Jill Eileen Smith's newest inspirational historical novel, Bathsheba, is a March RT Top Pick! This final novel in Smith's Wives of King David Series won high praise from RT reviewer Lindy J. Swanson who wrote, "Smith’s portrayal of how women lived in Old Testament times and her research of the wives of King David give this series authentic appeal. " Now Smith takes us behind the scenes for a look the challenges she faced when creating her series.
Writers of biblical fiction spend a lot of time transporting themselves into the past, imagining how life might have been. Details become important, and it takes a conscious effort not to insert modern thinking into the story’s culture and their world. For instance, in a contemporary novel or even a historical that was written after the invention of the clock, one might say, “Minutes ticked by as she waited for his response.” But in King David’s era, clocks did not exist, so to say “A few minutes later” would be inaccurate. Details involving flora, fauna, animals, birds, food, fabric, and daily life must be carefully researched.
Culture, tradition, and faith are also challenges in writing a biblical novel. What roles did women play, and how were marriages arranged? Did men and women place any emphasis on love, or did they marry only for convenience? Was their faith merely an outward religion or an intimate relationship with their God?
When it comes to my writing, if the Bible portrays my characters as having faith, then that is how I write them. If they don’t, I look to see if they ever could have come to faith (as in Michal) or if the chances are nearly impossible. With some characters, as with some people today, it is hard to tell what they believed.
Rituals also played an important part in the culture and in the religious life of David’s day. Today, among some sects of Christianity and Orthodox Judaism there are similar rituals and traditions that can give us a glimpse of what life might have been like for David under the Law of Moses. The approach to God carried more reverence and distance than it does for many in our modern times. But at the heart and across the ages, faith also carries the similarity of trust and intimacy. David’s psalms are testaments to that fact.
Still, the challenges of understanding the differences and similarities are great, and the questions a writer of biblical fiction needs to ask complex. When I write such stories, I try to delve deeply, not only into what happened, but also into how and why the circumstances might have come about. Why did David and Bathsheba commit adultery? Why did David have Uriah killed? Was Bathsheba a temptress, a victim, or something more? Through much study and prayer, I do my best to find the answers.
- Jill Eileen Smith