Released shortly before Easter, “The Tomb” by Stephanie Landsem is the final book in a trilogy that fictionalizes key moments in the life of Jesus. Using a few, but memorable verses found in the Gospels, the story of Mary, Martha, their brother Lazarus, and the demon-filled man living in tombs on the southern coast of the Sea of Galilee, the author creates a narrative that will remain with the reader long after the book has been put back on the shelf. While Bible scholars and the average Bible reader are familiar with the characters that live in Bethany and are considered close friends of Jesus, Landsem goes deeper and infuses the lives of these people with traits and personality that every human can relate to. The reasons behind Martha’s worry and concern that seems to be reprimanded by Jesus in the scriptures come to light, as do the whole traditions and customs of a Jewish nation who would never be the same after coming into contact with the son of a carpenter from Nazareth.
From the first sentence to the last period, this reader was intrigued by the story of an older sister who feels responsible for her younger sister and baby brother. A woman who believes that her past has doomed her to live a life of servitude to the point of sacrificing her own happiness at any cost. We see how a difference in faith and belief can drive a wedge between family members who love each other and want the best for one another. The reader learns the lengths a person will go to in order to make sure no one learns their secrets in an effort to appear righteous and holy; unfortunately, the characters soon learn the only person they have been fooling is themselves.
Lazarus, the one that has become known as the man Jesus raised from the dead as he traveled to Jerusalem for that fateful Passover, becomes a richer character with a devotion to Jesus and his belief that He truly is the Messiah. Lazarus seeks to do the right things as the only surviving male in the household and still follow after Jesus. But like many Christians today, Lazarus often gets confused by what he feels is his duty and what God has planned for his life.
Mary is viewed by her older sister as silly and unable to see situations realistically. Why would she be willing to risk the ire of the Pharisees and town elders just to show her devotion to Jesus? Mary even risks subjecting her family to rumor and discipline because she refuses to believe that Jesus is anyone other than who He claims to be. Martha cannot understand such faith and devotion and is continually embarrassed, ashamed, and disappointed with how Mary conducts her life. However, not once does Mary waver in choosing the better thing.
It is a difficult task when an author chooses to fictionalize such well-known events and ones that are part of the foundational doctrine of the Christian faith. This author clearly does not subscribe to the words she has penned as fact. Instead, she seeks to create a backstory for characters that have been speculated about, taught in Bible classes, and discussed for centuries. It’s more a “what-if” story and it is done exceptionally well. It’s clear she has a gift for weaving words into a cloth that will fit differently for each one that tries it on. Although this reader has not read other books by this author, this is a fact that she hopes to remedy soon.
The Examiner received a free copy of this book from the publisher.