Rather than keep you in suspense of the inevitable, I’m going to begin my review of Bob Hostetler’s The Bone Box with a digression. That’ll get it out of the way up front.
One of the great things about Biblical fiction is that it allows us the freedom to examine the record in greater detail than what Scripture often actually gives us. However, that’s a two-edged sword. On one edge, there’s a danger of the writer weaving his own agenda into the Biblical record and straining, sometimes to the breaking point, reasonable inference (witness accusations against Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code).
On the other edge, through careful research and skillful storytelling, the author can present angles on events and people that are entirely plausible and in keeping with the Scriptural account, but lend a novel (pun intended) perspective on them. In doing so, she offers something perhaps we hadn’t thought of before. The unexpected inference—or ‘twist’—not only enhances the entertainment value (see my February 11th post), but can also broaden our spiritual horizons.
The latter requires intellectual honesty. The former requires…well, nothing to commend. Happily for us, Mr. Hostetler’s The Bone Box is guilty of the latter and not the former.
Dr. Randall Bullock is an archaeologist who has pretty much mucked up his personal life in deference to his professional one. Recently widowed, Dr. Bullock tries to put himself back on an even keel by immersing himself in a new dig outside
Enter daughter Tracy, recently expelled from college, who shows up in Israel in search of a father she barely knows—and respects even less—due to his absence from all the significant events of her life, including the death of her mother. They both embark on an awkward road of attempted reconciliation, which comes at a particularly difficult time as the demands of this momentous archaeological discovery pull at her father’s attentions. Just like before. Just like always.
Interspersed with Dr. Bullock’s story are flashbacks to the first century ad, with Caiaphas playing the central role. From his installation as Kohen haGadol (the High Priest), through the preaching of John the Baptist, to Jesus’ trial, Caiaphas is shown in a very interesting light—and as the subject of a most fascinating twist. I don’t think you’re going to anticipate this one.
Mr. Hostetler’s careful research is evident throughout the story. You’ll learn loads about modern and ancient
Mr. Hostetler’s skill at storytelling is just as evident. He mixes intrigue, suspense, pathos and even romance wonderfully in a tale that tackles a well worn story in a fresh and meaningful way. Oh, and what becomes of this discovery that has such crucial historical and theological significance? Well, that’s Mr. Hostetler’s point. Read the book. He relates it much better than I ever could.
Final thought: I note on the title pages of my own works of Biblical fiction the following: “It has been the author’s intent to remain as true to the Biblical account as possible, filling in additional events, descriptions and characters where Scripture permits to accommodate the story line. Such extra-Biblical references are products of the author’s own imagination and are not intended to represent any persons, living or dead.” It, I believe, should be a goal of every author of Biblical fiction that their work would motivate the reader to delve back into the Bible (cf. Acts ). There, fact will be separated from fiction, and the lesson can be applied against the Authoritative record.
Fortunately, (at the risk of putting words in his mouth) it appears Mr. Hostetler shares the above sentiment. The Bone Box was a real pleasure to read. Entertaining, thought-provoking, real, and honest. A great blend of historical and contemporary fiction that really means something.
Yup, highly recommended.
Thanks, Mr. Hostetler.