Monday, 2 April 2018

Exploring Genres: Biblical Fiction

by Susan Preston

“Those who call themselves Christians and attempt to follow biblical morality as they understand it are now among the most persecuted religious groups in the world (Newsweek, January 4, 2018). Sadly, this is increasingly true even in nations where “Christianity” is considered the predominant religion.”

So, if Christians are being stopped from sharing their faith with others who are interested how can we fulfill Christ’s commission to ‘go into all the world?’

I heard a minister say, “People prefer their truth wrapped in fiction.”

If that is the case, Christian writers are demonstrating and sharing their faith – not necessarily overtly, which can put some readers of, but by the way they write their characters’ lives.

Where does Biblical fiction fit in to this?

Apostle John series by Susan Preston (new covers)

Because, as Solomon wrote in Eccl 1: 9 “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

We can be encouraged, inspired and even challenged by the lives of those who have ‘gone before.’

The first Biblical fiction book I read changed the way I understood the Bible. Before reading Lynn Austin’s first book in the Gods and Kings series, much of the writing in the Bible was, to be honest, boring. After that, I never read anything about Hezekiah again without ‘seeing’ him as a person.

I used to run church kids groups and holiday programmes. After several years it was rather ‘ho-hum’ another lesson on a parable.

If it was now, my lessons would be vastly different. In researching for what I thought would be one book, I discovered so much about the life, the times, the challenges and the faith of the people through the centuries.

To include some of this in a story/book/series gives the reader a much better reading experience as pointed out by Debbie Roome in a recent post in a post called Story Telling in 3D.

Many ‘Biblical fiction’ writers appear to be taking research from some of the old movies like Ben Hur and others of that era.

Modern saddles were not invented until 365 AD.[JO2]

“The first saddle is believed to have been invented in 365 AD by the Sarmations. Proud horsemen who used their horses in battle and also sacrificed them to the gods, their saddle creations were brought back to Europe by the Huns.”

They did not include stirrups. This is the history of stirrups –

“The stirrup was invented in China in the first few centuries AD and spread westward through the nomadic peoples of Central Eurasia. The use of paired stirrups is credited to the Chinese Jin Dynasty and came to Europe during the Middle Ages.”

Well-written, and well researched Biblical fiction brings life to the words in the Bible. (Both Testaments.)

When Jesus taught it was from ‘the scriptures’ – there only was an Old Testament, and this was what He taught from. After Him the Apostles used the Old Testament, and the letters of the other Apostles.

Understanding the pain

There were many ‘pain-points’ for the people of the Bible.

To the Israelites the Temple was where God dwelt. In many instances the Bible shows that the Temple was what was worshipped, not God.

Understanding this helps a writer of Biblical fiction better bring those people to life.

The day was counted from sunset to sunset, not as with our modern calendars. This was one of the most difficult things for me to ‘get my head around.’ The next day started as soon as the sun set on the previous one.

People, even in New Testament times, did not sit down to a dinner of ‘meat and two veges.’ Meat was only eaten on special occasions. If they were near a sea, or large lake, fish would be part of their diet… but not all the time. In the Old Testament, a time when meat would be eaten by a family was after a ‘peace’ or ‘thank’ offering had been made.

Biblical fiction can be a joy to read

Some writers of Biblical fiction have done the research necessary to make the books authentic. One such – Lynn Austin’s Biblical historical series. (There are two different series.) Jill Eileen Smith gives us a peep at some of the ‘heroines’ of the OT as does Mesu Andrews. 

Nearer the time period I write about, Carol Ashby has done an awesome amount of research on Roman times, and Carlene Havel is a recent discovery of a great writer.

As for me…

Three of my books have won awards, and all had great reviews from Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews.

I put a great deal of research into everything I write, as I imagine other authors do.

Sometimes, I am a slow learner. A long time ago I was told my book covers do not reflect the genre they represent… but I loved the images, four of which were from a Christian friend in Tasmania, a gifted photographer.

Well, I finally listened and had new covers made. Time will tell if they DO reflect the genre.

You can see them here…

I read other genres, but Biblical fiction is close to my heart now that I have ‘met’ the people behind the words in the Bible.

Susan Preston’s Christian faith is important to her, but she does not preach in any of the stories, instead, respecting her reader's right to make up their own minds.

She describes herself as a story-teller. Research, fascination and curiosity became a combination of treasure hunt and mystery tour. (She is still researching.)

Susan’s life experiences were not always happy – the death of a son, then in 2013 the death of her husband/best friend. The emotions from all these experiences contribute to her understanding of the people of the stories.

She was a registered Psychiatric nursing sister, a registered computer trainer and assessor, possessor of the Master’s qualification for Microsoft Office 2007 which she says comes in very handy, and has numerous other qualifications.

Susan says, “The ‘people’ in the books have become ‘family’ as I learned to walk in their shoes.”


  1. Thank you Susan for your interesting post. I'm amazed as to all the writing you've done! Congratulations. I loved this quote "People prefer their truth wrapped in fiction". So true. Perhaps that was why Jesus Himself used stories and parables to get his point across. I am so sorry to hear of 2 deaths of family members. To lose a son is unthinkable and yet you have faced it. I'm so sorry. And then more recently you have lost your husband and best friend. That must have been very difficult. I know your writing will have more authenticity as you walk in the shoes of your characters. God bless you Susan and thank you for sharing.

    1. Anusha, thank you. You are 'spot on.' Surviving these deaths... getting used to life without them whilst a nightmare each time... did give me a depth of understanding in writing my books. Especially when, for the sake of something in the future, I had to choose which character to 'kill.' I cried when I wrote it, and I cried each time I checked the manuscript... because the death of one person has a ripple effect on so many others. I probably would not have known that without the experience. Thank you for your encouraging comment :)

  2. Biblical fiction can definitely enhance your bible-reading experience. :-)

    1. Very true Lynne. I know my faith jumped up several notches when I 'found' them as people, not merely stories.
      Thank you :)

  3. Thanks for you post, Susan. So true that good research into the historical period, the ordinary lives and the events gives depth to our understanding of biblical passages. Wrapping that up in fictional narrative gives an added dimension. I have To Hold the Faith on my to-read list.

    1. Thank you for asking me Jenny. It would be much simpler, if I wrote about now. But then, that's not what I am drawn to do. Your world-building must mean you have a lot to keep track of. I have not finished your latest ones, I have been too ill and tired to concentrate. I like what I have read so far and I will review as I did before. Today, it feels as if I have 'turned a corner' and can feel alive again.
      Hope you enjoy Hold the Faith.

    2. Hi Susan - so glad you feel on the mend :) And thanks so much for reading my stories. Keeping track of all the details can present a challenge, but it's fun too. And while I do research, I have a certain freedom to tweak things :)

  4. Thanks for that Susan. It certainly helps when writers can make a Biblical story come alive. I've explored that a fair bit in poetry, but not really fiction. Lots of food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you Nola, I agree that it can help a story come alive, but having done a lot of research, I can pick the flaws in some of the others.
      The Bible is more 'understandable' when we know the culture of the times. Even the way they counted their days were different.
      Thank you for your encouragement