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Why Not More Biblical Speculative Fiction?

Why isn’t there more speculative fiction set in Bible times or featuring Biblical characters? We have reasons why not–but we should work past them.
| Mar 21, 2019 | 21 comments |

I’ve just read Mark Carver’s Speculative Faith article (“Sharper than Any Double-Edged Sword”) in which he talked about the Bible being the ideal guide for Christians in what we watch or read or otherwise partake in terms of stories, with our goal to be more and more Christlike. I’m taking what he said on an admitted (but I hope good) tangent: Why isn’t there more Biblical speculative fiction?

(TANGENT TO THE TANGENT: I personally always capitalize “Bible” and “Biblical.” Under English usage, so-called proper nouns like “Canada” and adjectives derived from such nouns like “Canadian” are capitalized. [Tangent to the tangent to the tangent: I was going to use “America” as an example, but that seemed very American of me. 🙂 ] Common nouns, like “book” and adjectives derived from it, like “bookish” are not capitalized. I would say that there is only one Bible, no matter how many particular translations exist, that the Bible is unique, and that “Bible” is its proper name in English, and therefore it should always be capitalized. Yes, I know people who see “bible” as a common noun for “authoritative book” are not necessarily wrong, technically speaking. But that’s not how I use “Bible” or “Biblical”–and Mark Carver did the same as what I do.)

Granted, there has been an upsurge in recent years in movies that feature Biblical events–and Biblical epics have always been popular in films. Yet stories set in Bible times (usually) feature retelling or amplifying what the Scriptures said (hey I just realized I also capitalize “SCRIPTURES”!!!). Sure, we could say showing Satan watching Christ suffer is a speculative element in the Passion of the Christ–speculative not because Satan is fictional, but because we don’t really know what Satan’s involvement would have looked like if it could have somehow been made visible. And there is always some minimal speculation involved in portraying exactly what people looked like or said or did at particular moments. But that kind of minor, historical-fiction-related-story speculation is not what I’m talking about.

Though (tangent again, but a minor one), there’s something to be said for historical fiction set in Biblical times. Tosca Lee’s Sheba or Iscariot bring light to characters in the Bible who are focused on less in the way most people think of the Scriptures. And of course, Ben Hur would be the classic example of Biblical historical fiction, a sort of book for which there is clearly a market. But why are relatively few historical fiction works set in the era in which the Scriptures were composed? I can’t help but feel there is much more potential for such stories.

But I’m not talking about historical fiction set in Bible times, even though that can be cool and interesting. I’m referring to truly speculative stories. Why are there virtually no time-traveler tales featuring characters going back to Biblical days, for example? Or Biblical figures traveling to the present (or future)? Or why are there so few Biblical tales retold in the context of alien or future culture? And while there have been a relative plethora of stories about spiritual warfare, I don’t know of any set in Bible times.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

I can offer some answers to my own questions, at least to a degree. It seems Christians are a bit afraid of being accused of misrepresenting the Bible by inserting speculative elements in it. So if a writer were to create a book on the spiritual war of angels and demons during the time of Daniel’s Babylon, such an author could be accused of adding to the text of the Bible in a sacrilegious way.

Or such stories might suggest that God was not really in control of the events of Biblical history. For example, some people might see the act of a time traveler, say, trying to kill the Romans who killed Christ–but failing because of the intervention of another time traveler–would suggest that God was not really in charge of events.

Note that certain Jewish storytellers have not felt any such inhibitions. Darren Aronofsky crafted a movie based on a Biblical character, Noah, that had speculative elements.

I’m not one hundred percent pleased with Aronofsky’s vision. But for me, that points out that Christians who think more along the lines of how I think ought to be writing, directing, and producing such movies. Presumably, we could include speculative elements while still showing more respect for what the Bible has to say than Aronofsky did.

A story of angels and demons in Bible times could come with an author’s preface saying that while we know angels and demons are real and their conflict relates to the book of Daniel, “this work is fiction and not intended to exactly reproduce” etc. Or the time-traveler story I mentioned could be written in such a way that God’s providence is evident in the events of the story, including the actions of the time travelers themselves. Or one set of time travelers could be believers–or the story could even feature angels battling time-travelers! (Why not?)

If the Bible is to be our guideline, why shouldn’t it also be our inspiration? Not just in fantasy genre allegories or in Biblical worldviews of good and evil, which are fine and good, but why not also more directly? Why aren’t there more speculative fiction stories set in Bible times or Biblical figures seen in speculative fiction stories? Why can’t we work past the potential problems and objections?

Travis Perry is a hard-core Bible user, history, science, and foreign language geek, hard science fiction and epic fantasy fan, publishes multiple genres of speculative fiction at Bear Publications, is an Army Reserve officer with five combat zone deployments. He also once cosplayed as dark matter.

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Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Because too many Christians have been brainwashed into thinking that persecuting authors for taking liberties with ambiguities in Scriptural text is their divine duty.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Personally, I’d want more Ben Hur and The Silver Chalice over reheated Bible stories.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Well, if I recall correctly, there’s a whole fanfiction.net archive dedicated to the Bible. Though not all of that is written by Christians. Some of it is by atheists who want to mock the Bible, or by atheists that see the Bible as a good story and nothing more. I don’t bother looking into that archive, even if there’s probably plenty of gems in there.

You talked about time travel Biblical fiction, and it reminded me of those old Flying House and Super Book cartoon I saw as a kid.

Biblical fiction would be nice to see more of, especially if it accurately delves into the culture of that time a little more. Still, though, people need to make sure they understand that the story is the author’s interpretation, rather than letting it get too subconsciously absorbed as the reader’s interpretation of events. And it would be nice if people picked more obscure parts of the Bible, instead of rehashing the famous parts over and over.

At one point I also saw a movie (The Red Tent I believe) And it was a little annoying since the main char came across like a Mary Sue.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

You folks did not just diss “Superbook” on my watch … ?

Well, okay, the first series was fairly subpar for some episodes. But that second series? With multi-part episodes for biblical accounts? Better animation? A time-traveling computer and legit teleporting robot?

I literally wouldn’t be here writing this now if it weren’t for that series.

But. I still need to see more of the rebooted series. 😀

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Which reminds me, Stephen. I’m a loser and never shipped any episodes to you. On my honor, they’ll go out tomorrow, if you email me your address one more time. Blessings!

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Can do. My wife and I had already been thinking about the series (old and new) thanks to reading through the Bible in one year. Each time I hit a particular account, such as in Judges or 1 Samuel, the correlating “Superbook” version instantly flashes back into my imagination.

Kathleen J Eavenson
Guest
Kathleen J Eavenson

Re speculative stories set in Biblical times:

Randall Ingermanson wrote several books about a woman who time travelled back to the time of the Crucifixion. There were 3 books in the series. Sorry I can’t remember the titles right now. May check back if I find the info.

EDIT – Transgression, Premonition, Retribution are the three Ingermanson titles.

There was also the Cradleland trilogy by Douglas Hirt set in pre-Flood times covering that society as well as Noah’s family. He created a fairly scientifically advanced society which I found sorta tantalizing. Flight to Eden, Quest for Atlan, Fall of the Nephilim are the titles.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

I’ve read both series and loved them.

Unfortunately I don’t believe either of them sold well, so they’re now out of print. I would love to see a publisher, such as Enclave, take them back up, in the same way that Enclave now publishes Kathy Tyers’ works and even Ingermanson’s and Olson’s two Oxygen novels.

Kathleen J Eavenson
Guest
Kathleen J Eavenson

At least the first of the Hirt novels is on Kindle; that’s where I did my checking. (When I googled Douglas Hirt, it kept defaulting to Douglas Hurt, a lawyer!) 😄

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Good job pulling out those examples! Brian Godowa also wrote Biblical fiction which he self-published. One was called Noah. I don’t know the other titles, but I’m pretty sure they’re in the Spec Faith library.

Becky

Robert K Atkin
Guest

Hi Travis
Thank you for the article. An interesting read.
“Or why are there so few Biblical tales retold in the context of alien or future culture?” This is exactly the sort of story I am writing; using speculative fiction to retell biblical theology. A change in setting and genre, but drawing the story inspiration from the Bible in order to explore theological themes – Temple, Creation/New Creation, Exile/Election and Image of God. I’m currently working on a series of short stories (ten in fact!) that use speculative fiction to retell the Ten Commandments.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

FYI and related to the first (or second?) tangent. I capitalize Bible and Biblical for the very same reasons you do, Travis! Glad to know someone else thinks along the same lines. I could not understand why the noun was capitalized (and I think Chicago Manual of Style says that should be done) but the adjective should not. No, I say, as long as the adjective forms of these other proper nouns should be capitalized, by all means, I am capitalizing Biblical.

Becky