The Tomb

The TombThe Tomb by Stephanie Landsem
Series: The Living Water
Genres: Biblical Fiction
Published by Howard Books on March 17, 2015
Pages: 352

 

Martha is greatly admired by everyone in Bethany as the perfect Jewish woman. She cares for her family, keeps the perfect home and holds herself above reproach when it comes to the law. However, she holds a secret in her heart, one that keeps her bound to striving for perfection at all times. At her sister’s wedding feast, she gave her heart and her body to a young musician. He promises to return and marry her, but years pass, and he doesn’t return. Her brother Lazarus knows her secret, but a powerful Pharisee, Simon, also knows. When Lazarus falls deathly ill, Martha must choose – send for Jesus and risk Simon betraying her sin, or stay trapped in her own tomb of shame and deny her brother the healing power of Jesus. Meanwhile, a young musician, Isa, is roaming wild on the shores of Galilee, tortured by demons, sure that someone very important is waiting for him, but with no memory of who. When he is healed by Jesus seven years later, he journeys to Bethany only to find that he is much too late to win Martha’s love and hand in marriage. When Martha risks her reputation and very life to heal Lazarus, it seems that both Jesus and Isa have arrived too late.

In The Tomb, Stephanie brings Martha to life in a vibrant, realistic way, and I saw pieces of my own heart in Martha’s character.

Martha of the Bible is seen as the worrier, striving for perfection for Jesus and his followers when they are guests in her home. Her sister Mary doesn’t concern herself with such trivial matters when the Messiah is in her presence, and it’s easy to praise Mary in the story for choosing what is better; however, personally, I’ve always felt more of a kinship with Martha. In The Tomb, Stephanie brings Martha to life in a vibrant, realistic way, and I saw pieces of my own heart in Martha’s character. Her need to be as perfect, as if that will somehow make up for her past, makes her relatable and gives a different nuance to her character.

I appreciated that Martha and Isa have to work and risk everything to come to their own realizations. It isn’t easy for them, but it makes their journey much more meaningful and poignant.

The additional characters are compelling as well. I loved the interactions of the family. Though there is romance in the story, there is also love of family and friends; it didn’t center only on the romance between Mary and Isa. The relationship between Lazarus, Martha and Mary, though not without strife, is genuine and lovely. I also really appreciated that the antagonist of the story has motivation and reason behind his actions; there is a complexity there that is sometimes missing from the antagonist’s back story, but that element is definitely there in this story. There is just so much emotion to be found in this story in general, and none of it was misplaced. Stephanie is choosy about what her characters experience and decide, and it all propels the plot in a realistic way. I appreciated that Martha and Isa have to work and risk everything to come to their own realizations. It isn’t easy for them, but it makes their journey much more meaningful and poignant.

 

Fiction that recounts a biblical narrative is tricky. On one hand, creative license should be allowed; it is, after all, a work of fiction. At the same time, if it strays far from the key details in the biblical story, it has the potential to make this reader uncomfortable. With The Tomb, however, I felt no such discomfort. Stephanie focuses more on the possible background of the story, at least for the bulk of her stories. It is obvious that she studies the story meticulously so that nothing will question the integrity of the account. While her connections are not found in the Bible, they come across as plausible and the connection doesn’t disturb the original account.

 

When it comes to the setting and descriptions within the story, it is also very clear that Stephanie has studied the customs, daily life and households of Jewish families during that time. I loved the details of their meals, how they prepared for guests, and the tasks and chores that made up their daily lives. Though they are small details on their own, combined together they add layers to the story that transported me back to that time.

 

Her superb understanding of the biblical narrative, historical setting and character complexities have solidified her status as a favorite author of mine.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll always say this of well-done biblical fiction – when I am drawn to the original account and see it in a fresh light, I consider that the novel is a success. When I’m asked to look inwardly at my own heart and reflect on that account, even better. Stephanie’s books always manage to do that for me. Her superb understanding of the biblical narrative, historical setting and character complexities have solidified her status as a favorite author of mine. I highly recommend The Tomb to fans of biblical fiction and general historical fiction alike.

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