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'A commentary for those who don’t read commentaries' 


Aware that biblical literacy cannot be assumed in the church today, author and minister Corinne Brixton has developed her own creative response  

Corinne Brixton Through Martha‘Who’s David?’

‘David…as in David and Goliath,’ I answered.

The blank look on the face of the young woman persisted.

The question, and the short exchange that followed, crystallised for me what more than 20 years of work in the local church had shown: that biblical literacy cannot be assumed in the church today. Admittedly, the question arose in the context of a post-Alpha study group. Those present were keen to know more about what the Bible taught, being largely unaware of many of the “Sunday School” stories which previous generations had learned in class, if not at church. Other conversations over the years demonstrated, however, that even for some of those who had sat in churches for many years, the lands, customs and culture of the Bible remained hazy, to say the least.

Whilst many of us who have been in church leadership might wish our church members – both new and established – to read through a decent Bible overview or Bible companion (even if they never go near anything weightier), sadly that often remains the exception rather than the rule. But most of us still like a good story.          

It was these realisations that prompted me to write my first novel, Through Martha’s Eyes. Its aim was to be a commentary on the gospels for those who didn’t read commentaries, using the vehicle of biblical fiction – if that doesn’t sound too much like an oxymoron. Instead of delivering the usual cultural, geographical and religious background in the form of facts links to particular Bible verses, the book sought to weave those details into an imagined backstory of one of the women mentioned in both Luke and John. 

Having tackled the gospels and discovered that the style of the book had a broad appeal, the challenge was to do the same for the Old Testament. The whole of it.

The first task was to decide on the key events and people that would give the reader an accurate overview: creation and the flood, the call of Abraham, Jacob and the 12 tribes, the Exodus and the Law, the entry into the Promised Land, the period of the Judges, King David, the building of the temple, the split of the kingdom, the role of the prophets, the Exile, the return and the second temple. Not much then.

Then came the task of choosing ten ‘bit-part’ players, both men and women on the sidelines, through whose eyes the unfolding story would be witnessed. Their lives would be the lines through which the ‘dots’ of the events of Scripture would be joined – using hopefully informed and sensible imagination to fill in those gaps. Notes at the end of each chapter would make any assumptions and decisions clear, as well as pointing out extra historical, geographical, cultural or theological details not already woven into the text. Avoiding the ‘major’ players would eliminate putting thoughts in their minds and lessen the need to put words into their mouths, hopefully also lessening the risk of distorting what is in Scripture.

Admittedly, more imagination has been required for some characters rather than others. Take the second ‘bit-part’ player, for example: Abraham’s servant, Eliezer of Damascus. He gets one verse in Scripture (Genesis 15:2). That’s not a lot to go on (although many commentators think that he may well have been the trusted senior servant of Genesis 24).  

Shem, on the other hand, gets seven explicit mentions (excluding genealogies) and is somewhat more obviously involved in five chapters of Scripture. And although Asher – the third character chosen – only gets three explicit mentions (again excluding those long lists of names), he and his brothers get a whopping 22 chapters of Genesis.

Corinne Brixton Altars of StonIt didn’t, of course, take long to discover that this was (unsurprisingly) a somewhat larger project than originally envisaged. The book, The Line of Shem, soon evolved into Part One and Part Two, before finally morphing into a trilogy, the first instalment of which has finally made it into print under the title of Altars of Stone. And that’s just Genesis!

But joining the dots has been a fascinating exercise, as I’ve not only tried to glimpse between the lines of biblical text, but have also studied the Scriptures and researched anything from Bronze Age woodworking to ancient camel saddles. Tar pits, it turns out, were present in various areas of ancient Mesopotamia and academic papers suggest there was widespread deforestation in the first two millennium BC, and that the Zagros mountains used to be covered with trees. Which, let’s face it, might all come in handy if you just happened to need to build a large pitch-covered boat. Don’t you think?

After studying for a degree in Physics, Corinne Brixton worked for several years as a government scientist, before being ordained in the Church of England. Twenty years of church ministry in two different parishes around north-east London followed. Corinne currently lives and writes in Hampshire



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