Publishing novels based on biblical narrative looks profitable and easy.

Enough novels on biblical narratives or ones with biblical settings have now been published to establish a trend. More are coming. Of course, historical novels have long been a staple of the trade houses, and there are many examples of truly distinguished work in this subgenre, Par Lagerkvist’s Barabbas and Robert Graves’s I, Claudius being two. But the spate of recent novels issued by religious houses deserves examination at this time on two counts: the fate of these novels in the market place may determine the attitudes of religious publishers toward imaginative writing; more important, these books will affect the religious imagination of a large audience.

Publishing novels based on biblical narratives looks profitable and easy. Publishers reckon this sort of book has some immediate advantages. Buyers have little difficulty recognizing what books called Adam and Joseph are about. They also can be sure that these have good story lines, are in the sense of being both virtuous and compelling. Publishers feel comfortable because their patrons will feel comfortable with these offerings.

I believe the success of the works of Lewis and Tolkien has made it clear that religious people long for stories just as much if not more than for books of sermons. And, wary of stories with ambiguous contemporary settings, leery of narratives without explicitly “higher purposes,” novels of biblical narratives appear to be a safe way of filling in the “story gap.” Underlying all other considerations may be the feeling that it’s impossible to go too wrong with a biblical novelization; as one pop recording artist said of her remake of a “golden oldie”: if it had it, it’s still ...

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