Tuesday, December 8, 2015

R. J. Larson and Writing Controversay- Fantastical Guest Post


Writing Controversy

My latest work, Valor, is based in part on the much-debated, controversial text from Judges 11:30-40, concerning Jephthah and his courageous daughter. Their story stirred my imagination from the first time I read it as an eight-year-old. I remember staring at the page in my Children’s Bible, greatly distressed and seriously resenting that particular story’s ending. Why had that girl’s father made such a rotten vow? Why had she agreed to fulfill her father’s vow—couldn’t she have run away? (No, I was never tempted to run away from home when I was a child, just sayin’.) But I wished I could change the ending for her.

Fast-forward decades later. 

Last year, while I was writing Queen (inspired by Esther and other scriptures set in a fantasy realm) it occurred to me that the Agocii lands were an almost ideal place to present the story of Jephthah and his daughter. Much as Israel during the time of Judges—when there was no king, but each person did what was right in his own eyes, when pagan beliefs and customs surrounded those who followed the Lord, and when wars and conflicts presented themselves at every turn—the Agocii reflected spiritual and social turmoil similar to Israel’s during the time Judges. It seemed a perfect place to present Jephthah’s story.

I chose the warrior Vsevold from Queen as my fantasy-realm Jephthah, and with Aniya’s name chosen for his daughter by a friend, I turned my attention to researching the verses which had distressed me when I was a child. Almost immediately, I found numerous web sites citing the debate over Jephthah’s story. The original Hebrew of the text is a marvelous multilayered and versatile language, which often conveys multiple meanings. In Jephthah’s case, this meant that his story, and mine, had two potential and equally defensible possible endings. First, as the most basic and straightforward translations suggest, Jephthah could have actually sacrificed his daughter as he vowed. Or, according to the nuances of some of the Hebrew words in those verses, Jephthah might have dedicated her to the Lord—to serve the Lord’s House, some of the debaters insisted, to live the remainder of her life unmarried and a virgin. The dedication theory also sets aside any quandaries concerning Jephthah’s hero-status mentioned in Hebrews 11, placing Jephthah in the company of  Gideon, Barak and Samson.
 
Could Jephthah’s daughter have survived the threat of sacrifice? I certainly hoped so. Whatever happened, I knew above all that the Lord abhorred human sacrifice, and this must play out strongly in Valor. I dug through the debates and accompanying commentaries, and found several mentions from different sources that the “dedication” theory had first been presented in the early middle ages when it was common for women to become nuns, never marrying in order to serve the Lord. While that gave me pause during research, I still found merit in both sides of the debate.

After reading all the debates, looking up the Hebrew root words, and studying the circumstances surrounding the book of Judges, I had to make a decision. My main hesitations were:

1. Deuteronomy 23:3. (An illegitimate man many not enter the assembly of the Lord, nor many his descendants down to the tenth generation.) Jephthah and his daughter were considered ceremonially unclean due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his birth, therefore she couldn’t have served in the Lord’s House as some Dedicated theorists argued. (Though she could have been isolated for the remainder of her life, unwed and a virgin.)


2. The apparently late emergence of the dedication theory. 


3. Numbers 30:2. (If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath and obligates himself by his own word, he must not break his word. He must do everything he said.)

Even if that vow displeased the Lord? This made me hesitate.

Certainly the Lord would never approve of human sacrifice. Therefore … and yet ….
Being fallible as so many other leaders from the Scriptures, such as David, Samson, and Abraham, could Jephthah (within the chaotic framework of his times) have fallen prey to a rash and desperate vow in an attempt to bargain with the Lord, when faith in the Lord’s provision for victory would have been enough? 

Could Jephthah have committed a terrible sin, yet still be regarded as righteous based solely on the fact that he believed in and followed the Lord?

No matter which way the book might end, it would not be happy. 

After weighing both sides of the controversy, I wrote Valor, praying through each chapter. Was it easy? No. Yet I hope you’ll enjoy the story and love the characters as I do. 

Blessings,
R. J. 



Giveaway:
Larson is giving away an ebook copy Valor. This giveaway is open internationally. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Main Giveaway: Choice of book is either Emissary by John Locke, or To Win Her Heart by Rebecca DeMarino.  a Rafflecopter giveaway

19 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing books based on the Bible!! They all sound intriguing!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the great giveaway too!

    ReplyDelete
  3. UptownConnie, thank you! I loved writing these stories, all inspired by my favorite childhood Book. Blessings and eager to see who wins!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow!!! I love to hear the behind-the-scenes info of how you write your books. There is always something interesting, intriguing, or something educational. Thank you for sharing!

    Camilla Cruz Uphaven

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love that the books are Bible-based and I love finding new ones to read. I feel that there are some people in the world that overlook such great pieces of work, but books like this are so worth having on the shelf. God bless!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Camilla, thank you! I love research, even if it sometimes makes me a bit crazy. (Or crazier than usual?) Thank you for being there! :D

    ReplyDelete
  7. Lelia, I've come away from this series humbled and SO grateful for the chance to write it despite the dilemma. I've loved these characters.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi, Hadassah!
    Thank you! I can't imagine writing a book without some sort of scriptural basis. Even the 1890's book I'm now writing is influenced by the book of Job. Lots of food for thought there, and I'm eager to dig back into my study notes from Job--not to overwhelm the book, but to build its foundation.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have often wondered what happened to his daughter. Like yourself I could never reconcile her death. I look forward to reading your book.

    chrisd

    ReplyDelete
  10. Chrisd, thank you. This was a tough book to write--probably the most difficult one for me emotionally because I do love my characters. I told my dh, "I feel as if I'm writing a Shakespearean tragedy set in a Biblical realm." Once I weighed my research and the verses and started writing, I couldn't stop. Blessings and thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Would love to read the book and see which ending you chose.

    ReplyDelete
  12. A person brave enough to tackle on of the "unmentionable" stories in the Bible? Sign me up! This book is definitely on my Goodreads list now.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anon, it wasn't easy! looking forward to seeing who wins the ebok. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Michelle, one of my author-friends shook her head at me several years ago and said, "You always choose the toughest stories!" I'd never thought of them as tough. Rather, I wanted to research challenging verses and characters and work toward logical conclusions--like solving a mystery!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Are you going to write a book about the verse where Elisha called down the bears on those kids? Or - or when that man's head was nailed with a tent peg? :P Those two are also very controversial. XD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *Cough!* Robert T., have you read QUEEN? Not saying which one is in there, but ... That wasn't fun either. The other one would be interesting in a future work.

      Delete
  16. Interesting post sounds like this was an intensely researched book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meagan, it was easily the most intense book I've written from so many angles, but as usual, the characters became real to me and I loved them--they carry the book.

      Delete