Most of the books I read are theological texts for nerds like me and are not worth recommending publicly. I do like a good story however and occasionally put the big books down to read a novel someone has recommended. Last week I did this to read Paula Gooder’s novel Phoebe. This week I want to recommend it to you.
Many theological nerds are good at arguing over fine points of doctrine. A few of them, like NT Wright or Greg Boyd are also good at communicating at a popular level and a very small number of them like Walter Wangerin or Bruce Longernecker can write a good historical novel which weaves together biblical history and a good yarn.
In Phoebe, Paula Gooder has done this with aplomb & I would recommend this book to anyone who either likes a good story or wants to get their head round the environment into which much of the New Testament was written. The real Phoebe was a Christian leader and benefactor at Cenchreae near Corinth. She gets a brief mention in Romans 16:1-2 and Paula Gooder extrapolates out from this point, drawing in threads from across the New Testament and other historical sources. She paints some lovely true-to-Christian-life character pictures around marginal biblical and fictional figures with lots of local colour. I smiled at the biblical allusions, laughed out loud at the parallels with church life and am wondering whether I need to read it again because I did not see the ending coming!
I’d love to think that Paul was not quite so ugly or antisocial as Gooder paints him, but history and what remains of his own writings have definitely left him open to these charges. Also, I struggled to get the voice of Dobby the house elf out of my head when reading about the young Felix. That said, this is a really good book, looking from a Christian viewpoint at the spread of the good news of Jesus and at the honour and filth of first century Rome. Buy it and read it! (Or borrow my copy because it’s only available in over-expensive hard back at the moment).
Phoebe, a story, Paula Gooder, Hodder and Stoughton 2018 ISBN 978-1-473-66972-7