When I picked up The Stones of my Accusers, I had no idea it was the second story in a series of two. But it reads as a standalone—which I discovered firsthand. However, I still recommend reading The Brother’s Keeper first (reviewed last time).
The title grabbed me, bringing to mind the New Testament story in John 8 where the Pharisees bring an adulteress to Jesus for judgment. He threw them for a loop by saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
Tracy Groot also wrote Madman, relaying the story behind the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). I haven’t read it yet, but I love the concept of fleshing out a little known Bible character. Somebody’s three-minute spotlight in scripture defines his life, especially when coming face to face with Jesus. But what happened during the decades before and after that moment? Reading such stories about little known characters makes them come alive.
Back cover copy
You’re the one, Nathaniel had said. You go and tell her, “No stones.”
Rivkah knows her own sin all too well. She knows the prophets’ judgments against women like her—and still believes that prostitution doesn’t even compare to the most secret and shameful incident of her past. Not even her best friend knows what she did. Only God knows.
Determined to make her way to Caesarea Maritima to confront the mother of her beloved Nathaniel, Jorah has no time to consider the rumors she hears of her brother Jesus’ resurrection. She’ll stop at nothing to get the answers she needs.
A former Zealot, Joab is wrestling with delivering a message to a woman named Rivkah—a message that challenges everything he ever believed. A message from her son . . . “No stones.”
The setting is Caesarea Maritima, a port city built by Herod the Great, about 75 miles northwest of Jerusalem, where Pilate ruled the Roman province of Judaea as governor. This is after the crucifixion of Christ, with rumblings about a possible resurrection.
Multiple viewpoints relay the action:
- Rivkah, a prostitute who wants to preserve a tree symbolizing her son’s life
- Joab, former zealot on a mission to find Rivkah, to give her a box and the last words of a dying son to his mother;
- Jorah, a mosaicist apprentice and sister to Jesus of Nazareth;
- Orion, a Roman and chief secretary to Pontius Pilate.
- And more.
This story is full of irony, contrasts, and unexpected twists. Multiple disparate threads wind through conflicting perspectives of Jew-hater Pontius Pilate and his chief secretary Orion, a Jew sympathizer who toes the line between obedience to Rome and mercy for Jews. He finds himself pulled into Rivkah’s plight regarding her tree in a construction zone. He empathizes with a worker who refuses to work on the Jewish Sabbath and must be punished.
Another contrast—Joab seeks Rivkah to deliver words of healing; Jorah seeks her to deliver words of judgment. Grieving Jorah has recently lost her intended as well as her brother Jesus, the questionable prophet without regard in his hometown. His recent death and rumors of a resurrection overshadow her, even far north in Caesarea.
Each character presents more complications.:
- There’s Prometheus, the under-secretary to Pilate, ever scheming to accomplish his own agenda.
- Theron is a Jewish mosaicist who has befriended Orion and oversees a project at Pilate’s palace.
- His hospitable wife has an eye for people who need it—including Romans and Rivkah, the prostitute.
Read this and be immersed in a tumultuous and confusing era of Roman domination—between the resurrection of Christ and the establishment of his church.
Join me for some Q & A with Tracy Groot.
Questions about The Stones of My Accusers
Tracy: No, didn’t plan a sequel. The publishers were interested in one, and when thinking of ideas, I couldn’t help but think of Nathanael. His backstory intrigued me.
Did this start out as just Joab’s or Jorah’s story, then evolve into multiple points of view? How did you decide whose?
Tracy: I just really love to tell stories with multiple POVs when I can. It gives me a chance to work with lots of interesting material. I also love the challenge of slipping into the skin of different characters. Jorah and Joab were the natural choices, but along came Orion, Rivkah, Theron, Janus Bifrons . . .
What were the challenges in portraying Pontius Pilate, a real historical person that many Bible readers are familiar with?
Tracy: Pontius Pilate, a brilliant book by Ann Wroe, helped tremendously. She quoted Tony Blair as saying, “Pontius Pilate captures our moral imagination not because he was such a bad man, but because he was so nearly a good one.” This quote nails, I think, the fascination mankind has long had with this guy, sort of a love/hate thing because we see the same appalling potential within ourselves. Once I read this book, and dug up a bit more historical information, his character came much easier to write.
In contemporary fiction, we can distinguish characters’ personalities easily—not just by character traits, temperament, attitudes, and actions, but by personal opinions, preferences, habits, clothing, and other things related to our particular culture (eats junk food, has to have her cappuccino every morning, loves cats, afraid of making left turns, plays tennis, always wears fashion boots, is a night owl, wears black, etc.). How do you figure out how to distinguish Biblical characters from each other when, in general, it doesn’t seem like they had as much variety and choices in their daily lives?
Tracy: I think research helps here. When I read a book about daily life in the time of Jesus, it helps me to understand what the daily activities were like; when I imagine doing those daily activities, it’s easier to slide into character POVs and imagine plausible things.
For example: when I’m in “research mode”, something on the back burner is always simmering and I’m always ready to jot notes. One day in the summer, I was waving a few fruit flies away from a fruity beverage, and it struck me: there were fruit flies back then, just as pesky. It’s such a tiny detail, but a recognizable one, so I jotted it down and wrote it into The Brother’s Keeper.
When studying Theron’s profession as mosaic artist, I learned things about his job that connected with things I do, and that helped shape his personality. I can’t say enough about research. It not only helps us to write authentically, but I believe it helps to shape personality. A person comes alive when you work at coloring in his or her blank places.
Not everybody embraces fictionalized versions of Bible stories or anything that touches upon Biblical events. What concerns do you have about writing Biblical fiction?
Tracy: I tread very carefully here. I make sure that when I write a particular Biblical event, I do so with fidelity to how it is recorded. If it is an event in one of the four gospels, I examine each gospel to see how the event is told, and if the accounts differ, as they often do, then it’s my job to figure out how to strike the right balance in the retelling.
I also read several Bible commentaries about the event. While I feel freedom to give biblical characters plausible personality, that same freedom is on a short leash with the event itself. My conscience, as Martin Luther said, is captive to the Word of God. For myself, Revelation 22:18-19 plays into how serious I regard the writing of biblical scenes.
Which scene was particularly challenging to write and why?
Tracy: It was hard to write from the point of view of a woman who found out she just lost her only son. I didn’t want to go near that pain, but of course I had to in order to write authentically. So I got up the courage to ask someone who had lost her son when he was 18 if I could interview her. She was very gracious, and agreed. It was the hardest interview I think I’ve ever done.
Years ago, I received the best advice ever from two writers who were teaching a writing class. One said that we as writers must go to places of pain in order write truthfully. I asked, “How do you do that?” The other replied simply: “Jesus will meet you there.” I pray before hard interviews, and I pray when I have to write hard scenes. And Jesus meets me there. Unfailingly.
Which scene was particularly enjoyable to write and why?
Tracy: I’ll answer this with characters: it was fun to write Theron and Janus Bifrons. I enjoyed their scenes because I enjoyed their characters, what they brought to the story, how different they were, the challenge and fun of their professions and their outlooks on life. Supporting characters are usually my faves!
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy Biblical fiction such as The Stones of My Accusers, you might enjoy my novel, Rain in the Wilderness. I’m seeking a publisher for it. Here’s the blurb:
One night in Bethlehem, Rebekah’s son Matthew is wrenched from her and killed in a massacre of infants ordered by Herod the Great. Thirty years later, as a widow with three grown children, she is still a victim of treachery as the Jews writhe under the oppressive Roman Empire. Her son Jonathan serves a Roman centurion in far off Galilee. Another son, Kaleb, awaits a warrior Messiah and loathes all things Roman, including his brother the traitor. Her kind son-in-law Malchus serves the unscrupulous high priest Caiaphas.
Who will free Israel from Rome’s heavy yoke? Where is the promised Messiah? At the center of controversy, Jesus of Nazareth seems an unlikely prospect. Ruthless debates unite his enemies while dividing Rebekah’s family. And why did Jesus survive the Bethlehem massacre while her own baby was killed?
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Tracy Groot Bio
Tracy Groot is the critically acclaimed and Christy Award-winning author of several works of historical fiction. Her books have received starred Booklist and Publishers Weekly reviews and have been called “beautifully written” and “page-turning” by Publishers Weekly, and “gripping” with “exquisitely drawn” characters by Library Journal. Tracy and her husband have three sons, one daughter (in-law) and live in Hudsonville, Michigan. Connect with Tracy at her website, or follow her on Facebook.
Join me next time for a visit with author Amanda Barrett.
Meanwhile, have you read The Stones of My Accusers? What Biblical fiction have you read and enjoyed? Answer in the comments below.