February is BFF month! My new team of BFFs is in place. CLICK HERE to see a list of the members and their personal websites.
A few weeks ago, I asked y’all on my Facebook page to ask some questions about Isaiah’s Daughter, and you responded with some great ones! This month’s blog posts will answer those questions.
Understanding God’s Word
It hasn’t been so long ago that I would have been opposed not only to writing biblical fiction but also reading biblical fiction. In the late 90’s, I was convinced that serious Bible students were best served by Bible studies and non-fiction commentaries to aid their understanding of God’s Word.
It was only when a dear friend pointed me to Jesus’ favorite teaching method—parables and story-telling—that I realized I was missing out on one of the most powerful teaching tools by ignoring well-researched biblical fiction. Since 2008, I’ve been working diligently at learning the craft of writing fiction and the art of weaving together ancient facts with biblical truth.
Isaiah’s family members piqued my interest several years ago when I researched my third novel, Love in a Broken Vessel. For that book’s purposes, I learned from Scripture that Isaiah’s wife was referred to as a prophetess, and they had two sons who were given names heavy with prophetic meaning (Shear-Jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz).
But where did I get this idea of Isaiah’s Daughter, asks Katie Whitmer on my FB page? And it’s a great question! Isaiah has no daughter named in Scripture—or does he? When every word of a prophet’s message is important, in-depth research sometimes unearths hidden treasures that casual reading often misses.
A Name is Just a Name?
I read Isaiah and began to notice the name, “Hephzibah.” In his prophecy, it is the personified essence of the restored city of Jerusalem after God’s wrath has washed her clean. During the actual time of Isaiah’s ministry, Hephzibah was the name of King Hezekiah’s wife—the queen of Judah.
Why would Isaiah use the name of Judah’s queen to personify the glorified city of Jerusalem in his prophetic utterance? Well, of course, the answer is ISAIAH didn’t use her name. He was simply reciting the words God Himself gave the prophet to speak. But my curiosity was piqued! So, I began hunting for connections between Isaiah and Hephzibah in ancient texts.
Start With the Basics…
I often begin my research with the most basic of resources—dictionaries and encyclopedias. While searching an article on Judah’s King Manasseh in the Encyclopedia Judaica, Second Edition, I found the connection I was looking for. It said Manasseh’s mother (Hezekiah’s wife) was the daughter of the prophet Isaiah. CHA-CHING!!!
But why would it say that? Was the information reliable? More research was necessary!
The encyclopedia information comes from an ancient Jewish text called the Aggadah, so I looked up that document in the Encyclopedia Judaica as well (p.454)! The Aggadah is one of two components of rabbinic tradition. The other component is the Halakkah (usually translated, Jewish law).
The Aggadah evolved sometime after the second Temple period. This was a time when the Jews were scattered across several countries. Their identity as God’s people was weak and bruised. The Aggadah is said to have been:
“…An ingenious instrument for deriving guidance from the Torah (Jewish Scriptures), for educating the people, strengthening their faith, and bolstering their pride and courage.”
Though some of its tales are folklorish and stretch the imagination, some rabbinic tradition was based in fact. The crucial job of the biblical fiction author is to consider how the Aggadah (or any other ancient text) can further inform us on the absolute TRUTH of Scripture.
The Truth About Fiction
One of the greatest joys of writing biblical fiction is the rock-solid foundation of Scripture’s Truth. Knowing without a doubt what the absolute truths of my story will come from God’s Word—I won’t deviate at all from what the Bible says.
I then must choose carefully which “legends” I include as part of the fictional aspect. This includes taking into consideration the facts of archaeology and other historical data. As long as I maintain the integrity of Scripture’s message, I can incorporate whatever legends make the story most believable.
But that freedom is also one of the most difficult things about writing biblical fiction. It is a great challenge to make some of these amazing, miraculous, God-sized stories believable to everyday folks like you and me.
The first rule of fiction is to engage the reader in the “dream” of the story without jarring them out of it with some ridiculous, unbelievable, or unlikely incident. Well, how do we make it believable that 180,000 Assyrians just dropped dead one morning outside of Jerusalem’s walls? I must show God-sized miracles throughout Isaiah’s life that lead him to that crescendo of victory!
Choose Biblical Authors Carefully
As you can see, an author of biblical fiction has considerable freedom when choosing which parts of research he/she will include and/or leave out. That’s why it’s important for you, as the reader, to choose your biblical novels carefully. Be aware of the author’s level of research and your trust in that research.
Well-researched biblical novels can add dramatically to your knowledge of biblical events. These novels can even prove to be a helpful study tool with additional questions provided by the author. I’ll recommend some of my favorite trusted authors in my regular monthly newsletters as well as new authors to try. I hope you’ll share great biblical novels you’ve read recently too!
- A great joy of writing biblical fiction is following the rock-solid foundation of Scripture’s Truth
- A dear friend pointed me to Jesus’ favorite teaching method—parables and story-telling.
- I’ll recommend some trusted authors in my regular monthly newsletters as well as new authors to try
- Now you’ve learned a little bit about the writing of Isaiah’s Daughter. Are there other questions you’d like to see addressed in blog posts in the future?
**New Blog Schedule**
After getting feedback from several author friends and many of you, I’ve decided to reduce my blog mailings to once a month and increase my newsletter to once a month. The two contacts serve different purposes:
- Blogs are a Bible-centered lesson from my life, oftentimes centering around whatever book I’m writing, research I’m doing, or sermons I’ve heard.
- Newsletters will include a variety of information: news about my writing and new books, giveaways/contests, book reviews on what I’m reading, and personal prayer requests.
You can sign up for both my blog and/or newsletter on any page of my website in the right-hand column. If you’ve already signed up to receive my blog posts and/or newsletters, you need not do anything! Your next blog post will arrive in your inbox on March 17th. We’ll chat more then!