Miriam’s Song – Jill Eileen Smith

Miriam's Song Jill Eileen Smith
Miriam's Song by Jill Eileen Smith
Also by this author: Miriam's Song
Published by Revell on March 2, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Biblical
Buy on Amazon

In her eventful lifetime, Miriam was many things to many people: protective older sister, song leader, prophetess, leper. But between the highs and the lows, she was a girl who dreamed of freedom, a woman who longed for love, a leader who made mistakes, and a friend who valued connection.

With her impeccable research and keen eye for detail, bestselling author Jill Eileen Smith offers this epic story to fill in the gaps and imagine how Miriam navigated the challenges of holding on to hope, building a family in the midst of incredible hardship, and serving as a leader of a difficult people, all while living in her brother's shadow. Follow Miriam's journey from childhood to motherhood, obscurity to notoriety, and yearning to fulfillment as she learns that what God promises he provides--in his own perfect timing.

Like all biblical fiction reviews, let me recap what I think makes for good biblical fiction. First, it doesn’t blatantly contradict anything in Scripture. Second, it tells its own story while being faithful to the biblical text. Third, it is able to make sense of the biblical setting’s context—that is, it is accurate to what we know of the historical and cultural contexts.

This puts Jill Eileen Smith in quite a difficult spot with Miriam’s Song because the time period of the Exodus is both extensively covered in fiction, but also very much disputed academically. I mean, your bar for excellence in any Exodus retelling includes The Prince of Egypt and The Ten Commandments. Smith’s unique modifier is her focus on Miriam, the older sister of Moses who plays an integral part in Moses’s upbringing and in the Exodus journey, yet about whom we have little knowledge. There’s a lot of contextual gaps that Smith could wave her wand of fiction over and indulge readers in a speculative journey.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happen. Smith binds herself too tightly to the biblical text, only talking about Miriam at points when she shows up in Scripture. Since the book of Exodus is mainly told from the perspective of Moses within a patriarchal society, that leaves Smith with very little to work with. Miriam’s Song is really the story of Moses told from the perspective of Miriam.

This becomes very evident when Smith gives readers a few chapters in the perspective of Moses and even Moses’s wife, Zipporah. Smith writes in the afterword that she had to do this, “because all three people saw things from completely different perspectives,” but this is supposed to be Miriam’s story. It’s Miriam’s Song, but the novel casts her aside in favor of Moses. Smith never tells the story of Miriam. It’s simply Scripture with some flair rewritten mostly, but not entirely from Miriam’s perspective.

Smith also struggles to integrate the historical reality of Israelite enslavement into the book. There is the actual sentence “They’d had a good life these past five years, despite the slavery.” And…I just can’t. This is a story that begins with infanticide and comes in the context of 400 years of oppression, but, hey, not so bad, right?

Another historical inaccuracy comes in the dispute over Moses marrying a Cushite (Num. 12). For some reason, Smith writes this as some sort of secret love affair that happens after the death of Zipporah and Miriam and Aaron’s disapproval stem from a quick remarriage. But it is far more likely that Zipporah is the Cushite of Numbers 12 and that Moses only married one person. Cush and Midian are sometimes used interchangeably (see Hab 3.7) and while there is scholarly debate, the consensus is that Zipporah is the Cushite of Numbers 12.

Altogether, Jill Eileen Smith failed to pull me into the story, never really said anything interesting or new, or provided context backed by the history and culture of the time. Though styled to be the story of Miriam, it fails to be even that. Miriam’s Song fails to tell a cohesive story, or an interesting one. It’s a collection of scenes that read more like biblical fanfiction than a coherent story. I do appreciate the themes of female empowerment, but the positives of this book are outweighed by the negatives and I cannot recommend it. Go rewatch The Prince of Egypt instead.