I’m starting this series exploring forms of Christian fiction, mostly for my own edification, so I can work out how faith and writing and reading fit together better.
Retelling the Bible as fiction is one form of Christian fiction. I noticed that Walter Wangerin did it, and I bought one of his books. I keep meaning to read it, but for some reason I don’t feel compelled to. I like the idea in principle, though. A novelistic treatment of Bible stories.
Bible stories are always such bare bones accounts, with so little psychology. And what style they have isn’t too obvious for us thousands of years later.
The challenge is to flesh out the characters. To get inside their heads, and maybe God’s head, and turn the existing narrative into novel.
Thomas Mann (pictured) did it in his Joseph books, which I found quite interesting. But not interesting to read past halfway through the first volume. (I know, I’m terrible, there’s so little Christian fiction I like! And Mann’s intention wasn’t even particularly Christian, but perhaps more modernist or literary. )
More recently, Anne Rice did it – with explicitly Christian motive – in her Jesus books. I will try to read them, but I know enough about Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins’ attempt to fictionalise Revelation – the Left Behind series – to never read them. (I have actually seen the film version, and the theology was worse than I could have anticipated – what with the antichrist being the one disarming America and feeding the poor.)
My problem with fictionalising the Bible is that I don’t like reading historical fiction, and I wouldn’t want to write it. I feel like the mind and culture of the Hebrews thousands of years ago is so difficult or even impossible to retrieve or appreciate. Or it at least finds its best form in the Scriptures as they stand.
Having said that, I think it is an excellent project to try to fictionalise the Bible. Maybe I need to motivate myself to read the attempts and to think about how I might try myself.
I’d be tempted to fictionalise one of the situations in the house churches that Paul wrote to. Probably Corinth, since 1 Corinthians is my favourite book of the Bible. Robert Banks did something like this in his book, “Going to church in the first century”. This booklet is explicitly theological in motivation – it wants to give people an idea of the first century house churches. But it is also readable and a very interesting intersection of fiction and theology.