This novel is based entirely on the themes and narratives of the Bible and on the covenant that God made with his chosen people: They are to worship and serve him, and he will protect and provide for them. Of course, there are many side themes and peripheral accounts, but in his novel Wangerin focuses on the covenant, which is ultimately realized in God’s Son, Mary’s child, Jesus, who gives his life, as his heavenly father wills, for the salvation of all people.
Wangerin’s intimately drawn portraits of biblical characters bring passion and vitality to the original narrative. Readers are shown humanized portraits of figures only thinly sketched in the Bible: Leah, Jacob’s second-best wife; Saul, conflicted between loving David and jealously fearing him; Tamar, David’s daughter, raped by her half-brother and impoverished in exile; and Judas, sadly wrong about the role Jesus would play in saving his people.
Occasionally, Wangerin develops or expands a character beyond what is stated in the Bible, as he does with Ahikam, an exile in Babylon. He provides a biblical reading guide to supplement his text, offering the relevant books, chapters, and verses in the Bible. In addition, he suggests supplementing his story with other biblically based novels, including Ruth: A Love Story (1986) by Ellen Gunderson Traylor and Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880).
The overriding purpose of Wangerin’s work is to point to the need for God’s Son and to make real the covenant established with Abraham. While staying faithful to the biblical contours, he adds imaginative nuance and color. The first seven chapters of The Book of God are based on the Old Testament and move chronologically and artistically to the fulfillment of the covenant in Jesus Christ. The last chapter is dominated by Jesus and begins with the familiar Gospel narratives of the birth in Bethlehem. Wangerin shows Jesus revealing more and more of his wisdom and power. As his death approaches, his followers notice his increased intensity, his thoughtfulness, and his withdrawal. However, God’s promise is to be kept, for his covenant is faithful. Wangerin writes movingly of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, then closes with a few pages concerning the early church, the apostles’ martyrdoms, and Saint Paul’s spreading of the Gospel.