There are plenty of popular historical periods when it comes to fiction: Regency England, the Wild West, and Medieval Europe are some of my favorites. But biblical Israel holds a special place in my heart, and so in the Living Water series, I write stories of faith filled with authentic history, action, and romance in the time of Jesus.
Romance in biblical Israel? Does that even happen, you ask?
It can and it does. But to be authentic, biblical-era romances must be within the confines of the cultural and religious practices of that time.
Vital to any romance, of course, is the initial meeting of the hero and heroine. Boy meets girl, sparks fly, and the story starts. But in ancient Judea, that vital ingredient is a difficult one to bring about.
- For starters, Jewish girls and women didn’t speak to men outside the confines of their own homes. And I mean no men—not even their fathers, brothers, or husbands. How can a woman meet the man of her dreams when she’s not even allowed to speak to him?
- To make matters worse, Jewish girls were betrothed early—usually by the time they were thirteen. A girl didn’t have much time for romance before her father had her safely married to a man of his choosing.
- And finally, Jewish girls obeyed their parents, probably much more faithfully than we do nowadays. Parents, however—being parents—were more concerned that their daughters marry for security and respectability, not good looks or charm . . . not the best prospects for a romantic connection.
Another essential of a romantic storyline is physical touch between the hero and his girl. There’s plenty of dancing, embracing, and kissing in even the tamest romance, but that’s not an option in biblical Israel. Dancing only happened with other girls, and no self-respecting Jewish girl would allow even hand-holding unless she was betrothed or married.
So how does a biblical romance get around these obstacles? With careful plotting, some unusual characters, and a lot of imagination.
In my upcoming novel The Thief, Nissa is a poor woman considered unmarriageable because of her sharp tongue and awful cooking. Her father is a gambler who has given up on his wayward daughter. Because of her unique circumstances, Nissa rejects the customs of her time, and when she does . . . you guessed it, she catches the eye of a Roman centurion.
Luckily for me, while the meeting of the couple is sometimes difficult to maneuver, the next step in page-turning, stay-up-all-night-reading romance is quite a bit easier: things to keep the hero and heroine apart. Believe me, there was much to keep two lovers apart in ancient Israel:
- Race. Jews did not marry outside the Chosen People. No Samaritans, Greeks, or Romans need apply.
- Social status. As with many time periods, wealth and the social status of a family was a main ingredient in marriageability. A poor shepherd had a slim chance of marring a rich merchant’s daughter.
- Religious differences. Jews—be they Pharisees, Sadducees, or Galileans—despised pagans for their worship of false gods.
In The Thief, plenty of obstacles keep Nissa and her centurion, Longinus, apart. He’s a pagan, and she’s a Jew. He’s a Roman officer, and she’s an outcast. And finally, he’s looking for answers, and Nissa is hiding a secret. How they overcome their obstacles and find happiness together is nothing short of a miracle.
Do you think that even now—in our modern times—race, religion, and social status can still be formidable roadblocks to romance? How do we overcome these obstacles and find our own miracles?
Some other authentic historical novels I recommend:
- The Well by Stephanie Landsem 🙂 (of course!)
- The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman – 1st Century Israel
- Sinners and the Sea by Rebecca Kanner – Prediluvian
- God’s Daughter by Heather Day Gilbert – 10th Century Vikings
- Love’s Pursuit by Siri Mitchell – Puritan America
- The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – 1920s Paris
- And if you’re looking for a fun, historically accurate romance, anything by Regina Jennings
Stephanie Landsem writes historical fiction because she loves adventure in far-off times and places. In real life, she’s explored ancient ruins, medieval castles, and majestic cathedrals around the world. Stephanie is equally happy at home in Minnesota with her husband, four children, and three fat cats. When she’s not writing, she’s feeding the ravenous horde, avoiding housework, and dreaming about her next adventure—whether it be in person or on the page.
Check out the links below for the books featured in Stephanie’s post. And don’t miss the book giveaway going on at Stephanie’s site–Click here for all the details!