Biblical fiction, as a genre, creates stories around what we do know of the Bible, filling in gaps, not as an alternative to scripture or as an expansion to the message, but as historically based imaginings, to bring the period to life, and often to bring some of the characters to life. It adds context, to offer us more of the colours and flavours; to fill our senses with more of the well-researched details, that can be read alongside the Bible, to bring additional understanding and insight. Ramah, by Rob Munday, does this well.
Keeping it scripturally accurate, the story is beautifully written with characters that are developed well. The minor, and major, Bible characters who feature in this novel weave in and out of the Gospel story. There has been some artistic licence taken in the way the main character in the book drops in and out of contact with Jesus at different points in his life, and coincidences bring him back in line with the scriptural timeline, but it works as a technique to be able to keep drawing the reader back to Bible stories, and remind us that the Bible narrative is key.
This novel offers the reader a flavour of the times, making it easier to imagine what life would have been like. There is insight into politics and power, corruption and the unfairness of life, especially for the poor. There are many reminders that some Bible stories are difficult to read or imagine. For example, the story of Herod ordering the slaughter of all baby boys under the age of 2 – for obvious reasons this is a part of the Christmas story that is quickly overlooked, but it is sobering to imagine the experiences of those involved… the mothers, the families, the soldiers who had to carry out the evil orders and even the long term impact on a whole generation who suffered the hideous trauma.
This though is a story of hope; light in the darkness. The theme running through the book is that those who are rejected, outcast, are in fact being watched over, protected and loved by God. Contrary to the religious beliefs and practices of the time, the people on the fringes of society are a part of God’s plan. No one is rejected in God’s eyes, despite the attitudes and prejudices of the society that was seemingly obsessed with their search of perfection and holiness.
This novel brings to life some of the characters that grew up and lived alongside Jesus, their troubles and battles with hypocrisy of the law and religious ideology that is so contrary to the kindness and love preached by Jesus.
It is charming that the story is punctuated by songs – verses from Psalms and Song of Songs, that would have been sung, especially at celebrations. Music, as it is now, was a key way of communicating the word of God. And the Song of Songs content ties in so well with the love story that develops through the book.
About a third of the way through, the story takes a very unexpected twist, which added intrigue and gave it a clear sense of direction, knowing that the main characters life would keep crossing paths with Jesus… or so I thought, until another significant twist towards the end, with a storyline that partly crossed over with my own book Beneath The Tamarisk Tree. Despite the cruellest of endings for the main character in this life, this story tells us that there is the promise of eternal hope for the next.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, but was under no pressure to provide a favourable review.