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The Taking of Jericho, by James Tissot/Jewish Museum/Superstock

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Books | Novelists turn Bible books into fodder for action-adventure and literary speculation

Issue: "Your right to vote," July 31, 2010

Two new novels take on the Old Testament book that most upsets moderns and the New Testament book that Christian journalists and historians tend to revere.

The Promised War by Thomas Greanias (Atria, 2010), a best-selling action/adventure writer best noted for fiction about the mythical Atlantis, offers justification for the annihilations described in the book of Joshua. Greanias portrays Jericho as a city filled with airborne diseases that would have killed the Israelites had they not killed the Canaanites. When I asked Greanias about his justification for that, he responded by email, "I felt it extremely important to distinguish the righteousness of the Israelites from the genocide of her enemies. To casual observers the Israelites and tribes in Canaan appear as moral equivalents, which in reality translates to bias against the Jews, both yesterday and today. I wanted to rectify that to the extent historical facts allowed."

This page-turner has a batty way of explaining how the walls came tumbling down: time-travel that shoots into the past an explosives expert, complete with explosives. Greanias explained, "I absolutely believe that God intervened miraculously in the destruction of Jericho, just as he still miraculously intervenes in our world today. It's just that . . . most of my readers are not Christians, and I didn't want them to reject the message of redemption in The Promised War because they reject the miraculous (unless, of course, it involves Atlantis, global conspiracies, etc., but the contradictions of our culture are another discussion)."

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I also asked Greanias why he had Joshua relying on the machinations of man rather than the miracles of God. He replied, "As for Joshua, having seen what God did in Egypt with Moses during the Exodus, and his faith as a spy-clearly he believes in the miraculous. But it's like David and his five stones: If David was so sure God had given him victory and that he couldn't miss Goliath with the first stone, then why did he pack five?" Hmmm. Don't read The Promised War for theology, but it's an action/adventure page-turner.

Michael O'Brien's Theophilos (Ignatius, 2010) is a quieter, more literary work centered on the mystery man of Luke's Gospel and Acts. Coptic tradition sees Theophilos as a Jew of Alexandria; others speculate that he was a high priest in Jerusalem; others speak of a Roman official-but O'Brien has him as Luke's adoptive father, a physician worried that his son has become part of a crazy cult.

This well-researched novel shows well the complexity of ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish culture, which we often tend to see largely in terms of robes and chariots. I asked O'Brien to compare our contemporary situation with that of 2,000 years ago. He replied, "As in the Roman era, the physical danger of martyrdom remains. . . . Approximately 50,000 people lost their lives last year as witnesses to Christ."

O'Brien emphasized that in Europe and North America Christians typically face not death but "assimilation by paganism. . . . The struggle between good and evil, which will continue until the return of the Lord in glory, has moved to a new dimension of intensity, backed by all the powers of modern media. . . . We are simultaneously in the midst of the greatest apostasy in the history of the Church and the most all-pervasive cultural revolution ever experienced by mankind."

In such an environment the task of re-evangelization is difficult, O'Brien emphasized: "We must be prepared to lose everything for the sake of the Gospels, to bear witness to Jesus regardless of the cost. We must keep our eyes on the coming victory of Jesus, and our ears open to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He leads us through. Authentic evangelization demands that we bear witness with our whole lives."

Two novels. One offers up military warfare sprinkled with wackiness. The other offers worldview warfare salted with meditation. Both work well within their genres.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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