Book Review: Witnesses by Valerie Volk
REVIEWED BY QUENTIN CASTLE
Who was Japheth’s wife? What was the name of the woman at the well? Throughout the history of God’s people’s relationship with the Bible, individuals have felt the need to rewrite the Scriptures. The reasons for this are many. Sometimes to fill in gaps in the story, comment on the original, or explore contemporary issues. Whatever the reason, it has allowed readers to explore the biblical narratives in a new and fresh way. This is what award-winning author Valerie Volk has done in her latest offering, Witnesses.
Witnesses is an anthology that explores biblical episodes from different points of view within those stories. We see through the eyes of those at the centre of the drama, its margins or looking on from the wings. From the patriarchs to the gospels, Volk takes us on a journey of sacred imagination. She encourages us to explore the experiences of ordinary people in extraordinary times, often from voices that are usually silent, such as women, servants and foreigners.
Some are major players within the story. We join a grieving Abraham as he watches Ishmael and Hagar leave his household. Princess Tamar, a daughter of David and survivor of sexual assault, shares her tale of betrayal. A widowed mother recounts the resurrection of her son by the prophet Elijah. Volk even dives into the parable of the Prodigal Son from the father’s point of view.
Other examples are not so major. We experience the healing of the paralytic man through the guilt-ridden eyes of one who lowered him through the roof to Jesus. There is a discussion of Job’s problems from the point of view of his friend, Bildad the Shuhite. There are even stories told by those outside of biblical accounts. Characters like Judas’s mother, Salome’s Nanny, and a man who heard about the Feeding of the Five Thousand from his father, all share their stories. Each account acts as a potential window into the world of the Bible.
Told in the first person, Witnesses is an easy and accessible read. The writing is engaging and brisk. It is only the discussion of cultural backgrounds that occasionally strains the illusion of contemporary accounts. Then again, it does allow these biblical witnesses to reach across from the ancient world to the modern reader. Volk’s intention for this book is more than entertainment. The book concludes with a set of discussion points based on each chapter. This makes the book well-positioned for use as the basis of a Bible study course. A helpful springboard into the Scriptures.
Valerie Volks’ Witnesses is an enjoyable book that takes the reader on an imaginative dive into the lives of the ancient witnesses to biblical events. Even though these tales are works of imagination, they remind us that the biblical characters were individuals of flesh and blood. The ancient stories written down were once the accounts of witnesses.
To purchase the book or for more information, go to valerievolk.com
Wakefield Press, 2023. ISBN: 9781743059906. (Age: 14+)