Francine Rivers’ Lineage of Grace: five novellas of women-centered Biblical stories

The Bible is littered with the stories of men: pioneering patriarchs, brave warriors, noble kings, visionary prophets and more. These characters, with their virtues and flaws, have shaped Biblical history and provided anchors for the Christian faith.

But what about the women?

Most women in the Bible play supporting roles in the Bible narratives – as the wife, mother or sister of great men, the source of support or the catalyst for great acts.

In Lineage of Grace: Five Stories of Unlikely Women Who Changed Eternity by Francine Rivers, however, Biblical women took active roles in shaping their destinies. In doing so, they also helped mold the story of God and His people.

The book consists of five novellas which narrates the life and struggles of five women in the Bible.

These are:

Tamar, a woman of hope, who married into Judah’s family and was left a childless widow by two of his sons. She secures her future and place in his family through underhanded but ultimately justifiable means.

Rahab, a woman of faith, who was forced into harlotry and espionage but saw her opportunity to turn her life around when Israelite spies sought refuge in her inn in Jericho.

Ruth, a woman of love, who, though a Moabite woman, bravely accompanied her widowed mother-in-law Naomi back to Israel to forge a new life for themselves.

Bathsheba, a woman who received unlimited grace, who had to contend with the consequences of spending a night in King David’s bed, managed to secure not just her legacy but the future of the kingdom.

Mary, a woman of obedience, who, despite her youth and uncertainty, accepted the enormous task set upon her by God and thus, secured the salvation of mankind.

The stories of these women are familiar, but are told in new perspectives and with fresh insights. Despite acting with or espousing Old World values, their characters and situations are still relatable.

My favorite among the stories is that of Tamar. The biblical story is not that well-known and the two lead characters – Tamar and Judah – are not held in a good light based on the biblical narrative. However, by providing context to their thoughts and action – Tamar’s need to belong and Judah’s guilt over his betrayal of his brother Joseph – the characters are made sympathetic, redeemable and worth rooting for.

Francine Rivers, the author of Lineage of Grace, is a renowned author of Christian Fiction. Her other works include:

Redeeming Love. A retelling of the love story between the prostitute Gomer and the prophet Hosea set amidst the California Gold Rush.

Sons of Encouragement. The stories of the lesser-known men behind the celebrated heroes of the Bible who served as guides and support, and quietly helped to shape the faith.

The Mark of the Lion. A trilogy set in ancient Rome that explores the travails of Hadassah, a young Christian slave girl, and Marcus, the Roman aristocrat who falls in love with her.

For more details or to buy any of these books on Amazon.com, simply click on the titles or the cover images.

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Photo credit: Sidny Ritters on Unsplash

A silent Biblical character was given voice in Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent

The story of Jacob’s daughter Dinah is problematic for many Bible readers. The chapter in the book of Genesis in which she appeared is often referred to as the “rape of Dinah.”  After her abduction by the prince of Shechem and her subsequent marriage to him, her brothers Levi and Simeon carried out the murder of her husband and all the menfolk in the land, citing the dishonor done to their family.  After this narrative, Dinah was never heard of again.

Similar to most female characters in the Bible, Dinah is silent.  Other then the notation of her birth in an earlier chapter, what is written about her spans the thirty-one short verses in Genesis 34, none of which are direct quotations from her.

In The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, however, Dinah’s role, and those of the other women in the narrative, are greatly expanded.  Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel, evolved from sisters competing for the love of one man: they became leaders of the women in their tribe, guardians of women’s secret and sacred traditions.  Their handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah, transformed from slave girls and concubines, to sisters and co-mothers of the Jacob’s wives.  Dinah, as the only girl among a brood of boys, became the cherished daughter of four mothers, the vessel of their hopes and dreams.

Much of the secret lives of these women took place in the red tent: it was the place where, under ancient law, women go into seclusion during menstruation or after childbirth.  It was here where their bonds are formed and strengthened, where they were bolstered by the encouragement and support of the other women in the tribe.

Dinah’s idyllic relationship with her family came to an end when she entered into her ill-fated marriage with Shalem, resulting into his murder at the hands of her brothers.

Cursing her father and brothers, she fled together with Shalem’s mother to Egypt where her mother-in-law raised her son among her family of scribes.

In the years that followed, Dinah built a life for herself: she became known for her skills in midwifery, she developed a close friendship with a fellow midwife, Meryt and was welcomed into her family, and she found new love in Benia, a woodworker in the Valley of Kings.

She would then encounter her long-lost brother, Joseph, who has risen high to become the Grand Vizier of Egypt, and who proposed to bring her back to her father’s camp to see him before he dies.

In this retelling of the Biblical tale, Diamant sheds light on the secret lives of women in ancient times. Their stories and traditions are passed down from mother to daughter, sister to sisters. Their bodies are celebrated and consecrated to their goddesses. Their roles within the tribes are shown as vital: they are caretakers, nurturers and healers, not just of their own children but of the whole community.

Diamant also calls attention to the weakness of men: how Jacob’s negligence of his sons resulted in the murder of Shalem and Joseph’s slavery in Egypt; how the malice of Simeon and Levi tore their family apart; and how Shalem’s love for Dinah made him agree to her brothers’ demands which resulted to the destruction of his people.

The novel is also one of hope: in the Bible, Dinah disappears from the narrative after the prince’s murder while in The Red Tent, she was able to forge her own path away from the protection of her family.

It also paints Egyptians, particularly the common people, in a new light, very far from depictions of oppressive slave-drivers towards Hebrews. Here, they are regular folks – midwives, scribes, carpenters and bakers – who are all simply living their lives.

The Red Tent is an important work, not just as a retelling of a Biblical tale, but as a depiction of the secret lives of women in ancient times. While Dinah, Leah, Rachel and their ilk were given minor roles in the Holy Book, in this novel, their lives and their stories are front and center.

I highly recommend this book to fans of Biblical fiction.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

In 2014, The Red Tent was adapted into a two-part miniseries starring Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, ” “The White Queen“) as Dinah, Minnie Driver (“Sleepers,” “Grosse Pointe Blank“) as Leah, Morena Baccarin (“Deadpool,” “Gotham“) as Rachel and Iain Glenn (“Game of Thrones“) as Jacob. Click here to watch the The Red Tent on Amazon Prime.  Watch it for free when you sign up for your 30-day trial.

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The Legend of Sheba – Rise of a Queen by Tosca Lee

The Bible mentions a foreign queen who journeys to Solomon’s court to test him and exchange lavish gifts. In legend, she took home more than just gifts and trade agreements: she took home a baby, a child with Solomon, from whom the line of Ethiopian kings that extends to the 20th century would trace their lineage.

In The Legend of Sheba – Rise of a Queen, Tosca Lee does a great job in sifting through packets of Biblical verse and ancient lore to come up with an exquisite retelling.

Her Queen of Sheba – Bilquis also known as Makeda – was blessed and burdened with beauty. The death of her mother plunged her into suffering before taking her destiny as queen of her father’s kingdom, at great cost to her heart.

Her refusal to wed echoes a similar scene in the movie Elizabeth (starring Cate Blanchett) which illustrate the challenges faced by powerful women in a man’s world.

Her relationship with Solomon develops over distance and the course of several years. It is important to note that they met and parleyed with each other as equals. She is a queen in her own right, not a treaty wife or a consort. Despite their developing love for each other, they had to separate due to her obligations to her own kingdom and the intrigues within Solomon’s harem.

I find Bilquis very intriguing: she is haunted by her past but bravely forges on for the good of her kingdom.

I recommend The Legend of Sheba – Rise of a Queen to people who, like me, wonder about side characters in lore and history, and want to see their perspective.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.  Its prequel titled Ismeni: An eShort Prelude to The Legend of Sheba is also available as a free e-book.

Other works of Tosca Lee include:

Check out my reviews of other Biblical fiction:

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Esther – Royal Beauty by Angela Hunt

Angela Hunt’s Dangerous Beauty series begins with Esther: Royal Beauty. It is the fourth fictional account on the biblical Queen Esther that I have read. The narrative is told from two perspectives: that of Harbonah, one of the eunuchs who served the king of Persia; and that of Hadassah, later called Esther, the beautiful Jewish orphan with a world-changing destiny.

I can’t help but compare this book to another book on Esther: Roseanna M. White’s Jewel of Persia:

  1. Both books portray Esther as growing in maturity and queenly grace. In Esther: Dangerous Beauty, however, Esther is shown to be more shallow, concerned with nice clothes and dreaming of marrying the handsome Persian brother of her friend. She found her way into the Persian royal harem when she was abducted from her Jewish fiance by slave traders seeking to profit from the search for a new queen. Guided by her devout foster father, Mordecai, and the eunuchs she befriended, she wins the heart of the king for a time.
  2. Similar to Jewel of Persia, Queen Vashti is shown to be callous and ruthless woman, capable of unspeakable crimes to achieve her ends.
  3. King Xerxes, unnamed in this novel, is enigmatic. He rarely speaks and, being the sun around which the other characters revolve, his actions are given commentary by Esther and Harbona, and interpreted through their understanding. For me, his character is not fully fleshed out; even his involvement in the infamous affair with his son’s wife was told similar to a shady rumor, not provided with enough motivation.

Esther: Royal Beauty combines the biblical stories with historical accounts (as recorded by Herodotus), and is a good book with which to pass the time. However, I would have liked the King of Kings to be more real.

Click here to buy Esther: Royal Beauty on Amazon.com.

Other books in Angela Hunt’s Dangerous Beauty Series are:

Check out my posts on other Biblical fiction:

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Jewel of Persia by Roseanna M. White

Roseanna M. White’s Jewel of Persia sheds light on the hidden life of one of the Bible’s most enigmatic women: Queen Esther. Unlike most books about the events that make up the origins of the Jewish holiday Purim which focused solely on Esther and her journey from Jewish orphan to Queen of Persia, Jewel of Persia, ties Esther’s life with that of her childhood friend Kasia. Also, the competition to be Xerxes’ queen is not portrayed as a series of abductions with girls taken unwillingly into the harem. Rather, it was a contract willingly entered into by the potential brides.

I find Jewel of Persia quite gripping, particular when you consider that:
1. Esther was not portrayed as the love of Xerxes’ life. Rather, it was Kasia whose chance encounter with the king sealed her fate to become his most-loved concubine. Kasia’s love for the king was big enough to forgive his many failings as a ruler and as a man, and even to welcome Esther to the harem and help her fulfill her own destiny.

2. Kasia and Esther’s faith is central to the story. It sustains them through the many trials: such as the trials Kasia faced as an outsider in the harem and Esther’s heartbreak over a childhood love. Their personal relationship with God is contrasted heavily against the religion practiced by her enemies.

3. The book also has lighter moments. A running gag is of Xerxes (as in the Bible) offering cities up to half his kingdom at different instances to the people he favors but being met with requests for something else. By the third time this happens, he wonders why no one seems to want his cities.

Jewel of Persia is a compelling sample of biblical fiction.  Check it out on Amazon.com.

Roseanna M. White’s other biblical fiction works include:

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The Pharaoh’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews

Mesu Andrews first sparked my interest in biblical fiction with her first novel about the sufferings and redemption of Job and Dinah Love Amid the Ashes which was then offered as a free e-book on Amazon.com.  This led me to purchase the next books in the series: Love’s Sacred Song which details the love story of King Solomon and his Shunemite shepherdess bride, and Love in a Broken Vessel which depicts the thorny and complicated relationship between the prophet Hosea and the prostitute Gomer.

With The Pharaoh’s Daughter, the first of her Treasures of the Nile series, Andrews provides an interesting narrative and historical backdrop for Moses’ ascendance as the savior of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Here, the edict for killing the male Hebrew babies was issued by the boy king Tutankhamen, manipulated by his vizier Ay. Moses’ adoptive mother and the titular Pharaoh’s daughter is Tut’s sister, Merytaten-tasherit, later renamed Anippe.

The novel depicts Anippe’s decision to claim the Hebrew baby Moses (whom she renames Mehy) as her own, and how that decision changed the lives of her family and the Hebrew slaves whose lives depended on the royal family.

Pharaoh’s Daughter also provides sneak peeks into the lives of Hebrew slaves, some of which were named in the Bible:

  • Shiprah and Puah, the midwives who defied the king’s orders to kill male Hebrew babies at birth
  • Jochebed, Moses’ birth mom who entrusted her son’s fate to God when she placed him in a basket and set it upon the river
  • Miriam, Moses’ sister who becomes Anippe’s handmaid but keeps her love for God
  • Mered, a trusted craftsman in Anippe’s household who would later have a greater role to play.

While comparing and contrasting the lives of Egyptian nobility and Hebrew slaves, The Pharaoh’s Daughter also underscores the need for hope and faith, as well as illustrates how God brings people into His fold.

With this novel, Mesu Andrews further cements her place as one of the leading writers of Biblical fiction.

I look forward to reading the next book in the Treasures of the Nile series which deals with Miriam’s story.

Click here to buy The Pharaoh’s Daughter on Amazon.com.

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