"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." After the first verse of Genesis from the Bible, works from John Milton's 17th-century epic poem Paradise Lost to Anita Diamant's late 20th-century novel The Red Tent interpreted and reimagined that sentence and the words that followed.
Below, we present contemporary novels inspired by figures and events in the Hebrew Bible, a collection of canonical Jewish writings by the ancient Israelites. The Hebrew Bible is also known as the Old Testament, despite some variations in chapter order, translation, and interpretation between Jewish and Christian sources. In our list of books, we've removed some of the nuances of this distinction; for example, we've included some works inspired by other books in the Jewish canon and a few others drawn from Mormon theology; some are Jewish in focus, while others are Christian. So we use the terms interchangeably. But the general characters and events remain the same, even if interpretations differ. We've also shied away from inspirational, religious books, focusing more on popular historical fiction.
The novels below are by no means representative of the colorful characters found in the Bible. They offer, however, a starting place for readers intrigued by struggles of love, war, family, faith, loss of faith, and the evolution of civilization[mdash] themes that remain as timeless as the Bible itself.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
The Source (1965)
By James A. Michener
In 1963, three archaeologists at a dig at Makor (inspired by Tel Megiddo, a site north of Jerusalem mentioned by almost every great power in the ancient Near East from biblical times to the modern era) uncover successive layers of human settlements. As they do so, Michener journeys back thousands of years to chart the history of the Jewish people, from premonotheistic days to the birth of the modern State of Israel. At more than 1,000 pages, The Source is a commitment, but there are few more engrossing storytellers to guide the way through biblical history than Michener. He draws on the personal (and fictitious) stories of a single family and its many gods, as well as their journeys of love, war, faith and loss of faith. The Source, which alternates between stories about each historical layer at Makor and the 20th-century dig, offers a grand overview of the region, including the evolution of religion and civilization.
REIMAGINING THE MAJOR (AND MINOR) BIBLICAL PLAYERS
ADAM AND EVE
The Diaries of Adam & Eve (1905; 2002)
By Mark Twain, edited by Don Roberts
This slim book isn't "contemporary," but we can't help including it since the tales in this edited collection are as witty, insightful, and loving today as they were 100 years ago. Twain's version of the story of Adam and Eve, from Genesis, first appeared in Pudd'nhead Wilson; these "diaries" feature a wholly realized female character in Eve, a thinker, a lover, and an emotionally available partner. While Eve works to name her new world, however, the more reclusive Adam lounges around and complains. "If she could quiet down and keep still a couple of minutes at a time, it would be a reposeful spectacle," he says. "In that case I think I could enjoy looking at her; indeed I am sure I could, for I am coming to realize that she is a quite remarkably comely creature." Twain aptly explores the first battle of the sexes and captures the couple's na[iuml]vet[eacute] and wonder at creation. As for the Fall? Well, stuff happens.
The Story of Eve (2008)
By Tosca Lee
ForeWord Maga zine Book of the Year
Lee, who has written supernatural thrillers and historical novels about biblical figures, fills in some fascinating details of the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden from the female perspective. Havah, Adam's chosen name for Eve, narrates her life from the moment of her creation to the Fall and 900 years after. The first part of the book explores the rapturous life in the garden, but then it turns to Havah's sin and its repercussions: she raises dysfunctional children, and one son kills another. Lee portrays Havah as a fleshand- blood woman struggling to recover her former joyful existence and fighting for survival after being cast from the garden. A beautifully written rendition about the nature of humankind's relationship to God.
EVE: A NOVEL OF THE FIRST WOMAN (2009) | ELISSA ELIOTT
CAIN AND ABEL