Midrash on the Beach

Post Author: YCWI

Almost none of these creators claim to be Biblical scholars or attempt real, solid, historically accurate scholarship. Most of these were created to entertain and delight, not hold up to the scrutiny often required in thoughtful preaching. We are NOT recommending you use these in lieu of, you know, actually reading the Bible. 😉

Additionally, we have not included any form of rating for language, violence, sex scenes, or other topics. Read and/or watch with your congregation or children with care! If you don’t love reading books with a particular kind of content, may we recommend checking out https://www.doesthedogdie.com/? It’s a great site for reviewing trigger warnings and other issues that might be important to your reading enjoyment.

One of the things I love most about preaching is the opportunity to imagine between the lines of a story. I can’t resist a chance to illuminate the scene and characters from my own imagination. The Bible is often sparse in its literary detail, to put it lightly – I mean, come on, parchment is expensive! We can’t be wasting space with frivolous details, like the names of women and whatnot! But more often than not, my own imagination falls far short of the real beauty and complexity of the lives that must have been lived between the lines of those ancient pages.

That’s where a good book, movie, podcast, painting, or other creative effort comes to the rescue. 

As you head out into your summer, why not bring along a great book or download a new show to help expand your preaching imagination? Here are are few Biblical-story-retold favorites from some of our members and friends:


Are Noah and his extended family your jam? Check out Naamah by Sarah Blake. This is a Big, Buzzy Summer Book for 2019. Blake has given Noah’s wife a name, Naamah, and allowed us the privilege of riding the ark from her point of view. Blake’s background is poetry, and this book resonates deeply with a dreamy, nonlinear, ethereal quality.

Or, if you just want a really great story, Madeleine L’Engle’s 4th book in the Time Quintet series  Many Waters (more famous for its first book, A Wrinkle in Time).  Many Waters follows two of the Murry family back in time to the tents of Noah as he and his family prepare for the great rains to come. If you’re travelling with kids, this book has the added bonus of being a fantastic, family friendly audio book to read together on the road.

You know a writer has “chops” when she wins a Pulitzer for a novel which is – at its heart – Little Women fanfic. Having won the Pulitzer for March (which is a worthy read in its own right), Geraldine Brooks brings us a novelization of the David story in The Secret Chord. The novel stays very true to the biblical narrative of King David, while deftly embroidering the bare-bones biblical narrative with sensory-rich writing, fully imagined supporting characters, and deep emotional intelligence.

It’s not within the canonical scripture, but Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers invites us into the world of four women inside the walls of Masada, just before the real life historical attack on this Jewish stronghold by the Roman Legion in 70 C.E. This is a beautiful portrait of complex, independent women facing down the nearly assured destruction of all they love. Let’s call it Bible adjacent.

Lamb by Christopher Moore is “The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.” It’s hilarious and sweet (and of course terribly inaccurate), but clearly written by someone who is very thoughtful about the story. It’s definitely got some Gospel of Thomas/gnostic stories.

When the back of the book starts, “Sure, it’s the foundation for much of Western morality and the cornerstone of world literature. But let’s face it: the Bible always needed punching up…” you know you’re in for a hilarious and slightly cynical tour of scripture. Jonathan Goldstein (of “Heavyweight,” “Wiretap,” and “This American Life” podcast fame) retells Hebrew Bible favorites with his characteristic deadpan wit and lack of charm in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible! And we think you’ll love it.  Some of the essays have been adapted into audio segments on “This American Life,” if you need some audio fun while roadtripping.

Again, not strictly Bible-centric, but you might like The Anchoress by Robin Caldwell. The writing is excellent and the story, which touches on cloistered religious life (think Julian of Norwich) and the realities of medieval women’s lives and options, is riveting. It felt like a window into another world.

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson. It is a retelling of Jacob and Esau, but primarily from the viewpoint of the “Esau” character, and instead of men, it is two teenage twin girls growing up on a tiny island off the coast of Maryland, in the 1940s. One of our members writes, “I first read it as a 12 year old, and have re-read it nearly every year since, and it speaks to me in different ways every time. In many ways it is just a story of growing up in a tiny town, where your sister is better and more favored, but in other ways it is a powerful re-examination of what we take for granted about the Jacob and Esau saga.”

For you graphic novel fiends, how about Megillat Esther by JT Waldman? Vibrant artwork, compelling storytelling, and it doesn’t shy away from the ugly position she’s put in. Like many graphic novels, this one is not meant for children, it’s better for older teens and up.

And, of course, our list would not be complete without the queen mother of this genre: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. In many ways, this is the book which defines “retelling the Bible” for a lot of modern readers. One of our members notes, “I love that it’s about a woman who is almost entirely forgotten in the Biblical story. Even if it’s a fictionalization of Dinah herself, the things she goes through in the story are probably very close to what many women experienced in that time. It’s engaging and redemptive.”

Movies and Shows

Want to be zeitgeisty in your choices? You can watch Good Omens on Amazon Prime (or read the eponymous book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman). Good Omens tells the tale of an angel and a demon trying to prevent the coming apocalypse, and many of your favorites from the Bible are there: Adam and Eve, Jesus (at the crucifixion: “Crowley: What did he say to get everyone so worked up?Aziraphale: ‘Be kind to one another.’ Crowley: Ah. That would do it.”), and more.

What would happen if Noah were contemporary? And the flood was actually a tornado? And the ark was really a storm shelter? Take Shelter provides an off-kilter, unexpected, entertaining, and thoroughly modern take on this ancient story.

Watch The Last Man on Earth on Amazon Prime. It relates so well to Genesis. For example, the first episode illustrates the concept of “it’s not good that the human should be alone.” By the final season, the characters are propagating the human species in so many strange ways, it really sounds like the patriarchs and matriarchs creatively seeking out ways to ensure heirs.

Image by: Pexels
Used with permission
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