Books That Reimagine Bible Stories
"I cannot speak for the others, but He always made me feel cherished. When He was speaking with me I felt as if I were the only person in the world to Him."
My first thought when I read those lines was: Sounds like Bill Clinton. At least, that's what any number of people have told me about meeting Clinton. But the quotation isn't actually about him. It's about Him: Jesus. The speaker is the apostle John, and the dialogue comes from "John's Story," a 2006 novelistic re-telling of the Book of John by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. In 2007, they came out with "Mark's Story." Suspense is building over the title of their 2008 release.
One thing's for sure: They aren't doing it for the money. LaHaye and Jenkins sold scores of millions -- yes, SCORES of millions -- of their earlier novels, the "Left Behind" series about the Rapture, Armageddon, the Antichrist and the Second Coming. They are devout evangelical Christians who believe that every word in the Bible is true. But you can pick up numerous tidbits from "John's Story" that you won't find in the Bible.
Turns out, for example, that Peter was a good cook! Also, the wine at Cana was superb ("aged not only to the perfect season, but also to the perfect day, yea the perfect hour.") On page 71 there's a previously unrecorded miracle (Jesus slaps a biting insect on his neck, then resurrects it). The novel ends with the same warning that concludes the Book of Revelation: "If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
Whoa, this is risky business, rewriting Scripture! It got me thinking about previous literary re-imaginings and embellishments of Bible stories. And, I have to say, I think there was a decline in the quality of the genre in the 20th century, along with a rise in its popularity. Fancy that.
Here's my list, and I'm sure you'll let me know what I'm missing. Leave the fate of my eternal soul out of it.
1. Joseph and His Brothers (1933-1944) by Thomas Mann. Four sublime volumes by the Nobel Prize winner, a great work of literature and learned Bible commentary, even if Mann did base Joseph's rescue of the Egyptian people from starvation on FDR's New Deal.
2. J.B. (1958) by Archibald MacLeish. The poet and librarian of Congress won a Pulitzer for this play, a re-telling of the Book of Job with some debt to Jean-Paul Sartre, too.
3. Song of Solomon (1977) by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison. OK, this isn't exactly a retelling, more a string of biblical themes and allusions, complete with a character memorably named "First Corinthians."
It was an early Oprah Book Club pick and a bestseller.
4. The Red Tent (1997) by Anita Diamant. A feminist retelling of the rape and avenging of Dinah, whose own voice is conspicuously missing from Genesis 34. Socko popular fiction, millions sold.
5. The Left Behind series and The Jesus Chronicles (1995-present). 65 million copies sold and counting, though I suspect that The Jesus Chronicles (retelling the four gospels) won't enrapture nearly as many readers as the apocalyptic books did.
-- Alan Cooperman
By Christian Pelusi |
January 24, 2008; 8:04 AM ET
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