What a Novel Idea! Historical Fiction Works by Biblical Scholars

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Ben Witherington III as he was at Acadia Divinity College to teach for our D.Min. program. Whenever an NT scholar comes to town, I try and make sure to get some time with them — usually be volunteering to drive them to and from the airport.

I asked Dr. Witherington about numerous things, in particular I wanted to understand how he was such a publishing machine. In the course of that discussion, he mentioned his latest manuscript that had just been completed called a "Day in the the life of Jerusalem." It is a historical fiction novel set into the last days of Jerusalem before the sacking in 70 AD  (p.s. I can't believe a movie hasn't been made of this yet!). The book will be part of IVP's "day in the life" series and I believe will hit the shelves early in 2016. Dr. Witherington has already published a similar book called A Week in the Life of Corinth.

I got to say, I like this: biblical and historical scholars who know the time and text the best putting their hand to some fiction. It is a great way to teach about these times, and could be great fodder for both classrooms and church small groups. I certainly hope to see more of these books, and look forward to hearing more about IVP's day in the life series — and maybe a historical fiction novel is in my future as well! For those interested in these types of historical fiction works, here are some of the recent publications that I am aware of:

Gerd Theissen's The Shadow of the Galilean (1987) is the forerunner to the current little wave of historical fiction by NT historians. Theissen is a historical Jesus scholar, and many not the de-theologizing he does in the book (e.g.: reducing of miraculous). Still, readers will learn a lot about that time as they follow along with Andreas the fictional character.

The Lost Letters of Pergamum (2002) is written by the very respected Bruce Longenecker. It is a story about a fictitious character named Antipas who is a Roman leader. Antipas reads the Gospel of Luke and begins conversing with Luke about Jesus.

Apocalypse (2004) by Hays and Pate might be just the book needed to help readers understand the book of Revelation (namely, how to stop reading it like Left Behind). Follow the characters Flavius and Antonius as they find the book of Revelation and it starts to make sense of the craziness that was the end of the first century.

In The Flames of Rome (2014), ancient historian Paul Maier follows the mayor of Rome named Flavius Sabinus, describing the events in Rome preceding and following the Great Fire. It captures the arrival of Paul to Rome, the growth of the church, and the story of the persecution of the Jewish and Christian community under Rome.

In Pontius Pilate (2014), Paul Maier fills in the historical details that we know concerning Pilate, including his rise to power and his later life after the crucifixion. Mair goes into the historic and political details surrounding the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The goal of Maier is to help readers better understand the political and social complexities of Pilate, Rome's man, trying to rule and keep the peace in Judea.

In A Week in the Life of Corinth (2012), Witherington follows a Corinthian man named Nicanor as he lives his life in Corinth, introducing readers along the way to ancient life and practice. During the story, Nicanor encounters the apostle Paul and enters the Christian community.

Burge is a great NT scholar and a great writer. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion (2015) follows a Roman centurion encountering Jesus and Jewish culture in Capernaum. See Gary Burge discuss the book here.

Hottest off the press is David deSilva's newest book Day of Atonement (2015). This is another one of those "I can't believe hollywood hasn't made a movie on this" (Mel Gibson had planned to at one time I think) periods of history. This novel takes place during the time of Maccabean revolt when Judea fought off Rome and gained its independence.

If I missed any please, let me know in the comments! Happy reading.

photo credit: Flat Eric on a Saturday Afternoon via photopin (license)
Posted by Danny Zacharias.