pinterest-7bf66.html Reviews by Peter: Guest Post: Ben Chenoweth and the Exegetical Histories Series (Novels)

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Guest Post: Ben Chenoweth and the Exegetical Histories Series (Novels)

Today I welcome novelist (amongst other things!), Ben Chenoweth. I discovered his books on Amazon and I was hooked on the premise and their exegetical background. Like Ben, I have found that Christian fiction can be not only entertaining but educational and these two go hand in hand. One of the facets of learning is that we have greater understanding and retention of knowledge when it is done in an entertaining way. Ben has done this with this series of Exegetical Histories novels (exegesis: a critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text, especially of the Bible). This is not just historical fiction but the provision of the background to these characters and of the books of the Bible that the characters were inspired and guided to author under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

But first a little about Ben: 

Ben Chenoweth lived in St. Petersburg, Russia with his wife and two children for almost ten years. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia where he works at the Melbourne School of Theology as an Educational Designer/eLearning Coordinator. He enjoys reading, writing, music and playing computer games in equal measures. He has a particular interest in the intersection between theology and the arts. In addition to The Ephesus Scroll, The Corinth Letters, and The Rome Gospel, he has written a play based on the life of Saul (available for purchase here) and a musical based on the Biblical book of Esther (a free download of the 1998 performance at Lilydale Baptist Church is available here).

For those who might be interested, he lists C. S. Lewis, Peter Shaffer and Neal Stephenson as his literary inspirations.

Now sit back and let Ben explain the background to his novels and their exegetical basis. I am sure you will find it interesting and whet your appetite to learn about this background and message behind these novels and books of the bible they focus on. It can only strengthen your faith and provide a defence for the faith that Peter encourages in 1 Peter 3:15:
.....but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
The Exegetical Histories Series
by Ben Chenoweth

In Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet exclaims:
I'll have grounds
More relative than this-the play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.

Hamlet wants to catch out his guilty uncle by publicly re-enacting the events surrounding the murder of Hamlet's father. He (and by extension, Shakespeare) clearly knows the value of the Arts for putting things in such a way that they can deeply impact the viewer.

During my theological studies, one of my lecturers gave us students a choice for our main assessment: either we could write an essay on one of a number of topics, or we could submit something from the Arts instead, something that had come out of our theological reflection on the themes of the particular book we were studying. (We would also have to submit a short essay briefly describing that theological reflection, but the item of Art was the main part of the assessment.)

A few brave people did this. I recall that a couple of people submitted paintings, someone performed a song, and there was even a complete oratorio performed in multi-part harmony by a large group of Tongans! In each case, it was extremely moving to see theology expressed through the Arts.

What did I do? I wrote an essay.

Now, many years later, what do I remember: my essay or the theological Art? I can't even recall the topic of my essay, let alone the content! However, while I didn't take up that offer, the event really stuck with me. In fact, I took it as a personal challenge: to be on the look-out for opportunities to intersect Theology with the Arts.

So when a high school student in my Bible class couldn’t understand how someone who did not follow the teachings of the Left Behind series could be allowed to teach in a Christian school, I decided that something had to be done about it. To him, there was only one way to interpret the book of Revelation, and if you didn’t follow that interpretation then you couldn’t possibly be a Christian. That experience made me want to do what Tim La Haye had done: write a disguised commentary on the book of Revelation, but from a very different interpretational standpoint.

And so The Ephesus Scroll was born. The novel has two timelines and the action inter-cuts between the two, somewhat like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. The first timeline is set in 93 AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. The action follows Loukas, a young Christian man, the son of a merchant, who travels to the island of Patmos, where he receives a scroll from Ioanneis that he is to read in the churches of seven major cities of Asia Minor. This Loukas sets out to do, but his mission quickly comes to the attention of the Roman authorities. Their attempts to stamp out an incipient rebellion, sparked by Ioanneis’ scroll, make Loukas’ journey increasingly difficult.

The second timeline is set in the recent present, mostly in St. Petersburg, Russia. The action follows Dima and Natasha, a young Russian couple, who come across a diary written by Dima’s great great grandfather, Nikolai, who was a Russian spy in Turkey in the 1880s. They read that Nikolai found a stone box containing a scroll when he experienced an earthquake whilst visiting Ephesus. They then look for and find the box itself, with the scroll inside still intact. They take the scroll to an expert in ancient manuscripts and the scroll is unrolled.

The reason for using two timelines is simple. It gave me the opportunity to answer the two central questions of Biblical interpretation: 1) what did the book mean for its initial readers and hearers, and 2) what does the book mean for us today. By the end of the novel, the reader has encountered a significant amount of historically based biblical interpretation, almost without realising it!

The second novel in the Exegetical Histories series, entitled The Corinth Letters, does a similar thing only this time with Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian church. Again there are two timelines, one in the first century and one in the 21st century; although this time the novel involves romance, document forgery, archaeology, and descriptions of delicious Greek cuisine.

The newest book in the series, The Rome Gospel, came out a couple of months ago. This time, the biblical books being addressed are the gospel of Mark and selected portions of the book of Acts. The novel is set in Rome, just after the Great Fire of AD 64, when there was intense persecution of Christians, which included the martyrdoms of the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter. Against that backdrop, Mark is writing his gospel (but not perhaps in a way you might be expecting!) However, the process causes him to flashback to significant moments in his life, including moments of personal tragedy, success, and abject failure.

If you want to discover more about The Rome Gospel, these two videos explain very aptly. The first is a short account while the second is a longer one with more detail.

To conclude, I trust that if you choose to read one (or all!) of these novels, you will find them enjoyable as well as informative. It is my hope that you will not even be aware that you are learning anything about the historical and cultural background to the New Testament; rather, that you get caught up in the story for its own sake. And that you will be deeply impacted in ways that only the Arts can do!

To purchase copies:

Paperback: Koorong Amazon.

E-Book: Smashwords  iTunes  Amazon

(However, note that the Kindle version of The Ephesus Scroll is not free at Amazon because I refuse to enrol my books in KDP Select which then makes it impossible to set a book to free.)

You can connect with Ben:

(sign up to Ben’s website for a half-price copy of the ebook of The Corinth Letters)

Thank you, Ben, for explaining the background to your novels and their exegesis. I pray any reader will gain an entertaining but educational account of Revelation, Paul's letters to the Corinthians, the Gospel of Mark and parts of Acts. May they have a stronger defence to their faith as a result.  

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