Published by Bethany House Publishers on October 6, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Biblical
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Yeshua of Nazareth has two sisters: Damaris, married to a wealthy merchant's son, and Pheodora, married to a simple shepherd from Bethlehem. When Pheodora's husband suffers an unexpected reversal of fortune and is thrown into debtor's prison, she returns to Nazareth, where she pins her hopes on two she-goats who should give birth to spotless white kids that would be perfect for the upcoming Yom Kippur sacrifice.
In the eighteen months between the kids' birth and the opportunity to sell them and redeem her husband from prison, Pheodora must call on her wits, her family, and her God in order to provide for her daughters and survive. But when every prayer and ritual she knows is about God's care for Israel, how can she trust that God will hear and help a lowly shepherd's wife?
I’m pretty sure I begin every review of Biblical fiction with this phrase: Biblical fiction is hard to write. If you stray too far from what’s known of the biblical story, readers will shout at you. If you contain yourself to only the biblical story then there’s nothing original about what you’re doing. The best biblical fiction blends a firm grasp of the history and culture of the biblical setting to provide a likely, yet still fictionalized, context for biblical narrative that lies tangential to the actual biblical story. And that is what Angela Hunt does unfailingly.
The Shepherd’s Wife is the second of the Jerusalem’s Road series and follows the fictional story of the sisters of Jesus. We know that Jesus had siblings and we know that he had more than one sister. We know little else, and that leaves Hunt space to work up a story that is tangential to Scripture, touching it, overlapping with it, sharing space with it.
One sister, Damaris, is married to a wealthy Pharisee intent on moving up the social ladder. The other, Pheodora, is married to Chiram, a shepherd from Bethlehem—one with a familial connection to some other shepherds from Bethlehem, although that part of the story is never fully told. When Chiram is thrown into debtor’s prison, Pheodora must make her way through a very patriarchal world, hinging all her hopes on care and eventual sale of their two goats and their foals.
Hunt weaves through the complicated layers of the first-century ancient Near East social system with a depth that creates a good story but enough “modern” elements that the reader still feels an air of familiarity. The heart of the conflict stems around the relationship of Pheodora and Damaris. Pheodora had hoped that Damaris’s husband would be able to pay the debt, but Damaris’s husband feels that he can’t because it will cause relational issues with the debt collector, who is an important figure to his social status. Hunt captures the complexity of the patron/client relationship well without forcing readers into a lesson in history or sociology.
The Shepherd’s Wife runs adjacent to the storyline of Jesus. He’s their crazy brother, out there preaching and teaching and the sisters aren’t quite sure what to make of it. Damaris is more cautious and reserved. Her relationship to Jesus might make things difficult for her Pharisee husband. Pheodora is often just too busy to think of her brother or make much of his ministry. There are overlaps and connections and let’s just say that it builds to a pretty important and impactful payoff.
The Shepherd’s Wife is thoughtful, well-written, and respectful to both Scripture and its culture. Hunt writes with the mind of a scholar and the grace of an artist, drawing readers into a familiar-yet-unfamiliar world. The result is educational, entertaining, and will leave you wanting more. (And if the third volume is going where I think…I can’t wait for what’s in store.)