Blending History and Fiction

I’ve often been asked about the process of turning a Biblical story into a work of historical fiction.

  • My first responsibility is to take a deep dive into the Biblical story. It is important not to deviate from the Bible as it has been given to us. In that process, I develop character studies, trying to figure out who these people were.
  • Lots of research: archaeology, history, geography, theology, cultural anthropology, clothing, and the way people lived day to day.
  • Fiction is used to add color, setting, and reality. Sometimes it serves as the glue that connects all the pieces together.

The fictional scene below takes place shortly before the deaths of Ruth’s husband and brother-in-law. It marks a changing point in the lives of Ruth and Naomi as told in Less Than a Widow.

Every muscle in her body protests as Ruth bends over to wrap the clay Mahlon and Killion have already gathered into manageable chunks. Digging clay is hard and dirty, but Ruth loves the sense of accomplishment and the freedom being out of the city brings. “I remember the first time Elimelech brought me along to dig clay,” Ruth smiles at the thought. “Naomi objected, but he just winked at me and said, ‘Many hands make light work.’ I still miss him—he bought me as a slave but treated me as a daughter.”

The work on this trip, even with Ruth’s extra set of hands, has been anything but light. Ruth straightens slowly and looks around the campsite.

This deposit yields the perfect clay for the fine pottery that is Mahlon’s specialty. That’s the only reason they have kept coming back to this site and then only during the dry season—the clay pit is located in a narrow wadi that fills suddenly with rushing water during rains. The men have to squeeze through a narrow opening, but then the cliff walls open up enough to allow both of them to dig. Ruth’s job is to cut and wrap blocks of clay in manageable chunks and prepare it to be carried back to town.

Mahlon told Naomi and Orpah that we would return today, but yesterday afternoon Killion discovered that the clay seam unexpectedly continues into the side of the cliff—made visible by the rushing waters during the latest rains. Last night around the fire the two men argued about whether or not they should stay an extra day to gather as much as they can carry home.

“This clay is too valuable to leave any behind.”

“It won’t be easy, but we can dig into the hillside…”

“I don’t know…it’s pretty dangerous.”

“But it’s so hard to find clay of this quality, and who knows how deeply it goes into the hillside? If there’s a lot more, we may not have to search out another source after all.”

In the end, both men agreed that it would be a shame to leave any of this precious clay behind, so they’re digging again today. Ruth is repacking everything—filling the donkey’s packs with as much as he can carry and making room for some wrapped blocks of clay in each of their carrying baskets.

“You won’t be the only one with a heavy load on this trip,” Ruth tells the donkey blinking in the shade of a sycamore tree. The donkey is a welcome addition to their clay mining expeditions, although Ruth is sure he doesn’t enjoy them as much as she does—his idea of a perfect day is sleeping in the shade. He lets out a long bray…

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