miles southwest of Bethlehem
“Levi loved being the older brother, but at nearly eight years old, he was not allowed to carry little Chavivi, who had just learned to walk. The toddler provided no end of delight to Levi, who followed him about, calling his name, and trying everything he could to amuse the boy. To hear a giggle or to see a flash of those few tiny teeth was all Levi was after. How he wished he could hold the baby the way his parents did.
“ ‘You are lithe and lanky,’ his mother said. ‘And you will one day be tall and strong. But Chavivi is fragile, understand?’

“Levi nodded, but that didn’t keep him from pleading his case to his father when he returned from his day’s work at the tannery just beyond the village market. Levi sat on his father’s lap smelling the pungent leather on the man and tracing his orange tinted hands with his own fingers.
“ ‘But I’m strong, Father, and I won’t drop him.’ ”

  • Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Matthew’s Story

The quote precedes the Scripture, slightly, in the historical fiction of Matthew’s Story.  Rev. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins spin a masterful set of four yarns in their Jesus Chronicles series.

To show that they were somewhat true to the Bible, they quote the Scripture that the four Gospel writers wrote or may have written after they conclude the fictional story.  For Matthew, it was just the book of Matthew.  For Mark, it was Mark, 1 Peter and 2 Peter.  For Luke, it was Luke and Acts.  And for John, nearly half the book was quoted Scripture: John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation.

But if we told what we truly know about the four authors, the books might be a page, except for maybe John.  Matthew might stretch into two pages.

Thus, to write a ‘biography’, even an historical one, there are a lot of gaps to fill.

Thus, to tie things together, they created a fictional story.  Along the way, much of their Gospel is quoted, once Jesus enters the picture.

For Matthew, as the ominous Scripture suggests, Levi is taking care of his toddler brother when Herod’s men come to town to kill all the male children two years and younger.  His brother is killed as he watched, helplessly.  This scars Levi deeply.  Then, he grows up with James of Alphaeus who eventually meets Jesus.  Levi visits the gatherings of Jesus, but stays near the edge of the crowd, being a tax collector.  James went to Jesus to gather information for the Pharisees but became a follower instead.  Levi resisted until Jesus called him personally.

For Mark, the story starts in the Upper Room as John Mark’s mother provided the room for the Last Supper.  The story builds through what we know about John Mark and then he starts taking dictation from the Apostle Peter.

For Luke, his village is destroyed by the Romans and he is captured as a slave.  He eventually settles down as a slave of Theophilis, and becomes his nurse.  But Luke is smart and he is sent to school to become a doctor.  Luke meets another student by the name of Saul of Tarsus.  They would meet again…

For John, the story has two beginnings, the second one is John grooming Polycarp to become bishop and then someone comes to Ephesus and starts to sway people toward Gnosticism.  They portray John as a true Son of Thunder as he flies into a rage, but when calmed down, he speaks of giving a different account of Jesus.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not have to deal with heresy (although Peter warned against it and Luke, helping Paul, must have dealt with heresy).  Thus, John wrote his Gospel to take a different perspective, but to combat the rise of Gnosticism.  He then dictates to Polycarp.  John is in his nineties and his hands are not steady.

Did these stories happen in this manner?  Probably not, but they are true to the characters, as much as we know about them or can infer through reading their written works.  After all, the Gospels focus on Jesus and not the authors.

I am thinking of starting my Bible Study of Relationships next Friday.  Do not hold me to it.  But I have just finished the last of the Jesus Chronicles, John’s Story, although I do not think it was the last story that the authors wrote.  There historical fiction novels present my dilemma.  I think that I may have to start with some Scripture, and then address three headings:  What do we know for sure, what can we infer from what we know (maybe adding scholarly thoughts), and what might we guess.  On the last one, I am not trying to create heresy.  I am simply thinking of writing some questions or suggestions that an author of fiction might use to fill in the gaps.  I would not wish to add to Scripture itself.  But in making suggestions that are far from supported by Scripture, we might look into motivations, the health of the relationship, etc.

As for the Jesus Chronicles, I loved the four books.  Many scholars think that Peter got different scribes to take dictations for the two letters as the style is quite different.  But did John Mark write either letter?  In John’s story, the first beginning is John being boiled in oil, but the end of the book is him dying of old age.  I guess that might be a spoiler alert, but how do both fit?  I won’t spoil that, but I liked the way they did it.

But I marvel at how God communicates with us.  I have felt that a Relationships Bible Study needed to be written for years, but I was not mature enough.  Then, since there is so little known about these relationships, sometimes only a few sentences or less, how do I write a Bible Study when there is so little about the “relationship?”  And then, it fell into place through some of my pleasure reading.  The exact layout may have to change along the way, but the thoughts are starting to formulate, thanks to a loving God and a Holy Spirit who definitely guides us when we listen.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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