Thursday, June 10, 2021

Book Review: Miriam's Song, by Jill Eileen Smith

I've always held a fascination with the women of the Bible. God chose these diverse women to be part of His story, and yet so often, we're given such tiny slivers of information about them.

A few years ago, I was asked to preach a sermon about Miriam 
for a Women of the Bible sermon series. 

You can watch my sermon on Miriam HERE.

Sister to Moses and Aaron, Miriam plays a key role in the story of the Israelites. We meet her several times over the full course of her life - from a little girl, putting her baby brother in a basket in the Nile, to a prophetess singing in the desert, to her death as an old woman - yet, in-between these moments, we hear so little about her.

That's why I was excited to read Miriam's Song
a new historical fiction by Jill Eileen Smith.

Smith has become an expert on recreating the stories of the women of the Old Testament. She has a passion for discovering the details of everyday life for women of that time. These details create a visceral and compelling world for the characters of Miriam's Song.

For example, after mixing pitch for Moses's basket, his parents decide,

"'We will bury the bowls, for there is no time to clean them well.' ... Bowls were scarce, and it would take time to make more. But it would be easier to make new ones than try to clean the old."

What a fantastic detail! Living in our own single-use society, I loved this line. What a reminder that things couldn't just be bought or easily replaced. Everything they owned had to be handcrafted in the scarce time that remained after a day of slave labour.

From food to clothing to housing, 
Smith gives us a full picture of Miriam's everyday life and duties.

The one challenge with the novel is the original issue with Miriam's story - we know so little about her! In writing Biblical historical fiction, the author always needs to manage a careful balance. Do I simply write within the limited story I'm given, or do I fill in the gaps and run the risk of rewriting the Bible?

Smith chooses to flesh out the parts of Miriam's story given in the Bible. But rather than invent stories not in Scripture, she fills in the missing pieces by switching over to Moses and telling his story. (She addresses this directly in the "Note to the Reader" at the end of the book.)

The whole story is compelling, but to be honest, I wish she'd stayed with Miriam the whole time. The storyline of the Exodus is difficult and emotional. I really wanted to stay with our heroine and allow her to be our guide through the trials and successes. That said, Smith does a wonderful job exploring the conflict within Miriam's heart - she knows God has called her to be part of His story, yet she feels so restricted in her sidelined role. 

How many people, especially women, can still resonate with this today???

There's such power in creating a novelized form for a woman like Miriam. It's so easy for us to judge the importance of a Bible character by the number of lines dedicated to her in Scripture. 

By writing this book, Smith has given Miriam a heart, 
a family, and a voice.
Her's is a story worth sharing...

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

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