(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

While remaining faithful to the contours of the Bible, Walter Wangerin combines faith and imagination in a selective retelling of the major biblical stories. He begins with the story of Abraham, showing him worrying about his nephew Lot’s involvement with Sodom, trying to sidestep Sarah’s complaints against Hagar, and willingly obeying God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac.

After exploring the human side of Isaac’s love for Rebekah and their family life as well as several stories involving Joseph, Wangerin moves from these ancestral figures to Moses, who ultimately receives God’s covenant with Israel. As Wangerin tells the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, he embellishes the account with a fictional backstory about Achan, who is born during the crossing of the Red Sea. Achan eats manna in the wilderness and learns that his father, Carmi, dreams of having his own land in Canaan. When the twelve spies return from reconnoitering the homeland, Achan hears his father crying angrily that God has led them to a dead end rather than a homeland. This fictionalized episode is designed to put a human face on the many bitter complaints and the faithlessness generalized in the Bible. Achan first appears in the Bible in Joshua, chapter 7, as a forty-year-old culprit who is condemned to death for looting after the Battle of Jericho and thereby causing the Israelites to lose a subsequent battle.

After the Israelites fight off the other tribes and settle in Canaan, they ask the prophet Samuel to anoint a king to rule in their land. Wangerin depicts the nation’s growing sophistication by describing how the nation evolved from using primitive bronze weapons to more powerful iron arms during the reign of the first king, Saul. Next, Wangerin examines all the facets of King David: shepherd, musician, warrior, rebel, friend to Jonathan, king, father, adulterer, and frail old man. The author ends his description of the United Kingdom period with an account of Solomon, described as an archetypal wise man ultimately besotted with Sheba’s beautiful Egyptian princess.

The prophets of God continue to warn, teach, bless, and threaten the Israelites. Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Obadiah all differ in their attempts to remind...

(The entire section is 924 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Distel, Joan McIntyre. “Religious Storytelling.” Christianity and the Arts (August-October, 1997): 56-57. Provides background on the author’s career and other literary works; examines use of first-person narration, humor, and the creative conflation of multiple events.

Ryken, Leland. “Bible Stories for Derrida’s Children.” Books and Culture (January/February, 1998): 38-41. Examines four recent literary approaches to the Bible, focusing on Wangerin’s reshaping of the Bible’s varied genres written over centuries into one focused, fluid narration.

Wilson, John. “The Greatest Story Ever Retold.” Christianity Today 40 (1996): 75. Describes Wangerin’s ability to show the big picture of God’s providence; also comments on the author’s fully human, fully divine Son of God.