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I don’t remember when I heard someone suggest that the Bible may have happened differently than what is explicitly stated. I’ve seen the movie Dogma many times and consequently know that the 13th apostle, Rufus, was left out of the Bible for being black. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that if this were the case, a good many of the apostles would have been left out of the Bible for their dusky skin.) I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which informed me that Jacob’s daughter Dinah wanted to have sex with the guy who her family killed for raping her. And I’ve read my children’s Bible, which decided to tone down the bit about Moses killing the worshipers of the golden calf by saying he just made them drink water with gold in it (so they would have died of heavy metal toxicity anyway).
When I decided to feature angels and demons in Oracle of Philadelphia, I knew I had to include some of the versions of the Bible stories and characters that had floated around in my head. For example, I envisioned the Archangel Gabriel as a kind, generous, holier-than-life kind of guy and Michael as something of a jerk, so I made them prominent figures in the plot. But my interpretations of the Bible and its veracity became more than just flavor for the story. They became the basis of the entire world. My characters had witnessed and participated in Biblical events. The tales from Scripture were the defining moments in their lives. And things didn’t always happen as the Church taught.
In some cases, I didn’t make up anything new to the Bible stories, but I told them from the point of view of someone who experienced the events. The language of the Bible is often distant and epic-narrative style, so when I rewrote the stories in concrete terms with details and emotions, the results sometimes surprised me. Before I had Bedlam talk about the Israelites in the desert, I never understood that they had escaped from slavery only to kill each other for temporarily worshipping the wrong god. I’m working on some similar stories for book 3, and have come to realize that the ten plagues of Egypt wreaked an insane amount of suffering on a lot of innocent people.
For other back stories, I did imply that the Bible got some stories wrong. In the case of the virgin birth, I indicated this was somewhat deliberate on the part of historians—no one wanted to know that Mary’s family didn’t react very well to her pregnancy. In other cases, I attributed the changes to the natural ebb and flow of the oral tradition. People forgot about the nephilim in Abraham’s story and just remembered angels visiting his wife and God ordering him to kill his son.
I guess the best way to describe it is that I treat Christian scripture as mythology instead of religion and consequently feel comfortable playing with it in the same way I might Greek or Norse myths. I do sometimes worry that people will be offended. But then I remind myself that I can always tell them that my book, unlike the Bible, is shelved in fiction.
She drinks more Diet Coke than is probably optimal for the human body and is pathologically afraid of bees. She lives in Maryland with two cats and a purple Smart Car.
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