There is a real category of media called Biblical fan fiction and I have consumed all of it. The canonized pieces of course, Paradise Lost and Pilgrim’s Progress, and childhood adaptations, i.e. the famed Veggie Tales collection. I’ve seen Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, and I took my mother to see Book of Mormon when I thought it was actually going to be about Mormons. I’ve read the less well-known pieces too though: a retelling of Hosea set during the 1849 San Franciscan gold rush, Jesus’s crucifixion from the point of view of a Roman slave. Having grown up in an extremely religious home, having attended a Brethren primary school, I thought this genre was commonplace. Doesn’t every family have a copy of The Passion of the Christ on their shelf and the boxed set of Adventures in Odyssey cassette tapes?
The first time I discussed how bizarre this selection of literature is to anyone not encased in a Christian bubble was, where else, at the Mennonite summer camp I attended in elementary and middle school in Orville, Ohio. My camp counselor was in her early twenties with a buzz cut and three different nose rings, a safety pin threaded through one eyebrow. She had smoked weed, she took birth control, she wore pants; she was nothing like the sweet Mennonite (read: Amish-esque) girls who staffed the camp, in uncut braids and skirts that hid their knees even on the kickball field. I explained to Jill, my counselor, as we gently rocked in a canoe, that I was writing my own Biblical fan fiction, in my cramped, childish way, of the three wise men’s journey to Jesus because the characters felt real to me. Jill remarked how strange that was. Why was David, boy wonder against Goliath, shepherd boy in 600 BC Bethlehem, more real to me than Harry Potter? At least Hermione and Ron wore sneakers and went to school, two activities I did regularly that David couldn’t boast.
I thought the answer was obvious. I didn’t have to expand my mind to read about Hogwarts—Jill, duh, no one expects me to believe that Hogwarts is real. But Moses and the Red Sea? The prophet Elijah? Basically anything that happens in the Old Testament book of Judges? Just because I knew the stories like the back of my hand didn’t mean that they were automatically made real to me. It took imagination and concentration to believe those stories and apply them to my life. So you’re searching for their faults, Jill asked. You’re looking for the catch.
My novel, A Tale of Three Kings, never made it onto shelves and I have since dropped out of Bible book club. My counselor has two new tattoos since I’ve seen her and married an Iranian lady from Philadelphia. Maybe the Bible stories didn’t teach me, or Jill, the didactic lesson they were trying to preach, but they did teach me how to scrutinize characters, find their hidden flaws, an revel in a good story.
Maddie Woda is a Columbia College freshman on the board of the Columbia Review. She is majoring in English and American Studies and is considering introducing Columbia to Mennonite Studies, which would consist of learning to drive a horse and buggy and moving to the Ohio farmland.