Biblical Fiction: April Recommended Reading

Published by David C. Cook, Destiny Image, Moody Press

vinegar-boyThe Vinegar Boy
Alberta Hawse
Publication Date: 1970
Available today from: Moody Press
Reprinted/Published in: 2002

I can count on one hand the fictional works that have changed my life, and one of those titles is Alberta Hawse’s The Vinegar Boy.

Most Christians, myself included, want to rush through Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday.

Jesus didn’t.

The Lord of Time did not spin the Earth so that those hours flashed by in a blur like a blue-ray on triple speed. Each hour held sixty minutes, the day still held twenty-four hours, and all marched in their proper order.

Six of those hours were packed with unimaginable suffering for Him. Saturated with His blood those minutes were also filled with His love for us. Jesus didn’t rush through that Friday, and neither does Alberta Hawes.   She invites us all to come and linger near the cross, come and hear and smell and see, come experience it all and remember just how much we’re loved.

Boy is the narrator of this tale. He has no name. He was abandoned as a baby outside Jerusalem because of the birthmark that obscures half his face. Found by Roman soldiers, he’s brought to the garrison because they think that he is the offspring of the two-faced god Janus.

Soldiers, however, do not make good nannies. The men quickly tire of him and tell, Nicholaus, the commissary steward, to do with the baby what he wishes. Nicholaus keeps him, making him a cradle out of a busted vinegar cask. And so Boy becomes the Vinegar Boy.

Eleven years pass. And Boy is given a Friday off from his usual tasks.

This Friday is his day, to get his face healed so that Nicholaus can adopt him. Not that the steward has made the healing a requirement of Boy’s adoption. Nicholaus is ready to take him just as he is, “I could not love you more if you had come from my own loins and had a face as flawless as Apollos” the steward tells him.

But Boy wants to be whole before he becomes Nicholaus’ son, so he is going to find this Healer, this Jesus of Nazareth and get mended.

Before he can go find Jesus, however, word comes from the place of crucifixion that they need the drugged vinegar, there are three men being crucified. Boy is sent. On his way, he stumbles across a beaten man named Barabbas who has been released according to the Jewish customs of Passover.

Boy reluctantly helps the zealot, and then runs on to the place of execution, where all of his dreams die.

Jesus is being crucified.

From this moment on, Boy is in the middle of the maelstrom. Through his eyes the reader gets to meet John, Mary Jesus’ mother, John Mark, The Centurion, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Pilot, and his wife. None of them are saints, each of them comes through as a real person, struggling with the weight of their decisions, being crushed by the enormity of the day.

It’s their need that makes each of these people turn to Boy. And because Boy is a run-and-go-fetch-it, it’s in his nature to go and get things for people, he shuttles through the horrible, terrible day and witnesses everything.   His day, the day he was to be made whole and acceptable, the day he was to get everything he needed to count finally, is the day his hope shatters into a thousand pieces.

Hawse never strains credibility, her story never sags or loses its gut-wrenching nearness to the Ultimate Sacrifice.   Her style is earthy, and the keen attention to detail makes it easy to get lost in the tale.

Thankfully, The Vinegar Boy’s story doesn’t end on Good Friday. Hawse takes him and the reader all the way to the day of Assentation, and along the way Boy has a few more adventures. The LORD delights in giving a full measure, shaken together, pressed down, and running over, and to remind us of that Hawse has one last surprise for both Boy and the reader.

 

Buzzards.qxdCrime Scene Jerusalem
Alton Gansky
Publication Date: January 1, 2007 (Check Alibris or Amazon for used copies)
Publisher: David C Cook

Time travel, medical forensics, and apologetics weave through Alton Gansky’s Crime Scene Jerusalem. And Gansky is a master storyteller.

Maxwell Odom is a man who has been flayed open and eviscerated. You just wouldn’t notice it, looking from the outside. A crime scene investigator who has suffered a horrific loss, he’s told he can either take a leave of absence from the department or he can go to Jerusalem for a forensics conference. One or the other, but whatever he chooses, he’s no longer welcome in the department.

It’s not a matter of getting his head cleared, it’s a matter of his heart healing, but try telling him that.

He chooses the conference. Getting away from everything might help him reset. It will at the very least get him away from all the reminders. He can pretend that it didn’t happen, that he was able to protect her.

In Israel, he checks into the hotel where the conference is going to be held, his forensic cases all shiny and new.   When the hotel clerk calls him, he rolls out of bed and dresses, then grabs his cases and goes down to meet his driver, Yoshua bar Yoseph. Tall, dark haired, with brown eyes and a winsome smile, Yoshua Bar Yoseph is there to get Max to his destination. He’s there to act as guide and facilitator. He’s Max’s driver.

The moment that they step out the front door, however, things change. With the blink of an eye, Gansky sends both Max and Yoshua back to the Jerusalem that Jesus knew well.

It’s a chance for Max to examine the evidence of the claims of Christ’s followers first hand, both with his own eyes and with his crime scene equipment. He doesn’t need Yoshua as a driver, but Max is out of his depths in ancient Jerusalem, and he desperately needs a friend. Not that he tells Yoshua this, in fact, Max moves between disbelief and disgust with Yoshua, but that doesn’t stop the young man from watching out for Max. He continues to question the seething crime scene investigator, poking at the festering pain inside Max’s heart, as he takes him on a tour of the various sites Jesus has recently visited so Max can examine them and see for himself the truth of the Gospel stories.

What keeps the story from descending into a series of trite sermons or apologetics lectures as Max looks at the evidence, is Max’s slow growing friendship with the enigmatic Jew. That and the mystery of what happened to devastate him. Why was he sent away from his division? What happened that’s made him no longer wanted?

Gansky drops hints to Max’s heartache as they visit The Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, and John Mark’s house. Bit by bit, the truth becomes apparent.   But not before Max goes through a terrifying night at the hands of the Romans, witnesses a crucifixion, betrays Yoshua, has his forensic cases battered nearly to pieces and meets Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Crime Scene Jerusalem with all its mystery and historical accuracy is a book that deserves a spot on your reading list and in your library. It’s worth the hunt to find this tale.

 

The Day I was CrucifiedThe Day I Was Crucified
Gene Edwards
Publication Date: 2004 rereleased 2015
Publisher:  Destiny Image

This book falls into the same category as Dorothy Sayers The Man Born to be King; there’s lots of controversy and opinion about it. Why? Well, because Edwards writes from Jesus’ point of view about the crucifixion. It’s a first person narrative in the main story, and then Edwards gives the reader a harmony of the gospels account.

It’s the first person narrative that makes most readers go ‘wait, what?’ How can we know what Christ was thinking or feeling? He never tells us in the Bible does He?

He does. Throughout the Gospels, there are clues to what is going on inside Jesus’ heart and mind before and during the Passion Week. Edwards does a great job incorporating what we do know from Scripture about the suffering of Jesus from the Bible into this fictional account.

As I read The Day I Was Crucified, I recognized things from the Old Testament too, pieces of the story and dialog which reminded me it is the heart of Yahweh that beats in the chest of Christ. This is a Savior not tumbling out of the book of Mark, but The One who was Before All Things, the One who spoke “Let there be light” in Genesis. This is the part of the story that took my breath away. I’ve never found a story where Jesus is so firmly Yahweh in the narrative.

The other thing that makes The Day I Was Crucified stand out from other books, is Edwards imaging what is happening on the spiritual side of things. To the physical eye, Christ’s time on the cross was when He was at His weakest, His most vulnerable, and His most fragile. Edwards shows that, but he also grabs the spiritual curtain and pulls it clattering back against the poll it hangs from and paints a very different picture.

From His place of absolute suffering, Christ on the cross commands Death and a host of other spiritual tormentors to come before Him. It resembles more a courtroom with Christ as the judge and jury then a place of execution.

And The Day I Was Crucified doesn’t end on Good Friday. One of my absolute favorite passages in all of Christian fiction is at the very end of this book, on Resurrection Sunday. I won’t share it here, I’ll just say when I read it, I was cheering through my tears. It is absolute perfection.

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