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How To Research 3,000-year-old Historical Fiction (part 1)

I was not prepared for what I got when I gave Quest for a King to a company which offers feedback to authors (for a fee). I never talked to the reviewer; we only corresponded through email, but from the tone and content of the review and counsel I received, I’m pretty sure the reviewer was a female recently graduated from a decidedly secular university.

One thing that gave it away was that she said she wasn’t sure who to root for: Israel or the Philistines. In fact, she had to look up Philistines on Wikipedia! She didn’t know ANYTHING about them.

This was well before the October 7, 2023, massacre and kidnapping of Israelis by Hamas and the ensuing war. She probably still couldn’t put together the fact that “Gaza” was a prominent Philistine city 3,000 years ago, never mind the fact that, in the first century AD, the Romans called the area “Palestine” as a nod to the Philistines in an effort to erase the Jews from the area. The more things change, the more they really do stay the same.

I realize I’m different: I spent 17 years in church-operated schools, so, including church on weekends, I had Bible lessons 6 days a week for most of my formative years. Add to that a Theology degree, followed by several years in ministry, during which time I might preach as many as four times in one day. Obviously, I’m different to the point of being a “Bible nerd.”

But it hasn’t been too long since basic knowledge of the Bible was assumed in America and Europe. Even “worldly” people knew the Bible and could quote the passages that became part-and-parcel of western culture: phrases like “East of Eden,” “Salt of the earth,” “Forbidden fruit,” “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” to name a few. No longer apparently.

That Was Then, This Is Now

So how do you take stories that are 3,000 years old and make them readable today? For one thing, you have to understand the times as they were then, and then translate the events in a way that’s relatable today. After all human beings, with their needs and desires, haven’t changed that much, even if cultures and technology have.

I have previously written about “The Joys and Pitfalls of Writing Historical Fiction” and whether these 3,000-year-old stories are true.

In the next article I want to go through a little of my research sources and methods. I know most people thoroughly dislike history, research, writing papers, etc. during their school years, so again, I’m a nerd. I love that stuff, so I’ll try to convey a little of that enthusiasm to you.

(Image created in Dall-E AI and extended using Adobe Photoshop Generative Extend)

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